The Meaning of Work: A Creative and Critical Inquiry

Fall 2020
Sophomore - Senior
Class Size: 50
8 Credits per quarter
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What is “work”? How do we define it, and how does it define us? Who gets to decide what work means? And how can we make the most of this central human activity that demands so much time and attention? By means of intensive personal exploration and historical and sociological study, students in this program will forge a broader and deeper understanding of the phenomenon of work. Literary and sociological sources will help us to see how work not only shapes our individual identities, but also affects how we’re perceived and valued (or devalued) by others. No job is too humble to be a starting place for such an investigation. Students will write and share autobiographical narratives about their work experiences and will explore memoirs, novels, and poems about work that are drawn from diverse periods and perspectives. They will also examine the turbulent history of labor relations in the U.S., particularly the many struggles over the control of work, and movements to break down employment barriers based on race and gender.

While acknowledging the unhappy features of this history, from the brutalities of early assembly lines to the uncertainties of the contemporary “gig economy,” we will also identify the elements that make work meaningful and satisfying—an activity that provides people with a sense of purpose and belonging, allows them to contribute to their communities, and helps them to achieve high aspirations. Students will articulate their new understandings by means of written responses to the texts, research activities, bibliographic writing, and a final creative nonfiction project. All participants should be prepared to view their own experiences in new ways and to strengthen their skills as readers, writers, speakers, and critical thinkers. 

To successfully participate in this program, students will need a high speed internet connection and a laptop or tablet. Students can expect our remote teaching to be around 4 hours of synchronous (scheduled) coursework per week, using Zoom, Slack and Canvas. Students will have access to alternatives to synchronous  participation if conditions require.


Fall 2020 Registration

Course Reference Numbers

So - Sr (8): 10186

Academic details

Fields of Study
Preparatory for studies and careers in

Literature and writing, labor studies, education, management, and public policy.

Maximum Enrollment
Class Standing


Time Offered
Schedule Evergreen link
see Schedule Evergreen for detailed schedule

First Meeting



Date Revision
2020-08-06 This program is now fully remote