Syllabus

Course Description

We tell stories to make sense of the world. Our personal and our professional lives depend on our ability to weave many elements into a coherent whole, both for us and for our fellows. Sometimes unwittingly, we use stories and story-telling as managerial tools: properly applied, they help us motivate a workforce, define a company mission, focus our thinking in moments of crisis. Stories work with the complexity of daily life, and give us perspective on decisions we might otherwise take too casually, or challenges that at first resist our mastery; they rank among our oldest and most persistent means of achieving consensus, a leadership and management device as old as humankind. They are tacit builders of what we call our ethical standards.

In "Literature, Ethics, and Authority," we use story to address perennial questions: what do we do when people, events, or issues test our ideas of leadership, career, and proper behavior? How do we respond to concerns over diversity, gender, and family in the workplace, or cope with the reality of war, death, and ordinary human frailty? Through films, novels, plays, and short fiction - good stories - this seminar examines issues of freedom and control, group norms and individual expression, as they bear on our ambition to manage both work and personal life.

The syllabus for "Literature, Ethics, and Authority" brings together materials from a dozen national cultures, a diversity that mirrors the campus student body and the workplaces in which many of you will find yourselves upon graduation. The course also explores multiple professional perspectives - in medicine, law, politics, science, teaching, the military, the church, journalism, and stay-at-home parenting - in order to situate business in the larger social context. We read some non-fiction - essays, speeches, letters, memoirs - and use some daily material from the news media.

The course meets Mondays and Wednesdays for 1.5 hours each. Books are available for purchase at The MIT bookstore; many assignments are included in a course packet. Students may either view the assigned films during optional showings on campus, or rent them from local video stores.

Course Requirments

Grading

Students will be graded on class participation (40%); on three team response papers and one team teaching exercise with the instructor (25%); and on two individual papers, five to seven pages in length, submitted at mid-term and semester's end (15% and 20%).


ACTIVITIES PERCENTAGES
Class Participation 40%
Three Team Response Papers and One Team Teaching Exercise With the Instructor 25%
Two Individual Papers (Five to Seven Pages in Length, Submitted at Mid-Term and Semester's End) 15% and 20%

In all cases, students' contributions will be judged for the depth of personal and philosophical insight they bring to the seminar. Paper and discussion topics will include those listed in the course description: story as a managerial device, the relation of institutions to the individual, social conflict and social enterprise, leadership, etc. The papers will invite students to focus on one or more of the texts/films covered up to that point in the semester, and to juxtapose their personal experiences with those described in the course material. All assignments encourage students to reflect on the implications of the seminar material for a definition of ethical behavior, and on the inherent ethical challenges and benefits of storytelling as a resource for leaders.