Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Mike Sell, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Susan M. Comfort, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

David B. Downing, Ph.D.


The majority of the class of 2011 was born in the year 1989. Sharing a birth year with Francis Fukuyama’s The End of History means these students do not know of a time before the Neo-liberal push towards privatization. In recent years, the radical restructuring of public and private life that began with the Reagan Administration has gone largely unquestioned. The result has been a collapse of the previously separate public and private spheres, resulting in a new understanding of how we relate to others. Using critical theory, this study examines how consumer pleasure affects the content and interpretation of texts, literary and otherwise, signifying a shift away from enlightenment values concerning freedom to a privatized, consumerist notion of the role of the individual in society. This study begins with the pre-Fordist era and will examine works from the 19th to 21st Centuries by Horatio Alger, August Strindberg, Theodore Dreiser, Betty Friedan, John Cheever, Douglas Coupland, Hanif Kureishi, and several pop culture texts including The Da Vinci Code, Fight Club, and Hostel. Pedagogy is also a prominent concern, and applying critical pedagogy when working with post-Reagan youth often means searching for a language within a discursive vacuum created by a system where, according to Slavoj Žižek, the predominant societal imperative is towards enjoyment, as opposed to other possibilities. In order to understand this shift and the pedagogical challenges it has created, this study will undertake a historical tracing of how different texts portray the cultural codification of pleasure. The accompanying notions of privilege and entitlement that flourish under a system of privatized consumer pleasure have been spread by globalization, creating new battlegrounds for and against privatization. Practitioners within the contemporary English classroom are representing an increasingly shrinking public space within a context defined by privatization. This situation removes the humanities from its once privileged position and into a spectrum of competing pleasurable and profitable interests. Ultimately, this study attempts to redefine the English classroom as a place for the formulation of a critique of privatization and consumerism.