“Who run(s) the world?” Depends who you ask. Some might say men. Instead of who we might consider what runs the world. Some might say money. While Beyoncé’s feminist anthem provides us with yet another answer—GIRLS—this semester, we– students encompassing a spectrum of class levels and majors–will consider this question in regards to how power impacts the circulation of representations. We will read, watch, and listen about lived experiences of gender, race, and class in an international context to develop our understanding of power as world citizens. We will engage with a spectrum of cultural texts including literature, film, and music to more deeply understand how people, from political figures to children, perform power, and consider what that means for identity and equality. The texts we will explore investigate diversity within many contexts including the performance of power on global and national levels, by considering political figures’ impact, to local levels, by reading and listening to stories of everyday lives and small acts of resistance. Inevitably, we will engage issues of power from multiple points of view, contextualized with historical developments as well as closer consideration of social, political, and economic systems.

We established a few common values for our class community this semester:

  • Privilege exists, and it resides in systems and individual experiences.
  • Oppression exists, and it resides in systems and individual experiences.
  • Intersectionality— an understanding of human beings as shaped by the interaction of different social locations—race/ethnicity, Indigeneity, gender, class, sexuality, geography, age, disability/ability, migration status, religion, etc– is essential.
  • The personal is political.

Three terms– Power, Performance, & World—are important to keep in mind for the work we’re doing throughout this semester. We must establish a jumping off point for these terms, and our definitions of them will continue to evolve as we engage with different texts.

First—power. We are going to think about this term through an Igbo word that Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s uses—“Nkali”—to understand the global power structures. She explains that:

It’s a noun that loosely translates to “to be greater than another.” Like our economic and political worlds, stories too are defined by the principle of nkali: How they are told, who tells them, when they’re told, how many stories are told, are really dependent on power.

Power is the ability not just to tell the story of another person, but to make it the definitive story of that person. A tangible example that Adichie uses is: if you want to dispossess a people, the simplest way to do it is tell their story and start with “secondly.” For example, “start the story with the arrows of the Native Americans, not the arrival of the British, and you have an entirely different story.”

Second—performance. We are going to use Elin Diamond’s understanding of performance from her book Unmaking Mimesis: Essays on Feminism and Theater from 1997. These Q’s are important because you can use them to lead discussion for all of the texts we’ll be engaging with this semester:

Who is speaking and who is listening? Whose body is in view and whose is not? What is being represented, how, and with what effects? Who or what is in control?

Finally—world. Ta-Nehisi Coates begins his letter to his son, titled in publication, Between the World and Me, with a Richard Wright Poem.

…And one morning while in the woods I stumbled suddenly upon the thing. Stumbled upon it in a grassy clearing guarded by scaly oaks and elms. And the sooty details of the scene rose, thrusting themselves between the world and me…

The “world” here becomes something defined by difference, the materiality of the separation between the individual and the “world” is literal soot, the earth, irritated by human violence, highlighting Coates’ difference as well.

Coates describes his son cries after hearing that Michael Brown’s killers would go free. He says in his letter to his son: “What I told you is what your grandparents tried to tell me: that this is your country, that this is your world, that this is your body, and you must find some way to live within all of it.”

To echo what I began this post with, by reading, listening, and watching, we’re going to explore how women and girls navigate power dynamics within their countries, worlds, and bodies.

Our working syllabus:

“Who Run(s) the World?”: 

Power and Performance in World Literature


MWF 1-1:50 pm
College Hall 548

Ms. Alexandra Reznik

College Hall 639A

Office Hours: MWF 12-12:50pm

Class website:

Each member of the class community is required to attend all classes, read the texts carefully, discuss the texts in class and on our website, complete all in-and out-of-class assignments. Missing class will inevitably, negatively affect your grade since every component of your grade necessitates your active presence in this class community. I have no technology policy; however, EVERYTHING we do and discuss in class community is fair game for exams, so it behooves you to not be distracted.

Learning Outcomes & Objectives

In addition to strengthening their critical reading, academic writing, and technology skills, students in this course will:

1. Identify the historical forces that have contributed to the current global systems and these systems’ consequences for humanity and/or the environment.

2. Explain how the theoretical approaches of the social sciences analyze and evaluate the impact of social class, race and/or gender on self and group identity and people’s responses to diversity.

3. Communicate effectively about major social and cultural trends of people living in non-Western regions, such as their religious, economic, and political patterns.

4. Articulate reasons for the presence of minority and/or historically marginalized groups in the United States and/or other Western countries.

Class Texts

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, We Should All Be FeministsPurple Hibiscus

Yeonmi Park, In Order to Live: A North Korean Girl’s Journey to Freedom (Blackboard)

Bessie Head, A Question of Power

Susan Minot, Thirty Girls

Jenny Nordberg, The Underground Girls of Kabul: In Search of a Hidden Resistance in Afghanistan (Blackboard)

Marjane Satrapi, Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood

Warsan Shire, Teaching My Mother How To Give Birth

Christie Watson, Where Women are Kings

Blackboard Readings

Many Ways to See the World: A Thirty-Minute Tour of World Map Images (film)

The Danger of a Single Story (TED talk)

Real Women Have Curves (film)

Lemonade (film)

Miss Representation (film)

Special Accommodations

If you have a disability that has the potential to affect your class work, and you will require special accommodations, you should talk to me about this during the first week of class. You should register, if you have not done so already, with the office of Special Student Services, 309 Duquesne Union.

Academic Honesty

Academic dishonesty will not be tolerated in this course. If any student is found to be submitting another student’s work as their own or allowing another student to use their work in such a manner, using the wording or ideas of another person in an essay assignment without proper citation, submitting the same piece of writing to more than one professor without permission, or otherwise violating the university’s rules, they will be subject to a grade of zero on the assignment and prosecution through the University’s Academic Dishonesty procedures.

Grading Scale

***You earn your grade

100%-94%     A        86%-83%        B             76%-70%          C

93%-90%       A-       82%-80%        B-           69%-63%          D

89%-87%       B+      79%-77%        C+       62% & below    F

Grade Breakdown & Course Requirements

  1. Lead Discussion (20%): You will, in groups throughout the semester, be responsible for leading discussion for THREE classes, and in turn, be responsible for participating in discussion when your peers lead class discussion. You do not necessarily need to collaborate prior to class in your groups, but you should create a few discussion questions and choose a few compelling, accompanying passages that you would read out loud. Leading discussion is considered part of class work and cannot be made up. Students who succeed at this assignment thoroughly read the texts on the day they are due and come to class with questions to lead discussion.
  2. Essay (20%): You will write one essay (no page requirement) in which you will analyze the representation of power through religious, economic, or political patterns, and analyze how those patterns impact women and/or childrens’ lives in a text.  This paper must be sharply focused and critical.  I do not accept late work.  Students who succeed at this assignment have a clear argument that they support with evidence and analysis and have submitted and talked with me about their draft during my office hours.
  3. Activism Project (15%): You will contribute to the “Who Run(s) the World?” webpage by using a class text and/or theme as a jumping off point to provide a tangible description of activism that we can engage in.  You will be graded individually—and can choose to work in groups/individually— on your contribution to our class community website. More information will be provided about this research assignment. Students who succeed at this assignment are well-organized and show effective collaboration between group members.
  4. Event Webpost (10%): You will attend one campus event that engages Global Diversity/Women & Gender Studies/World Literature and write about it on our website.
  5. Midterm (15%) & Final Exam (20%): A midterm and cumulative final exam will be given.  These exams will test your comprehension of literary themes, key concepts, events and figures. Students who succeed at this assignment take extensive in-class notes, check in with me, and devote time to studying.


Schedule of Lectures, Discussions, Assignments & Readings

***Readings are due on the day they are listed***


Fri Jan 13: Class Introduction, lecture on key terms “world,” “power,” & “performance”



W Jan 18: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, We Should All Be Feminists

F Jan 20: Con’t., Introduce Activism Webpost


M Jan 23: Jenny Nordberg, The Underground Girls of Kabul: In Search of a Hidden Resistance in Afghanistan (Blackboard)

W Jan 25: Con’t. Group 1 Lead Discussion

F Jan 27: Con’t. Group 2 Lead Discussion


M Jan 30: Warsan Shire, Teaching My Mother How To Give Birth

W Feb 1: Con’t. Group 3 Lead Discussion

F Feb 3: Con’t. Group 4 Lead Discussion


M Feb 6: Yeonmi Park, In Order to Live: A North Korean Girl’s Journey to Freedom (Blackboard) Group 5 Lead Discussion

W Feb 8: Many Ways to See the World: A Thirty-Minute Tour of World Map Images

F Feb 10: Scholarly readings and discussion


M Feb 13: Susan Minot, Thirty Girls (1-101)

W Feb 15: Con’t. (102-185) Group 6 Lead Discussion

F Feb 17: Con’t. (186-264) Group 7 Lead Discussion


M Feb 20: Con’t. (267-310) Group 1 Lead Discussion

W Feb 22: Con’t. (310-366) Group 2 Lead Discussion

F Feb 24: NO CLASS—Conferences, work on class responsibilities

WEEK 8 Midterms

M Feb 27: NO CLASS—Conferences, work on class responsibilities


F Mar 3: In-class MIDTERM EXAM

WEEK 9 Spring Break

M Mar 6, W Mar 8, F Mar 10—NO CLASS


M Mar 13: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Purple Hibiscus (1-110)

W Mar 15 : Con’t. (110-205) Group 3 Lead Discussion 

F Mar 17: Con’t. (206-end) Group 4 Lead Discussion 


M Mar 20: Bessie Head, A Question of Power Lecture (no reading due)

W Mar 22: Con’t. (Part I) Group 5 Lead Discussion

F Mar 24: Con’t. (Part II) Group 6 Lead Discussion


M Mar 27: Film viewing: Real Women Have Curves

W Mar 29: Film viewing Con’t.

F Mar 31: Film viewing Con’t. Group 7 Lead Discussion


M Apr 3: Marjane Satrapi, Persepolis: Story of a Childhood (up to “Moscow”) Group 1 Lead Discussion

W Apr 5: Con’t. (up to “The Wine”) Group 2 Lead Discussion

F Apr 7: Con’t. (to end) Group 3 Lead Discussion


M Apr 10: Christie Watson, Where Women are Kings (1-124)

W Apr 12: Con’t. (125-250) Group 4 Lead Discussion, All Activism posts due on Website.




T Apr 18: CLASS MEETS, Film viewing: Lemonade

W Apr 19: Lecture and Discussion. Group 5 Lead Discussion

F Apr 21: Lecture, return to key terms. Event webpost DUE.


M Apr 24: Film viewing: Miss Representation

W Apr 26: Viewing continued, Group 6 Lead Discussion

F Apr 28: Lecture and Discussion. Paper DUE. Group 7 Lead Discussion


M May 1—Last day of class, The Danger of a Single Story

T May 9—Final Exam, 1:30-3:30 pm