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 of 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 Africa 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.

2018-2019 Courses

Understanding Experience: Phenomenological Approaches in Anthropology

Open , Seminar—Spring

How does a chronic illness affect a person’s orientation to the everyday? What are the social and political forces that underpin life in a homeless shelter? What is the experiential world of a deaf person, a musician, a refugee, or a child at play? In an effort to answer these and like-minded questions, anthropologists in recent years have become increasingly interested in developing phenomenological accounts of particular “lifeworlds” in order to understand—and convey to others—the nuances and underpinnings of such worlds in terms that more orthodox social or symbolic analyses cannot achieve. In this context, phenomenology entails an analytic method that works to understand and describe in words phenomena as they appear to the consciousnesses of certain peoples. Phenomenology, put simply, is the study of experience. The phenomena most often in question for anthropologists include the workings of time, perception, emotions, selfhood, language, bodies, suffering, and morality as they take form in particular lives within the context of any number of social, linguistic, and political forces. In this course, we will explore phenomenological approaches in anthropology by reading and discussing some of the most significant efforts along these lines. Each student will also try her or his hand at developing a phenomenological account of a specific subjective or intersubjective lifeworld through a combination of interviewing, participant observation research, and ethnographic writing.

Faculty
Related Disciplines

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

Sophomore and above , Seminar—Spring

At the close of 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 Kenyan settler children growing up with African playmates and expressed her concerns about the morally deleterious effects of such play on these 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 seminar, 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. In our intellectual explorations, 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 materials for this class include literature, scholarly articles, ethnographic accounts, historical documents, and film. There will be much discussion.

Faculty
Related Disciplines

Specters of the Subject: Hauntologies of Ghosts, Phantasms, and Imaginings in Contemporary Life

Advanced , Seminar—Year

“The future belongs to the ghosts,” remarked the philosopher Jacques Derrida in 1996. As his interlocutor Bernard Stiegler phrases the main idea behind this statement, “Modern technology, contrary to appearances, increases tenfold the power of ghosts.” With the advent of the Internet, various forms of social media, and the ubiquity of filmic images in our lives, Derrida's observations have proven to be quite prophetic, such that they call for a new field of study—one that requires less an ontology of being and the real and more a “hauntology” (to invoke Derrida's punish term) of the spectral, the virtual, the phantasmic, the imaginary, and the recurrent revenant. In this seminar, we consider ways in which the past and present are haunted by ghosts. Topics to be covered include: specters and hauntings, figures and apparitions, history and memory, trauma and political crisis, fantasy and imagination, digital interfaces, and visual and acoustical images. We will be considering a range of films and video, photography, literary texts, acoustic reverberations, Internet and social media, and everyday discourses and imaginings. Through these inquiries, we will be able to further our understanding of the nature of specters and apparitions in the contemporary world in their many forms and dimensions. Students will be invited to undertake their own hauntologies and thus craft studies of the phenomenal force of specters, hauntings, and the apparitional in particular social or cultural contexts.

Faculty
Related Disciplines

Political Economy of Women

Open , Lecture—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 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 the 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; the current position of women in the US economy and polity and the possibilities for inclusive public policies concerning gender and family issues.

Faculty
Related Disciplines

Food, Agriculture, Environment, and Development

Sophomore and above , Seminar—Year

Where does the food 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 by 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 guests will be interspersed throughout the course. One farm field trip is possible, if funding permits. The seminar participants may also take a leading role in a campus-wide event on “food and agriculture,” 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 is also required at special guest lectures and film viewings in the Geography Lecture and Film Series—approximately once per month in the evening from 6-8 pm. The Web board is an important part of the course. Regular postings of assignments will be made there, along with follow-up commentaries. There will be in-class essays, debates, and small group discussions. Conferences will focus on in-depth analyses of course topics. You will be required to prepare a poster project and paper on a topic of your choice related to the course, which will be presented at the end of each semester in a special session.

Faculty
Related Disciplines

Introduction to Development Studies: The Political Ecology of Development

Intermediate/Advanced , Seminar—Year

Experience in the social sciences is 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 acquaint us 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 this 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 its associated institutions and the role that they 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, students will be encouraged to do primary research during fall study days and winter and spring breaks.

Faculty
Related Disciplines

The Price of Citizenship: A History of Poverty and Public Policy in the United States

Open , Lecture—Year

This lecture is a super-lecture and may enroll up to 60 students.

The history of poverty and public policy in the United States did not begin with President Roosevelt’s New Deal or with President Johnson’s War on Poverty. Before the Great Depression and the Other America, the public policy toward urban poverty began with the humiliating and punitive institution of the poorhouse. And subsequently, public policy and social welfare in America developed in the shadow of the poorhouse. If one school of experts suggests that American social welfare has been obsessed with the social control over poor people, then a second school of experts has been engrossed in dividing the poor into two moral categories: the deserving poor and the undeserving poor. Unfortunately, many experts were preoccupied with “improving” the morality of poor people rather than with ending economic poverty amid American bounty. By contrast, there is another tradition—one of social-justice movements that demand an end to American economic poverty and savage inequality. How did those dynamics shape the contours of American citizenship during the New Deal and the Great Society? Those issues will be explored in the lectures, discussions, and films in this course.

Faculty
Related Disciplines

The Blues Ethos and Jazz Aesthetics: A History of African Americans in the City

Sophomore and above , Seminar—Year

By the 20th century, African Americans in the city produced the genius of blues and jazz, including distinctive aesthetics of pleasure in music and dance. Artists like Bessie Smith, Ma‘ Rainey, Billy Holiday, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Lester Young, and Duke Ellington were paradigmatic in that cultural production. Those aesthetics influenced the black imagination in social, political, and cultural development, including not only the Harlem Renaissance and Chicago Black Renaissance but also the Black Arts Movement. With that cultural and historical background, students in this seminar will explore a variety of research projects.

Faculty
Related Disciplines

Body Politics: A Cultural History of the United States

Advanced , Seminar—Year

Open only to juniors, seniors, and graduate students.

Historian Joan Jacobs Brumberg argues, “In the 20th century, the body has become the central personal project of American girls.” Increasingly in US culture, the body is seen as the ultimate expression of the self; and that personal project has become a project of more than girls. This course will analyze the emergence of this consuming anxiety against the backdrop of other conversations about what are understood as women’s and men’s bodies: as workers, as mothers and fathers, as public figures, as sexual beings. Using cultural criticism, novels, and films, as well as history, we will discuss questions of body politics generally and how a study of the body reveals crucial cultural and political values. The way the body is displayed, hidden, used, misused, celebrated, transformed, and vilified provides a lens through which to make sense of ideals of gender, beauty, sexual politics, racial politics, labor politics, and family politics—all areas of interest in this class. Although most of the course will focus on the 20th century United States, the first third of the fall semester will be devoted to general questions about defining body politics and a quick look at the 19th century. We will end at the close of World War II in the fall and pick up at the same moment in the spring, finishing by May at or near the end of the 20th century. Conferences will involve research into primary materials. This will be a writing-intensive course, including (mostly) expository writing but also creative nonfiction.

Faculty
Related Disciplines

First-Year Studies: Imperialism, Resistance, Development, Intervention: African States in the International System

Open , FYS—Year

This course will engage key questions in development studies, international relations, and politics from the perspectives and experiences of African states and societies. We will begin with the African continent’s introduction to international politics and economics through trade in goods and slaves to imperialism and colonialism. We ask not just what Europeans wanted but also how Africans responded and resisted. We will also investigate present-day campaigns to address colonial-era human-rights violations. With the end of colonial rule, independent African states became full, but subordinate, members of the international system. As the Cold War reached new heights, states were pressed to choose between capitalism and communism, to ally with the West or the Soviet Union. We will explore the forms of economic and political development that states and social actors pursued. What sorts of aid did they receive? What conditions were attached to that aid? What room was there for democracy? What role did institutions like the World Bank play in aggravating or alleviating conditions of poverty? We will bring our discussion of international aid and development up to the present by discussing China’s dramatically expanded role on the African continent by providing loans, building infrastructure, and engaging in trade. We will conclude the fall semester by considering to what extent China presents either a different model of development and international politics or just an updated version of earlier models. During the second semester, we will focus on war, interventions, justice, and peace. With the end of the Cold War, African states experienced a dramatic increase in civil and interstate wars. We will investigate the central causes of key conflicts, as well as interventions by non-African states. Key questions include: Under what circumstances did Western states engage in humanitarian or other forms of intervention in response to conflict? Why did the international community withdraw during the Rwandan genocide? What institutions did the international community establish in order to support human rights, and how effective have they been? We will consider the various forms of justice pursued after the Rwandan genocide, as well as the charge that the International Criminal Court is targeting African states. Finally, we will use what we have learned to consider the impact of the United States’s Global War on Terrorism (GWOT) on US and other military actions on the African continent. The United States has dramatically increased its military presence on the continent in the last decade, as members of the US military have engaged in dramatic firefights with militants in East Africa and the Sahel. US-armed drones have killed significant numbers. We will consider how those interventions impact the prospects for short-term and long-term peace and development. This course will not provide any easy answers but will equip students to ask better questions, to effectively support their arguments, and to engage in in-depth research. Conference meetings will largely be one-on-one, but we will also schedule a few small group conferences during the year. There is also the possibility of full group outings, depending upon local events.

Faculty
Related Disciplines

Emerging Adulthood

Open , Seminar—Fall

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.

Faculty
Related Disciplines

Children’s 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 in children. We will examine theoretical perspectives in the psychology of health, health cognition, illness prevention, stress, and coping with illness and highlight research, methods, and applied issues. 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 is an option in this class.

Faculty
Related Disciplines

Advanced Research Seminar

Intermediate/Advanced , 3-credit seminar—Year

Permission of the instructor is required.

In this research seminar, students will gain valuable research experience through a weekly seminar meeting focused on research methods, research ethics, and contemporary research questions and approaches; a weekly lab meeting with one of the faculty members leading the research seminar; and individual and group conference meetings with faculty supervisors on a regular, as-needed basis. The seminar component will include readings on, and discussions of, research methods and ethics, both broad and specific to the research in which students are involved, as well as the discussion of contemporary research articles that are relevant to student and faculty research projects. All faculty and students involved in the research experience will take turns leading the discussion of current research, with faculty taking the lead at the beginning of the semester and students taking the lead as their expertise develops. Weekly lab meetings will also involve reading and discussing research articles and research methods papers specific to the topics of research being undertaken by each student and faculty member. Students will be expected to learn the current research approaches being employed by their supervising faculty member, contribute toward ongoing research in the form of a research practicum, and develop and implement their own independent research projects within the labs in which they are working. Faculty supervising each lab will also be available to meet with students individually and in small groups on an ongoing basis, as needed and at least every other week, in addition to the regular weekly, hour-long lab meeting. Students participating in the Psychology Advanced Research Seminar will be expected to attend and actively participate in weekly full group seminars, weekly lab meetings, and regular (typically, at least biweekly) individual and group conference meetings; keep an ongoing journal and/or scientific lab notebook; select and facilitate group and lab discussions of relevant contemporary research articles (at least once for each meeting type); work at least 5 hours within a lab and/or community setting, as appropriate for their projects; contribute toward ongoing research and practice within their lab or community settings; develop, implement, and report on (in the form of a short paper prepared for possible publication and a poster at the Natural Sciences and Mathematics Poster Session) an independent research project; and provide their colleagues with ongoing verbal and written feedback on their projects.

Faculty
Related Disciplines

First-Year Studies: The New Narrative Photography

Open , FYS—Year

A photograph presented alone and without a descriptive caption is like a simple utterance: “ooh!” or “aah!” or “huh?” When pictures are presented in groups with accompanying text and perhaps in conjunction with political or poetic conceptual strategies, however, any statement becomes possible. Collectively, photographs can begin to function as a sentence, a paragraph, or a larger discourse. Whether working in fiction or nonfiction, artists such as Alan Sekula, Robert Frank, Susan Meiselas, Taryn Simon, Jim Goldberg, Roni Horn, and others have transformed the reach of the photograph. Collectively, they have created a medium: The New Narrative Photography. In this course, students will study the work of artists and others and will create their own bodies of work. If you have a story to tell or a statement to make, this course is open to you. No previous photographic experience is necessary nor is any special equipment. The opportunity to forge a new medium is rare. This course aims to create the forum and the conditions necessary for all to do so in a critical and supportive workshop environment.

Faculty
Related Disciplines

The Ideas of Photography

Open , Seminar—Year

This course is a hybrid. Each week of the first semester, a different photographic idea or genre will be traced from its earliest iterations to its present form through slide lectures and readings. And each week, students will respond with their own photographic work inspired by the visual presentations and readings. Topics include personal dress-up/narrative, composite photography/photographic collage, the directorial mode, fashion/art photography, new strategies in documentary practice, abstraction/”new photography,” the typology in photography, the photograph in color, and the use of words and images in combination. In the second semester, the emphasis will shift as students choose to work on a subject and in a form that coincides with the ideas that they most urgently wish to express. No previous experience in photography is necessary nor is any special equipment. A desire to explore, to experiment, and to create a personally meaningful body of work are the only prerequisites.

Faculty
Related Disciplines