How to Be a Person

CMS 274

What does it mean to “just be yourself”? To “act natural” or “act normal”? These statements seem paradoxical. After all, when are we not ourselves? This cliche seems like one of the worst bits of advice for living, yet it touches on one of the most profound inquiries in the humanities: What does it mean to be a person?

This question has new relevance in the contemporary moment. We are regularly called upon to present ourselves as already formed personalities or “brands,” whether it’s on social media networks or in social gatherings, job interviews or the workplace (not to mention the college classroom). The dilemma of authenticity — which involves identifying the fake and the real, the forged and the genuine — is central to the human experience, and to the search for identity and belonging. Special emphasis is placed on the implications of this dilemma for the production and presentation of self on social media.

Course Curriculum and Features

We’ll delve into concepts such as authenticity, identity, performance of the self, belonging and the meaning of life. Your readings will include selections from literature, philosophy, sociology and anthropology, complemented by popular texts and college survival guides. Class assignments will include short expository essays, photo essays, short videos, Snapchat stories and experiments in social media platforms.

Designed For

Those interested in social media, the boundaries between technology and humans, and questions of "self-presentation." This course will also appeal to students interested in the relationship of the individual to society, and anyone wondering what it means to be a human being.


Stephen Groening
Assistant Professor, Department of Literature, Cinema & Media

Dates & Times

Aug 21–Sep 14, 2018

UW Seattle
9:30 a.m.–12 p.m.