Student Research Projects

“Let us move forward, then, into a new era of openness, effectiveness, and accountability”: Oppressive Institutions and Subversive Groups within the Harry Potter Series

Student Alexa Higbee '15 (Criminal Justice and English)
Faculty Mentor(s)
Department English
Course English 489: Senior Thesis Workshop


This project focuses on J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. While many people have come to love the series, it is important to look beyond the wand waving and potion making seen in these books. Using Louis Althusser’s theory on the reproduction of ideologies and Michel Foucault’s theory about self-policement through the Panopticon schema, I concluded that there are several oppressive institutions within the series, like the Ministry and Hogwarts, that work to shape the minds of the wizarding community. A textual analysis of these texts made apparent that different groups within this world work to subvert those ideologies. Ferdinand Tönnies’ theory on the two social groups, Gemeinschaft (community) and Gesellschaft (society), helped to identify why groups like Dumbledore’s Army and the Harry, Ron, Hermione triumvirate succeed in breaking away from the ideologies that the oppressive apparatuses are working toward. Bringing these ideas together, I concluded that while the Gemeinschaft-like groups are able to break away from the ideologies that the Ministry and Hogwarts reproduce, they reveal that although the wizarding society reflects an oppressive capitalistic society, this kind of happy ending can only be found in fiction. In reality, one may never escape the infiltration of dominant ideologies.


Selected as top research project in the Division of the Humanities, 2014-15.