Economics

At Sarah Lawrence College, economics is not taught as a set of techniques for working in a static field but, rather, as an evolving discipline. In the liberal-arts tradition, Sarah Lawrence students approach the study of economics by addressing issues in historical, political, and cultural context. Students analyze and evaluate multiple schools of thought as they relate to actual situations—exploring, from an economic perspective, topics such as globalization, growth and social policy, inequality, capitalism, and the environment. Students who have focused on economics have gone on to become union organizers, to join the Peace Corps, to intern with United Nations agencies, enter law school, and enter graduate programs in public policy and international development.

2020-2021 Courses

Economics

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

Open, FYS—Year

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

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First-Year Studies: Economics for Responsible Citizens

Open, FYS—Year

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

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

Open, Lecture—Year

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

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Introduction to Economic Theory and Policy

Open, Lecture—Year

Economics has a profound impact on all of our lives, from where we live and go to school to what we do for a living, what we eat, and how we entertain ourselves. Economics is also crucially intertwined with the social and political issues that we care about, from global climate change to poverty and discrimination. We begin this course with a brief history of the US economy, including the economic roles of slavery, unpaid household labor, and immigration. We then introduce a variety of approaches to economic analysis, including neoclassical, Keynesian, behavioralist, Marxian, and feminist paradigms. We’ll pay particular attention to the US and international financial systems and their impact on global economic activity. Finally, we’ll apply contrasting theoretical perspectives to current economic issues and controversies.

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Political Economy of Women

Open, Seminar—Year

What factors determine the status of women in different societies and communities? What role is played by women’s labor, both inside and outside of the home? By cultural norms regarding sexuality and reproduction? By religious traditions? After a brief theoretical grounding, this course will address these questions by examining the economic, political, social, and cultural histories of women in the various racial/ethnic and class groupings that make up the United States. Topics to be explored include: the role of women in the Iroquois Confederation before white colonization and the factors that gave Iroquois women significant political and social power in their communities; the status of white colonist women in Puritan Massachusetts and the economic, religious, and other factors that led to the Salem witchcraft trials of 1692; the position of African American women under slavery, including the gendered and racialized divisions of labor and reproduction; the growth of competitive capitalism in the North and the development of the “cult of true womanhood” in the rising middle class; the economic and political changes that accompanied the Civil War and Reconstruction and the complex relationships between African American and white women in the abolitionist and women’s rights movements; the creation of a landless agricultural labor force and the attempts to assimilate Chicana women into the dominant culture via “Americanization” programs; the conditions that encouraged Asian women’s immigration and their economic and social positions once here; the American labor movement and the complicated role that organized labor has played in the lives of women of various racial/ethnic groups and classes; the impact of US colonial policies on Puerto Rican migration and Puerto Rican women’s economic and political status on both the island and the mainland; the economic/political convulsions of the 20th century—from the trusts of the early 1900s to World War II—and their impact on women’s paid and unpaid labor; the impact of changes in gendered economic roles on LGBT communities; the economic and political upheavals of the 1960s that led to the so-called “second wave” of the women’s movement; the gendered and racialized impact of the Great Recession and its aftermath; and the current position of women in the US economy and polity and the possibilities for inclusive public policies concerning gender and family issues. In addition to class participation, requirements include regular, short (1-2 pp.) essays on the readings and approximately a half-dozen longer essays that synthesize class materials with the written texts.

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Microeconomic Analysis: Individuals, Conflicts, and Institutions

Intermediate/Advanced, Seminar—Fall

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

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Macroeconomic Analysis and Policy: Institutions, Uncertainty, and Financialization

Intermediate/Advanced, Seminar—Spring

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

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Digital Disruptions

Open, Seminar—Fall

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

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Introduction to Property: Cultural and Environmental Perspectives

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

Open, FYS—Year

Some experience in the social sciences desired but not required.

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

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Food, Agriculture, Environment, and Development

Open, Lecture—Year

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

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Latin America in the World

Open, Seminar—Fall

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

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Imagining War

Open, Seminar—Year

This is an interdisciplinary course.

War is one of the great themes in European literature. The greatest works of Greco-Roman antiquity are meditations on war; and as an organizing metaphor, war pervades our attempts to represent politics, economics and sexuality. Efforts to comprehend war were the genesis of the disciplines of history and political science; and the disaster of the Peloponnesian War forms the critical, if concealed, background to first great works of Western philosophy. We’ll begin the first semester with readings from the Iliad, Thucydides, Plato, and Augustine and go on to study the Aeneid, Machiavelli, Shakespeare’s Second Tetralogy, and Hobbes. In the second semester, we’ll look at the origins of political economy, among other things a discipline that sought to transcend the military metaphor; at Marxism, which remilitarized the language of political economy; at Byron’s mock epic, Don Juan; and at two 19th-century novelists, Stendhal and Tolstoy—one of whom described war directly, and the other used it as an organizing metaphor for erotic, economic, and political life. We’ll conclude with a look at some 20th-century literary, artistic, historical, and critical attempts to represent war with an allegedly unprecedented accuracy.

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An Introduction to Statistical Methods and Analysis

Open, Lecture—Fall

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

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

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Game Theory: The Study of Conflict and Strategy

Open, Lecture—Spring

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

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

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Mathematics in Theory and Practice: Probability, Risk Analysis, and Optimization

Intermediate, Seminar—Year

Prerequisite: successful completion of two semesters of college-level calculus (or its equivalent)

What is chance, and how do we measure it? Do we measure the probability of winning the Mega Millions lottery in the same way that we assess the likelihood of a volcanic eruption in Hawaii? What tools are available to understand and measure uncertainty and risk? How can an understanding of probabilities better inform the decisions that we make in our personal and professional lives? How can we make the very best choice(s) amidst an enormous number of available options? How can individuals and businesses make critical decisions with confidence despite incomplete information and considerable uncertainty of future states? This calculus-based introduction to advanced probability theory, risk analysis, and operations research (optimization theory) engages these topics with an eye on diverse applications in the natural sciences, business, economics, and the social sciences. Topics of exploration will include the essential preliminaries of discrete mathematics (symbolic logic, proof technique, and set theory), combinatorial probabilities, distributions of prominent discrete and continuous random variables (Gaussian normal, binomial, Poisson, etc.), conditional probability and independence, joint distributions, expectation, variance, covariance, laws of large numbers, the Central Limit Theorem, Bayes Theorem, Markov chains, stochastic processes, linear programming and the powerful simplex method, sensitivity of optimized solutions to slight shifts in input parameters, duality theory, integer programming, nonlinear optimization, stochastic programming, and the four classic examples of optimization theory (the transportation/assignment problem, the network-flow problem, the diet problem, and the traveling-salesman problem). Using mathematical software, students will gain practical experience in the art of computer simulation and optimal solution identification.

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First-Year Studies: FYS in Music

Open, FYS—Year

In this class, we will study the major styles and techniques of Western classical music. No prior knowledge of music or music theory is required. Technical and analytical terms will be introduced as we go, but students who have had some background in music theory will be able to do more advanced work in conferences. The material will range from the music of the Middle Ages to the present day. Musical works will be examined in detail, as well as in the context of various other issues: What was the role of art in society? How did music relate to the other arts? What social and economic issues affected the dissemination of music? What role does history and interpretation play in our understanding of music? Students will meet for weekly conferences during the first six weeks of the semester and every two weeks thereafter.

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The Music of Russia

Open, 3-credit seminar—Spring

This course may also be taken as a semester-long component.

This course will survey the great contributions to Western music by Russian composers, from the first half of the 19th century to the end of the Soviet era and beyond. We will study these works in the context of the important historical events and intellectual movements that galvanized Russian artists: the desire to find the appropriate expression of Russian identity, the ambivalence toward the achievements of Western Europe, the ideals of civic responsibility, the aestheticism of the later 19th century, the Russian Revolution, and the repressions of Soviet society. Composers to be studied include Glinka, Tchaikovsky, Mussorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Scriabin, Rachmaninoff, Prokofiev, Shostakovich, and Gubaidulina. We will end the course with a look at of some of the emigré composers—such as Stravinsky, who composed his most Russian works for non-Russian audiences.

 

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Deformed Democracy: Structural Roots of Democratic Dysfunction

Open, Lecture—Year

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

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

Open, Seminar—Fall

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

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The Politics of Addressing the Past: Apology, Repatriation, Reparation, Remembrance

Open, Seminar—Fall

This course will investigate how states and societies address the past from official forgetting to remembrance, apology, repatriation, and reparation. What is the best course of action in the aftermath of gross violations of human rights? Which responses are feasible in a particular context, and how might this shift over time? What impact might apologies have? Why have reparations been won in some cases but not in others? Our discussions will consider the needs of victims, as well as the interests of states and the possible contradictions between the two. We will focus on the role of power in the international system and international law, as well as the ways in which seemingly less powerful groups have engaged and challenged prominent international actors. Case studies will include, but are not limited to, Native American demands for the repatriation of remains, Jewish struggles for restitution in the aftermath of the Holocaust, and postcolonial demands for reparations from former colonizing states. We will also consider the role of narratives and memorials in expanding the discussion concerning reparations for slavery and the ways in which demands for justice gain traction among the general public.

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Intervention and Justice

Open, Seminar—Spring

What are the appropriate responses to widespread human-rights violations in another country as they are occurring? Are there cases in which military humanitarian intervention is warranted? If so, who should intervene? What else can be done short of military intervention? Once the violence has subsided, what actions should the international community take to support peace and justice? This course will explore critical ethical, legal, and political questions. We will consider key cases of both intervention and nonintervention over the last three decades, from Rwanda to Libya, and consider a range of responses to those actions. Finally, we will evaluate different pathways in pursuing truth, justice, and reconciliation in the aftermath of gross violations of human rights. Cases include the International Criminal Tribunal and domestic courts established in Rwanda after the genocide, South Africa’s pioneering Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and the ongoing work of the International Criminal Court.

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Critical Realignments in American Politics: Obama/Trump

Sophomore and above, Seminar—Fall

There will be two sections of this course.

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

Faculty

Rising Autocrats and Democracy in Decline?

Intermediate, Seminar—Year

Prerequisite: Prior course work in the social sciences

At the end of the Cold War, many Western writers wrote triumphantly about the global victory of democracy and capitalism. In the last few years, we have been bombarded with news of autocrats at home and abroad undermining democracy. We hear that democracy is dying, while markets and inequality reach new heights. COVID-19 has reinforced many of these trends but also has created greater opportunities for shifting some of our current trajectories. This seminar will address the connections between liberal democracy and market capitalism as they have reinforced and contradicted one another. We will explore the role of social movements in bringing about change and the alternative ideals they have offered. To understand the challenges that individual states face, we begin with the here and now: inequality in the United States and the election of Donald Trump. We then look back for a deeper understanding of political and economic regime change. We will consider the wave of democratization from the late 1980s and consider the ways in which economic conditions contributed to pressure for change and economic policy limited possible outcomes. To understand present-day challenges and opportunities, we will discuss the rise of neoliberalism, as well as Latin American and African state experiments with social democracy and the redistribution of wealth. We will also explore the increase in both populist leaders and popular uprisings. The class will consider the role of social media in propelling protest and the rise of surveillance capitalism in tracking our movements for a wide number of ends. As we evaluate the present, we will consider a range of popular responses to these challenges, as well as alternative frameworks for the future.

Faculty

Decisions, Decisions: The Neuroscience of Decision-Making

Open, Seminar—Spring

No decision that we make is truly simple. We have to account for an infinite number of factors when deciding on something as “simple” as whether to take a left or right turn on the street; e.g., Am I going the right way? Is the crosswalk symbol on? Am I too tired to continue walking? Several areas of the brain must work together to tie all of this information together into a final “action” output: the decision itself. A sub-field of neuroscience, called decision neuroscience or neuroeconomics, has emerged in the past few decades to address key questions about how our brains weigh information such as risk, ambiguity, probability, confidence, and subjective preference (i.e., what we like and don’t like), among other factors, to ultimately form an executable decision. In this course, students will learn about the emotional, social, and cultural factors that drive the decision-making process primarily through readings from psychology and behavioral economics, neuroimaging research in humans, and case studies of patients with damage to areas of the brain such as the prefrontal cortex (from work by Antonio Damasio and others). We will address the following questions and more: How do we develop subjective preferences (i.e., “liking”) about people, places, and things? Do emotions help us make decisions, or do they get in the way? How can we become better decision-makers and consumers on a daily basis? The answers to these and related questions have led to real-world applications in policy, marketing, finance, and public health, which will also be discussed throughout the course.

Faculty

The Social Psychology of Immigration

Open, Seminar—Spring

Immigration is a worldwide phenomenon in which people move into another nation with the intention of making a better life for themselves and/or residing there temporarily or permanently. While anchored in a multidisciplinary perspective, this seminar explores the crucial role of psychology in understanding the processes associated with our conceptualizations of immigrants and immigration. The course will begin with some theoretical perspectives on immigration, as well as a brief historical overview of some sociological and some social psychological research on immigrants. We will then examine the identity of the immigrant, stressing the profound distinctions between forced and voluntary immigrants. We will explore the processes through which “illegality” is constructed by reflecting on the lives of undocumented immigrants. We will also look very closely at the intersections of race, class, gender, sexuality, and culture to see how they shape the psychological experience of immigrants. Seeking to extend our analysis to immigration’s impact on the host population, we will conclude the course by discussing several social psychological issues, such as intergroup relations, discrimination, and modes of adaptation.

Faculty