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Crossing the Racial/Gender Line: Passing in Fiction and Film

Faculté de gestion: Faculté des lettres

Responsable(s): Joanne Chassot
Intervenant(s): -

Période de validité: 2016 -> 2016

Pas d'horaire défini.


Semestre d'automne
2 heures par semaine
28 heures par semestre

Langue(s) d'enseignement: anglais
Public: Oui
Crédits: 0


"Pass, v.:
To be accepted as or believed to be, or to represent oneself successfully as, a member of an ethnic or religious group other than one's own, esp. one having higher social status; spec. (of a person of black ancestry in a racially segregated society) to be accepted as white. Later also: (of a transsexual) to be accepted as a member of a different sex." (Oxford English Dictionary, def. IX. 43. d.)

Starting from this commonly accepted definition, this seminar will examine a wide range of texts concerned with the phenomenon of "passing" in order to interrogate the historical, cultural, social, legal and scientific discourses on race and gender and their construction as essentializing, normative categories of identification. Beyond their interest as narratives, then, the texts we will examine in this seminar will serve as a lens for analysing race and gender as they have been defined, constructed and (re)conceived through time, and for interrogating our own personal understanding of identity.
The first part of the semester will focus on racial passing, a phenomenon specifically associated with the United States and its particular definition(s) of racial categories. We will move chronologically from the mid-19th to the late 20th century to link our reading of the primary texts with the changing historical and political contexts and the shifting conceptions of race in the US. From the first instances of passing subjects in antebellum slave narratives, through the development of "passing narratives" into an African American genre during the Harlem Renaissance and a recurring topic in pre-Civil-Rights-era films, to the reshaping of the phenomenon in postmodern (or so-called "post-racial") American culture, we will explore the various motivations, consequences and significations of passing and the reasons for its enduring relevance on the literary, cultural and theoretical levels.
The second part of the semester will focus on gender passing with a selection of 20th and 21st century literary texts and films produced and set in diverse historical and geographical contexts. Using secondary texts from the fields of gender studies and queer theory, we will examine how gender categories and identities are constructed and deconstructed through these narratives of passing. Considering the similarities but also the differences in the way race and gender have been and continue to be constituted and understood as binary categories based on biological and visible markers, we will also see how they intersect in producing and perpetuating social hierarchies.


Assignments will include oral and written responses to the readings.
For MA2005 students and MA2015 students taking this class as part of the "Travail de recherche" module, final evaluation will be based on an essay.


Primary texts will include excerpts from William and Ellen Craft's Running a Thousand Miles for Freedom (1860) and James Weldon Johnson's Autobiography of an Ex-Coloured Man (1912), Nella Larsen's novella Passing (1929), Alfred Werker's film Lost Boundaries (1949), Danzy Senna's Caucasia (1998), Jackie Kay's Trumpet (1998), Kimberly Peirce's film Boys Don't Cry (1999) and George Moore's short story "Albert Nobbs" (1918) and its 2011 film adaptation by Rodrigo García.

Copies of the following books will soon be available at BooksBooksBooks in downtown Lausanne (http://www.booksbooksbooks.ch/):

- Larsen, Nella. Quicksand and Passing. London Serpent's Tail, 2014. ISBN: 9781846687853
- Senna, Danzy. From Caucasia, with Love. London: Bloomsbury, 2001. ISBN: 9780747557500
- Kay, Jackie. Trumpet. London: Picador Classic, 2016. ISBN: 9781447289494

If you get your copies elsewhere, please try to get the same editions so we're all, literally, on the same page.

All other primary and secondary material will be made available on Moodle.

Exigences du cursus d'études

BA in English; C1

Informations supplémentaires


Canton de Vaud
Swiss University
Unicentre  -  CH-1015 Lausanne  -  Suisse  -  Tél. +41 21 692 11 11  -  Fax  +41 21 692 26 15