English R1B

Reading and Composition: Genres of Dispossession

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
15 Spring 2022 Geary, Christopher
TTh 5-6:30 122 Wheeler

Book List

Defoe, Daniel: Robinson Crusoe; Federici, Silvia: Caliban and the Witch; Marx, Karl: Capital, Volume One (Penguin); More, Thomas: Utopia

Other Readings and Media

Additional readings will be made available on bCourses. These will likely include shorter texts or excerpts by Vasco de Quiroga, John Locke, Adam Smith, Ellen Meiksins Wood, Dipesh Chakrabarty, Peter Kropotkin, Rosa Luxemburg, David Harvey, William Clare Roberts, Robert Nichols, Eric Williams, Cedric Robinson, Stuart Hall, Maria Mies, Silvia Federici, Glen Coulthard, Nick Estes, Sarah Hogan, Walter Benjamin, Fredric Jameson, Michael McKeon, Sal Nicolazzo, and Carolyn Lesjak.


How did capitalism begin? There is so much at stake in this question – above all, perhaps, some clues as to what capitalism really is and how it will end. While many have presumed that capitalism arose naturally and inevitably, and that it represents a high point in the progress of the human species, more critical voices have long noted the violent dispossessions from which our present socio-economic system emerged and the equally intense violence and dispossession with which it is maintained. As one of those voices, Karl Marx, observed, the history of capitalism’s origins is “written in the annals of mankind in letters of blood and fire.”

In this course, we will read some of these critical reflections on the origins of capitalism and the role of violence and dispossession in shaping and sustaining it, beginning with Marx’s own account of that beginning, or what he terms “primitive accumulation.” We will then turn to some more contemporary thinkers of imperialism, patriarchy, racial capitalism, settler colonialism, and neoliberalism who critique, rework, and extend Marx’s idea of primitive accumulation to account for different forms of dispossession under capitalism, particularly from feminist, Black, and Indigenous perspectives.

Alongside these theoretical readings, we will consider how this history written in blood and fire was also written in ink. How did the transition to capitalism shape new literary genres such as utopia and the novel? How have different forms of dispossession taken literary form? And how have literary texts themselves critically reflected on the bloody and fiery history of our present? Some of the key literary texts we will initially consider in this light will be Thomas More’s Utopia (1516) and Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe (1719), but you will also have to choose your own literary text to work with over the course of the semester for your final project.

This is because, through our shared theoretical and literary readings, you will be developing your skills as a critical thinker, researcher, and writer. As an R1B, our pedagogical focus will be on helping you become able to write outstanding research essays. Accordingly, you will be writing, workshopping, and revising a series of assignments throughout the semester, building towards and culminating in a research essay on your chosen literary text. Initial assignments will help you practice textual analysis and entering a critical conversation; later ones will help you develop a research question and a thesis and help you practice outlining and drafting long-form writing projects. Over the course of the semester, you will also be compiling an annotated bibliography of all of our theoretical readings, both to help you practice researching a topic and for you to draw on as a resource for your final project.

Back to Semester List