Urban Studies

Urban studies is 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.

2018-2019 Courses

First-Year Studies: How Things Talk: The Linguistic Materialities of Late Capitalism

Open , FYS—Year

One of the effects of advanced capitalism is to complicate the distinction between words and objects and between humans and things. Within the radicalization of market ideologies characterizing our contemporary moment, what counts as inalienable spiritual values as opposed to alienable material entities? Is kindness a virtuous demeanor or a form of immaterial affective labor that requires the performance of specific acts of speech? What should and what should not have a price? Which is the original, and which is the copy? Is a brand a symbol that stands for a product or a product in itself? How can we distinguish medium from message? This course provides an introduction to anthropology’s theories and methods through an investigation of how words and things mediate and enable human experience, creating the complex semiotic landscapes that we inhabit. The aim is to problematize the conventional conceptualizations of language and materiality and show how, within a regime of advanced capitalism, life and labor unfold through complex interplays of semiotic codes, affective registers, and material objects. Throughout the year, students will be introduced to a series of theoretical and ethnographic readings aimed at illustrating the blurred boundaries between words and things, subjects and objects, signs and referents, artworks and artifacts, gifts and commodities, and alienable and inalienable possessions. Aside from achieving a deeper understanding of how our life is shaped by our relation with things and language, students will also be introduced to the craft of ethnography as a method of research and a genre of writing. At the beginning of the fall semester, each participant will be assigned two objects and will be asked to explore them—as an individual item or as a class of objects—through a series of short essays and ethnographic tasks, which may or may not provide the material for a larger conference paper. Contrary to the classic approach in which the ethnographer engages the description of a specific cultural context through the narratives, beliefs, experiences, and actions of human agents, these thing-centered essays will provide mini-ethnographic sketches of how objects produce cultural meanings and social relations. During biweekly group conference meetings, held throughout the fall semester, students will compare notes on their ongoing thing-ethnographies, share their findings, and discuss their theoretical concerns and methodological problems. Students’ thing-ethnographies will also be presented periodically to the entire class during dedicated workshops. The format of these short presentations will be at the discretion of the participant, but students are encouraged to make use of digital voice recording, photography, and video to illustrate the objects and their contexts of use.

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Paris, City of Light and Violence

Open , Seminar—Fall

So they had begun to walk about in a fabulous Paris, letting themselves be guided by the nighttime signs, following routes born of a clochard phrase…. —Julio Cortázar, Hopscotch

For centuries now, the city of Paris, France, has held an actual and imaginary intensity in the lives of many. In this seminar in cultural anthropology, we will explore a number of themes and forces that have shaped the cultural and political contexts of life in Paris through the 19th and 20th centuries and on into the 21st—from great works of art to transformations in urban design to the politics of colonialism, migration, racism, marginalization, and police surveillance, as well as critical events of state and collective violence. In walking (conceptually) about a Paris at once fabulous and haunted, we will come to know various signs of being and power in this renowned city. In attending to key events in the recent history of Paris—in 1942, 1961, 1968, 1995, and 2015, for instance—we will work toward developing a comprehensive sense of the many social, cultural, and political dimensions of urban experience in la ville lumière, the “city of light,” in both its central arrondissements and its peripheral banlieues. Along the way, we will consider a number of important literary writings (Hugo, Balzac, Baudelaire, Breton, Modiano, Cortázar, Perec, Sebbar, and Bouraoui), films (Godard, Truffaut, Marker, Varda, Tati, Kassovitz, Haneke, and Sciamma), and scholarship (Benjamin, Dubord, Harvey, Kofman, Fanon, Barthes, Foucault, Derrida, and Latour). Students will be encouraged to undertake conference work on artists, writers, and thinkers associated with Paris or to develop their own anthropological reflections on Paris or another intensive city known to them.

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Understanding Experience: Phenomenological Approaches in Anthropology

Open , Seminar—Spring

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

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Spaces of Exclusion, Places of Belonging

Intermediate , Seminar—Fall

How do people construct meaningful places in a favela in Brazil or in the hill farms of Scotland? What should we make of “place-less” spaces or states such as those instantiated through technologies like social media or Hindu yogic and 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? This course explores issues of identity and difference, locality and community, in the context of transnational mobility and the globalized flow of people, ideas, values, and things. Engaging with recent scholarly work in the fields of anthropology, critical race studies, critical indigenous studies, sociology, geography, architecture, and literature, we will seek to decode sociospatial arrangements to better understand structures and processes of exclusion and marginalization. At the same time, we will observe how people’s navigations through space and their efforts at place-making create sites of collective identity, resistance, belonging, and recognition. 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, for instance, embodied, gendered, racialized, and (il)legalized. We will likewise attend to the politics and ethics of postcolonial scholarship on space and place and to the meanings of an engaged anthropology that leans toward social justice.

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Language Matters: Exploring the Cultural Grammars of Capitalism

Advanced , Seminar—Year

A long-standing tradition within Western thought has conceptualized language as a system of signs that are clearly separate from material reality and are aimed at enabling the transmission of information. The divide between the intangible realm of language and the material domain of things has dominated scholarship across several disciplines, leaking into common sense. This yearlong course questions this deeply entrenched divide and suggests that, in order to understand the contemporary radicalization of market ideologies, we need to bring into the same analytical field the linguistic and the material. On the one hand, the course will dialogue with the emerging cross-disciplinary interest in material culture studies to invert the long-standing exploration of how people make things and generate a new reflection on how things make people and how inanimate objects may, in fact, be endowed with a form of agency. On the other hand, the course will engage the role of language—both as a symbolic code and as a material tool—in the spreading of late/neoliberal capitalism. While most analyses of the world’s current order tend to focus on political and economic aspects, this course explores how certain ways of speaking and using language may partake in producing capitalist forms of reasoning and practical conduct. Students will learn, for example, how to look at graphic artifacts (e.g., street signage, wall texts, typefaces, letterforms, logos, and other types of graphic media) as socially and politically meaningful semiotic technologies that shape our contemporary capitalist landscapes. Students also will learn how to analyze new protocols of discourse that characterize our everyday lives: the customer satisfaction survey, the service encounter, the checklist, the logbook, the flowchart, the electoral mission statement, the training session, etc. In spite of their apparent ordinariness, these discursive genres and textual artifacts are key for the production of the self-improving and self-reflexive subjects required by the regimes of moral accountability and the forms of market rationality that characterize our contemporary moment. While reading ethnographic analyses of specific technologies of discourse, students will engage broader questions: How pervasive are neoliberal structures of practice? To what extent can neoliberalism be represented as an overarching and coherent global trend generated by the homogenizing forces of Late Western Capitalism? Is our moral and affective experience completely shaped by the extension of economic rationality to all areas of life?

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

Advanced , Seminar—Year

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

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“A Talent for Every Noble Thing”: Art, Architecture in Italy, 1300-1600

Open , Seminar—Year

This course involves an in-depth survey of the major monuments of Italian art and architecture from 1300 to 1600. Equal emphasis will be given to the histories and societies of major city-states such as Pisa, Siena, Florence, Venice, and Rome; the canon of art works by artists such as Giotto, Donatello, Brunelleschi, Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci, and Michelangelo; readings of major critics and historians of Italian art; and the broader intellectual trends, social realities, and movements that provide a context for our understanding of the artists’ and, to a lesser extent, the critics’ creations. Thus, unified Italian church designs will be juxtaposed with gender-segregated social practice, theories of genius with concepts of handicraft, pagan ideals with Christian rituals, creative expression with religious orthodoxy, and popes with monks, dukes, financiers, and “humanist” intellectuals. The first semester will focus on a close reading of texts surrounding the first polemical “humanist” pamphlets about art in early modern history—Alberti’s On Painting and On Architecture—and will include works by Erwin Panofsky, Ernst Gombrich, and Michael Baxandall. The second semester will engage the development of the “High” Renaissance and the intellectual and aesthetic debates surrounding Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Raphael as philosophers, naturalists, geniuses, models, and marginalized outcasts. Class papers will deal with developing a vocabulary for compositional analysis, critical issues in Italian intellectual and social history (particularly, gender studies), and varied interpretive strategies applied to works of visual art and culture. Conference projects may involve selected topics in religion, history, and philosophy of the Italian Renaissance and art and architecture in Europe and the “New World” from 1300 to the present.

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Architectures of the Future, 1780 to the Present

Open , Seminar—Year

Through PowerPoint presentations, readings, and discussion, the course gives a challenging, inclusive, and nuanced understanding of buildings and monuments; visionaries and builders; users and functions; and thoughts, practices, and theories of architecture from the Enlightenment to today—all claiming in one way or another to rethink the past, realize the present, and, most importantly, create the future. We will learn to read architecture and read with architects; to contextualize form and its urban, sociopolitical, and epistemological implications; and to see how architecture gives form to context, sense to experience, image to philosophy. Over 200 years, notions of ideal beauty, type, and function mutated to progress in form and function and contemporary iterations in theories of the unformed, the sustainable, the mysterious objective, the abject, and the playful. We will analyze major movements (neoclassical, arts and crafts, technological sublime, art nouveau, Bauhaus, postmodernism, deconstruction, new pragmatism, figural, digital, sustainable) and figures (William Morris, Frank Lloyd Wright, Le Corbusier, Mies van der Rohe, Peter Eisenman, Rem Koolhaas, Sam Mockbee, Zaha Hadid, Jean Gang). Readings will be drawn from history, philosophy, literature (realist, sci-fi, and visionary), Diderot, Edmund Burke, William Blake, William Morris, Buckminster Fuller, Heidegger, Foucault Benjamin, and others. Projects, papers, an architectural notebook dedicated to class notes, readings, drawings, musings, etc., and a conference project will be required in the history, theory, philosophy, and sociopolitical context, including women as users, patrons, and makers of art and architecture. Well-formulated design projects are a possibility. This course shares connections with visual arts, film, and a broad range of subjects in the humanities and social sciences.

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First-Year Studies: Cultivating Creativity in Dance, Gardening, and Food Justice: A First-Year Studies Community Partnership

Open , FYS—Year

First-Year Studies in Dance is primarily practice-based, with most of our work occurring in the studio. While there is some reading and writing required in analytic components, it is scaled in proportion to the demands of movement-centered pursuits.

Where can dancing and dance-making flourish? How can we cultivate deep and enduring practices as dance artists, scholars, and active community members? What can we learn about dance in the process of gardening, which has been described by landscape architects as the slowest of the performing arts? In this interdisciplinary FYS course, we will begin to make connections between the fundamental aspects of the Sarah Lawrence College dance program and the practical experience of related disciplines that foster similar values. The discipline of dance cultivates and stimulates the acquisition of technique, creativity, and theoretical inquiry and thrives with consistent practice. The multiple phases of growing and harvesting in the garden, from conceptual to practical, provide a unique mirror to dance as an art form, while emphasizing attentive care of our planet and care for ourselves through the cultivation of food- and community-based work. We will have two weekly First-Year Studies in Dance class sessions (one in the dance studio and one in the garden, see below), along with component classes in improvisation, dance history, and movement practices that include African Diasporic Dance, Contemporary Practice, Ballet, Hip Hop, Contact Improvisation, and Bharatanatyam. Students of all experience levels, from beginning to advanced, are welcome! During registration, each student will be guided in arranging an individualized schedule of component classes tailored to his/her level and designed to support the ongoing development of skills in various aspects of dance as an art form. Students should expect to be dancing on a daily basis. All students in the dance program may elect to perform in our departmental productions. These include Open Performance each semester, where any SLC student may present his/her own choreography, and Winter Performance, MFA Thesis Performance, and Spring Performance, with works choreographed by graduate and upperclass undergraduate students in the Dance Making class. Our weekly FYS class session in the studio will be devoted to creating a collective performance piece informed and inspired by our experiences over the course of the year, as well as to discussing class readings, presenting individual research and writing, and reflecting on experiences in the garden with community partners. Class readings will draw on texts from several fields of study, including dance and performance, gardening and farming, cultural studies, and service learning. Weekly donning conferences support all phases of students’ academic endeavors. Weekly FYS garden sessions, in partnership with Douglass DeCandia, Food Growing Project Coordinator for the Food Bank for Westchester, will provide opportunities to engage in service learning and social justice practice literally from the ground up. In these sessions, we will work alongside local community members (site staff, residents, and volunteers), building connections through planting, harvesting, and processing produce for distribution to local hunger relief programs.

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Econometric Analysis: Structural Explorations in the Social Sciences

Open , Lecture—Year

This lecture requires some basic knowledge (high-school level) of mathematics and statistics. A review of core concepts in these subjects will be carried out at the beginning of the fall semester.

The course is designed for all students interested in the social sciences who wish to understand the methodology and techniques involved in the estimation of structural relationships between variables. The course is intended for students who wish to be able to carry out empirical work in their particular field, both at Sarah Lawrence College and beyond, and critically engage empirical work done by academic or professional social scientists. The practical hands-on approach taken in this course will be useful to those students who wish to do future conference projects in the social (or natural) sciences with significant empirical content. It will also be invaluable for students who are seeking internships, planning to enter the job market, or desiring to pursue graduate education in the social sciences and public policy. After taking this course, students will be able to analyze questions such as the following: What is the relationship between slavery and the development of capitalist industrialization in the United States? What effects do race, gender, and educational attainment have in the determination of wages? How does the female literacy rate affect the child mortality rate? How can one model the effect of economic growth on carbon-dioxide emissions? What is the relationship among sociopolitical instability, inequality, and economic growth? How do geographic location and state spending affect average public-school teacher salaries? How do socioeconomic factors determine the crime rate in the United States? During the course of the year, we will study all of these questions. In the first semester, we will cover the theoretical and applied statistical principles that underlie Ordinary Least Squares (OLS) regression techniques. We will begin with the assumptions needed to obtain the Best Linear Unbiased Estimates of a regression equation, also known as the “BLUE” conditions. Particular emphasis will be placed on the assumptions regarding the distribution of a model’s error term and other BLUE conditions. We will also cover hypothesis testing, sample selection, and the critical role of the t- and F-statistic in determining the statistical significance of a social metric model and its associated slope or “β” parameters. Further, we will address the three main problems associated with the violation of a particular BLUE assumption: multicollinearity, serial correlation, and heteroscedasticity. We will learn how to identify, address, and remedy each of those problems. In addition, we will take a similar approach to understanding and correcting model specification errors. Finally, we will focus on the analysis of historical time-series models and the study of long-run trend relationships between variables. At the end of the fall semester, students will have to carry out an econometric analysis of a World Bank study on labor markets. The spring semester class will build on the fall class by introducing students to advanced topics in econometrics. We will study autoregressive dependent lag (ARDL) models, co-integration, and error correction models involving nonstationary time series. We will investigate simultaneous equations systems, vector error correction (VEC), and vector autoregressive (VAR) models. The final part of the seminar will involve the study of panel data, as well as logit/probit models. As with the fall class, the spring class will also be very “hands-on,” in that students will get ample exposure to concrete issues while also being encouraged to consider basic methodological questions (e.g., the debates between John Maynard Keynes and Jan Tinbergen) regarding the power and limitations of econometric analysis. At the end of the spring semester, students will have to do in-class presentations of self-designed econometric projects (either singly or in groups) on topics of their choice. The spring semester is particularly relevant to students who wish to pursue graduate studies in a social-science discipline, although it will be equally relevant for those seeking other types of graduate degrees that involve knowledge of intermediate-level quantitative analysis.

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Resource Economics and Political Ecology

Open , Seminar—Fall

Humankind’s ability to radically shape, alter, degrade, and threaten the Earth’s system(s) is strongly evidenced. From stratigraphic (geological) markers to plastic and electronic waste to climate change, nonrenewable resource depletion, and soil, water, and air spoliation, the consequences of human activity-induced (anthropogenic) provisioning are well-known, unceasing, and, it appears, accumulating and intensifying. Given the impact and interaction between humankind and the natural environment, far less certainty exists as to how to conceptualize, give narrative to, and address the complex, evolving, and continuous influence between humankind and its environment. As for the discipline of economics, significant tensions exist as to what tools, methods, vision, qualitative and quantitative measurement indicators, and theoretical foundations are appropriate and best-suited for voicing, revealing, stewarding, and redressing existing and future ecological challenges. Along with established and significant topics such as sustainability, externalities, pollution, regulation, global governance, benefit-cost analysis, taxation and subsidy, property rights and the commons, technology, competition and markets, biophysical realities, planetary boundaries, ecosystem services, consumption, and environmental ethics, this semester-long seminar will: 1) investigate distinct and alternative methodological, analytical, and theoretical tools of various schools of economic thought and their approaches to environmental concerns (e.g., mainstream neoclassical, ecological economics, post-Keynesian, Marxian, feminist/ecofeminist, institutionalist, behavioral); 2) examine and stress issues of environmental, racial, and intergenerational justice; unequal ecological exchange; trade and development; labor and ecological arbitrage; legal, political, and public policy dimensions; monetary considerations, accounting; value theory and social costs; 3) consider topics such as deep, shallow, social, industrial, urban, and dark ecology; thermodynamics; and novel ecosystems; 4) analyze and apply evaluative tools, methodologies, and practices, including interdisciplinarity, theoretical pluralism, systems thinking, critical ethnography, critical realism, neoliberalism, ultrasociality, cultural ecosystem services, and indigenous and postcolonial ontologies and epistemologies; and 5) critically explore, appraise, envision, and theorize as to existing and alternative provisioning possibilities and theses such as green capitalism, ecosocialism, degrowth (décroissance), metabolic rift analysis, capitalocene, anthropocene, and subsistence and sufficiency perspectives. Conference production (work) will look to situate students (economists) as keen and discerning interdisciplinary social scientists and will consist of research projects where a broad range of formats or mediums will be accepted in offering the opportunity to examine a topic of personal interest concerning the complex and evolving interaction between humankind’s economic system(s) and the Earth’s system(s).

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Microeconomic Theory and Policy: Advanced Topics

Intermediate , Seminar—Fall

Some prior background in economics is required.

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 semester-long seminar in intermediate 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; public policy and legal foundations; and theories of value and income distribution. Critical analysis, reflection, and insight into these and other topics will be supported and strengthened by appealing to a broad range of traditions in economics, including neoclassical (orthodox, mainstream, marginalist) and post-Keynesian, feminist, Marxian, law and political economy, and institutionalist (heterodox schools of thought). Insights from legal analyses on microeconomic topics (such as cost-benefit analysis, the Coase theorem, and Pareto optimality) will also be discussed.

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Introduction to Property: Cultural and Environmental Perspectives

Open , Seminar—Fall

Perhaps few issues are more contentious in the environmental arena than those surrounding struggles over rights to private, as well as common, property resources. What is property, and how is it made? Who makes property? How are property rights performed, publicized, and enforced? What is a commons, and what is common property? Debates over the “commons” implicate ideas of citizenship, community, the public good, justice, and governance. Controversies over public space and community gardens, genetic recombinant research and rights to the genome, and North-South disputes over rights to biodiversity in the geographic South—as well as debates over property in the Middle East—form some of the hotly contested terrain of property rights and the commons use and ownership. Property rights on a variety of scales—from the biomolecular to whole organs and organisms, from individual trees to whole ecosystems—are examined in varied geographic, biological, cultural, and historical contexts. This course is an introduction to ideas and cultures of property (private, public, and collective); debates, claims, and arguments over the commons; and the environmental and social consequences of different property regimes.

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Landscapes in Translation: Cartographies, Visions, and Interventions

Intermediate/Advanced , Seminar—Fall

Open to students with developed skills in critical thinking and analysis of texts. A background in humanities, social sciences, or arts is preferred.

This course investigates the multiple ways in which landscapes have been imagined, interpreted, physically shaped, and controlled in a variety of historical and contemporary sites. The first section, Cartographies, explores ideas of landscape in Euro-America, Southeast Asia, and colonial-era Africa. The literatures of critical geography and political ecology provide theory and cases illuminating connections between the position of the cartographer and presuppositions about the nature of the territory being mapped and managed. We examine how landscapes on a variety of scales, from “bioregions” to nations, are imagined, codified, and transformed through representational processes and material moves. The second section, Visions, investigates how landscapes are embodied in fine arts and literature, as well as in garden and urban design. Readings draw on examples of landscape design in colonial New England and Indonesia and on contemporary examples of landscape design in response to climate change. We also study reworkings of the urban landscape to integrate more productive, biologically diverse “fringes,” as well as rooftop farms and apiaries. The third section, Control: Emerging Security-Scapes, investigates the rise of militarized “security-scapes” or “surveillance-scapes,” dating from slavery in the United States to the Department of Homeland Security in the post-9/11 era. We analyze the visual surround and landscapes seen by remote drone “pilots” scanning Los Angeles and Somalia and surveillance of the occupied Palestinian landscapes. We draw upon websites, advertisements, and new scholarship in security studies, media studies, and social theory.

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Documentary Filmmaking: Truth, Freedom, and Bearing Witness

Open , Seminar—Year

Nonfiction is our search for the truth; it is an exploration in humanity—our beauty, complexities, and the often unimaginable. This class is designed for students who, through filmmaking, hope to move humanity one step closer to understanding who we are and how connected our life experiences may be. In this yearlong course, students produce one 15- to 30-minute documentary on the subject of their own choosing. Students will develop treatments, pitch their projects, create production schedules, and work in small teams to create their films. Each week, students must demonstrate clear progress on their projects, including outlined shoot dates, updates on production needs, screening of unedited material, assembly cuts, rough cuts, and the eventual final delivery of their conference films. During class, we will screen short- and long-form documentary films from around the world, complemented by hands-on production techniques and experience. Although this is an open class, students must be prepared to learn camera operation, sound recording, and lighting with diligence and professionalism. Each student will direct his/her own project; however, the crew will be made up of the student’s peers, who will be entrusted with delivering strong technical material. This course will challenge students to think beyond the beautiful gates of Sarah Lawrence and take on subjects and opportunities that are new spaces both emotionally and physically. Nonfiction requires passion for storytelling and, ultimately, a passion for people. We hope to finish the year with a lens on the world that’s evolved to new heights of understanding and compassion.

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Food, Agriculture, Environment, and Development

Sophomore and above , Seminar—Year

Where does the food we eat come from? Why do some people have enough food to eat and others do not? Are there too many people for the world to feed? Who controls the world’s food? Will global food prices continue their recent rapid rise? And, if so, what will be the consequences? What are the environmental impacts of our food production systems? How do answers to these questions differ by place or by the person asking the question? How have they changed over time? This course will explore the following fundamental issue: the relationship between development and the environment, focusing in particular on agriculture and the production and consumption of food. The questions above often hinge on the contentious debate concerning population, natural resources, and the environment. Thus, we will begin by critically assessing the fundamental ideological positions and philosophical paradigms of “modernization,” as well as critical counterpoints that lie at the heart of this debate. Within this context of competing sets of philosophical assumptions concerning the population-resource debate, we will investigate the concept of “poverty” and the making of the “Third World,” access to food, hunger, grain production and food aid, agricultural productivity (The Green and Gene Revolutions), biofuels, the role of transnational corporations (TNCs), the international division of labor, migration, globalization and global commodity chains, and the different strategies adopted by nation-states to “develop” natural resources and agricultural production. Through a historical investigation of environmental change and the biogeography of plant domestication and dispersal, we will look at the creation of indigenous, subsistence, peasant, plantation, collective, and commercial forms of agriculture. We will analyze the physical environment and ecology that help shape but rarely determine the organization of resource use and agriculture. Rather, through the dialectical rise of various political-economic systems such as feudalism, slavery, mercantilism, colonialism, capitalism, and socialism, we will study how humans have transformed the world’s environments. We will follow with studies of specific issues: technological change in food production; commercialization and industrialization of agriculture and the decline of the family farm; food and public health, culture, and family; land grabbing and food security; the role of markets and transnational corporations in transforming the environment; and the global environmental changes stemming from modern agriculture, dams, deforestation, grassland destruction, desertification, biodiversity loss, and the interrelationship with climate change. Case studies of particular regions and issues will be drawn from Africa, Latin America, Asia, Europe, and the United States. The final part of the course examines the restructuring of the global economy and its relation to emergent international laws and institutions regulating trade, the environment, agriculture, resource extraction treaties, the changing role of the state, and competing conceptualizations of territoriality and control. We will end with discussions of emergent local, regional, and transnational coalitions for food self-reliance and food sovereignty, alternative and community supported agriculture, community-based resource management systems, sustainable development, and grassroots movements for social and environmental justice. Films, multimedia materials, and distinguished guests will be interspersed throughout the course. One farm field trip is possible, if funding permits. The seminar participants may also take a leading role in a campus-wide event on “food and agriculture,” tentatively planned for the spring. Please mark your calendars when the dates are announced, as attendance for all of the above is required. Attendance and participation is also required at special guest lectures and film viewings in the Geography Lecture and Film Series—approximately once per month in the evening from 6-8 pm. The Web board is an important part of the course. Regular postings of assignments will be made there, along with follow-up commentaries. There will be in-class essays, debates, and small group discussions. Conferences will focus on in-depth analyses of course topics. You will be required to prepare a poster project and paper on a topic of your choice related to the course, which will be presented at the end of each semester in a special session.

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Introduction to Development Studies: The Political Ecology of Development

Intermediate/Advanced , Seminar—Year

Experience in the social sciences is desired but not required.

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

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

Open , Lecture—Year

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

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

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

Sophomore and above , Seminar—Year

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

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Diversity and Equity in Education: Issues of Gender, Race, and Class

Advanced , Seminar—Year

The education system is a central institution in the socialization of young people and the maintenance of the modern nation-state. Schools support meritocratic models of society by providing opportunities for social mobility. Paradoxically, schools also reproduce gender, racial, and class inequality. In this course, we will examine the roles that schools play in the transmission of culture, formation of identity, and reproduction of social structures. Paying special attention to gender and its intersection with other social categories, we will look at practices and policies that shape students’ performance as they strive for competence, achievement, and acceptance. We will also analyze the larger political and economic contexts that shape both schools and the communities in which they are situated.

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Community and Civility

Advanced , Seminar—Year

Social theorist Wendell Berry argues, “A community is the mental and spiritual condition of knowing that the place is shared and that the people who share the place define and limit the possibilities of each other’s lives. It is the knowledge that people have of each other, their concern for each other, their trust in each other, the freedom with which they come and go among themselves.” This course will explicitly examine Berry’s ideas about collective possibility and how community shapes the American idea, our national ethos, political and social life, and the very concept of civility that is essential in society. From America’s founding to the Age of Trump, the course will look at how concepts of community and civility have evolved from New England and frontier towns to suburban postwar sprawl and the current rise of inner cities, planned communities, and gentrification. Moreover, the course will attempt to make sense of the seeming polarization in American society today, along with the concurrent rise in rudeness, anxiety, social dislocation, and isolation that is chronicled regularly in both popular and academic writing. To be sure, this course on community and civility fits into a larger and growing area of research that has shown that the norms and networks of civil society have powerful practical effects in many disparate geographic, political, and economic arenas, including questions of inequality and social mobility. We will examine concepts such as “social capital” and “civil society,” and the seminar will explore these areas with a focus on the United States. Although many issues, concepts, and methods discussed in this seminar have important analogues in other settings, from the United Kingdom to Brazil, the literature and substantive focus of this seminar is entirely US-based. This seminar is intended to be both practical and contemporaneous to the politics of the present, and it will straddle the border between academic research and contemporary policy questions. The course will be both applied and theoretical and will ask students to apply social scientific concepts and methods to controversial public problems. The course is advanced, the workload is intense, and prior background in American history and politics is preferable.

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Food Environments, Health, and Social Justice

Open , Seminar—Spring

With obesity and diabetes rising at alarming rates and growing awareness of disparities in food access, researchers and policymakers are rethinking the role of the environment in shaping our diets and health. This course takes a collaborative approach to investigating some of the key issues guiding this area of research and action. Students will critically review literature on food environments, food access, and health inequalities and explore how modes of food production and distribution shape patterns of food availability and health in cities. Students may use photography and/or video to examine foods available in the neighborhoods where they live, review media related to the course themes, and use a time/space food diary to reflect on the ways in which their own eating habits are influenced by the social and material settings of their day-to-day lives. The course concludes with students writing letters to the editor/op-eds to a news outlet of their choice with suggestions about how to move forward with action to improve food access, public health, and social justice in the places where they live.

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Intensive Semester in Yonkers: Inequalities and Opportunities in Yonkers: Integrating Theory, Research, Policy, and Practice

Intermediate , Seminar—Fall

This course is part of the Intensive Semester in Yonkers program and is no longer open for interviews and registration. Interviews for the program take place during the previous spring semester.

This course provides an introduction to the methodologies of community-based and participatory action research within the context of a community partnership course. All students work for 10-15 hours per week in a community-based organization that addresses issues of inequality. Over the course of the semester, we discuss participatory action and community-based research methods and practice; integrating theory, research, policy, and practice; public health and public policy; nongovernmental organizations and private-public partnerships; understanding and addressing environmental inequalities for children and families; interactions with and impacts of media on children and families; media, identity, and globalization; intersections of class, race, gender, immigration status, and nation of origin with inequalities; and integrating artistry and performative practices in community-based work. Students also attend monthly group conferences with other students working in their community-based organization and biweekly one-on-one conference meetings with associated reading and written work.

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Advanced Research Seminar

Intermediate/Advanced , 3-credit seminar—Year

Permission of the instructor is required.

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

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Informality and Precariousness in the City: Family, Home, and the Politics of Transnational Life

Open , Seminar—Fall

The UNHCR puts the number of stateless people—those denied nationality—at 10 million globally. Often, these are migrants, refugees, victims of trafficking, and displaced groups who find themselves living under extremely precarious and vulnerable conditions and without much in terms of resources and rights. Cities and urban areas become important spaces in which the marginalized poor and excluded communities seek refuge and shelter and engage in forms of rebuilding and place-making that tends to fall outside of the purview and control of the state and the authorities. Here, we take a broad transnational perspective on how the precarious and vulnerable urban poor develop strategies and practices of living that are geared toward securing greater autonomy and dignity, primarily through forms of peripheral development and informality. We will explore interconnected themes of family, kinship, work, gender, and social reproduction as they pertain to the urban poor. Some of the theories and concepts that we will read include Teresa Caldeira’s “autoconstruction,” Asef Bayat’s “quiet encroachment of the ordinary,” Henri Lefebvre’s “right to the city,” and Ananya Roy’s “subaltern urbanism.”

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Marx and Marxisms: Lineages and Contemporary Relevance

Advanced , Seminar—Year

Ideas of social movements and social change throughout the world in the 19th and 20th centuries were significantly informed by the ideas of one social thinker: Karl Marx. Even today, thinkers in the humanities and social sciences— including media and cultural studies—along with social and political activists continue to be engaged with Marx’s ghost. While many detractors would argue—following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end to the “Cold War”—that Marx’s thought is now irrelevant, others argue the opposite: that the current phase of globalization that we are presently in was, in fact, anticipated by Marx. In this seminar, through a close and in-depth study of Marx’s writings and those of others about him, we will examine the impact of Marx’s ideas on thinking about and practices of social change. The themes in Marx’s writings on which we will focus include the following: his views on human nature, social structures and individual agency and subjectivity, alienation, religion and ideology, objectification and commodification, social class and power relations, and political economy including globalization. Following our close scrutiny of Marx’s work in the fall, in the second semester we will study later thinkers whose work has been inspired by Marx and who carried his ideas further and/or addressed new questions in the light of developments since the historical period in which Marx was writing. Among the latter, we will include thinkers such as Gramsci, Barthes, and Williams, who addressed questions of culture and hegemony; structuralists like Althusser, who dealt with the state and ideology; socialist feminists interested in the relationship of class, gender, and sexuality; geographers interested in the relationship of space, class, and power such as David Harvey and Dorren Massey; critical race theorists; and current analysts of globalization. For conference, students could work on specific social thinkers in the Marxist tradition and/or examine political and social movements inspired by his analysis.

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First-Year Studies: The New Narrative Photography

Open , FYS—Year

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

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The Ideas of Photography

Open , Seminar—Year

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

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What’s the Story? A Radio Journalism Class

Open , Seminar—Fall

Almost two years into a politically divisive presidency that has fractured the country—and with the proliferation of fake news—journalism is more important than ever. And so are the skills required to do the job. The landscape of radio is exploding, and new podcasts are being launched almost faster than listeners can decide which episode to download next. These outlets, shows, and storymaking machines are hungry—both for stories and for the producers with the skills to know how to tell stories. In this class, we’ll learn the fundamentals of making radio news—both writing and production, for short stories and long. We’ll cover editing, software, interviewing skills, and, of course, how to hold your microphone. We’ll learn what makes a story, how to get good tape, and how to write for the ear (very different than for the eye—just try comparing an article from The New York Times with a transcript from NPR). We’ll also cover the skills critical for all nonfiction narrative storytelling, print or audio, from “Morning Edition” to “This American Life.” We’ll talk research, ethics, fact checking, how to find sources, and how to get them to talk. Finally, we’ll cover the art of the pitch. That’s industry lingo for selling your story. It’s no good getting the scoop if you don’t know how to sell your stuff. News is new. Come and learn something new.

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