Urban Studies

Urban studies is a field dedicated to the study of cities across disciplines, focusing on the fabric of cities and the culture, society, and economy particular to cities and to those who live within them. Some of the topics that urban studies may explore are: the histories of cities; space, design, and power; cities and suburbia; the city and the country; megacities; casino urbanization; cities remembered (memoirs based on urban space); and cities of the future (real and science-fiction cities). Among the many themes addressed in urban studies are space and sociability, including urban planning, public and private space, social relations and structures, the right to city space, gender and power, urban social movements, and public art. Among the many disciplines that offer courses related to urban studies are anthropology, architecture, economics, environmental studies, politics, public policy, and sociology.

Urban Studies 2024-2025 Courses

First-Year Studies: Anthropology and Images

FYS—Year

Images wavered in the sunlit trim of appliances, something always moving, a brightness flying, so much to know in the world. —Don Delillo, Libra

A few cartoons lead to cataclysmic events in Europe. A man’s statement that he “can’t breathe” ricochets across North America. A photograph printed in a newspaper moves a solitary reader. A snapshot posted on the Internet leads to dreams of fanciful places. Memories of a past year haunt us like ghosts. What each of these occurrences has in common is that they all entail the force of images in our lives, whether these images are visual, acoustic, or tactile in nature; made by hand or machine; circulated by word of mouth; or simply imagined. In this seminar, we will consider the role that images play in the lives of people in various settings throughout the world. In delving into terrains at once actual and virtual, we will develop an understanding of how people throughout the world create, use, circulate, and perceive images—and how such efforts tie into ideas and practices of sensory perception, time, memory, affect, imagination, sociality, history, politics, and personal and collective imaginings. Through these engagements, we will reflect on the fundamental human need for images, the complicated politics and ethics of images, aesthetic and cultural sensibilities, dynamics of time and memory, the intricate play between the actual and the imagined, and the circulation of digital images in an age of globalization and social media. We will also consider the spectral, haunting qualities of many imaginal moments in life. Readings are to include a number of writings in anthropology, art history, philosophy, psychology, cultural studies, and critical theory. Images are to be drawn from photographs, films and videos, paintings, sculptures, drawings, street art and graffiti, religion, rituals, tattoos, inscriptions, novels, poems, road signs, advertisements, dreams, fantasies, and any number of fabulations in the worlds in which we live and imagine. The seminar will be held during two class sessions each week during the fall and spring terms. Along with that, students will meet individually with the instructor every other week through the course of each semester to discuss their ongoing academic and creative work. In the fall semester, we will all also meet every other week in an informal group setting to watch films together, discuss student research and writing projects, and engage creatively with images and imaginal thought.

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Understanding Experience: Phenomenological Approaches

Sophomore and Above, Seminar—Year

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 blind person, a musician, a refugee, or a child at play? In an effort to answer these and like-minded questions, anthropologists have become increasingly interested in developing phenomenological accounts of particular lived realities in order to understand—and convey to others—the nuances and underpinnings of such realities in terms that more general social or symbolic analyses cannot achieve. In this context, phenomenology offers an analytic method that works to understand and describe in words phenomena as they appear to the consciousnesses of certain peoples. The phenomena most often in question for anthropologists include the workings of time, perception, 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 their hand at developing a phenomenological account of a specific social or subjective reality through a combination of ethnographic research, participant observation, and ethnographic writing.

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Spaces of Exclusion: Places of Belonging

Sophomore and Above, Seminar—Fall

This course explores issues of identity and difference, locality and community, through the lens of space and place. Engaging with recent scholarly work in the fields of sociocultural anthropology, ethnic studies, sociology, geography, architecture, and literature, we will seek to decode sociospatial arrangements to understand structures and processes of exclusion and marginalization. At the same time, we will observe how material realities and linguistic discourse 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? What boundaries are created by gated communities in places like Texas and Mumbai? How does public policy in San Diego police green spaces to restrict access by people who are unhoused? What should we make of “placeless” spaces or states, such as those instantiated through technologies like social media, radio, or meditative practice? How should we understand notions 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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Exploration in American Jazz Dance

Component—Fall

Inspired by the work of Katherine Dunham, you will be invited to explore her movement vocabulary, often used in jazz dance, and then find the interconnections between Dunham’s contributions to film and concert stage with the current techniques used in commercial and concert dance, as well as learn vernacular Jazz movement. Open to all levels, this high-energy class inspires fun and freedom of expression through artistry, improvisation, and embellishment of choreography—regardless of skill and dance experience, yet challenging enough for more experienced dancers.  For each meeting, a classic Dunham warm-up will be given, followed by lively, Dunham-inspired jazz progressions and a combo. Join us for a transformative exploration of jazz dance, honoring tradition while embracing innovation!

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Hip-Hop

Component—Spring

This studio practice course introduces students to hip-hop culture through the classic hip-hop styles of dance. Cumulative technical dance training brings to light the ethos of the street-dance culture and how it counteracts and sometimes adopts mainstream media misconceptions. Through the study of classic hip-hop dance styles, students expand their awareness of connections between various dance forms that pre-date hip-hop while exploring the dilemma of belonging, yet standing apart. Through dialogue, students will begin learning about the history of the original dance styles in their communities and then discuss mainstream factors that either helped or harmed the evolution of the community. Occasional guest teachers will offer a class in a club or street style that will help students get a feel for the New York City dance scene of the 1980s, which influenced today’s trends. Students will watch Internet footage to aid them in understanding the similarities and differences between previous trends and today’s social exchanges in dance. Students will receive dance training at a beginner level done to hip-hop music from past to present. If there are intermediate-level dancers, they will be taught at respective levels in order to make advancements in their grasp of vocabulary.

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Law and Political Economy: Challenging Laissez Faire

Open, Lecture—Year

This yearlong course, based on the professor’s new book—Legal and Political Foundations of Capitalism: The End of Laissez Faire?—introduces students to the emerging Law and Political Economy tradition in economics. The course will deal with four interrelated questions: (1) What does economic regulation mean? (2) What is the relationship between institutions, legal ones in particular, and the economy? (3) How does one theoretically analyze the nature of property rights, money, corporations, and power? (4) How does rethinking the relationship between law and the economy challenge conventional ideas about the nature of economic regulation? The course will seek to understand the nature of power and its relationship to institutions, especially legal ones, by considering property rights and money, the business corporation, constitutional political economy, the links between “free markets” and authoritarianism, colonialism and race, and inequality as it intersects across class, race, and gender lines. We will deal with these questions by focusing on the insights of the Original Institutional Economics and American Legal Realists and their relationship to the classical political economy tradition (especially Adam Smith and Karl Marx). The Law and Political Economy framework will be contrasted with the insights of New Institutional Economics, with the latter’s basis in neoclassical economics. Core questions that will be addressed include: What is laissez faire, and does legal-economic history show any proof of its existence? What is assumed when dueling perspectives advocate “more” or “less” government intervention; and are these, in fact, false binaries that distract from core questions of public policy and key challenges such as climate instability, growing inequality, and threats to democracy? No prior background in economics is required.

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Controversies in Microeconomics

Open, Seminar—Year

What assumptions, methodologies, values, vision, and theoretical foundations do microeconomists incorporate and rely upon for analyzing economic behavior at the individual level? What insights, knowledge, inferences, and/or conclusions can be gleaned through examining characteristics of individual firms, agents, households, and markets in order to understand capitalist society? How do our theories of individual and business behavior inform our interpretation of distributional outcomes? Among other topics, this yearlong seminar in microeconomics will offer an inquiry into economic decision-making vis-à-vis: theories of demand and supply, the individual (agents), households, consumption (consumer choice); theories of production and costs; theories of the firm (business enterprise, corporations); theories of markets and competition; prices and pricing theory; and public policy. This course will provide a rigorous analysis of theory and policy in the neoclassical and broad critical political economy traditions. A central theoretical issue will be an engagement of the “governments versus markets” dichotomy, which is at the heart of neoclassical economics. This important theme will be addressed by investigating the rival treatments of institutions in neoclassical economics (New Institutional Economics) and the Law and Political Economy tradition. Among other topics, we will analyze how these different approaches to institutions and the economy study cost-benefit analysis, Pareto optimality, business competition, and the Coase Theorem. The spring semester will incorporate the study of business history.

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Environmental Justice and Yonkers: The Political Economy of People, Power, Place, and Pollution

Open, Seminar—Spring

Environmental injustice is both an outcome and a process. As an outcome, environmental injustice is the unequal distribution of environmental burdens (or benefits) in a society. As a process, environmental injustice is the history and institutions that project political, economic, and social inequalities into the environmental sphere. In this course, we will discuss the broad environmental justice literature and connect it with our immediate community: Yonkers, NY. We will first measure the disproportionate environmental burdens in the city’s low-income and minority neighborhoods. Then, we will utilize economics to examine the causal mechanisms of environmental injustice. We will focus on the evolution of the housing market, the changing demographics of Yonkers, the location choice of major pollution sources, political representation and power, exclusionary and expulsive zoning policies, etc. We will draw knowledge from multiple fields—economics, politics, sociology, geography, etc. We will examine the issue using multiple methodologies and assess different policy options for improving environmental and climate justice in Yonkers. We will also examine the policy implications of each environmental injustice issue. For each topic/issue, we will have in-depth discussions based on the readings, followed by in-class collaborative research activities that produce qualitative and quantitative evidence of environmental injustice in Yonkers. To visualize environmental injustice, we will use a geographic information system (GIS) to make maps. You will then be asked to write about the issue in an assignment and discuss potential policy recommendations.

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Natural Hazards

Open, Lecture—Spring

Natural hazards are earth-system processes that can harm humans and the ecosystems on which we rely; these hazards include a wide variety of phenomena, including volcanoes, earthquakes, wildfires, floods, heat waves, and hurricanes. The terms “natural hazard” and “disaster” are often used interchangeably, and many examples of natural hazards have resulted in disastrous loss of life, socioeconomic disruption, and radical transformation of natural ecosystems. Through improved understanding of these phenomena, however, we can develop strategies to better prepare for and respond to natural hazards and mitigate harm. In this course, we will use case studies of natural-hazard events to explore their underlying earth-system processes—covering topics such as plate tectonics, mass wasting, weather, and climate—along with the social and infrastructure factors that determined their impact on people. We will also discuss related topics—such as probability, risk, and environmental justice—and the direct and indirect ways that different types of natural hazards will be exacerbated by global climate change. Students will attend one weekly lecture and one weekly group conference, where we will discuss scientific papers and explore data on natural hazards processes and case studies. This lecture will also 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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Environmental Justice and Yonkers: The Political Economy of People, Power, Place, and Pollution

Open, Seminar—Spring

Environmental injustice is both an outcome and a process. As an outcome, environmental injustice is the unequal distribution of environmental burdens (or benefits) in a society. As a process, environmental injustice is the history and institutions that project political, economic, and social inequalities into the environmental sphere. In this course, we will discuss the broad environmental justice literature and connect it with our immediate community: Yonkers, NY. We will first measure the disproportionate environmental burdens in the city’s low-income and minority neighborhoods. Then, we will utilize economics to examine the causal mechanisms of environmental injustice. We will focus on the evolution of the housing market, the changing demographics of Yonkers, the location choice of major pollution sources, political representation and power, exclusionary and expulsive zoning policies, etc. We will draw knowledge from multiple fields—economics, politics, sociology, geography, etc. We will examine the issue using multiple methodologies and assess different policy options for improving environmental and climate justice in Yonkers. We will also examine the policy implications of each environmental injustice issue. For each topic/issue, we will have in-depth discussions based on the readings, followed by in-class collaborative research activities that produce qualitative and quantitative evidence of environmental injustice in Yonkers. To visualize environmental injustice, we will use a geographic information system (GIS) to make maps. You will then be asked to write about the issue in an assignment and discuss potential policy recommendations.

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Arcades, Trains, Hysterics: 19th-Century Foundations of Film

Open, Seminar—Fall

This seminar will examine film history and analysis through a proto-cinematic lens inspired by The Arcades Project, Walter Benjamin’s montage-style compendium of Parisian modernization. With this canonical academic experiment as catalyst, we will excavate the 19th-century technocultural foundations of film, placing a particular emphasis on the train, department store, factory, metropolis, and mental life. How did these modern developments shape the materiality and content of early films? And what do they have to tell us about film today? Alongside weekly screenings, we will read classic texts of critical theory (Marx, Freud, Simmel, Benjamin, Kracauer); modern/modernist fiction (Poe, Baudelaire, Zola, Pirandello, Keun, Du Bois) and new cultural history on hysterical performance, shell-shock cinema, human motors, spectacular realities, and slapstick modernism. We will also watch films directed by Charlie Chaplin, René Clair, Jacques Tati, Chantal Akerman, and Maya Deren. In this course, students will get an overview of European modernity studies and learn to read films media-archaeologically, tying them to the major industrial shifts, perceptual transformations, and hybrid forms from which cinema emerged as a dominant mass medium.

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

FYS—Year

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 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”; epidemics and public-health challenges; 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. Smaller creative projects are also a component of the course, including podcasts, videos, art, music, and other forms. Where possible and feasible, students will be encouraged to do primary research during fall study days and winter and spring breaks. Some experience in the social sciences is desired but not required.

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Food, Agriculture, Environment, and Development

Open, Lecture—Spring

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-guest lectures will be interspersed throughout the course. One farm/factory field trip is possible if funding/timing permits. The lecture participants may also take a leading role in a campus-wide event on “the climate crisis, food, and hunger,” tentatively planned for 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 approximately once per month. The Web Board is an important part of the course. Regular required postings of short essays will be made here, as well as follow-up commentaries with your colleagues. There will be occasional short, in-class essays during the semester and a final exam at the end. Group conferences will focus on in-depth analysis of certain course topics and will include short prepared papers for debates, the debates themselves, and small-group discussions. You will prepare a poster project on a topic of your choice, related to the course, which will be presented at the end of the semester in group conference, as well as in a potential public session.

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The Rise of the New Right in the United States

Sophomore and Above, Seminar—Fall

Why this course and speaker series/community conversations now? The rise of the New Right is a critically important phenomenon of our time, shaping politics, policies, practices, and daily life for everyone. The insurrection at the Capitol on January 6, 2021, is only one egregious expression of long-term ideas and actions by a newly emboldened collective of right-wing ideologues. The violent challenges to the realities of a racially and ethnically diverse America is not a surprise. Nor is the normalization of White Power politics and ideas within mainstream politics and parties. The varied nature of the New Right’s participants—their ideologies, grievances, and goals—requires deep analysis of their historical roots, as well as their contemporary manifestations. The wide range of platforms and spaces for communicating hate, lies, and calls for violence against perceived enemies require their own responses, including the creation of platforms and spaces that offer analysis and alternatives. Seriously engaging the New Right, attempting to offer explanations for its rise, is key to challenging the authoritarian drift in our current political moment and its uncertain evolution and future. To do so requires our attention. It also requires a transdisciplinary approach, something inherent to our College and to geography as a discipline, be it political, economic, cultural, social, urban, historical, or environmental geography. The goal of this seminar, one that is accompanied by a planned facilitated speaker series and community conversations, is to build on work in geography and beyond and engage a wide array of thinkers from diverse disciplines and backgrounds, institutions, and organizations. In addition to teaching the course itself, my hope is that it can be a vehicle to engage our broader communities—at the College and in our region, as well as by reaching out to our widely dispersed, multigenerational alumni. Pairing the course with a subset of facilitated/moderated speaker series, live-streamed in collaboration with our Alumni Office, offers the chance to bring these classroom conversations and contemporary and pressing course topics, grounded in diverse readings and student engagement, to a much wider audience and multiple communities. In this class, we will seek to understand the origins and rise of the New Right in the United States and elsewhere as it has taken shape in the latter half of the 20th century to the present. We will seek to identify the origins of the New Right and what defines it, explore the varied geographies of the movement and its numerous strands, and identify the constituents of the contemporary right coalition. In addition, we will explore the actors and institutions that have played a role in the expansion of the New Right (e.g., courts, state and local governments, Tea Party, conservative think tanks, lawyers, media platforms, evangelical Christians, militias) and the issues that motivate the movement (e.g., anticommunism, immigration, environment, white supremacy/nationalism, voter suppression, neoliberal economic policies, antiglobalization, free speech). This is a reading-intensive, discussion-oriented, open, large seminar in which we will survey a broad sweep of the recent literature on the New Right. While the class focuses most specifically on the US context, conference papers based on international/comparative case studies are welcome. Students will be required to attend all associated talk and film viewings; write weekly essays and engage colleagues in conversation online the night before seminar; and write two short research papers that link the themes of the class with their own interests, creative products, research agenda, and/or political engagement. Students will also do two associated creative projects/expressions. Transdisciplinary collaborative activities across the College and community are encouraged. Film, performance, written commentary, podcasts, workshops, and other forms of action can provide additional outlets for student creative projects and engagement.

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A History of Black Leadership in America

Open, Lecture—Year

Can the biography of Black leaders replace the history of African Americans? Or does biography raise of the problem of the "Great Man" theory of history? In terms of history, what is gained and what is lost in the biographical approach? In this lecture, students will consider this question as they examine the recent award-winning biographies of Frederick Douglass, W. E. B. Du Bois, Ida B. Wells, Rosa Parks, Fannie Lou Hamer, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, and so forth. Students will look at the lives of several artists and writers to explore different definitions of leadership. The weekly readings will be complemented by weekly film screenings, placing Black leadership in historical context.

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Racial Soundscapes

Open, Lecture—Fall

Close your eyes and listen. The human experience is highly sonic. Along with touch, hearing is among the most personal of our bodily senses. Now, you may hear the sound of passing cars, a lawnmower outside, or the murmur of voices from the hallway. But does race have a sound? What does Jim Crow sound like? Are there sonic dimensions to Black Power? Can popular music propel social movements, or can we hear social change? This lecture guides students through a survey of color and sound. We will explore historical case studies where concepts of race and recorded music collide. Through a careful analysis of a variety of cultural texts—including memoirs from specific artists and critical reviews of albums—and a consideration of contextual historical events and phenomena, students will consider how popular culture and music have shaped concepts of race and ethnicity over the 20th century.

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Screening the City

Open, Lecture—Spring

“The city seen from the Queensboro Bridge,” according to F. Scott Fitzgerald, “is always the city seen for the first time, in its first promise of all the mystery and the beauty of the world.” While poetic, this romantic rendering, however, eludes the social struggle that pervades New York City’s history. Conversely, the City seen on the silver screen can bring its contradictions into sharp focus. From this perspective, New York City appears as a complicated metropolis, replete with power dynamics along lines of race, gender, and sexuality. In this lecture, students will explore ways in which cinematic representations of New York City map onto distinct permutations and arcs in the City’s history. Each week, we will locate a specific film within a web of historical meaning. This is not a film-studies class, per se; rather, using cinema as a point of departure, we will explore the rich cultural history surrounding specific films. We will think about the connections between films and public policy, poetry, journalism, fine art, popular music, and more. Students will learn to derive historical insights through the analysis of film. Movies like Dog Day Afternoon (1975), for example, signal the rise of mass incarceration and the militarization of NYPD units; but the film also gives expression to the emerging LGBTQ movement and transgender subjectivity. Similarly, lesser-known gems, such as Baby Face (1933), can help illustrate the complex social and cultural terrain through which some women achieved power and independence in Depression-era New York.

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Local Oral History: From Latin America to Yonkers

Open, Seminar—Fall

This community-partnership course will bring students closer to Latin American oral history writing in order to write their own community-based narratives. Since the advent of military and repressive regimes in late 20th-century Latin America, social scientists and historians have turned to oral histories. By interviewing eyewitnesses to reconstruct the past and act upon the present, oral histories originally served to document the stories of both oppressors and oppressed but, since then, have expanded in scope and purpose. Building on existing rich oral traditions in the region, this course will first explore the methodologies of Latin American colonial chroniclers, popular educators, activists, and professional historians to understand the historical origins and context of production of different oral histories, as well as their academic and political use. Then, focusing on the history of late 20th-century Chile and its transition from socialism to neoliberalism, students will read, view, or listen to different oral history-based narratives, including life histories, documentaries, biographies, and truth and reconciliation commissions, among others. By doing so, the course will help students both get a glimpse of Latin American history and assess and develop skills to craft their own narratives based on the observation of, and participation in, the Yonkers community. The third and final part of the course will be devoted to workshop the narratives produced by students. Throughout the semester, students will have the opportunity to work with a particular community organization in Yonkers. Students are expected to develop a conference project based on their work with the community, using the oral-history questions, tools, and problems learned and discussed in the seminar. The conference project may take any format, including essays, podcasts, short videos, timelines, and interactive maps.

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New York City in the 1970s: Politics and Culture

Open, Seminar—Fall

“New York is the greatest city in the world—and everything is wrong with it.” This headline, which ran in January 1965 in the New York Herald Tribune, speaks to the duality that many people felt regarding New York City during the mid-20th century—a sentiment that continues today: The City can be a lovely place to experience, but it is not without its problems. And by the end of the 1960s, New York was plagued with problems. Population flight to the suburbs and deindustrialization eviscerated tax revenues. Municipal austerity and privatization policies undercut the public programs. A city that had built a reputation on urban liberalism was now at a crossroads at the dawn of the ’70s. Perhaps most consequential, within this nexus of urban crises, was the City’s image reflected in popular culture that informed opinions of New York and exacerbated the perception of the City’s decline. This seminar explores the politics and culture of New York City during the 1970s. What do representations in popular culture, from cinema to comic books, say about the state of the City in that decade? Did those images match the reality of urban experiences at the time? What political ends did those images serve, and what consequences did they have for the future? Students will learn to outline the resonance of municipal policies, from urban renewal to the militarization of police, as they are reflected in popular culture. Historians will help guide our analysis of politics and culture—but, ultimately, students will interpret primary sources for themselves, developing a deeper understanding of this pivotal decade and how it shaped the future of New York City. In addition to in-class discussions, students will meet weekly with the instructor for individual conferences.

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Socialist Stuff: Material Culture of the USSR and Post-Soviet Space, 1917-present

Open, Seminar—Fall

This course examines the experience of people living in the Soviet Union and other socialist states via things. Objects under socialist regimes were supposed to be transformative, turning yesterday’s backward peasants into new socialist men and women. Communism promised unheard-of abundance, but those who lived under the system often suffered from severe shortages. Things from outside of the communist world often took on an aura of forbidden fruit. People learned a variety of tricks to survive and, today, are even nostalgic for many of its trappings. Beginning with a reading of theoretical texts to get us thinking about how to think through stuff, we will proceed to look at a number of cases in Soviet history where objects are key to the story. Each week, students will be responsible for a short written response, 250-500 words, and providing two questions to feed our discussion. At the end of the semester, each student will design a display for a virtual museum of the Soviet Union, in which they will use one or more objects to tell a story about Soviet history. At the center of this course is the idea that all objects are the products and markers of social, political, and economic change that are filled with meaning—even if those meanings are not obvious or can be highly variable.

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The Power of Place: Museums, Monuments, and Public History in Yonkers

Open, Small seminar—Spring

This course introduces students to the fascinating history of Yonkers through the fields of public history and museum studies. The fact that Yonkers is situated in close proximity to New York City provides unique opportunities for Yonkers residents. At the same time, this sometimes means that the treasures of Yonkers are obscured by its better-known neighbor. In this class, students will develop a deeper understanding of the history, culture, and people of Yonkers by focusing on the meaning of place. We will begin the class by closely collaborating with staff at the Hudson River Museum, a major arts and cultural institution in Yonkers that is recognized nationwide. Students will study how the museum developed and the place that the museum occupies in the city’s cultural landscape. In addition to touring historic sites like Philipse Manor Hall, Sherwood House, and Untermeyer Gardens, students will study the history of places that are important to Yonkers residents, including the Dunwoodie Golf Course, the Old Croton Aqueduct, Greystone Bakery, and McClean Avenue. We will tour and analyze the city’s burgeoning public art scene in addition to learning more about some of Yonkers’ unique neighborhoods. Our ultimate goal will be to use multimedia approaches to create a “Museum in the Streets,” highlighting the people and places that make Yonkers a unique and dynamic city.

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The Queer and Trans 1990s

Open, Seminar—Fall

The 1990s was a period of aesthetic and critical foment for queer and trans life and politics in the United States. In New York, Los Angeles, and other cities, planned gentrification and rezoning—and resistance to them—had a lasting impact on the city's racial, sexual, and economic landscapes and on a generation of media makers, activists, artists, and writers. This course asks after the ongoing cultural inheritance of the 1990s. We will study questions of social life, sexual and racial politics, space, and governance, as well as key concepts in performance studies, critical race studies, Black studies, queer and gender theory, and the economic left that emerged under the pressures of this period. Through cultural objects, critical writing, and archival material, we will trace how the notion of “public sex” came into focus among queer and trans organizers, cultural workers, and academics during heightened responses to HIV/AIDS, intensified policing, and state attacks on areas of sexual commerce and recreation. How did shifting frameworks of “public space” emerge alongside new techniques of protest, media-making, and broadcast? How did entwined aesthetic and social practices yield legacies of interdisciplinary performance, poetry, printmaking, and photography? We will explore the material and infrastructural histories that shaped queer and trans cultural production, such as mass demonstrations against policing, the nascent Internet, and the dismantling of welfare and state arts funding. Over the course of the term, students will develop and share with the class response papers of three-to-four pages each, as well as a self-driven research project.

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Acting Up: Performance and Performativity From Enlightenment Era London to Golden Age Hollywood

Open, Large seminar—Year

Powdered, ruffled, and bewigged, the ghosts of the 17th- and 18th-century playhouse still stalk the stages, screens, and red carpets of the global entertainment industry. After a period of suppression by a puritan government, London theatres came roaring back to life in the 1660s, thanks in part to England’s first professional female actors—by some accounts the original modern celebrities—and the reign of a king, Charles II, who was besotted with drama and the people who made it. Over the coming century, the practice and theory of the theatrical arts would be thoroughly and durably transformed, and a new dramatic canon would be consolidated through both print and repertory enactment. Theatre was not only big business in Enlightenment Europe but also, arguably, the representative art form of the age. Part of the public’s fascination with stagecraft lay in the unsettling questions it raised about the nature of performance itself, not only as a form of artistic practice but also as an element of social and political life: What if, for instance, our putatively God-given identities (king and subject, wife and husband) were merely factitious roles that could be adopted or discarded at will? This yearlong “large seminar” considers how authors and theatrical professionals from the 1660s to the 1790s imagined the potential of performance to transform—or sometimes to reinforce—the status quo, with a look ahead to major films, mostly from classical Hollywood, that inherited and adapted the legacy of Restoration and 18th-century entertainments. Our primary emphasis will be on plays, with a survey of major Enlightenment Era comedies (some of the funniest and most outrageous ever written), parodies, afterpieces, heroic tragedies, imperial pageants, sentimental dramas, and Gothic spectacles by authors such as William Wycherley, George Etherege, John Dryden, Aphra Behn, Susanna Centlivre, John Gay, Henry Fielding, Richard Brinsley Sheridan, and Elizabeth Inchbald. We will also consider nondramatic writing on performance and theatrical culture, including 18th-century acting manuals, racy theatrical memoirs, and a “masquerade novel” by Eliza Haywood, in addition to films by directors such as Frank Capra, Howard Hawks, Ernst Lubitsch, Oscar Micheaux, F. W. Murnau, Lois Weber, and Billy Wilder. Wigs are not required.

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The City in Modern Japanese Literature

Open, Seminar—Spring

This course examines the literary representation of urban space throughout modern and contemporary Japanese literature, considering how the figure of the city serves as a literary technique through which authors navigate issues of modernity, personal identity, the nation, and the world. Through close readings of texts written by Japanese, Korean, and Asian American authors that traverse Tokyo, Osaka, Berlin, colonized Seoul, semicolonial Shanghai, and visions of the cosmopolis of the future, we will explore the city in literature as a space that complicates and even transcends the borders of the nation in its navigation of collective histories and personal memories—with a particular focus on how representations of race, ethnicity, gender, and class intersect within the literary city. The course introduces basic concepts from urban semiotics and other philosophies of the production of space as a method for analyzing the uses of space in literature, as well as introducing recent scholarship in Japanese studies that presents new perspectives on the relationship of urban architecture, global and local geopolitics, and cultural production. We will explore a number of topics in modern, postwar, and contemporary Japanese history through the framework of “the city,” including early Japanese encounters with “the West” in the Meiji period, cosmopolitanism in the Japanese Empire, black markets in the aftermath of World War II, segregated spaces and the experiences of minority groups in the postwar period, and the social and material transformations of urban spaces in Japan after natural disasters such as the 3/11 Triple Disaster in 2011. We will also consider Japanese American engagement with the space of New York City. Through conference work, students will conduct individual research projects in service of extended creative and scholarly reflection on their own relationship to the urban space(s) they occupy and see represented in contemporary media.

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An Introduction to Statistical Methods and Analysis

Open, Lecture—Spring

Variance, correlation coefficient, regression analysis, statistical significance, and 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? How are they used? 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; and 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 many 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. Group conferences, 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 advanced undergraduate or graduate research in the natural sciences or social sciences. Enrolled students are expected to have an understanding of basic high-school algebra and plane coordinate geometry.

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Polarization

Open, Seminar—Fall

Despite frequent pleas from President Biden and even (former) Speaker McCarthy for national social and political unity and the rise of groups like Bridge USA, Third Way, and No Labels, the seemingly never-ending sociopolitical polarization appears to be the new norm in American political life—and it may not have reached its violent peak back in January 2021. To many politicians, pundits, and others alike, the social and political scene in the United States in the 21st century appears to be one of turmoil, disagreement, division, and instability. We regularly hear about a polarized and deadlocked political class; we read about increasing class and religious differences—from the alleged divides between Wall Street and Main Street to those who are secular and those who are religious; and we often see disturbing, dangerous, and violent images and actions from various politically-oriented groups. This seminar will explore the puzzle of how to move on from this divided state. While the course will briefly examine the veracity of these recent impressions of the American sociopolitical scene, we will center our course on the question: Is policymaking forever deadlocked, or can real political progress be made? Moreover, what are the social and policy implications of polarization? How does President Biden govern in this Trumpian political epoch, and are the political parties representing the will of the people? What about the impact of the 2022 elections? What are we to make of the frequent calls for change and for healing America’s divisions? This seminar seeks to examine these questions and deeper aspects of American political culture today. After reviewing some basics of the political economy, we will study American political cultures from a variety of vantage points—and a number of different stories will emerge. 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 policy and moving the country forward. 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.

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Environmental Psychology: An Exploration of Space and Place

Open, Seminar—Fall

This course explores human-environment interactions and the relationships between natural, social, and built environments in shaping us as individuals. We will critically explore human interactions from the body, the home, and the local to the globalized world, with a return to the individual experience of our physical and social environments. As a survey course, we will cover myriad topics, which may include urban/rural/suburban relationships, gentrification, urban planning, environmental sustainability, globalization, social justice, and varying conceptualizations and experiences of “home” based on gender, race, class, age, and for people with disabilities. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, we will give special consideration to public space and home environments. As a discussion-based seminar, topics will ultimately be driven by student interest. Several films will be incorporated into class.

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Ethics in Community Partnerships

Open, Seminar—Spring

Truly collaborative work between academic and nonacademic communities can be a serious challenge. This is not only an issue of method(ology) but also an issue of ethics. In this class, we will examine ontological and epistemological aspects of academic inquiry, advocacy, and activism and their relation to ethical community participatory work. How does our view of academic work affect our interactions with community members in creating and extending knowledge? How can we truly and intentionally collaborate with communities that exist within unequal power relationships with policy-making and policy-implementing bodies? What knowledge base is necessary for students and faculty to interact, with respect and intention, with communities that may be different in composition? I see this class as a bridge between the practical aspects of engagement in community participatory work and the necessary reflexive examination of worldview and practice by our academic community and partners. That reflexive examination is at multiple levels of analysis: the individual (e.g., students, faculty, staff, partner-agency staff), the organizational (e.g., SLC, partner organizations) and societal/cultural (e.g., examination of race/class/colonialism and postcolonial thought, ethics).

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Urban Health

Intermediate, Workshop—Fall

This community partnership course will focus on the health of humans living within physical, social, and psychological urban spaces. We will use a constructivist, multidisciplinary, multilevel lens to examine the interrelationship between humans and the natural and built environment, to explore the impact of social group (ethnic, racial, sexuality/gender) membership on person/environment interactions, and to explore an overview of theoretical and research issues in the psychological study of health and illness across the lifespan. We will examine theoretical perspectives in the psychology of health, health cognition, illness prevention, stress, and coping with illness; and we will highlight research, methods, and applied issues. This class is appropriate for those interested in a variety of health careers or anyone interested in city life. The community-partnership/service-learning component is an important part of this class. We will work with local agencies to promote health-adaptive, person-environment interactions within our community.

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Sociological Perspectives on Detention and ‘Deviance’

Open, Lecture—Fall

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

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Changing Places: Social/Spatial Dimensions of Urbanization

Open, Seminar—Fall

The concept of space will serve as the point of departure for this course. Space can be viewed in relation to the (human) body, social relations and social structures, and the physical environment. In this seminar, we will examine the material (social, political, and economic) and metaphorical (symbolic and representational) dimensions of spatial configurations in urban settings. In our analysis, we will address the historical and shifting connotations of urban space and urban life and their material dimensions. In our examination of spatial relations within urban settings, we will also examine practices and processes whereby social “space” is created, gendered, revisioned. “Space,” in this latter sense, will no longer be seen solely as physical space but also be (re)viewed through the construction of meanings that impact our use of and relations in both physical and social settings. While economic factors will continue to be of significance to our analysis, we will emphasize extra-economic relations and constructs—including power, gender, and sexuality. The focus will encompass both macroanalyses and interrogation of everyday life, including the significance of public-private distinctions. In the latter part of the seminar, particular attention will be paid to attempts by scholars and activists to open up space both theoretically and concretely. Although the analytical questions at the core of this seminar lend themselves to an analysis of any city, our focus in class will be largely, although not exclusively, on New York City. Students are encouraged, however, to examine the relevance of our readings to other spaces, including places in which they have lived. In their conference work, students can elect to study space- and place-making in different contexts and/or with respect to themes that are of particular interest to them.

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Sociology of Sports

Open, Seminar—Spring

This is a course about sports as practice, which is used here in a multiple sense. As an embodied activity, sporting practice is felt and experienced in and through the body, which is its primary but not sole “habitus”—a term the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu popularized when elaborating on his notion of “cultural capital.” In this course, taking the sporting body and Bourdieu’s concept of habitus (taste, habits, skills, dispositions) as our point of departure, we will examine sports and its habitation of worlds that reach far beyond the individual (body) in both time and space. We will examine sports along multiple axes: as a collective and/or individuated activity; as a source of leisure and recreation; as a source of profitable employment; as a site of identity and nation-building projects; and as a space that engenders transnational mobilities and interconnections, as well as ruptures. In its commoditized contemporary form, sports is more often than not controlled by big money and/or the state and is part and parcel of what Debord refers to as the “society of the spectacle,” a site of production, consumption, and entertainment. The complex relationship between sports as experienced through the body and as a set of disciplinary practices will allow us to think through the relation of the individual, the collective, and institutionalized power, linking these to questions of body politics. Taking seriously the internal dynamics and meaning of sports, we will engage sports as a contradictory field, as both a productive space and a space of consumption. Our readings will include scholarly works, sports journalism, films, documentaries, and other primary sources. Possible conference topics include sports and politics; analysis of particular sports events (e.g., Olympics, women’s basketball, World Cup); (auto)biographies and/or oral histories of athletes; sports and protest; “fitness,” health, and the body; gender, race, sexuality, (dis)ability and sports; nationalism(s), national “styles” and sports; and the phenomenology of sports.

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Urban Voids: The Commons and Collectivity

Open, Seminar—Spring

This course reexamines the notion of the void not as land ripe for building real-estate capital but as space for cultural expression. Students choose a void from infrastructural areas, parks, empty unused buildings, or land that has often transformed with histories of erasure and dispossession. We can discover the urban void in many forms, from abandoned retail spaces to empty lots. Urban planner Bernardo Secchi in 1984 described urban voids concerning industrial typologies as “urban fractures, areas with no current function or use or character,” while architect Ignasi de Sola-Morales in 1995 described them as “terrain vague,” which were abandoned “land in its potentially exploitable state.” How can we define “the void” without understanding a solid? The solid and void relationship can be observed in the Nolli Map of Rome, with a solid-void/figure-ground representation of urbanity. One can argue that this fundamental tool is also used in suburban and rural areas to record and derive data for our use to plan, build, design, and destroy more buildings and irresponsibly inhabit the land. The idea of representing a solid as private and void as public is key, given that the public has a notion of belonging to the people of society and perhaps their perception of the environment that they shape. On the other hand, private is not private. An individual or a group can own a specific property. Is this true? And if so, how can we elaborate on these relationships toward a definition of the void that transgresses this limited solid-void notion? The course will unfold, analyze, and investigate the primary case study through its history, present, and eventual future by developing research through exercises that include, but are not limited to, drawing representation, experimental collages, and photomontages using the readings at its core. Questions arise about the aspects that characterize the voids and the contextual clues related to the community and cultural sedimentation. The goal is to put forth a project to design an intervention as a response to the research and promote commoning practices, whether it be housing, economic solidarity, or a place of care. What does the context need? Who is it for, and why? Responses could interface with political, economic, and social concerns with the varying matters that exist but also with an underlying conceptual underpinning of their interconnectedness of site, land, and the collective.

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Transcending the American Dream: Redefining Domesticity

Open, Seminar—Fall

Traditionally, we refer to the house as the structure to protect the intimacy of the family. It provides shelter and separates us from work but also supports it. The house is the space that protects the biological life of the occupants and encompasses an envelope with subdivisions into smaller spaces—what we call rooms. Such rooms present a defined hierarchy—what we call privacy, set forth by the homeowner, allowing individuals to separate from the rest of the occupants—a value directly connected to the notion of the “traditional family.” The division of rooms and their functions reiterates the nuclear-family structure. It allows for the separation of the family from the outside world and of each individual within the house. This course explicates the house, home, and housing as a space we all inhabit and sometimes take for granted. We live in times of housing scarcity, climate adjustments, new family structures, and real-estate development that hinder architects, planners, and designers from proposing spaces for non-homogenized living based on the traditional family and the work-life paradigm that fuels our current housing. This course aims to question the house, its form, sustainability, temporality, production, and reproduction, as well as how to answer, propose, and study its elements for better living not only for “one family” but for all.

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Children’s Literature: A Writing Workshop

Open, Seminar—Spring

Who doesn’t love Frog and Toad? Have you ever wanted to write something like it—or like Charlotte’s Web or A Snowy Day? Why do our favorites work so well and so (almost) universally? We will begin by reading books we know and books we missed and discuss what makes them so good. We will be looking at read-to books, early readers, instructional books for children, rude books, chapter books, books about friendship, and (possibly) young adult books. We may consider what good children’s history and biography might be like. We will talk about the place of the visual, the careful and conscious use of language, notions of appropriateness, and what works at various age levels. Invariably, we will talk about childhood, our own and as part of an ever-changing set of social theories. We will try our hand at writing picture books, early readers, friendship stories, collections of poems like Mother Goose. Conference work will involve making a children’s book of any kind, on any level. Classes will be in both lecture and conversational mode, and group conferences will involve looking at our writing.

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Words and Pictures

Open, Seminar—Fall

This is a course with writing at its center and other arts—mainly, but not exclusively, visual—around it. We will read all kinds of narratives, children’s books, folk tales, fairy tales, graphic novels...and try our hand at many of them. Class reading will include everything from ancient Egyptian love poems to contemporary Latin American literature. For conference work, students have created graphic novels, animations, quilts, a scientifically accurate fantasy involving bugs, rock operas, items of clothing with text attached, nonfiction narratives, and dystopian fictions with pictures. There will be weekly assignments that involve making something. This course is especially suited to students with an interest in another art or a body of knowledge that they’d like to make accessible to nonspecialists.

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