'Making Modern Selves' Syllabus

By Os Keyes

As has become pretty routine through my PhD, I spent this Spring Quarter teaching in the Honors Programme at Seattle University. It was fun, despite the pandemic, although I’m very excited for my next class (which will be in person, for the first time…ever!) Below, though, are my notes on and syllabus for the class - both because it seems it might be of general interest, and because anecdotally I know being able to point to one’s presence on syllabi can be important for things like tenure.


Who are you? In this course we focus on sociological approaches to the question of how we know and make sense of ourselves. Self and society are intertwined - mutually co-created - which means that our self-making processes both reflect and reinforce social patterns, especially patterns of difference and discrimination. The interplay of self and society turn on several paradoxes: that we come to understand ourselves as unique through shared labels, and that such labels and social forms – by demarcating who we are – identify who we are not, and who is not us, setting up not only community but exclusion. Our stories of who we are both give our lives meaning and isolate those cut from the script.

In this course we will explore both the long history of theories about selfhood, identity and meaning, and how experiences of identity (and theories around it) have shifted from modernity to postmodernity. Doing this allows us to examine ways out of, or through, these paradoxes – forms of resistance, ethics of uncertainty, and a politics of ambiguous hope through which we might build better, more wondrous, and more plural futures.


  • Chapter 1, “Identity as a Question” of Lawler, Steph. Identity: sociological perspectives. John Wiley & Sons, 2015.

  • Chapter 1 of Scott, Suzie. “Negotiating Identity: Symbolic Interactionist Approaches to Social identity”.

Social selves

  • West, Candace, and Don H. Zimmerman. “Doing gender.” Gender & Society (1987): 125-151.

  • Pyke, Karen D., and Denise L. Johnson. “Asian American Women And Racialized Femininities: “Doing” Gender across Cultural Worlds.” Gender & Society 1 (2003): 33-53.

Scaling beyond interaction

  • Chapters 1 and 6 of Bowker, Geoffrey C., and Susan Leigh Star. Sorting things out: Classification and its consequences. MIT press, 2000.
  • Cromer, Risa. “Making the ethnic embryo: enacting race in US embryo adoption.” Medical anthropology 7 (2019): 603-619.
  • Kessler, Suzanne J. “The medical construction of gender: Case management of intersexed infants.” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 1 (1990): 3-26.

Critical perspectives on identity

  • Foucault, Michel. The history of sexuality: An introduction. Vintage, 1990. I’m just going to apologise in advance.
  • Sparti, Davide. “Making up People: On Some Looping Effects of the Human Kind-Institutional Reflexivity or Social Control?.” European Journal of Social Theory 3 (2001): 331-349.
  • Spade, Dean. “Resisting Medicine/Remodeling Gender” Berkeley Women’s Law Journal
  • Epstein, Steven. “Gay politics, ethnic identity: The limits of social constructionism.” Social perspectives in lesbian and gay studies: A reader (1998): 134-159.

Narrative power

  • Hayward, Clarissa Rile, How Americans Make Race
  • Hilde Lindemann Nelson. Damaged identities, narrative repair. Cornell University Press, 2001.
  • McKinnon, Rachel. “Epistemic injustice.” Philosophy Compass 8 (2016): 437-446.
  • Kidd, Ian James, and Havi Carel. “Epistemic injustice and illness.” Journal of applied philosophy 2 (2017): 172-190.

Examining narratives/examining identities

  • Haimson, Oliver L. “Challenging “getting better” social media narratives with intersectional transgender lived experiences.” Social Media + Society 1 (2020): 2056305120905365.
  • Doharty, Nadena, Manuel Madriaga, and Remi Joseph-Salisbury. “The university went to ‘decolonise’and all they brought back was lousy diversity double-speak! Critical race counter-stories from faculty of colour in ‘decolonial’times.” Educational Philosophy and Theory 3 (2021): 233-244.
  • Keyes, Os. “Automating autism: Disability, discourse, and Artificial Intelligence.” The Journal of Sociotechnical Critique 1 (2020): 8.
  • Bivens, Rena, and Anna Shah Hoque. “Programming sex, gender, and sexuality: Infrastructural failures in the “feminist” dating app Bumble.” Canadian Journal of Communication 3 (2018): 441-459.