Parthiban Muniandy

Undergraduate Discipline

Sociology

BA, PhD, University of Illinois. Research focuses on temporary labor migration in Southeast Asia and South Asia; particular interest in exploring how new regimes of migration are emerging, under which “temporary labor” migrants are becoming increasingly commonplace in fast-developing societies in Asia, and how informality and informal practices become important elements that affect the lives of migrant women and men. Author of Politics of the Temporary: Ethnography of Migrant life in Urban Malaysia (2015) and peer-reviewed articles in International Sociology, Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies and Asian Journal of Social Science. Former appointments: Lecturer of Global Studies, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. SLC, 2017–

Undergraduate Courses 2022-2023

Sociology

Everyday Cosmopolitanism in Yonkers

Open, Seminar—Spring

Cities and urban spaces are important places in which the marginalized poor and other underprivileged communities seek refuge and shelter by engaging in forms of rebuilding and placemaking that tend to fall outside of the purview and control of the state and authorities. Here, we take a transnational perspective on how the precarious and vulnerable urban poor develop strategies and practices of living that are geared toward securing greater autonomy and dignity primarily through forms of peripheral development and informality. We will explore interconnected themes of family, kinship, work, gender, and social reproduction as they pertain to the urban poor. We will also pay attention to how diversity and difference are negotiated daily by communities of faith, creed, color, ethnicity, and gender that share the same urban work and communal spaces. Some of the theories and concepts that we will read include: Teresa Caldeira’s “autoconstruction,” Asef Bayat’s “quiet encroachment of the ordinary,” Henri Lefebvre’s “right to the city,” Ananya Roy’s “subaltern urbanism,” and Mignolo’s “border thinking.” The City of Yonkers will be a case study for many of those themes of difference, informality, everyday cosmopolitanism, and hyperdiversity. This course will take the City of Yonkers as an urban center for the ethnographic study of life in a cosmopolitan setting. Students will have the opportunity to work with organizations such as the Yonkers Public Library to explore some of the questions around difference, diversity, and everyday cosmopolitanism among the various communities in the city. The course will include a fieldwork component where, each week, students will couple ongoing participant observations with the writing of field notes.

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Global Refugees: Temporariness and Displacement

Sophomore and Above, Seminar—Fall

What does it mean to be a “temporary” person? The multiple discourses surrounding “migrants,” “refugees,” “illegals,” and other “foreign” people often paint problematic, exaggerated, and frustratingly misunderstood portraits about entire communities and populations. Politicians and movements (often of the far-right disposition) continue to reinforce views of the foreigner as a national threat, one that will rip apart the fabric of society if left to its own devices. Yet, more than ever, we live in a world where almost 245 million people are living in a country other than where they were born—and that includes millions of refugees and displaced populations who struggle under incredibly vulnerable and precarious conditions. Some 740 million people migrate internally, primarily from rural to urban centers, bringing the total number of migrants to more than one billion people. Even during a global pandemic, displacement around the world has continued to lead to large numbers of people stuck in “temporary” status and conditions, while the dual threat of climate displacement and geopolitical conflict promises even more expulsions and displacement. Here, we focus on communities and groups of migrants who are often targeted as national “problems”: refugees, undocumented persons, and so-called “economic” migrants. We start by looking at how different groups of migrants become categorized through institutionalized regimes as “temporary” populations—guest workers, asylum seekers, seasonal workers, and foreign workers—and examine what implications this temporariness imposes upon migrants themselves, both at the everyday level and in terms of the larger political climate. We will explore the realities of today’s migrant experience, with a special focus on temporariness, globalized fragmentation of social reproduction, and regimes of managed migration around the world. We will explore different forms through which the experiences of being temporary, precarious, and displaced are depicted and represented, including the mediums of photography, film, fiction, and video games. Lastly, we will look at how societies around the world are attempting to prepare for a changing demographic reality of hyperdiversity and a more permanent state of precariousness and vulnerability. The course will require students to seek out and develop reflective projects (blogs, forums, wikis, or journals) focusing on these key questions. As part of conference projects, students will be encouraged to imagine different, nonconventional ways of writing and expressing themes of vulnerability, precarity, temporariness, and being out-of-place in today’s world.

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Sociological Perspectives on Detention and “Deviance”

Open, Lecture—Spring

In this lecture, students will be introduced to key areas of study in the sociology of “deviance,” detention, and illegality. We will be taking a global and transnational perspective on examining the ways in which social groups define, categorize, and reinforce deviance and illegality, from the treatment of minority and persecuted groups to the detention and expulsion of populations such as undocumented migrants and refugees. Students will learn about foundational theories and concepts in the field, starting with a reading of Émile Durkheim’s classical study of suicide and the idea of anomie, followed by Robert Merton’s strain theory, and then contemporary ones such as conflict theory, labeling theory, and the infamous “broken-windows” theory. The class will take a critical approach to reflecting and challenging ideas about deviance and illegality by examining global and transnational forms of population governance, such as ongoing mutations to human rights and the technocratic management of displaced populations through humanitarianism around the world. We will be reading about major sectors of transnational deviance and crime, including industrial fishing and trafficking on the high seas (Ian Urbina’s Outlaw Ocean), exploitation and profiteering through international logistics (Carolyn Nordstrom’s Global Outlaws), and transnational sex work and trafficking (Christine Chin and Kimberly Hoang). This critical lens is intended to help us understand how different groups and populations are rendered “deviant” or “illegal” for the purposes of management and control (or political leverage) and to what extent groups themselves are able to resist or challenge those categorizations. Finally, we will be looking at how social movements and acts of resistance can produce widescale changes in societies toward the treatment and categorization of people seen as “deviants,” “criminals,” or “illegals”—including struggles against apartheid, hunger strikes in prisons, and protest movements for undocumented groups. Additionally, we will be discussing how social transformations wrought by three years of living under a global pandemic has led to the emergence of new forms of deviance related to biopolitical and biotechnological notions of population health and well-being. For conference work in this lecture, students will work in groups to produce portfolios of research on an area of study related to deviance, detention, and illegality. Each portfolio will include presentations and discussions of the chosen area of study, as well as critical essays written by each student that bring in conceptual and theoretical discussions drawn from the class.

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Previous Courses

Sociology

Bad Neighbors: Sociology of Difference, Diversity, and Cosmopolitanism in the City

Open, Seminar—Fall

The focus of the seminar will be on questions of diversity, difference, and cosmopolitanism as it pertains to urban life in a contemporary American city such as Yonkers or New York City, as well as in urban societies around the world. We will take a sociological look at how urban communities experience, navigate, and transform social structures, relationships, and institutions in their everyday lives, as they deal with problems such as inequality, hate, and exclusion while co-existing with different and diverse populations. We will read books and essays by Arlie Hochschild, Asef Bayat, Yuval Noah Harari, Dina Neyeri, Robert Putnam, and others, as we explore ways in which cities embody particular histories as central while marginalizing others—and how communities and people in their everyday lives resist, alter, and decenter those histories and hierarchies. Through engaged field research, we will try to learn and understand how diverse communities of people work and live together; build and provide for the wider community; and rely on informal and formal opportunities, resources, and networks to make life in the city possible.

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Borders and Transnational Mobilities

Open, Seminar—Year

In a global context, where immigration has become one of the biggest flashpoints in political discourse, our understanding of how human and nonhuman mobility takes place needs constant reexamination and refinement. In addition to major humanitarian issues leading to global refugee crises, we are looking at an ever-growing number of people who move across and within national borders in search of work, opportunities, education, and a chance to fulfill their aspirations for a better life. People also move because of conflict, dispossession, coercion, and environmental issues. Classical scholarship on migration has focused predominantly on the two largely distinct phenomena of “immigration” and “emigration,” while more recent developments in transnational studies and the “mobility” turn have led to a stronger emphasis on cross-border movements and flows of people, goods, capital, ideas, and vectors. Here, we will focus on building our knowledge about global and transnational mobility from an issue-based interdisciplinary perspective, drawing from the fields of sociology, anthropology, economics, history, and global studies. These issues include refugee crises, human trafficking, economic exploitation, modern-day slavery and indentured servitude, the global care-chain, and the emergence of new groups of precarious people around the world. To help with our exploration of these issues, we will be looking at how different regimes of mobility have developed, under the auspices of globalization in the past three decades, from a national, regional, international, and transnational perspective. What are some of the reasons influencing the movement of people away from their homes and countries of origin? How does the movement of people from privileged and wealthier backgrounds differ from that of people from poorer, marginalized communities (particularly in the Global South)? What are some of the institutional frameworks and regimes that govern, regulate, and produce new classes of “migrants” in today’s world? The course will follow a modular structure that focuses on various themes within mobility studies. In each module, we will be using classical and contemporary readings that address the themes and issues at hand in addition to nontraditional sources, such as videos, blogs, online forums, and websites. The second half of the course will be focused on helping students design and propose projects based on some of the issues covered and through an engagement with different forms of data and methods: surveys, ethnographies, demographics, historical, and digital. This course will likely appeal to students interested in learning, researching, and working with different migrant communities around the world.

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Detention, Deportation, Dispossession: From Incarceration to Displacement

Open, Seminar—Fall

In her book, Expulsions, Saskia Sassen highlights a globally growing transnational project in which masses of people are being systematically, often violently, pushed out of their homelands through various forms of dispossessions—from land grabs and development projects to war and environmental pressures. These expulsions are bringing about an unprecedented international crisis of displacement, manifesting as refugee and asylum crises, trafficking, and other forms of undocumented flows of people across borders and continents. Simultaneously, the politicization of migration has become a powerful weapon for conservative, far-right, and nationalist populist movements around the world to mobilize xenophobic rhetoric against minorities and immigrant populations, leading to the worrying reemergence of “strong-man” politicians such as Bolsonaro in Brazil, Salvini in Italy, Orban in Hungary, Modi in India, and Trump in the United States. We are increasingly seeing the consequences of mass displacement and populist nationalism coming to a head in the detention, criminalization, and deportation of people at the borders of, and even within, countries. Throughout this seminar, we will be examining the history and logics of dispossession and displacement and the production of “ghost populations”—noncitizen and stateless people who are then subjected to detention and incarceration, as well as to the threat of deportation. The readings and material in the seminar cover a broad range of countries and regions, taking a transnational sociological lens at the structures, institutions, and processes that produce expulsions and displacement around the world. Our objective is to gain a better understanding of those systems of displacement as interconnected, rather than isolated, outcomes of economic and sociopolitical transformations.

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First-Year Studies: Borders, Nations, and Mobilities: A Sociological Introduction

Open, FYS—Year

In this FYS seminar, students will be introduced to the field of borders and migration studies based in the social sciences. We will start by reading some key sociological theories that provide students with an overview of sociology as a discipline and its relevance both within a liberal-arts education and to a wider social and political context. We will then focus on readings that provide students with foundational knowledge in border studies, globalization, the role of nations, nation states and nationalism in society, and, last but not least, migration and displacement studies. Special focus will also be given to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on globalization, migration, and the rise of new nationalisms around the world. As part of the seminar’s “practicum” dimension, students will learn the basics of initiating, designing, and carrying out sociological research using various methods of data analysis, including surveys, statistics, interview, and field research. Throughout the year, students will have opportunities to engage in new and ongoing research projects related to the themes of nationalism, borders, and mobilities by engaging with cross-campus organizations, community partners, and broader initiatives such as the Consortium on Forced Migration, Displacement, and Education. Starting in the fall, students will be introduced to some of the resources on campus that are essential for their learning and academic progress at Sarah Lawrence, such as the library and the writing center. Students will be expected to take advantage of these resources as they learn the ropes of conducting research in the social sciences and refining their academic writing skills. In addition to our regular class sessions, students will meet with the faculty instructor weekly during the fall semester for conference meetings. Conference meeting times will be used to discuss the student’s progress in the class and, more generally, during their first semester at Sarah Lawrence. In the subsequent spring semester, we will move to a biweekly conference-meeting schedule, depending on the student’s ongoing progress and needs.

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First-Year Studies: Nations, Borders, and Mobilities: An Introduction to Migration Studies

Open, FYS—Year

In a global context where immigration has become one of the biggest flashpoints in political discourse, our understanding of how people (and things) move across national borders needs to be re-examined and reconsidered. In addition to major humanitarian issues leading to global refugee crises, we are also looking at an ever-growing number of people who move across and within national borders in search of work, opportunities, education, and a chance to fulfill their aspirations for a better life. People also move because of conflict, dispossession, coercion, and environmental issues. Much of this happens in the backdrop of rising xenophobia, anti-immigrant hatred, and the emergence of far-right supremacist movements across societies in the West. Powerful and virulent new articulations of national “purity” and values are being championed in the name of protecting nationhood from the foreign “Other.” Classical scholarship on migration has focused predominantly on two largely distinct phenomena of “immigration” and “emigration,” while more recent developments in transnational studies have led to a stronger emphasis on cross-border movements and flows of people, goods, capital, ideas, and vectors. This yearlong course serves as an introduction to the field of migration studies, drawing upon sociological and anthropological scholarship on issues such as refugee crises, human trafficking, economic exploitation of migrants, modern-day slavery and indentured servitude, and the increasingly precarious conditions of migration. Questions include: What are some of the reasons influencing the movement of people away from their homes and countries of origin? How does the movement of people from privileged and wealthier backgrounds differ from that of people from poorer, marginalized communities (particularly in the Global South)? What are some of the institutional frameworks and regimes that govern, regulate, and produce new classes of “migrants” in today’s world? We will be using classical and contemporary readings that address the themes and issues at hand in addition to nontraditional sources such as videos, fiction, and games. For conference, students will be expected to develop a yearlong research project around a particular theme or problem related to migration and borders. During the first semester, students will prepare a research proposal (with a review of the relevant literature, research questions, and proposed methods of data gathering). For the second semester, students will complete the analysis and prepare their reports and papers. For these projects, students will be encouraged to conduct mini-ethnographic projects, interviews, surveys, and/or archival research in line with their particular interests and skills. In the fall semester, students will also be given an introduction to working with local organizations and groups that are involved with migrant communities—followed by engagement work in the spring with one of those organizations.

Faculty

Informality and Precariousness in the City: Family, Home, and the Politics of Transnational Life

Open, Seminar—Fall

The UNHCR puts the number of stateless people—those denied nationality—at 10 million globally. Often, these are migrants, refugees, victims of trafficking, and displaced groups who find themselves living under extremely precarious and vulnerable conditions and without much in terms of resources and rights. Cities and urban areas become important spaces in which the marginalized poor and excluded communities seek refuge and shelter and engage in forms of rebuilding and place-making that tends to fall outside of the purview and control of the state and the authorities. Here, we take a broad transnational perspective on how the precarious and vulnerable urban poor develop strategies and practices of living that are geared toward securing greater autonomy and dignity, primarily through forms of peripheral development and informality. We will explore interconnected themes of family, kinship, work, gender, and social reproduction as they pertain to the urban poor. Some of the theories and concepts that we will read include Teresa Caldeira’s “autoconstruction,” Asef Bayat’s “quiet encroachment of the ordinary,” Henri Lefebvre’s “right to the city,” and Ananya Roy’s “subaltern urbanism.”

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Intensive Semester in Yonkers: Everyday Cosmopolitanism in Yonkers: Understanding Informality and Diversity in the City

Intermediate, Seminar—Fall

This course is open for interviews and registration. Please visit Intensive Semester in Yonkers on MySLC for program information and application.

Cities and urban spaces are important places in which the marginalized poor and other underprivileged communities seek refuge and shelter by engaging in forms of rebuilding and placemaking that tend to fall outside of the purview and control of the state and authorities. Here, we take a transnational perspective on how the precarious and vulnerable urban poor develop strategies and practices of living, geared toward securing greater autonomy and dignity, primarily through forms of peripheral development and informality. We will explore interconnected themes of family, kinship, work, gender, and social reproduction as they pertain to the urban poor. We will also pay attention to how diversity and difference are negotiated daily by communities of faith, creed, color, ethnicity, and gender who share the same urban work and communal spaces. Some of the theories and concepts that we will read include: Teresa Caldeira’s “autoconstruction,” Asef Bayat’s “quiet encroachment of the ordinary,” Henri Lefebvre’s “right to the city,” Ananya Roy’s “subaltern urbanism,” and Mignolo’s “border thinking.” The City of Yonkers will be a case study for many of those themes of difference, informality, everyday cosmopolitanism, and hyperdiversity. This course is available to students as part of the Intensive Semester in Yonkers or as a stand-alone seminar. Students taking it as a stand-alone will be encouraged to consider participation with one of our various community partners.

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Lexicon of Migration: Temporariness and Displacement

Open, Seminar—Spring

What does it mean to be a “temporary” person? The multiple discourses surrounding migrants, refugees, “illegals,” and other non-native-born people often paint problematic, exaggerated, and frustratingly misunderstood portraits about entire communities and populations. Politicians and movements (often of the far-right disposition) continue to reinforce views of the foreigner as a national threat, one that will rip apart the fabric of society if left to its own devices. Yet, more than ever, we live in a world where almost 245 million people are living in a country other than where they were born—and that includes millions of refugees and displaced populations who struggle under incredibly vulnerable and precarious conditions. Some 740 million people migrate internally, primarily from rural to urban centers, bringing the total number of migrants to more than one billion people. Here, we focus on communities and groups of migrants who are often targeted as national “problems”: refugees, undocumented persons, and so-called “economic” migrants. We start by looking at how different groups of migrants become categorized through institutionalized regimes as “temporary” populations—guest workers, asylum seekers, seasonal workers, and foreign workers—and examine what implications this temporariness imposes upon migrants themselves, both at the everyday level and in terms of the larger political climate. We will explore the realities of today’s migrant experience with a special focus on temporariness, globalized fragmentation of social reproduction, and regimes of managed migration around the world. Throughout the course, we will be reading and discussing some foundation works around temporariness, refugees and forced migration, focusing on the key questions of citizenship, rights, and nationalism. As part of conference projects, students will be encouraged to imagine different, nonconventional ways of writing and expressing themes of vulnerability, precarity, temporariness, and being out-of-place. As part of the Consortium on Forced Migration, Displacement, and Education curriculum on the Lexicon of Migration, students in this seminar will be able to connect, collaborate, and learn from faculty, scholars, and peers from across the four member colleges at Vassar, Bard, Bard Berlin, and Bennington, where variants of the lexicon syllabus will be taught simultaneously. This provides students at each campus unique opportunities to design and develop activities, workshops, and projects around the themes of education, forced migration, and displacement. During the course of the semester, we will have invited speakers and guest lectures, along with other opportunities to connect with classes and students from the partner colleges. Students will then participate at an annual teaching lab to be hosted at the end of the semester at one of the partner campuses.

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Sociology of Global Inequalities

Open, Lecture—Spring

The focus of this lecture will be to introduce students to the processes and methods of conducting sociological research projects using a transnational and/or comparative lens. We will be taking, as our starting point, a set of global themes—loosely categorized as human rights, culture, migration, health, climate, and development— through which we will try to build our understanding of inequality in various forms and in different contexts. The approach we will take here in designing research will be one that aims to move beyond the national or the nation state as a bounded “container” of society and social issues; rather, we will aim at a better understanding of how different trends, processes, transformations, structures, and actors emerge and operate in globally and transnationally interconnected ways. For example, we can look at migration not simply through the lens of emigration/immigration to and from particular countries but also through the lens of flows and pathways that are structured via transnational relationships and circuits of remittances, exchanges, and dependencies. As part of group conferences, students will be asked to identify one of the key global themes through which they will examine issues of inequality, using a range of methods for data collection and analysis—datasets from international organizations, surveys, questionnaires, historical records, reports, and ethnographic accounts—which they will then compile into research portfolios produced as a group.

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