Latin American and Latinx Studies

The Latin American and Latinx studies (LALS) program is devoted to the interdisciplinary investigation of Latin American, Caribbean, and Latinx cultures, politics, and histories. Through a variety of disciplines, students will have opportunities to explore the vibrant cultural life of Latin American and Caribbean countries, as well as the experiences of Latinx communities in the United States.

Course offerings will include language, literature, dance, film, music, art, and other cultural expressions as a way to familiarize students with a world that is rich in imagination, powerful in social impact, and defiant of the stereotypes usually imposed upon it. Students will also interrogate the complex political dynamics involved in such processes as (post)colonialism, migration, revolution, social movements, citizenship, and the cultural politics of race, gender, sexuality, and class. The histories of conquest, colonialism, development, and resistance in the area also require broad inquiry into the often turbulent and violent realities of political economic forces.

As this program is concerned with a broad set of border crossings, faculty in LALS are also committed to expanding educational experiences beyond Sarah Lawrence College. Accordingly, students are encouraged to study abroad through Sarah Lawrence College programs in Cuba, Argentina, and Peru or with other programs in Latin America. Students will also have opportunities to explore the borderlands closer to Sarah Lawrence College, including Latinx communities in New York City and Westchester County.

Latin American and Latinx Studies 2022-2023 Courses

Understanding Experience: Phenomenological Approaches in Anthropology

Open, Seminar—Fall

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.

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Spaces of Exclusion, Places of Belonging

Intermediate, Seminar—Fall

This course explores issues of identity and difference, locality and community, through a close look at the interconnections between language and place. Engaging with recent scholarly work in the fields of linguistic anthropology, sociocultural anthropology, ethnic studies, sociology, geography, architecture, and literature, we will seek to decode sociospatial arrangements to better understand structures and processes of exclusion and marginalization. At the same time, we will observe how linguistic discourse and material realities shape people’s navigations through space and how efforts at placemaking create sites of collective identity, resistance, belonging, and recognition. We will ask questions such as: How does “talk of crime” instantiate racial segregation in a Brazilian favela? How does the use of everyday words like “nice” or “modern” disguise discrimination and define the boundaries of gated communities in places like Texas and Mumbai? And how does the language of public policy police green spaces to restrict access by people who are unhoused in San Diego? What does it mean to talk of “placeless” spaces or states, such as those instantiated through technologies like social media, radio, or meditative practice? How should we understand the connections between language, identity, and place in people’s experiences of displacement, transborder identifications, or longings for homeland as they play out for Sierra Leonean Muslims in Washington, DC, Ecuadorians in Italy, or Indigenous Latin American migrants in California and Wyoming? Posed in a wide range of ethnographic contexts, our efforts to puzzle through these issues will require attention to the ways in which space and place are spoken, embodied, gendered, racialized, and (il)legalized. We will likewise attend to the politics and ethics of decolonizing scholarship on space and place and to the meanings of an engaged anthropology that leans toward social justice.

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

Advanced, Seminar—Fall

“The future belongs to the ghosts,” remarked the philosopher Jacques Derrida in 1996. 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.

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Language, Politics, and Identity

Open, Seminar—Spring

This course will ask how words do things in the world, exploring the complex linkages of language, politics, and identity in both past and present contexts. We will pose a range of questions, such as: How does language enable powerful regimes to take force, and how do linguistic innovations constitute a creative means to challenge oppression? What role do the politics and poetics of language play in broader social movements and cultural revitalization efforts? How do particular political configurations produce language shift or constrain the possibilities for verbal expression in specific social groups? How does language take shape through specific narrative forms like testimonio, and how do such forms constitute or enable acts of political resistance? We will look at such topics in a range of ethnographic contexts, with a special focus on the Americas. Our readings will address case studies, including: the emergent Zapotec language and music revival in the highlands of Oaxaca, Mexico; the lexicon of terror that shaped the political kidnappings and murders of Argentina’s Dirty Wars; the legacies of secrecy, silence, and creative resistance among Pueblo nations in the US Southwest; the challenges and joys of bilingualism among transnational migrants; and the acts of narrative witnessing employed by a range of activists, including political prisoners, Indigenous rights leaders, and undocumented youth. Students will be invited to draw upon original linguistic research as a central part of their conference work.

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Arts of Spain and Latin America, 1492–1820: Imperial, Resistant, Colonial, and Transcultural Arts

Open, Lecture—Spring

This course will explore the art and architecture of Spain and Latin America as its lands emerged from colonialism to forge strong independent identities. We will focus on selected topics, including extraordinary artists such as El Greco, Velázquez, Goya, Cabrera, and Aleijadinho, as well as complex issues surrounding art and identity in contested and textured lands—in particular, Casta painting, colonialism, and arts of revolution and national identity. Students may, if they wish, extend their conference work to later artists (e.g., Diego Rivera, Frida Khalo, José Bedia, Belkis Ayón, among others).

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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 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; and the current position of women in the US economy and polity and the possibilities for more inclusive public policies concerning gender and family issues. In addition to class participation and the conference project, requirements include regular short essays on the readings and approximately a half-dozen longer essays that synthesize class materials with the written texts.

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Documentary Filmmaking: The Personal Is Political II

Open, Seminar—Spring

In this documentary course, students will locate themselves in larger movements for change in order to produce a three-to-five minute film. The projects may be grounded in portraiture, historically informed, and even the experimental and will exist through a lens of social change and personal experience. Students will work in teams to produce their films, building trust among each other as collaborators and practicing filmmaking as essentially interdependent creative work. Students will be required to make their work public and create social-engagement strategies for their final films. Given these unprecedented times—as we are presented with new opportunities to shift our understanding of self, community, and the roles that we can play in pursuing a just future—this course is for those who are committed to using filmmaking as a tool for change. This semester-long collaboration is equal parts media creation and an understanding of the power of artists in movements for justice.

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Documentary Filmmaking: The Personal Is Political I

Open, Seminar—Fall

In this documentary course, students will locate themselves in larger movements for change in order to produce a three-to-five minute film. The projects may be grounded in portraiture, historically informed, and even the experimental and will exist through a lens of social change and personal experience. Students will work in teams to produce their films, building trust among each other as collaborators and practicing filmmaking as essentially interdependent creative work. Students will be required to make their work public and create social-engagement strategies for their final films. Given these unprecedented times—as we are presented with new opportunities to shift our understanding of self, community, and the roles that we can play in pursuing a just future—this course is for those who are committed to using filmmaking as a tool for change. This semester-long collaboration is equal parts media creation, screenings, and an understanding of the power of artists in movements for justice.

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Globalization Past and Present: Global and Local Communities in Yonkers

Open, Large seminar—Spring

This course is an introduction to thinking globally and acting locally; it examines how different regional, national, and local communities see their place in the world and how events, processes, or structures that cross national and regional boundaries affect specific communities and individuals. The course encompasses all continents but gives special attention to Latin America and Latino flows, networks, and exchanges. The course assumes globalization as both historical and contemporary; thus, it is divided into two parts. The first part of the course explores globalization in a long-term historical perspective, including ancient world precedents; 14th-century exchanges before European hegemony; the encounter and collision of Europe, Africa, and the Americas in the modern world; the Enlightenment and the Age of Revolutions; the Industrial Revolution and the Great Divergence; among others. The second part of the course explores major transnational issues today, including climate change and environmentalism, social justice and human rights, movement of diseases and global health, world trade and financial inequality, migration and labor movements, and world religions and multiculturalism, among others. The course has a community work component: It asks students to interrogate the concepts, practices, processes, and events studied in class through and within their work with the Yonkers community. The course will help students situate the experience of migration, labor, finance, health, education, religion, and culture of Yonkers communities and individuals within wider and longer patterns of flows, structures, and networks between the Americas and the world.

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Latinx Public Humanities and Museum Studies

Open, Seminar—Spring

In this course, students will build a foundation for studying and engaging in museum studies in conversation with Latinx studies. The goal of this course is to offer students multiple perspectives that would aid their understanding and practice of Latinx public humanities through an antiracist framework. The course provides students with history and theories in museum and Latinx studies and then an opportunity for engaging in a hands-on research project that leads to the “Making Home” Latinx Public Humanities initiative between Sarah Lawrence College and the Hudson River Museum. Students will conduct field and archival research; conduct oral-history interviews; and collaborate with community organizations, leaders, and residents to co-curate an exhibit, podcasts, and teaching resources that will be part of a “Making Home” Latinx Public Humanities project. Each year will have a different praxis focus according to the initiative’s timeline. This year, the course focuses on identifying and centering local histories and legacies of Latinx organizations, leaders, residents, and centers in Westchester County.

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Plundered: Tales of Extractivism and Resistance

Open, Small Lecture—Spring

First, it was gold. Then, it was silver, sugar, oil...bananas, avocados. Taking as its point of departure Eduardo Galeano’s foundational study, The Open Veins of Latin America, this course will explore the centuries-long history of plunder—and resistance—in Abya Yala through fiction and nonfiction, feature films, and documentaries. We will look at some of the most pressing environmental and social-justice issues in the region—including deforestation, industrial pollution, and access to water—with an eye toward the relationship between activism and artistic expression. Our contextualized readings and viewings will include public statements and creative works from land defenders; Pablo Neruda’s condemnation of neoimperialism in his poem, The United Fruit Company; Samanta Schweblin’s gothic novel about the horrors of agrochemicals; a narrative film set against the successful uprising against water privatization in Bolivia; and frontline journalism. This course will focus on the lands colonized by Spain and Portugal and the intersecting forms of neocolonial violence to which they continue to be subjected but will not lose sight of the resonances between these histories and those that took, and are taking, place across the continent. This interactive small lecture will fully participate in the collaborative interludes and other programs of the Sarah Lawrence Interdisciplinary Collaborative on the Environment (SLICE) Mellon course cluster.

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International Perspectives on Psychology

Open, Lecture—Fall

What does psychology look like outside of the United States? How does psychology operate across multiple cultures? In this course, we will attempt to answer these questions as we explore multiple international perspectives of psychology. First, we will begin with an examination of the history of psychology as a field. Next, we will grapple with arguments for and against international psychology. Our course will explore the development of psychology in multiple parts of the world. Our readings will focus on tracing the roots of specific schools of psychology, such as liberation psychology and South African psychology, and examining case studies in India, Aotearoa/New Zealand, the former Soviet Union, and El Salvador. Readings may include perspectives from theorists such as Martin-Baro (liberation psychology), Sunil Bhatia (decolonizing psychology), Frantz Fanon (postcolonial theory and psychology), and Lev Vygotsky (cultural-historical psychology). Lastly, we will explore the role of international organizations and mental health, such as the WHO and the UN. In conference work, students will be encouraged to explore international perspectives of psychology beyond the examples discussed in class. This course is open to students interested in psychology, mental health, international relations, politics, regional studies, and anthropology.

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First-Year Studies: From Schools to Prisons: Inequality and Social Policy in the United States

FYS—Year

Inequality and social policy go hand in hand in the United States. From the schools to the criminal justice system, policies structure our lives by either contributing to or helping to scale back inequality. This course introduces students to policymaking through the lens of different issue areas in the United States. Students will examine major policy areas—including immigration, criminal justice, health, and education—along three axes. First, we will explore these areas socially and historically to see how debates and policies have evolved. We will also draw from the social-science literature to examine the strengths and weaknesses and the intended and unintended consequences of these policies. Second, we will explore the complicated system of institutions that have the power to make public-policy decisions in each of these areas and across federal, state, and local levels. Finally, we will explore the role of different actors in attempting to influence and implement policy—organized interests, experts, and local communities. Students will leave the class with an understanding of major policy issues, policymaking, and how to effect policy change. This foundational information will feed into broader discussion about inequality in the United States. This class will have weekly conferences for the first four weeks; it will then alternate biweekly individual conferences with biweekly small-group activities.

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The Politics of “Illegality,” Surveillance, and Protest

Advanced, Seminar—Fall

Over the contemporary history of the United States, newspapers, television, Facebook and Twitter have disseminated images of unauthorized immigrants and their allies taking to the streets to protest punitive immigration policies. Images and videos of unauthorized youth “sitting-in” in acts of civil disobedience, coming out as “undocumented, unafraid, and unapologetic,” and facing off with police and immigration officials have been circulated by undocumented activists themselves, as well as more mainstream media outlets. Before the uptick in actions of undocumented youth, migrants and their allies took to the streets to push for immigration reform. The aerial shot of Downtown Los Angeles on March 25, 2006, with more than 500,000 immigrants and allies wearing white T-shirts, was one in a series of images that captured the 2006-2007 demonstrations in big cities where they were expected, like Chicago and New York, but also in smaller towns and cities such as in Nebraska, Colorado, and Indiana. These images speak to us of a movement for immigrant rights that calls us to engage with questions of immigration enforcement, “illegality,” and citizenship. In this course, we will explore the historical, legal, and cultural construction of “illegality.” Rather than a strictly legal category, “illegality” has been constructed over time through policy and discourse. As such, we will ground our investigation of the present in an investigation of the past. Students will assess the evolution of immigration-control practices and of the construction of “illegality,” from the US focus on policing the Chinese, through the buildup of the US-Mexico border, and into the present. Our study of contemporary debates will center on the shifts in immigration control and the actions of key elite and grassroots actors in attempting to shape this politics of enforcement. Students will use the theoretical tools provided by studies of immigration enforcement, social movements, and the politics of membership and belonging in order to assess immigration politics over time and to offer ways forward in the contemporary moment. Note that, as an advanced course, this class will require a considerable amount of reading and a heavy workload. 

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Technology and Social Identity

Open, Seminar—Spring

In this course, we will explore the nature of agency—or the motivation behind and responsibility for action—and the role of technology in shaping personal social identity. We begin by discussing how to treat nonhumans as actors in their own right before exploring key concepts that include Donna Haraway’s cyborg and Bruno Latour’s hybrid agent—concepts that allow us to consider how humans utilize nonhumans in their environment (assistive technologies for people with disabilities, animals, clothing, etc.) to enact social identity and become inseparable from them. This lays a foundation for us to explore how social identities like race, gender, ability, and socioeconomic status are made and unmade in interactions with technology. We will consider how identities are shaped by institutions, embodied in individuals, and conceived as lifelong projects. In past conference projects, students have explored deaf identity and cochlear implants, responsible pet ownership and leashes, bicycles in urban space, and hacking culture on video-game servers.

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Advanced Intermediate Spanish: Political Creativity

Open, Seminar—Year

This course looks at ways that individuals and communities across the Spanish-speaking world have gotten creative about politics and political about creativity. Students will develop analytic skills and explore social-justice issues through literature, film, music, and visual art by Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, Sara Gómez, Samanta Schweblin, Yásnaya E. Aguilar Gil, Lia García La Novia Sirena, and many more. We will also study the politically creative actions of communities and organizations working outside the structures of the nation-state. An important aspect of this course will involve following activist movements in real time and working with social-justice initiatives in Yonkers and its surroundings. Students will produce both critical and creative written work. This discussion-based course will be conducted in Spanish and is intended for students who wish to further hone their communication and comprehension skills through advanced grammar review.

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Readings in Latin American Literature

Advanced, Seminar—Fall

This course is meant for students who have a solid command of Spanish and are capable of conducting language work at an advanced level. The main purpose of the class is to develop and consolidate a reading capacity that will allow the in-depth study of literary texts in the original language and from all over the Spanish-speaking world. An important segment of the seminar will be devoted to the examination of the most relevant works inscribed in the tradition of so-called “magical realism,” exploring its roots in Africa and the Indigenous cultures of Latin America. This includes fiction by Rosario Castellanos, María Luisa Bombal, Gabriel García Márquez, Cristina Peri Rossi, Alejo Carpentier, and Lydia Cabrera, among others. We will then proceed to examine the connections between the fantastic as a genre and the complexities of politics, both historically and in the most recent literary manifestations. In the course of study, we will also cover fundamental moments of the Latin American poetic tradition from its origins to the present day. Women writers will be one of the main areas of literary analysis, as their productions have resulted in a radical reversal of the canon—as is also the case with LBGTQ+ and Afro-Caribbean authors.

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