Political Economy

Classes from disciplines such as economics, geography, history, LGBT studies, politics, psychology, public policy, sociology, and writing comprise the classes available within this cross-disciplinary path.

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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Digital Disruptions

Open, Seminar—Fall

From TikTok to Zoom, from Bitcoin to Uber, from Instagram to Snapchat, to massively multiplayer online games to the Internet of Things, digital technology plays an evermore "disruptive" role in society. In this seminar, we ponder where this phenomenon may be taking us in both the immediate and the not-so-immediate future and whether there is (or will be) anything we can (or should) do about it. The miniaturization of electronic computers and the resulting increase in computing power, the decrease in short-term cost to harness that power, and the ubiquity of computer networks bring people and places together, making distances formerly thought of as insurmountable evermore trivial. With the advent of gigabit fiber-optic networks, smart phones, and wearable computers, information of all kinds can flow around the world, between people and objects and back again, in an instant. In many ways, the plethora of smaller, cheaper, faster networked devices improves our quality of life. But there is also a dark side to a highly connected society: the more smart phones, the more workaholics; the more text messages exchanged and the easier the access to drones, the less privacy; the greater reach of the internet, the faster the spread of misinformation and the more piracy, spam, and pornography; the more remote-controlled thermostats, the greater the risk of cyberterrorism. The first half of this seminar will focus on the relationship between digital networks (the web, social networks, and beyond) to current events, particularly the economy, politics, and law. In the middle of the semester—in real time!—we will discuss how the digital principles that we are studying impact the November 2020 US elections. The final part of the course will focus on the cultural impact of digital technology, ranging from video games and science fiction to the rise of artificial intelligence. This is not a technical course, though we will at times discuss some details that lie behind certain crucial technologies—in particular, the internet and the World Wide Web.

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First-Year Studies: Economics for Responsible Citizens

Open, FYS—Year

Today’s world is facing multiple economic, social, environmental, and political challenges: increasing income and wealth inequality, growing economic uncertainty, unstopping climate change, artificial intelligence and robotic automation of the workplace, political polarization, growing nationalism and populism, and diverging quality of life between the developed world and the majority of the developing world, to name a few. The challenging world requires every one of us to act as more responsible citizens. Using the economics literature, we will learn: Why do the challenges exist? What is our role in the community and in the bigger economic and political world? How can we transcend the “contemplation of single individuals and of civil society” and take the standpoint of “human society” or “social humanity”? In addition, through in-class practices, discussions, assignments, conference meetings, and conference work, we will work together to prepare you for academic achievement. You will enhance your academic skills, such as finding and reading academic literature, writing literature review, thinking critically, making your own argument with quantitative or qualitative evidence, and formatting a conference paper. Most importantly, you will grow professionally and prepare yourself to be a responsible citizen. During the fall semester, you will meet with me weekly for individual conferences. In the spring semester, we will meet weekly or every other week, depending on your needs and the progress of your conference projects.

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First-Year Studies: Historical Foundations of Economics: Politics, Power, Ideology, and Change

Open, FYS—Year

The first two decades of the 21st century have witnessed two major economic crashes, the first one being the subprime mortgage crisis of 2007/2008 and the second one being the pandemic crash of 2020. The irony is that, in conventional discourse (in, say, the mass media), the prelude to each of these economic catastrophes involved a triumphalist hubris that celebrated the stock-market booms, economic growth, and falling unemployment rates that occurred in each decade before the crashes occurred. As in the run-up to the previous crash, conventional commentators were blindsided when the world fell off the proverbial cliff. How did history, in a sense, repeat itself in 2020, yet political and economic “experts” at the highest levels of government and the mass media did not see the dangers ahead while they were celebrating “free markets”? The study of economics looms large with regard to the above questions; however, economics is hardly a monolithic discipline, since rival schools of thought in the discipline conceptualize the nature of markets, “market forces,” and policy in very different ways. This course will situate the current crisis in a theoretical and historical context by drawing on insights from different schools of thought in economics, as well as from other disciplines such as law, politics, sociology, and history. At the heart of this course is a methodological one that counterposes conventional or neoclassical economics, which sees the economy in apolitical and ahistorical terms, against other perspectives that argue that it is impossible to study economics outside a political, social, and historical context. Some of the key questions that we will study in this course are: Why do people distinguish between “regulation” and “deregulation” (laissez faire), and is that a false dichotomy? What if laissez-faire capitalism is, itself, the outcome of a particular type of regulatory system? What is the history of public policy in the United States and other countries? How do we understand the role of political power and the “rule of law” with regard to market outcomes? With inequality as one of the central themes of our current political climate, how do we understand its causes? And what is the link to the history of taxation policies in the United States? Can it be argued that the subprime mortgage crash of 2007/2008 and the pandemic crash of 2020 have the same roots; and, if so, what are they? These will be some of the questions that we will be tackling throughout the course of the year, thereby ensuring that students develop a solid foundation for the fundamental debates in economic theory and policy and understand the key role of methodology in the study of political economy phenomena. Finally, the goal is to ensure that students develop the ability to critically engage scholarly work in economics.

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Economic Policy and the 2020 General Elections: Money, Trade, Industrial Policy, and Inequality

Open, Lecture—Year

We live in unprecedented, turbulent times in which a pandemic crisis has combined with a major economic crisis and plunged the world into chaos. How should we, as economists, understand the nature and roots of this crisis, and how do we think of a way forward for humanity beyond these dark times? Needless to say, the general elections of November 2020 loom large in our collective consciousness. While we can speculate or worry about the effects on political institutions as the new administration takes office in January 2021, we also need to pay crucial attention to key economic issues pertaining to jobs, inequality, health care, climate change, and industrial policy. In fact, it will be argued that the nature of political institutions, including any society’s legal foundations, cannot be divorced from economic outcomes. This course will focus on the above key themes by not only looking ahead but also by looking behind at recent history to understand the roots of our current turmoil. At every step of the way, students will be exposed to rival theoretical and methodological perspectives in economics.

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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 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 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; 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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Microeconomic Analysis: Individuals, Conflicts, and Institutions

Intermediate/Advanced, Seminar—Fall

Economics was born in the 18th century, around the same time that capitalism emerged in Europe. Since then, economists have sought to understand the ways in which people allocate, produce, exchange, and distribute "resources" in capitalist societies and how such activities impact people’s welfare. For most of the 20th century, microeconomics focused on the “efficiency” of the unregulated market. Since the late 20th century, contending paradigms in microeconomics have successfully challenged the narrow definition of “efficiency” and broadened the scope of analysis from free market to a variety of institutions in which the market is either unfree or absent. The expansion of the analytical scope and tools has allowed microeconomics to provide answers to some of the most pressing social economic issues today: increasing wealth and income inequality, the challenge of artificial intelligence and robotic automation of the workplace, monopoly and monopsony power of big firms, climate change, etc. In this course, we will learn how microeconomists think with the tools of incentives, constraints, and outcomes. We will critically examine traditional issues, such as how individual consumers and firms make decisions and the welfare properties of the market. Using applied game theory, we will also examine how individuals interact with each other, the power relationship between individuals, the power relationship on the labor market and inside the firms, the situations in which individuals care about other than their self-interests, the successful and unsuccessful coordination of individuals, and the institutional solutions for improving social welfare.

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Macroeconomic Analysis and Policy: Institutions, Uncertainty, and Financialization

Intermediate/Advanced, Seminar—Spring

Keynes not only revolutionized economic theory in 1937 but also led generations of economists to believe that the government should play an active role in managing a country’s aggregate demand. Yet, since the 1980s, the theoretical and policy world of mainstream economics took a great U-turn and, once again, embraced the free market. In macroeconomics, this is reflected by the pursuit of goals such as fiscal austerity, financial deregulation, and liberalization of international finance. In this course, we will examine the fundamental debates in macroeconomic theory and policy making. The standard analytical framework of GDP determination in the short run will be used as our entry point of analysis. On top of that, we will examine multiple theoretical and empirical perspectives on money, credit and financial markets, investment, governmental spending, unemployment, growth and distribution, crisis, technological change, and long swings of capitalist economies.

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First-Year Studies: Introduction to Documentary Filmmaking

Open, FYS—Year

Nonfiction filmmaking is a tool and practice of observation. It has a way of starting out as a quest for truth and becoming a new way to be in the world—as a witness, a scholar, and an artist. During the course, we will hone our creative practice alongside building a foundation of practical, hands-on production experience. This art form requires an ability to both co-create and lead, to build relationships and practice humility as you honor your subjects. In this introductory course, students will be exposed to a wide range of nonfiction possibilities, particularly those opened up as we “decolonize the archives.” Screenings will also vary, tailored to the interests and questions that students bring to class. Each student will make several 1-2 minute, short exercises in addition to a 4-5 minute conference film. Finally, students will be asked to create a digital space where all of their work will live, learning how film is professionally distributed and innovating themselves as they lean into their own knowledge as digital natives. This course will have weekly conferences for the first six weeks; biweekly conferences thereafter.

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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 that 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 by the person asking the question? How have the questions 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 the 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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Intermediate Greek: The Perils of Passion: Ancient Greek Wisdom for Today’s Troubled Times

Intermediate, Lecture—Year

See course description under Literature.

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Readings in Intermediate Greek: Herodotus and Thucydides

Intermediate, Seminar—Year

This course will review grammar concepts, as necessary, while reading—in Greek—selected passages of Herodotus and Thucydides.

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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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Latin America in the World

Open, Seminar—Fall

From La Malinche’s mediation of the encounter between the Old World and the New World to Castro and Che Guevara’s path for Third World liberation movements, Latin America has been at the center of global process. In turn, the expansion of European empires, the massive movement of people from Africa, and the most recent connection to China have shaped and continue to reconfigure the destinies of millions in the Americas. This course attempts to situate Latin America’s history within global history while understanding the influence of Latin American history in global processes. While guiding students through major historical processes of colonial expansion and rule, revolution and nation-state formation, the first and second waves of globalization, social and socialist revolution and authoritarian counterrevolution, and neoliberalism, among others, we will delve into particular national and individual histories to understand historical agency and concrete effects of such processes. The seminar will experiment with a non-essay, collaborative conference project.

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Liberations: Contemporary Latin America

Sophomore and above, Seminar—Fall

After the military regimes that swept Latin America came to an end in the last quarter of the 20th century, a new era of liberation emerged. The transition to democracy and the broad-based coalitions then formed renewed the hopes and expectations of justice, equality, and freedom that had been shattered by torture, censorship, and state power. But the era that emerged from those transitions—and which is coming to an end—is full of contradictions. Alongside the liberation of prisoners and the press and the return to party politics came the demise of social revolution and the retreat of the left. Alongside the liberalization of markets and the so-called neoliberal reforms came innovative social policies and a multiplicity of social movements, the most salient of which were led by indigenous groups and peasant-based organizations. Similarly, the ascendancy and hegemony of liberal ideas and policies gave rise to a new left, which brought the world’s attention back to Latin America with its combination of growth and equality. This course will examine the dynamics of revolution and counterrevolution in which contemporary Latin America emerged; study the origins of neoliberalism in Latin America and its economic and political repercussion; delve in the contradictions of the democratic transitions and its legacies; and explore the new rural, labor, feminist, and indigenous movements that challenged both neoliberalism and democracy.

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The Perils of Passion: Ancient Greek Wisdom for Today’s Troubled Times

Open, Lecture—Year

With the permission of the instructor, qualified students may opt to take this course as Intermediate Greek and read selected portions of the text in Greek.

Are we unwittingly reliving the past? Authoritarianism, magical thinking, and tribalism are beginning to characterize the 21st century as they characterized archaic Greece. Over centuries, however, the ancient Greeks experienced a movement in the opposite direction: They began to prioritize reality, condemn tyranny, and experiment with broader forms of political participation. During the late sixth through fifth centuries BCE, ancient Athenians devised, simultaneously, the concepts of democracy and history. As the Athenians were experimenting with the world’s first-ever democratic political institutions, the historians Herodotus and Thucydides distinguished history from myth and offered examples of behaviors to emulate or to avoid. Today, those early historians can help us analyze facts, identify causes and consequences, and avoid the pitfalls of the past. Students will read, in English translation, Herodotus’ Histories and Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War, as well as selected works by Aeschylus, Euripides, Aristotle, and Ps.-Xenophon.

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An Introduction to Statistical Methods and Analysis

Open, Lecture—Fall

Prerequisites: basic high-school algebra and plane-coordinate geometry

Variance, correlation coefficient, regression analysis, statistical significance, margin of error...you’ve heard these terms and other statistical phrases bantered about before, and you’ve seen them interspersed in news reports and research articles. But what do they mean? And why are they so important? Serving as an introduction to the concepts, techniques, and reasoning central to the understanding of data, this lecture course focuses on the fundamental methods of statistical analysis used to gain insight into diverse areas of human interest. The use, misuse, and abuse of statistics will be the central focus of the course; specific topics of exploration will be drawn from experimental design theory, sampling theory, data analysis, and statistical inference. Applications will be considered in current events, business, psychology, politics, medicine, and other areas of the natural and social sciences. Statistical (spreadsheet) software will be introduced and used extensively in this course, but no prior experience with the technology is assumed. Given that this is a presidential election year, we will also be closely watching the national polls and discussing the difficulties of projecting future results with accuracy (and why pollsters got it wrong in 2016). Conference work, conducted in workshop mode, will serve to reinforce student understanding of the course material. This lecture is recommended for anybody wishing to be a better-informed consumer of data and strongly recommended for those planning to pursue graduate work and/or research in the natural sciences or social sciences.

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Game Theory: The Study of Conflict and Strategy

Open, Lecture—Spring

Prerequisite: one-year each of high-school algebra and geometry

Warfare, elections, auctions, labor/management negotiations, inheritance disputes, even divorce—these and many other conflicts can be successfully understood and studied as games. A game, in the parlance of social scientists and mathematicians, is any situation involving two or more participants (players) capable of rationally choosing among a set of possible actions (strategies) that lead to some final result (outcome) of typically unequal value (payoff or utility) to the players. Game theory is the interdisciplinary study of conflict, whose primary goal is the answer to the single, simply-stated but surprisingly complex question: What is the best way to play? Although the principles of game theory have been widely applied throughout the social and natural sciences, their greatest impact has been felt in the fields of economics, political science, and biology. This course represents a survey of the basic techniques and principles in the field. Of primary interest will be the applications of the theory to real-world conflicts of historical or current interest.

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Deformed Democracy: Structural Roots of Democratic Dysfunction

Open, Lecture—Year

Modern democracy, as defended by its most progressive advocates and pursued by a succession of social movements, promised to resurrect an ancient form of popular self-rule on a newly inclusive and egalitarian foundation. At certain points in recent history, it seemed credible to believe that the “moral arc of the universe bends toward justice”; i.e., that there was a long-term trend in modern democracy that more fully institutionalized meaningful self-government, increasingly treated all members with equal concern and respect, and better realized fair equality of opportunity for all while limiting social inequality and facing up to the daunting task of repairing historical injustices. Over the course of your lifetimes, however, this claim has appeared far less credible; instead, modern democratic politics seem increasingly less equal, inclusive, just, responsive, functional, and democratic. Is 21st-century democracy, increasingly an instrument of unjust politics, impotent in the face of the social and environmental changes that globalization and galloping technological innovation produce—or perhaps simply doomed? Or might it be possible to reform democracy to render it compatible with conditions of global interconnection and deeper diversity while also making it capable of securing the requisite degrees of political and social equality? To address these questions, this course surveys the development and defense of modern conceptions of democracy through the history of political thought; examines mature democracy by looking at its practice, successes, and failures from the mid-20th century to the present; and contemplates proposals for reform that seek to eliminate deformations while realizing the normative potential of modern democracy. The first semester concentrates on the history of modern democracy, looking both to develop a strong, critical account of democracy as a normative ideal—by studying its theoretic roots in seminal texts of modern political thought from Locke to Tocqueville—and to gain a critical historical overview of its cultural and institutional genesis, evolution, and decay (Fukuyama and Habermas). We will then turn, mainly in the second semester, to examine some main aspects of the forces troubling democracy in the United States and elsewhere, surveying, in turn: the decline of the legislative process; the decline of political parties and voluntary associations and the consequent “hollowing out” of civil society; important changes in the political economy that have rendered democratic capitalism more prone to economic inequality and crisis, oligarchic capture, and cultural distortion; the role of (new and old) mass media in successively structuring and disrupting the public sphere of democratic politics; the question of whether constitutional democracy is intrinsically valuable or inherently contradictory, in general, and whether the American Constitution is [anti]democratic; the way in which different aspects of an electoral system, from districting to how winners and losers are determined, structure different forms of democracy; and whether the politics of identity is, at once, redressing historical injustice while also fracturing democratic solidarity. The course will conclude by considering proposals to strengthen, reform, or refound modern democracy as we move into the middle of the 21st century. The course will draw on a wide range of disciplines and texts, drawing on political science and economy, history, sociology, and philosophy; but the central focus will be on historical and contemporary political theory.

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International Political Economy: The Rise (and Fall) of Neoliberal Hegemony

Open, Seminar—Fall

It is often said that all politics is economics. The aim of this course is to show that all economics is politics. Though economists and policymakers often present their economic policy decisions and views as neutral—based solely on abstract mathematical models, guided by the laws of nature (or the “invisible hand” of the market)—they are, in fact, driven by sometimes surprisingly transparent political ends and ideology. In this class, we will question the frequently proclaimed universality, neutrality, and inevitability of economic principles and policies through a close examination of neoliberal ideology and the ways in which it limits political discourse, reforms, and development. Specifically, we will examine the economic and political origins and consequences of shock therapy in Latin America and Eastern Europe, structural adjustment policies in countries suffering from economic crisis, and austerity measures imposed by the Troika on Greece and other states in the European Union. We’ll also look at socioeconomic explanations for the recent rise of populist parties and political candidates. Some of the questions that we will explore include: What is the role of international economic institutions in domestic and international affairs? How do the interactions between international and domestic institutions and actors determine the production and distribution of scarce resources? And what is the relationship between capitalism and democracy, conditional lending and democratization, and international institutions and national sovereignty?

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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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The Age of Global Uprisings

Open, Seminar—Spring

There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen. —V. I. Lenin.

The first two decades of the 21st century have been decades of uprisings. Looking at images of protesters filling the streets of Paris, France, or Santiago, Chile, it’s hard to believe that, in 1989, Frances Fukuyama famously proclaimed the end of history, delivered by the final victory of liberalism over competing ideologies. He concluded: “The end of history will be a very sad time. The struggle for recognition, the willingness to risk one’s life for a purely abstract goal, the worldwide ideological struggle that called forth daring, courage, imagination, and idealism, will be replaced by economic calculation, the endless solving of technical problems, environmental concerns, and the satisfaction of sophisticated consumer demands. In the post-historical period there will be neither art nor philosophy, just the perpetual caretaking of the museum of human history.” The 1990s, indeed, seemed to confirm Fukuyama’s predictions. Liberal ideology—with its promarket, technocratic, and anti-democratic policies—left no space for politics or resistance. Margaret Thatcher’s infamous argument that “There Is No Alternative” became a posthistorical axiom rather than an ideological position. But in Belgrade on October 5, 2000, a state radio/television station was charged by a heavy equipment machine, beginning a series of Colour Revolutions in Eastern Europe; and just like that, the post-historical period of boredom was over. In this class, we will look at a series of uprisings that have taken the early 21st century by storm. We will start with the Colour Revolutions, move on to the Arab Spring and the Occupy movement, and end with more recent uprisings—including the Yellow Vests in France, independence movements in Catalonia and Hong Kong, and anti-austerity protests in Latin America, Europe, and the Middle East. Some of those movements organized in opposition to corrupt and undemocratic governments or fake elections; others, in response to democratic governments’ lack of consideration for the livelihood of the working people and dominance of capital over human beings and environment. Not all of those movements were ultimately emancipatory projects, however, and their demands and tactics have been radically different. This class will look at the differences and similarities between the movements and ask: What can we learn from those uprisings, and what is next?

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Critical Realignments in American Politics: Obama/Trump

Sophomore and above, Seminar—Fall

There will be two sections of this course.

In light of the 2020 election, this course will tackle the question of whether America is in the midst of a critical realignment that began in the 1990s with Newt Gingrich and the election of George W. Bush to the White House and may be playing out in the Obama and Trump presidencies. To do this, we will examine the concept of critical realignments in political science and political history that are, generally, a set of notable and trajectory shifting changes in party ideology, issues, party leaders, regional and demographic bases of power of political parties, and the structure or rules of the political system such as voter eligibility or financing. The changes result in a new political power structure that lasts for decades, replacing an older dominant coalition. We will look at past American examples that are universally accepted as realignments—such as the 1896 presidential election, when the issues of the Civil War political system were replaced with those of the populist and progressive eras, and the 1932 election, when the populist and progressive eras were replaced by the New Deal issues of liberalism and modern conservatism. Since the realignment of the 1930s, however, political scientists and historians often disagree about which elections are realignments, what defines a realignment, and even whether realignments occur. Thus, the course will examine major sociopolitical changes in the United States—from the voting rights era in the 1960s, to the Reagan revolution, and now to the chaos of Donald Trump. We will cover a lot of ground—from America’s founding to today. We will look at numerous aspects of American social and political life—from examining the masses, political elites, Congress, and policymaking communities to social movements, the media, and America’s position in a global community—all with a focus on understanding power and how it has been organized. This course will be driven by data, not dogma. We will use modern political-economy approaches based in logic and evidence to find answers to contemporary public-policy problems and questions of polarization. We will treat this material as social scientists, not as ideologues. Comfort with numbers and statistics is expected. Moreover, students should have a background in American political history.

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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 that democracy is dying, while markets and inequality reach new heights. COVID-19 has reinforced many of these trends but also has 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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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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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 in regular weekly meetings outside of the class meeting time—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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Veiled Lives: Women and Resistance in the Muslim World

Open, Seminar—Fall

This course is designed to enable participants to better understand the complexities, nuances, ambiguities, and contradictions that surround our understanding of the lives of women in those places designated as the “Muslim” world. Our examination will not be based on a comprehensive historical accounting of women’s lives in the geographical spaces under scrutiny. Instead, it will be informed by central guiding questions, including the following: What are the different conceptual frameworks that inform our perceptions of women in the Muslim world? What politics and histories are embedded in different “ways of seeing”? What are the various discursive and material forces that inform women’s lives in the places under scrutiny, and how do they serve to restrict women and simultaneously provide openings for women’s resistance to their oppression? We will analyze the debates surrounding the origins of women’s subordination in the Muslim world; consider the harem and the veil, both as representational devices and embodied spaces; examine the multiple modalities through and in which women’s lives are lived out (historically and socially); and examine the shifting and dynamic constitution of their existence. In order to do so, the course will take into consideration colonialism, modernity, and postcoloniality in relationship to women’s ability to carve out their own histories. For our analysis, we will draw upon ethnographic and visual materials, colonial and literary writings, sociological texts, films (including documentaries), and (auto)biographies. For conference, possible topics include an analysis of women’s movements in a particular place or in multiple spaces, the roles of the state and the law and their impact on women, representation of women and Islam in the media and in colonial writing; and women’s writing and voice(s). The course will be of interest to students who wish to pursue studies of gender and sexuality, colonialism and postcoloniality, media and Islamic studies, law and society, studies of the global south and diaspora studies, as well as writing, film, and media studies.

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Politics of/as Representation

Intermediate, Seminar—Year

This seminar examines, in a dual sense, the relations between politics and representation. Our analysis is designed to make us critical readers and analysts of formal politics in its constitution through, and representations of, on-going practices and relations of life. Representation will thus be considered in terms of concrete representation (presence) in electoral politics of particular social actors and in terms of an embodied representational politics that exceeds the normatively political field. This will allow us to understand public and private domains as co-constituted—an insight that feminist and sexuality studies have long remarked upon—and to move beyond the limitations of disciplinary thinking and dominant constructions of power. Working through the complex and vexed relation between these various scales—macro and micro, public and private—and their attendant modes of representation will allow us to complicate our understanding of both politics and representation. In the fall semester, our primary (but not sole) focus will be on electoral politics alongside the COVID-19 pandemic and environmental crises. Reading these together will allow us to examine political speech within, and external to, normatively constituted “politics,” re-envisioning politics as a practice simultaneously productive of citizenship and its deferral. Following our focus on political speech and representation(s)—both with respect to the November election and to crises—we will turn to other sites in/through which politics is embodied, performed, and re-presented. This shift in emphasis will allow us to build on the analytical tools and insights gained earlier in the course and to examine at greater length representations of class, race, ethnicity, gender, and sexuality in a multiplicity of discursive spaces and sites, ranging from sports and work to interpersonal relations. Our analysis will be based on sources ranging from, but not limited to, social scientific texts, political speech, and the mass media. Throughout the year, our focus will be on multiple political language(s) and discursive fields with a view to re-visioning politics and representation as sites of struggle, thus allowing us to tease out dominant, subversive, as well as oppositional understandings and forms of body politics.

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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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