Africana Studies

Africana studies at Sarah Lawrence College embrace a number of scholarly disciplines and subjects, including anthropology, architecture, art history, dance, economics, film, filmmaking, history, Islamic studies, law, literature, philosophy, politics, psychology, religion, sociology, theatre, and writing. Students examine the experience of Africans and people of African descent in the diaspora, including those from Latin America, the Caribbean, North America, and beyond. Study includes the important cultural, economic, technological, political, and social intellectual interplay and exchanges of these peoples as they help make our world.

Students will explore the literature of Africans and peoples of African descent in various languages, including Spanish, Portuguese, French, and English. The dynamics of immigration and community formation are vital in this field. Students will examine the art and architecture of Africans and the diaspora, along with their history, societies, and cultures; their economy and politics; the impact of Islam and the Middle East; the processes of slavery; the slave trade and colonialism; and postcolonial literature in Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean. The program also includes creative work in filmmaking, theatre, and writing.

2020-2021 Courses

Making the World Go Round: Children as Cogs in the Machinery of Empire

Open , Lecture—Fall

In the 1920s, a Miss Wilson presented a paper at a London conference, addressing “The Education of European Children in Contact With Primitive Races.” In her talk, she described the life of rural white settler children in Kenya growing up with African playmates and expressed her concerns about the “morally deleterious” effects of such play on those future imperial leaders. This particular case illustrates discourse about the role of privileged white children in imperial regimes; but children of diverse social classes, races, and nationalities across the globe were all implicated in processes of imperial expansion and European settler colonization over (at least) the past three centuries. What was believed about children, done to children, and required of children was central to the political and economic success of empire. In this lecture, we will examine a series of cases in order to understand the diverse roles, both intentional and unintentional, of children in colonial processes. In addition to the white sons and daughters of European settler colonists in Africa and Southeast Asia, we will look at the contrary things that were said and done about mixed-race children (and their mothers) at different historical and political moments of empire. We will learn, too, about the deployment of “orphans” in the service of empire. In the metropole, particularly British cities, orphan boys were funneled into the military and merchant navy, while children of both sexes were shipped across the globe to boost white settler populations, provide free labor, and relieve English poorhouses of the responsibility of taking care of them. The ancestors of many contemporary citizens of Canada, Australia, and South Africa were exported as children from metropolitan orphanages. We will deploy approaches from sex-gender studies, postcolonial studies, and critical race theory. Questions that we will explore include: Why did settler authorities in Australia kidnap mixed-race indigenous children and put them in boarding schools, when such children in other colonies were expected to stay with their local mothers out of sight of the settlers? How did European ideas about climate and race frame the ways in which settler children were nursed in the Dutch East Indies? How did concepts of childhood and parental rights over children vary historically, socioeconomically, and geographically? How did metropolitan discourses about race, class, and evolution frame the treatment of indigent children at home and abroad? The sources for this class include literature, scholarly articles, ethnographic accounts, historical documents, and film. Students will attend the lecture twice a week and group conference biweekly.

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Gendering in African Postcolonies

Sophomore and above , Seminar—Spring

This seminar explores ways in which gender operates in myriad African contexts during colonial and “postcolonial” periods. We will interrogate concepts of gender and of the postcolonial, identifying the ways in which colonial relations endure beyond the period of occupation. We will begin by historically looking at local articulations of gender in Nigeria (female political power), Sudan (boy wives) and Kenya (intersexuality). Reading European colonial’s narratives about gender in African contexts will tell us much about their own gender systems and their (mis)understandings of African societies. Readings will describe contested attempts by European government officials and missionaries to abolish practices that they consisered “barbaric,” such as the use of traditional medicinal practices, “paganism,” and circumcision. As we look at the period from the end of formal colonial rule to the present, we will analyse ongoing transformations in gender systems as they articulate with global issues. Of particular interest will be the ways in which Western feminist and queer-rights discourses impinge on African systems of gender and sexuality, resulting in a new kind of colonial relationship. The class will be discussion-based. Our texts will be archival documents, ethnographies, films, historical accounts, and fiction. Our writers will include Mariama Baa, Ngugi wa Thiongo, Ifi Amadiume, Ann Stoler, Gayle Rubin, and many more.

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Histories of Modern and Contemporary Art, 1860–1955

Open , Lecture—Year

This course is an introduction to modern and contemporary art from 1860 to 1955 and the first of two sequential surveys offered this year. (Students may take either or both.) What was modernism; and how did artists respond to a world ravaged by war, fascism, and imperialism? How did they engage or escape from industrial forms of life and explore shifting national, ethnic, and gendered identities? A central topic of the course is how the history of the Western avant-garde was also the history of colonization and cultural appropriation. And even as the course serves as an introduction to canonical historical avant-gardes in the United States, Mexico, and Europe (Impressionism, Fauvism, Expressionism, Cubism, Constructivism, Vorticism, Dada, Surrealism, Muralism, the Harlem Renaissance, and Abstract Expressionism), we will also explore alternative modernisms—including so-called “outsider” art, queer modernisms, and modernisms in India, Japan, and Latin America. This course is an introduction to the discipline of art history, so students will gain a vocabulary for slow looking, learn the values of different kinds of writing about art (manifestos, letters, statements, poems, and art historical and theoretical accounts), and consider art in its social and political contexts. Lectures will offer a broad overview, and 90-minute weekly group conferences will closely investigate artworks by a single, underrepresented artist. Assignments will include visual analysis essays, weekly informal worksheets, brief reading responses, short Zoom presentations, and research essays on underrepresented artists: Students will have the chance to work with librarians to research and write new pages on modernist artists across the globe who are not represented on Wikipedia and upload them to that site. Throughout, we will be thinking about the kinds of assumptions and value judgments that go into deciding a modernist canon and how we can create and contribute alternative histories to the discipline.

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West African Dance

Component—Year

Students may enter this yearlong course in the second semester with permission of the instructor.

This yearlong course will use physical embodiment as a mode of learning about and understanding African diasporic cultures. In addition to physical practice, master classes led by artists and teachers regarded as masters in the field of African diasporic dance and music, along with supplementary study materials, will be used to explore the breadth, diversity, history, and technique of dances derivative of the Africa diaspora. Afro Haitian, West African, Orisha dances (Lucumi, Afro Cuban), and social dance are some genres that will be explored. Participation in year-end showings will provide students with the opportunity to apply studies in a performative context.

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TBA

Hip-Hop

Component—Year

An open-level course teaching and facilitating the practice of hip-hop/urban dance technique and performance, the class will examine the theory, technique, and vocabulary of hip-hop dance. The course will facilitate the student’s development and ability to execute and perform hip-hop/urban dance steps.

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TBA

Political Economy of Women

Open , Seminar—Year

What factors determine the status of women in different societies and communities? What role is played by women’s labor, both inside and outside of the home? By cultural norms regarding sexuality and reproduction? By religious traditions? After a brief theoretical grounding, this course will address these questions by examining the economic, political, social, and cultural histories of women in the various racial/ethnic and class groupings that make up the United States. Topics to be explored include: the role of women in Iroquois Confederation before white colonization and the factors that gave Iroquois women significant political and social power in their communities; the status of white colonist women in Puritan Massachusetts and the economic, religious, and other factors that led to the Salem witchcraft trials of 1692; the position of African American women under slavery, including the gendered and racialized divisions of labor and reproduction; the growth of competitive capitalism in the North and the development of the “cult of true womanhood” in the rising middle class; the economic and political changes that accompanied the Civil War and Reconstruction and the complex relationships between African American and white women in the abolitionist and women’s rights movements; the creation of a landless agricultural labor force and the attempts to assimilate Chicana women into the dominant culture via “Americanization” programs; the conditions that encouraged Asian women’s immigration and their economic and social positions once here; the American labor movement and the complicated role that organized labor has played in the lives of women of various racial/ethnic groups and classes; the impact of US colonial policies on Puerto Rican migration and Puerto Rican women’s economic and political status on both the Island and the mainland; the economic/political convulsions of the 20th century—from the trusts of the early 1900s to World War II—and their impact on women’s paid and unpaid labor; the impact of changes in gendered economic roles on LGBT communities; the economic and political upheavals of the 1960s that led to the so-called “second wave” of the women’s movement; the gendered and racialized impact of the Great Recession and its aftermath; and the current position of women in the US economy and polity and the possibilities for inclusive public policies concerning gender and family issues. In addition to class participation, requirements include regular, short (1-2 pp.) essays on the readings and approximately a half-dozen longer essays that synthesize class materials with the written texts.

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Introduction to Television Writing: Writing the Spec Script

Open , Seminar—Spring

The fundamental skill of television writers is the ability to craft entertaining and compelling stories for characters, worlds, and situations created by others. Though dozens of writers may work on a show over the course of its run, the “voice” of the show is unified and singular. The best way to learn to write for television—and a traditional component of your application for important career development fellowships and for your portfolio for agents, managers, show runners, and producers—is to draft a sample episode of a preexisting show, known as a spec script. Developing, pitching, writing, and rewriting stories hundreds of times extremely quickly, in collaboration, and on tight deadlines is what TV writers on staff do every day, fitting each episode seamlessly into the series as a whole in tone, concept, and execution. This workshop will introduce students to those skills by taking them, step-by-step, through writing their own spec (sample) script for a currently “airing” American television series. The course will take students from premise lines through the beat sheet, then outline, to writing a complete draft of a full teleplay for a currently airing show. No original pilots. The class collectively decides a handful of shows on which to work. All work will be based on that handful of shows, which will include comedies, dramas, and animated shows originating on broadcast, cable, and streaming platforms. If this course is held remotely, it will be taught live, synchronous via Zoom or similar platform.

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First-Year Studies: Introduction to Development Studies: The Political Ecology of Development

Open , FYS—Year

Some experience in the social sciences desired but not required.

In this yearlong seminar, we will begin by examining competing paradigms and approaches to understanding “development” and the “Third World.” We will set the stage by answering the question: What did the world look like 500 years ago? The purpose of this part of the course is to become acquainted with and to analyze the historical origins and evolution of a world political economy of which the “Third World” is an intrinsic component. We will thus study the transition from feudalism to capitalism, the rise of merchant and finance capital, and the colonization of the world by European powers. We will analyze case studies of colonial “development” to understand the evolving meaning of that term. These case studies will help us assess the varied legacies of colonialism apparent in the emergence of new nations through the fitful and uneven process of decolonization that followed. The next part of the course will look at the United Nations and the role some of its associated institutions have played in the post-World War II global political economy, one marked by persistent and intensifying socioeconomic inequalities, as well as frequent outbreaks of political violence, across the globe. By examining the development institutions that have emerged and evolved since 1945, we will attempt to unravel the paradoxes of development in different eras. We will deconstruct the measures of development through a thematic exploration of population, resource use, poverty, access to food, the environment, agricultural productivity, and different development strategies adopted by Third World nation-states. We will then examine globalization and its relation to emergent international institutions and their policies; for example, the IMF, World Bank, AIIB, and WTO. We will then turn to contemporary development debates and controversies that increasingly find space in the headlines—widespread land grabbing by sovereign wealth funds, China, and hedge funds; the “global food crisis”; and the perils of climate change. Throughout the course, our investigations of international institutions, transnational corporations, the role of the state, and civil society will provide the backdrop for the final focus of the class—the emergence of regional coalitions for self-reliance, environmental and social justice, and sustainable development. Our analysis of development in practice will draw upon case studies primarily from Africa, but also from Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, and the United States. Conference work will be closely integrated with the themes of the course, with a two-stage substantive research project beginning in the fall semester and completed in the spring. Project presentations will incorporate a range of formats, from traditional papers to multimedia visual productions. Where possible and feasible, you will be encouraged to do primary research during fall study days and winter and spring breaks.

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Food, Agriculture, Environment, and Development

Open , Lecture—Year

Where does the food that we eat come from? Why do some people have enough food to eat and others do not? Are there too many people for the world to feed? Who controls the world’s food? Will global food prices continue their recent rapid rise? And if so, what will be the consequences? What are the environmental impacts of our food production systems? How do answers to these questions differ by place or the person asking the question? How have they changed over time? This course will explore the following fundamental issue: the relationship between development and the environment, focusing in particular on agriculture and the production and consumption of food. The questions above often hinge on the contentious debate concerning population, natural resources, and the environment. Thus, we will begin by critically assessing the fundamental ideological positions and philosophical paradigms of “modernization,” as well as critical counterpoints, that lie at the heart of this debate. Within this context of competing sets of philosophical assumptions concerning the population-resource debate, we will investigate the concept of “poverty” and the making of the “Third World,” access to food, hunger, grain production and food aid, agricultural productivity (the Green and Gene revolutions), biofuels, the role of transnational corporations (TNCs), the international division of labor, migration, globalization and global commodity chains, and the different strategies adopted by nation-states to “develop” natural resources and agricultural production. Through a historical investigation of environmental change and the biogeography of plant domestication and dispersal, we will look at the creation of indigenous, subsistence, peasant, plantation, collective, and commercial forms of agriculture. We will analyze the physical environment and ecology that help shape but rarely determine the organization of resource use and agriculture. Rather, through the dialectical rise of various political-economic systems—such as feudalism, slavery, mercantilism, colonialism, capitalism, and socialism—we will study how humans have transformed the world’s environments. We will follow with studies of specific issues: technological change in food production; commercialization and industrialization of agriculture and the decline of the family farm; food and public health, culture, and family; land grabbing and food security; the role of markets and transnational corporations in transforming the environment; and the global environmental changes stemming from modern agriculture, dams, deforestation, grassland destruction, desertification, biodiversity loss, and the interrelationship with climate change. Case studies of particular regions and issues will be drawn from Africa, Latin America, Asia, Europe, and the United States. The final part of the course examines the restructuring of the global economy and its relation to emergent international laws and institutions regulating trade, the environment, agriculture, resource extraction treaties, the changing role of the state, and competing conceptualizations of territoriality and control. We will end with discussions of emergent local, regional, and transnational coalitions for food self-reliance and food sovereignty, alternative and community supported agriculture, community-based resource management systems, sustainable development, and grassroots movements for social and environmental justice. Films, multimedia materials, and distinguished guest lectures will be interspersed throughout the course. One farm/factory field trip is possible in each semester if funding permits. The lecture participants may also take a leading role in a campus-wide event on “food and hunger,” tentatively planned for the spring. Please mark your calendars when the dates are announced, as attendance for all of the above is required. Attendance and participation are also required at special guest lectures and film viewings in the Social Science Colloquium Series, which are held approximately once per month. The Web Board is an important part of the course. Regular postings of short essays will be made there, as well as followup commentaries with your colleagues. There will be in-class essays, a midterm quiz, and a final exam each semester. Group conferences will focus on in-depth analysis of certain course topics and will include debates and small-group discussions. You will prepare a poster project each semester on a topic of your choice that is related to the course and which will be presented at the end of each semester in group conference, as well as a potential public session.

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First-Year Studies: In the Tradition: Introduction to African American History

Open , FYS 1C—Year

African American history is an important window into the history of the United States and the rise of the modern world. This course explores classic narratives and examines major developments. The classic narratives are stories of self-emancipation and self-determination. The major developments range from the Atlantic Slave Trade to the Black Renaissance. On the one hand, students examine the dynamics of modern racism; on the other hand, students explore the contours of African American social, cultural, and intellectual history.

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A History of Poverty and Public Policy: The New Deal or the Raw Deal for Black America?

Open , Small Lecture—Year

This is a history of urban poverty and public policy in America. Was the postwar urban crisis in cities like Detroit, Philadelphia, and Newark caused by the howling contradictions between the New Deal for White America and the Raw Deal for the Other America? What did those savage inequalities mean for employment, housing, and schooling, as well as for public health? What happened when grassroots movements aimed a death blow at Jim Crow public policies?

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The Cultural and Political Work of Women Writers in the United States, 1790–1990

Open , Seminar—Year

“This is what I want you to do,” novelist Rebecca Harding Davis wrote in 1861. “I want you to hide your disgust, take no heed to your clean clothes, and come right down with me—here, into the thickest of the fog and mud and foul effluvia. I want you to hear this story. There is a secret down here, in this nightmare fog, that has laid dumb for centuries: I want to make it a real thing to you.” Using the literary and expository writing of US women, we will explore American stories and secrets, what these writers are working to make “a real thing to you.” Readings will include autobiography, letters, novels, stories, and cultural criticism. Rather than following just canonical literary or intellectual history, we will investigate less well-known and popular fictions alongside classics. Major themes will include questions of politics, race, class, and regional conflict; womanhood, manhood, and sexuality; American identity and nationalism; and immigration. Course work will focus on literary and print culture, but students may explore other media in conference. Particular emphasis will be placed on careful research of the historical context when analyzing primary documents from the period. A working knowledge of the political history of the time is necessary; students who need refreshing will be expected to regularly consult a textbook.

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Gendered Histories of Sickness and Health in Africa

Intermediate , Seminar—Spring

How does an individual’s gender expression determine how s/he or they receive health care in Africa? In what ways does gender influence who provides health care, the kind of care that they offer, or the social determinants of peoples’ health? In the 19th, 20th and early 21st centuries, African citizens, refugees, and internally displaced persons have had to cope with a range of health care challenges. These include: high levels of disability as a result of car accidents and work-related injuries; disruptions to health care services and food provision stemming from war or political unrest; lack of supplies and access to quality care resulting from neoliberal economic policies; and, most recently, the challenges of food insecurity due to seasonal locust infestations. These concerns paint a bleak picture of the status of health and health care provision in Africa. Epidemics like ebola and cholera complicate conditions for people seeking to improve the quality of their health. In addition, pandemics like HIV/AIDS and now COVID-19 have transformed demographics and gender relations in both predictable and unexpected ways. Despite these challenges, millions of African men, women, and children find ways to survive and respond creatively in order to address their needs for health and wellbeing. This class is organized around the understanding that the idea of “good health” is a useful critical lens through which to analyze gender-related questions. How do women, men, and LGBTQ+ individuals organize, navigate, and seek care in order to attain good health? What historical, political, and economic factors influence the provision of quality health care? How have African citizens, governments, faith communities, activists, and indigenous healers responded to the challenges associated with disease and the goal of maintaining good health? Because the African continent is massive and every country is complex and diverse, this class will use case studies from countries like Rwanda, South Africa, Nigeria, Tunisia, Ethiopia, and Kenya to answer these questions. In addition, students will be able to choose other African countries to study in depth in order to gain as broad a picture as possible of this complex and important topic. While we will primarily focus our inquiries by using historical works, we will actively monitor innovations in African countries resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic with the goal of developing a deeper understanding of what it takes to maintain a sense of “good health” in Africa.

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Alternative Americas: A Cultural and Intellectual History of the United States, 1776–1976

Advanced , Seminar—Year

The story most typically told of America focuses on the path taken, the victors and the nature of their victory, the dreamers whose dreams were realized, and central figures in a largely political narrative. In this course, we will revisit the United States through the lives of those more on the margins, dreamers and doers who faced heavier odds or who dreamed of a world that never arrived. Through the words, dreams, memories, and exhortations of African Americans, workers, women, immigrants, and cultural critics of all sorts, we will revisit the story of the idea of America as it has unfolded. Readings will include primary sources from the time period, as well as historical articles and books. In the spring, we will add film. As we read and watch, we will also write: This will be a course that emphasizes the synthesis of historical research and expository writing. A working knowledge of the political history of the time is necessary; students who need refreshing will be expected to regularly consult a textbook.

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Queer(ing) India: Literature, Film, and Law

Open , Seminar—Fall

What is a queer perspective on culture and society? This course aims to provide an introductory survey to queer narratives and cultural production from India and the Indian diaspora as a way to think through this question. Texts will cover a large swath of time, from the early 20th century to the present, and will range across genres such as speculative feminist fiction, political and cultural manifestos, postcolonial novels, and contemporary films. In 2018, the Supreme Court of India finally struck down Section 377, a colonial-era law used to criminalize homosexuality and other “unnatural” sex acts, from the Indian Penal Code after more than a decade of legal battles. The fight for legal rights was accompanied by growing queer representation in popular culture and literature. The supposed “coming out” of queerness into Indian social and cultural life in the last 10 years, the demand to be seen and heard, has been critiqued by some as a by-product of “Westernization” or the influence of “foreign-returned” elites inspired by the Euro-American LGBTQ movement. This has brought with it the need to understand the diversity of queer India as well as the diaspora. In the case of the diaspora, we will work to de-center the Euro-American diaspora, paying attention to long histories of migration to the African continent and indentured labor in the Caribbean and the Pacific as sites for possible South-South solidarities. Taking seriously questions of race, caste, class, nationality, and gender, we will consider what a queer orientation to these hegemonic structures might be and what it might reveal. Thinking through the ways experiences of gender and sexuality were iterated and experienced across times and spaces will help us think through the specifics of each text (and its contexts) while also following threads and connections beyond. Students will engage with a diverse set of cultural, political, and legal artefacts, such as the writings of “founding fathers” like Gandhi and BR Ambedkar— well as legal briefs opposing the punitive Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, 2019, which further stigmatizes non-normative gender identities by requiring transgender people to register with the government. We will read fiction, old and new, such as Untouchable (1935), The God of Small Things (1997) and A Life Apart (2016), as well as watch movies ranging from indie films like Chitrangada (2012) to Bollywood rom-coms like Shubh Mangal Zyada Savdhan (2020).

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Studies in Ecocriticism: The Idea of Nature in the Western Tradition

Open , Small Lecture—Spring

As the capitalistic and predatory model aggressively promoted by the United States continues to reveal itself as a major threat for biodiversity and the environment in general, it is vital to explore and understand the concept of “nature” at the core of the Western tradition and how it was shaped over the course of more than 2,000 years. This course will create a series of bridges between and among the history of literature, philosophy, and science, with implications for many other disciplines. Most importantly, we will discuss the Western and Judeo-Christian concept of nature in the context of race and ethnicity in America today by confronting it with works and arguments developed by Black, Indigenous, Latine, and Asian American authors. Among many themes, we will study how antiquity came to develop a concept of “physis,” so different from our modern understanding of physics, but also shaped our aesthetic eye with the creation of the pastoral genre and the idea of agreeable and tamed landscapes or set a model for a utilitarian relationship to nature with Hesiod and Virgil’s agricultural treaties. We will also analyze specific places, such as the forest in Medieval chivalric romances and American “wilderness” fictions, or chaotic landscapes admired and imagined by the Romantics, or the sea as depicted in Melville’s Moby Dick. The 17th-century scientific revolution and its mathematical and mechanistic approach to nature will lead us to discuss with Descartes the concept of animality in parallel with contemporary philosophers such as Deleuze and Guattari, who make use of models like the burrow or territoriality imported from the animal realm. Going into a completely different direction, we will question the characteristics of a Judeo-Christian conception of the world organized around a remote and immaterial god in direct opposition to a more organic understanding of nature as a “motherly” and immanent figure, with all of the reservations that such a figure implies. These are some of the questions that we will explore, and the focus of our discussions will be to bring new voices in order to deconstruct the Eurocentric concept of “nature.”

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Music, Structure, and Power: Theories of Musical Meaning

Open , Lecture—Spring

This course may be counted as either humanities or social science credit. This course may also be taken as a semester-long component. No prior experience in music is necessary.

How do we listen to unfamiliar music? What ideas, principles, and ideologies influence how we hear? What do the sounds of music tell us about society? This course explores the practice of music theory and the search for musical meaning with examples from around the world. We will describe unfamiliar music and then understand it, using various attempts to translate its meaning. Course themes include musical and cultural difference, the relativism of musical perception, structuralist approaches to music theory, the politics of representation, decolonizing music history, and others. Course units will draw from varied ethnographic case studies from ethnomusicology and anthropology and may include examples from India, Indonesia, China, East Africa, West Africa, the Caribbean, and North America. Class sessions of this course may be modified for an online format, if necessary. Participation in the Faso Foli (West African percussion) ensemble is strongly encouraged.

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The Politics of Addressing the Past: Apology, Repatriation, Reparation, Remembrance

Open , Seminar—Fall

This course will investigate how states and societies address the past from official forgetting to remembrance, apology, repatriation, and reparation. What is the best course of action in the aftermath of gross violations of human rights? Which responses are feasible in a particular context, and how might this shift over time? What impact might apologies have? Why have reparations been won in some cases but not in others? Our discussions will consider the needs of victims, as well as the interests of states and the possible contradictions between the two. We will focus on the role of power in the international system and international law, as well as the ways in which seemingly less powerful groups have engaged and challenged prominent international actors. Case studies will include, but are not limited to, Native American demands for the repatriation of remains, Jewish struggles for restitution in the aftermath of the Holocaust, and postcolonial demands for reparations from former colonizing states. We will also consider the role of narratives and memorials in expanding the discussion concerning reparations for slavery and the ways in which demands for justice gain traction among the general public.

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Intervention and Justice

Open , Seminar—Spring

What are the appropriate responses to widespread human-rights violations in another country as they are occurring? Are there cases in which military humanitarian intervention is warranted? If so, who should intervene? What else can be done short of military intervention? Once the violence has subsided, what actions should the international community take to support peace and justice? This course will explore critical ethical, legal, and political questions. We will consider key cases of both intervention and nonintervention over the last three decades, from Rwanda to Libya, and consider a range of responses to those actions. Finally, we will evaluate different pathways in pursuing truth, justice, and reconciliation in the aftermath of gross violations of human rights. Cases include the International Criminal Tribunal and domestic courts established in Rwanda after the genocide, South Africa’s pioneering Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and the ongoing work of the International Criminal Court.

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Rising Autocrats and Democracy in Decline?

Intermediate , Seminar—Year

Prerequisite: Prior course work in the social sciences

At the end of the Cold War, many Western writers wrote triumphantly about the global victory of democracy and capitalism. In the last few years, we have been bombarded with news of autocrats at home and abroad undermining democracy. We hear democracy is dying, while markets and inequality reach new heights. COVID-19 has reinforced many of these trends but also created greater opportunities for shifting some of our current trajectories. This seminar will address the connections between liberal democracy and market capitalism as they have reinforced and contradicted one another. We will explore the role of social movements in bringing about change and the alternative ideals they have offered. To understand the challenges that individual states face, we begin with the here and now: inequality in the United States and the election of Donald Trump. We then look back for a deeper understanding of political and economic regime change. We will consider the wave of democratization from the late 1980s and consider the ways in which economic conditions contributed to pressure for change and economic policy limited possible outcomes. To understand present-day challenges and opportunities, we will discuss the rise of neoliberalism, as well as Latin American and African state experiments with social democracy and the redistribution of wealth. We will also explore the increase in both populist leaders and popular uprisings. The class will consider the role of social media in propelling protest and the rise of surveillance capitalism in tracking our movements for a wide number of ends. As we evaluate the present, we will consider a range of popular responses to these challenges, as well as alternative frameworks for the future.

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Intersectionality and the Matrix of Race

Open , Small Lecture—Fall

Morpheus: The Matrix is everywhere. It is all around us....You can see it when you look out your window or when you turn on your television....It is the wool that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth. Neo: What truth? Morpheus: That you are a slave, Neo.... —The Matrix (1999)

....the Negro is a sort of seventh son, born with a veil and gifted with second-sight in this American world—a world which yields him no true self-consciousness but only lets him see himself through the revelation of the other world. —W.E.B. DuBois, The Souls of Black Folk (1903)

The construct of race is adaptive and healthy but can also lead to human misery through deception about our (hierarchical) relationship to each other. Racially organized hierarchies, such as The Matrix or DuBois’ veil metaphor, interfere with our ability to clearly perceive our relationships to ourselves and to each other as racial/ethnic beings. In this lecture, we will examine the social construction of the matrix of racialized hierarchy, race, social class, and ethnicity within a historical perspective and how those constructs implicitly and explicitly inform psychological inquiry. We will use an intersectional frame to examine identity and social structure and will include readings by Morrison, Appiah, Haney Lopez, and Hill Collins, among others. We will also examine the development of racial/ethnic identity in childhood and adolescence, as well as gendered and sexual aspects of race/ethnicity. Finally, we will move toward a broader understanding of psychological aspects of prejudice, ethnic conflict, and immigration and how those themes are expressed within the United States and abroad.

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The Social Psychology of Immigration

Open , Seminar—Spring

Immigration is a worldwide phenomenon in which people move into another nation with the intention of making a better life for themselves and/or residing there temporarily or permanently. While anchored in a multidisciplinary perspective, this seminar explores the crucial role of psychology in understanding the processes associated with our conceptualizations of immigrants and immigration. The course will begin with some theoretical perspectives on immigration, as well as a brief historical overview of some sociological and some social psychological research on immigrants. We will then examine the identity of the immigrant, stressing the profound distinctions between forced and voluntary immigrants. We will explore the processes through which “illegality” is constructed by reflecting on the lives of undocumented immigrants. We will also look very closely at the intersections of race, class, gender, sexuality, and culture to see how they shape the psychological experience of immigrants. Seeking to extend our analysis to immigration’s impact on the host population, we will conclude the course by discussing several social psychological issues, such as intergroup relations, discrimination, and modes of adaptation.

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Mobilization and Social Change

Sophomore and above , Seminar—Fall

In light of recent national—as well as international—calls for racial justice, which have propelled several movements, this course will analyze the chronology of the various theories and research in both cultural and social psychology, highlighting the need to re-examine intolerance not only in the heads of people but also in the world. Given that these biases are often defined as individual prejudice, even though their persistence is systemic, we will see how they crystallize in ways that are marked in the cultural fabric, the various artifacts, the ideological discourse, and most institutional realities that all work in synchronicity with individual biases. In this class, we will highlight various examples of historically derived ideas and cultural patterns that maintain present-day inequalities (gender, sexualities, class, persons with disabilities, and various other forms of social injustice). We will first explore the theory of minority influence, a theory that stands in contra-distinction to conformity, providing a model to develop and articulate change. With the help of cultural psychology, we will then see how injustices are anchored and objectified in our everyday world. We will analyze how our preferences and selections are maintained through the contexts of our interactions. This perspective will lead us to explore the theory of social representations, moving us away from individual tendencies to focus on changing the structures in which collectively elaborated understanding is maintained and reproduced as a system.

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Children and Families

Intermediate , Seminar—Fall

This course focuses on the development of the child within the context of family, school, and community in the United States and globally. We will examine the interplay of culture, social structure, and individual-level variation in effecting the life course of children. We will also study the development of families from spousal pair bonding through child raising and the interaction between adult children and parents. Our approach will be to explore the connections across multiple levels of organization, from the biological to individual to sociocultural and structural; our readings will range from classic and contemporary literatures in anthropology, developmental and family psychology, sociology, and public health. This is a good course for students interested in graduate study in a variety of social science and health fields.

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Emerging Adulthood

Intermediate , Seminar—Spring

We have time, energy, questions, and few responsibilities. We want to push the envelope, resist compromise, lead revolutions, and turn the world upside down. Because we do not yet know quite how to be, we have not settled and will not let the dust settle around us. —Karlin & Borofsky, 2003

Many traditional psychological theories of development posit a brief transition from adolescence to adulthood. However, many people moving into their 20s experience anything but a brief transition to “feeling like an adult,” pondering questions such as: How many SLC alums can live in a Brooklyn sublet? What will I do when I finish the Peace Corps next year? In this course, we will explore the psychological literature concerning emerging adulthood, the period from the late teens through the 20s. We will examine this period of life from a unified biopsychosocial and intersectional perspective.

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Health in a Multicultural Context

Intermediate , Seminar—Spring

A background in social sciences or education is recommended.

This course offers, within a cultural context, an overview of theoretical and research issues in the psychological study of health and illness. We will examine theoretical perspectives in the psychology of health, health cognition, illness prevention, stress, and coping with illness and will highlight research, methods, and applied issues. We will also explore the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic within the frame of these theoretical perspectives. This class is appropriate for those interested in a variety of health careers. Conference work may range from empirical research to bibliographic research in this area. Community partnership/service-learning work may be an option in this class.

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Advanced Behavioral Statistics Practicum

Intermediate/Advanced , Small seminar—Spring

This course will be offered based on student need and interest. Prerequisite: previous college-level statistics course.

The primary objective of this course is to understand and apply various statistical analysis techniques when conducting your own independent research. As such, it is a useful companion to the completion of an independent research project as part of a senior thesis, independent study, or research seminar course. The course covers core statistical methods that are essential in the behavioral sciences, including ANOVA, ANCOVA, and linear, logistic, and multiple regression. Relevant non-parametric statistics, such as chi square, will also be discussed. This course will meet weekly in a workshop format to learn and apply various statistical techniques to sample, as well as real data sets. Weekly assignments will utilize SPSS, a standard data analysis program utilized in behavioral statistics. Students will be responsible for working collaboratively with their colleagues in this course, outside of the class meeting time, in regular weekly meetings to further develop their understanding of each statistical technique, as well as to develop their ability to utilize SPSS. Students will also be required to apply statistical concepts to the development of thesis or other research proposals, including a discussion of potential analyses and the relevant data to be collected that might utilize these techniques. Students will meet regularly with the instructor to discuss an ongoing project for which they will utilize some of the statistical techniques learned throughout the course. By the end of the semester, students should have completed their analyses and incorporated a report of the work completed into a final project report, be it a thesis, independent study, or other conference project. 

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Religion and Power: Islam, Christianity, and the United States

Open , Seminar—Fall

Theology, whether it is acknowledged or publicly noted, has often played a significant role in the political life of the United States. Religious arguments and positions have provided the theoretical underpinnings for institutions such as slavery and incarceration and policies in the areas of immigration, foreign relations, and military interventions. In this course, we will focus on the intersection of Christian and Muslim theologies in America from the early republic to the Trump era. Some of the topics to be explored are the religious justifications used for owning slaves and creating barriers to citizenship, the religious/nationalist ideologies of black Muslims and white supremacists, the phenomenon of apocalyptic reasoning, American religious positions on the state of Israel, and white evangelical support for President Trump. Although the number of Americans identifying themselves as having a religious affiliation has been dropping steadily over the last decade, the influence of religion on American politics has not.

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Contemporary Muslim Novels and Creative Nonfiction

Open , Seminar—Spring

In current global circumstances, Islam is all too frequently represented solely in terms of political and militant ideologies. For those who wish to dig deeper, there are the rich and varied traditions of classical religious scholarship and jurisprudence. But to look at Islam through these lenses alone is to miss alternate sensibilities that are just as important in providing the material from which many Muslims construct their identities. In 1988, the Egyptian author Naguib Mahfouz became the first Muslim writer to win the Nobel Prize in Literature. Although Mahfouz was one of the first to adopt the format of the novel, in recent years many new writers emerging from Muslim majority and minority areas around the world have found broad audiences. Their works embrace, resist, reject, transmute, and/or show nostalgia for the beliefs and practices with which the authors grew up or have adopted. As natives, immigrants, third culture, or converts, some of the writers to be explored here have actively promoted themselves as Muslim writers while others question this label or view it as only one signifier of many. The writings that have been selected will be ones that deal substantially with issues of Muslim identity. All of them were either written in English or have been translated into English.

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Literatures From the Spanish-Speaking World: The Poetry and the Short Story

Advanced , Seminar—Fall

This seminar will operate as an introduction to the literatures of the Spanish-speaking world, centered on the study of two of its mainstays: the formation of the poetic canon and the tradition of the short story. We will examine the development of both forms of literary expression concurrently, paying attention to the most-important moments in the literary history of Latin America and Spain. In our exploration, we will not proceed in strict chronological order but, rather, focus on pivotal phases that illustrate the amalgamation of cultures and idioms that converge in the crystallization of the rich body of literatures produced in the score of nations that share Spanish as their vehicle of cultural expression. The point of departure will be the rise of modernismo at the end of the 19th century, when the Nicaraguan poet Rubén Darío became the pilot of the language, moving its center of gravity to Latin America, after establishing a direct connection with vital centers of European literature, like France. The second pivotal moment of our journey will take us to the 20th century with figures like César Vallejo, who broke all stereotypes of poetic creation, establishing an idiom whose influence continues to be felt today. Along with his poetic output, we will study that of poets as influential as Gabriela Mistral, Pablo Neruda, Rosario Castellanos, Alejandra Pizarnik, Federico García Lorca, Juan Ramón Jiménez, and José Lezama Lima, among other towering names. We will continue our exploration of the poetic traditions of Latin America and Spain studying the fascinating relationship between the present time and crucial moments from the past, including early manifestations such as the ancient jarchas, Iberian compositions in vernacular romance preserved in Arabic characters, or the unsurpassable anonymous authors of the beautiful medieval ballads that constitute the Romancero, as well as authors of Jewish origin such as don Sem Tob. Another important moment of our trajectory will consist of an examination of the roots and ramifications of realismo mágico, a form of expression that once defined the literary expression of Latin America, to be later reformulated by subsequent generations of writers. The last phase of the journey will consist of an investigation of the most recent forms of poetic expression as they occur in new forms of communication, from social networks to all kinds of outlets derived from technological sources and platforms. In each of these phases, the study of the poetic canon will have its counterpart in an exploration of the sister genre of the short story.

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Practices, Techniques, and Strategies in Photography

Open , Seminar—Year

$200–$400 materials expense per semester

The course offers a trio of necessary skills to build a photographic practice, including critical theory, art histories, and technique. Students will learn analog and digital, from photographic capture to scanning and printing. Through a series of assignments and lectures, students will consider the overarching concepts that inform their work. Dynamic themes include working within and against a field of influence, the roll of documentary and conceptual approaches to photography, subjectivity versus structural systems of production, and photography as event and narrative. Our time will be divided between group critiques and lectures. In the spirit of experimentation and play, drawing from research, and the everyday, students will test their theories in practice. Students will develop a cohesive and original body of photographs and develop a generative practice based on a process of making, thinking, and remaking. Final work will be compiled into an artist-made, print-on-demand book.

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Fiction Workshop: The Kids Are All Right

Open , Seminar—Fall

This workshop will focus on developing and sharpening stories with adolescent protagonists. The course will strive to answer the questions: How does one write teenage characters with an authentic voice? How do we channel the angst of our youth to craft honest, true-to-life narratives? And how can we capture on the page the sheer bigness of first experiences without pandering? The texts to which we will return in this course will vary across disciplines in order for us to better understand the nature of stories about young people and the ways in which they manifest themselves based on era, medium, and intended audience. This workshop will be grounded in empathy; and all critiques, discussions, and feedback will reflect that ethos. Readings for workshop and conference will include: Picture Us in the Light by Kelly Loy Gilbert, Simon vs. the Homosapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli, Shatter Me by Taherah Mafi, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz, The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton, “Girl” by Jamaica Kincaid, and “Drinking Coffee Elsewhere” by ZZ Packer, among others.

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Writing About the Arts

Open , Seminar—Fall

This class will examine and produce a range of work—from the journalistic to the critical, from the practical to the mystical—in the vast landscape of arts writing. We will write liner notes, catalogue copy for gallery shows, short reviews, long reviews, critical essays, and deep and subjective interior meditations on our experience of artists and their work. We will read broadly across time—possibly including, but not limited to, Samuel Johnson on Richard Savage, Wordsworth and Coleridge on themselves, Nietzsche on Wagner, Amiri Baraka on Billie Holiday, Virginia Woolf on Thomas Hardy, Thomas De Quincey on Shakespeare, James Baldwin on Richard Wright, Glenn Gould on Barbra Streisand. Mark Strand on Edward Hopper, Jean-Luc Godard on Nicholas Ray, Pauline Kael on Sam Peckinpah. Students should feel confident in their familiarity with one or two art forms, broadly understood, and should expect, along with the reading, to write several small and two large (8-12 pages) pieces. Conference work will comprise research projects on those artists or works of art, or both, that class members, in consultation with the instructor, decide are their special province.

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