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, join the Peace Corps, intern with United Nations agencies, enter law school, and enter graduate programs in public policy and international development.

Economics 2021-2022 Courses

First-Year Studies: Working USA: American Workers in the Globalized Political Economy

Open, FYS—Year | 10 credits | Remote

Globalization, neoliberal political institutions, and information technology have created foundational changes in the structure and content of work, both in the United States and around the globe. These changes have also had an enormous impact on workers’ traditional modes of organizing and on their ability to pursue their economic and political interests. Today, only 6.7 percent of private-sector workers in the United States belong to unions. Partly as a result, inequality in the United States today rivals that of the pre-Depression 1920s, our (already modest) welfare state is in retreat, and political discourse and policy have become increasingly reflective of the interests of the wealthy. This course will explore the state of US workers (both native-born and immigrant) from the Civil War to the present. We’ll examine the major changes in the structure of the US economy (e.g., from small, competitive firms to huge, transnational oligopolies) and the implications of those changes on workers’ lives and the possibilities for organizing. We’ll explore the history of workers’ attempts to organize and the obstacles to their success, including divisions by race, gender, nativity, and sexual orientation/identity. We’ll examine recent efforts—such as worker centers, social movement unionism, and nonprofit organizing—to improve the conditions of workers outside a traditional union framework. And, time permitting, we’ll compare the state of the US labor movement with that of workers in selected countries. Requirements for the course include frequent short papers and periodic group presentations on the readings and a yearlong conference research project. During the fall semester, students will meet with the instructor weekly for individual conferences. In the spring, we will meet weekly or every other week, depending on the students’ needs and the progress of their conference projects. Required texts will include: Beaten Down, Worked Up: The Past, Present, and Future of American Labor by Steven Greenhouse, The Southern Key: Class, Race, and Radicalism in the 1930s and 1940s by Michael Goldfield, To the Promised Land: Martin Luther King and the Fight for Economic Justice by Michael Honey, and Making the Woman Worker: Precarious Labor and the Fight for Global Standards 1919-2019 by Eileen Boris.

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Introduction to Economic Theory and Policy

Open, Lecture—Year | 10 credits | Remote

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 impact of slavery, unpaid household labor, and immigration. We then introduce a variety of approaches to economic analysis, including neoclassical, Keynesian, behavioral, Marxian, and feminist. Finally, we’ll apply those contrasting theoretical perspectives to current economic issues and controversies. Requirements include frequent, short, writing assignments and participation in both small-group work in class and group conferences.

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Political Economy of Global Climate Change

Open, Large seminar—Fall | 5 credits

Climate change caused by greenhouse gas emissions will be the number-one global threat of the 21st century. Global warming has caused destructive effects on the environment and on human society and has pushed our planet past the boundary within which humanity can safely operate. Scientists estimated that we had, at most, one generation in which we could take actions to prevent us from going beyond the point of no return. In 2016, parties to the Paris Agreement committed to a target of keeping the increase in global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels; however, by far, almost no major industrialized or industrializing countries are doing enough to meet the target. Drawing on economics and interdisciplinary materials, this seminar will provide a political economy analysis of global climate change. Have economists been playing a constructive role in climate-change policies? Can we price carbon? How are interest groups in the society promoting and blocking climate actions? How should we reform global institutions to promote climate actions? Who benefits from global economic activities that cause global warming, and who bears the costs? Why is climate change also rooted in the global history of racial discrimination and gender discrimination? By the end of this seminar, you will be able to form a holistic understanding of global climate change, conduct political-economy research on climate change, and make policy proposals.

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Environmental and Ecological Economics: Theories and Policies

Open, Seminar—Fall | 5 credits

Since the 19th century, generations of economists have analyzed the role of environment and natural resources in society and the economy. John Stuart Mill, a classical economist, argued: “Is there not the Earth itself, its forests and waters, and all other natural riches, above and below the surface? These are the inheritance of the human race, and there must be regulations for the common enjoyment of it....No function of government is less optional than the regulation of these things, or more completely involved in the idea of civilized society.” What property-right regimes are proper for solving the “problem of the social cost”? Is privatization the only solution, as the market fundamentalist economists have argued? Why do developing countries have higher pollution levels? Are pollution activities migrating to developing countries? In most places in the developed world, environmental quality has improved significantly in the past decades. How can we explain such progress? Should efficiency be the top concern in protecting the environment? How can we incorporate equity and justice in environmental decision-making? What political-economy factors are determining environmental policies? What do we mean by “sustainability”? By the end of the seminar, you will be able to apply theories of environmental economics and ecological economics to real-world problems, conduct independent research in environmental and ecological economics, and form policy proposals.

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Intermediate Microeconomics

Intermediate, Seminar—Fall | 5 credits

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; theories of markets, market governance, and competition; prices and pricing theory; and business legal history. As a course that is designed for students interested in pursuing the study of economics at the graduate-school level, this course will provide a rigorous analysis of theory and policy in the neoclassical and political economy traditions. A central theoretical issue will be an engagement of the “governments versus markets” dichotomy, which is at the heart of neoclassical economics. This important theme will be addressed by investigating the rival treatments of institutions in neoclassical economics (new institutionalism) and the law and political economy tradition. Among other topics, we will analyze how these different approaches to institutions and the economy study cost-benefit analysis, Pareto optimality, business competition, and the Coase Theorem. Students should be prepared to deploy their high-school level math skills in dealing with certain topics.

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Political Economy of Environmental Justice

Open, Seminar—Spring | 5 credits

We frequently observe that the burden of environmental harms and/or the benefit of environmental protection are unequally distributed in a society. Within a nation, the underrepresented households, such as minorities in the United States, bear a disproportionate burden. Globally, under the neoliberal regime, trade and financial lateralization have made it easier to transfer highly polluting economic activities to the Third World. Moreover, the capitalist development in the Third World has increasingly deprived the rural communities and the urban poor of their environmental rights. This course examines ways in which environmental injustices may arise and affect different people with different power in different places. We will draw knowledge from multiple fields, such as economics, political science, sociology, environmental studies, geography, etc. We will examine the issue using multiple methodologies and assess different policy options.

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Political Economy of Cities

Open, Large seminar—Spring | 5 credits

Today, more than 50 percent of the world population—4.2 billion people—live in urban areas. By 2050, the global urban population will more than double its current size, and nearly 70 percent of the population in the world will live in cities. Understanding the economic future of human societies requires understanding cities. As cities become hubs of innovation, trade, finance, and modern life, there is also a rapid urbanization of inequity, inequality, and injustice among class, race, and gender. In this seminar, we will examine modern cities from a political-economy perspective. We will discuss foundational and classical perspectives of cities, including the Chicago school; neoclassical economics and location theory; Marxist school; and feminist, poststructuralist, and postcolonial approaches. We will examine issues such as urban poverty and inequality, environmental degradation, job precarity, intercity and intracity social and economic dynamics, rural-urban dynamics, and democratic governance of cities.

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Children in Imperial Projects

Sophomore and Above, Seminar—Fall

At the close of the 1920s, a Miss Wilson presented a paper at a London conference addressing, “The Education of European Children in Contact With Primitive Races.” In her talk, she described the life of rural white Kenyan settler children growing up with African playmates and expressed her concerns about the morally deleterious effects of such play on these future imperial leaders. This particular case illustrates discourse about the role of privileged white children in imperial regimes; but children of diverse social classes, races, and nationalities across the globe were all implicated in processes of imperial expansion and European settler colonization over (at least) the past three centuries. What was believed about children, done to children, and required of children was central to the success of imperial projects. In this seminar, we will examine a series of cases to understand the diverse roles, both intentional and unintentional, of children in imperial processes. In addition to the white sons and daughters of European settler colonists in Africa and Southeast Asia, we will look at the contrary things that were said and done about mixed-race children (and their mothers and fathers) at different historical and political moments of empire. We will learn, too, about the deployment of “orphans” in the service of empire. In the metropole, particularly British cities, orphan boys were funneled into the military and merchant navy, while children of both sexes were shipped across the globe to boost white settler populations, provide free labor, and relieve English poor-houses of the responsibility of taking care of them. The ancestors of many contemporary citizens of Canada, Australia, and South Africa were exported from metropolitan orphanages as children. In our intellectual explorations, we will deploy approaches from sex-gender studies, postcolonial studies, and critical race theory. Questions that we will explore include: Why did settler authorities in Australia kidnap mixed-race indigenous children and put them in boarding schools when such children in other colonies were expected to stay with their local mothers out of sight of the settlers? How did European ideas about climate and race frame the ways in which settler children were nursed in the Dutch East Indies? How did concepts of childhood and parental rights over children vary historically, socioeconomically, and geographically? How did metropolitan discourses about race, class, and evolution frame the treatment of indigent children at home and abroad? The materials for this class include fiction, memoirs, scholarly texts, ethnographic accounts, historical documents, and visual images.

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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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Introduction to Development Studies: The Political Ecology of Development

Sophomore and Above, Seminar—Fall

In this seminar, we will begin by examining competing paradigms and approaches to understanding “development” and the “Third World.” We will set the stage by answering the question: What did the world look like 500 years ago? The purpose of this part of the course is to acquaint us with and to analyze the historical origins and evolution of a world political-economy of which the “Third World” is an intrinsic component. We will thus study the transition from feudalism to capitalism, the rise of merchant and finance capital, and the colonization of the world by European powers. We will analyze case studies of colonial “development” to understand the evolving meaning of this term. These case studies will help us assess the varied legacies of colonialism apparent in the emergence of new nations through the fitful and uneven process of decolonization that followed. The next part of the course will look at the United Nations and the role 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, urbanization, industrialization, 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, as well as the potential of ”a new green deal.” 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 from Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, Europe, and North America. Conference work will be closely integrated with the themes of the course, with a two-stage, substantive research project. 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 over fall study days. Some experience in the social sciences is desired but not required.

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The Rise of the New Right in the United States

Open, Seminar—Spring

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

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An Introduction to Statistical Methods and Analysis

Open, Lecture—Spring

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

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Calculus I: The Study of Motion and Change

Open, Seminar—Fall and Spring

Our existence lies in a perpetual state of change. An apple falls from a tree; clouds move across expansive farmland, blocking out the sun for days; meanwhile, satellites zip around the Earth, transmitting and receiving signals to our cell phones. The calculus was invented to develop a language to accurately describe and study the change that we see. The ancient Greeks began a detailed study of change but were scared to wrestle with the infinite; so it was not until the 17th century that Isaac Newton and Gottfried Leibniz, among others, tamed the infinite and gave birth to this extremely successful branch of mathematics. Though just a few hundred years old, the calculus has become an indispensable research tool in both the natural and social sciences. Our study begins with the central concept of the limit and proceeds to explore the dual topics of differentiation and integration. Numerous applications of the theory will be examined. For conference work, students may choose to undertake a deeper investigation of a single topic or application of the calculus or conduct a study in some other branch of mathematics. This seminar is intended for students interested in advanced study in mathematics or science, students preparing for careers in the health sciences or engineering, and any student wishing to broaden and enrich the life of the mind.

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Calculus II: Further Study of Motion and Change

Open, Seminar—Spring

This course continues the thread of mathematical inquiry, following an initial study of the dual topics of differentiation and integration (see Calculus I course description). Topics to be explored in this course include the calculus of exponential and logarithmic functions, applications of integration theory to geometry, alternative coordinate systems, infinite series, and power series representations of functions. For conference work, students may choose to undertake a deeper investigation of a single topic or application of the calculus or conduct a study of some other mathematically-related topic. This seminar is intended for students interested in advanced study in mathematics or science, for those preparing for careers in the health sciences or engineering, or for any simply wishing to broaden and enrich the life of the mind.

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Multivariable Mathematics: Linear Algebra, Vector Calculus, and Differential Equations

Intermediate, Seminar—Year

Rarely is a quantity of interest—tomorrow’s temperature, unemployment rates across Europe, the cost of a spring-break flight to Fort Lauderdale—a simple function of just one primary variable. Reality, for better or worse, is mathematically multivariable. This course introduces an array of topics and tools used in the mathematical analysis of multivariable functions. The intertwined theories of vectors, matrices, and differential equations and their applications will be the central themes of exploration in this yearlong course. Specific topics to be covered include the algebra and geometry of vectors in two, three, and higher dimensions; dot and cross products and their applications; equations of lines and planes in higher dimensions; solutions to systems of linear equations, using Gaussian elimination, theory and applications of determinants, inverses and eigenvectors, volumes of three-dimensional solids via integration, spherical and cylindrical coordinate systems, and methods of visualizing and constructing solutions to differential equations of various types. Conference work will involve an investigation of some mathematically-themed subject of the student’s choosing.

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Mathematics in Theory and Practice: Real Analysis and Topology

Intermediate, Seminar—Year

The calculus of Newton and Leibniz was so successful that science forgave the logical shortcomings of its “fluxions” and “evanescent quantities.” In the 19th century, however, calculus evolved into the study of functions of a real variable—real analysis—which is a model of the foundational rigor that has come to define mathematics as a discipline. In the 20th century, the search for axioms of the real numbers uncovered subtle assumptions about spatial properties of the real line. These properties—such as continuity, separability, and dimension—do not depend on magnitude but on more general notions of position. The geometry of position, or topology as it is called today, is the study of exactly such properties. This yearlong seminar will begin with preliminaries of discrete mathematics, including symbolic logic, proof technique, and set theory. We will study these topics in the context of networks and surfaces, which are some of the most intuitive topological objects. This will be followed by an in-depth study of the real numbers, sequences and series, limits, continuity, the derivative, and the integral. To motivate our revision of these familiar calculus terms, the seminar will read and discuss important counterexamples, such as nowhere-differentiable continuous functions, rearrangements of infinite series, and the Cantor set. At the end of the year, we will return to topology. This will give us the opportunity to see how many of the geometric properties of curves, surfaces, and maps between them find a unified expression in terms of relations among point sets. Conference work will clarify seminar ideas and possibly their application to mathematical models in the natural sciences, computer science, or economics.

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Introduction to International Relations

Open, Lecture—Fall

War made the state, and the state made war. —Charles Tilly

This course will take a critical approach to the study of international relations. First, we will study the main theories (e.g., realism, liberalism, constructivism, and Marxism); concepts (e.g., the state, anarchy, sovereignty, balance of power, dependency, hegemony, and world order); and levels of analysis (systemic, state, organizational, and individual) in the field. Then, we will apply those various theoretical approaches and levels of analysis to current international conflicts and crises in order to better understand the many ongoing debates about war and peace, humanitarian interventions, international institutions, and the international political economy. Some of the questions that we will explore include: Why do states go to war? Why do some humanitarian interventions succeed while others fail or simply never materialize? Why are some regions and states rich while others are poor, and how do those inequalities shape international relations? How do international organizations help to reinforce or moderate existing interstate political and economic inequalities?

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International Politics and Ethnic Conflict

Open, Seminar—Spring

Writing about the democratic transitions and ethnic conflicts that followed the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, Holocaust survivor and writer Elie Wiesel pessimistically declared in his 2002 novel, The Judges, that “the malevolent ghosts of hatred are resurgent with a fury and a boldness that are as astounding as they are nauseating: ethnic conflicts, religious riots, anti-Semitic incidents here, there, and everywhere. What is wrong with these morally degenerate people that they abuse their freedom, so recently won?” Although written from a perspective of moral outrage, one would be hard-pressed to find a quote that more accurately illuminates both the sense of severity associated with ethnic conflict, broadly defined, and the absolute lack of understanding of its causes. Indeed, the end of the Cold War was seen by many conservative and liberal thinkers as “the end of history” and the beginning of a steady march toward global political stability and peace. Yet, despite an explosion in the number of electoral democracies, the frequency and intensity of bloody and brutal scenes of ethnic violence seemed to belie all expectations. The proliferation of such violence over the last 30 years has thus caused many scholars and policymakers to more critically examine their assumptions about the sources and potential solutions to the problem of ethnic conflict as an international problem. Despite significant evidence to the contrary, commentators like Wiesel and even many politicians still frequently attribute the sources of such strife to the existence of “morally degenerate people,” ethnic diversity, or the history of animosity between various ethnic communities. Looking at the problem from a more holistic perspective—which engages with the economic, cultural, and political motivations underlying ethnic conflict—this course will challenge those commonly held assumptions about the cause of ethnic violence and explore some possible solutions for preventing further conflicts or resolving existing ones. Some of the questions that this course will address include: What are the main sources behind political conflicts deemed “ethnic”? How and for what purposes are race and ethnicity constructed? What is the role of the international community in managing ethnic conflicts? What is the effect of democratization on territorial integrity and political conflict between ethnically divided communities? What constitutional designs, state structures, and electoral systems are most compatible with ethnically divided societies?

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The Psychology of Social Influence

Intermediate, Seminar—Spring

Individuals are often influenced by others and by the social situations in which they find themselves. Social influence refers to the processes by which a person or group changes, or attempts to change, the opinions, beliefs, and/or behaviors of another person or group. This process can be either intentional or unintentional. In this seminar, we will examine the basic concepts, theories, and applications of social influence by reviewing four of its key areas: conformity, innovation, compliance, and obedience. Additionally, we will explore some related topics to demonstrate the pervasive nature of social influence. The topics to be addressed include attitude measurement and attitude change, propaganda, cults, subliminal persuasion, and the use and abuse of persuasion in our current social context. The seminar will make use of case studies and situations in daily life to better illustrate how social influence works.

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First-Year Studies: Borders, Nations, and Mobilities: A Sociological Introduction

Open, FYS—Year

In this FYS seminar, students will be introduced to the field of borders and migration studies based in the social sciences. We will start by reading some key sociological theories that provide students with an overview of sociology as a discipline and its relevance both within a liberal-arts education and to a wider social and political context. We will then focus on readings that provide students with foundational knowledge in border studies, globalization, the role of nations, nation states and nationalism in society, and, last but not least, migration and displacement studies. Special focus will also be given to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on globalization, migration, and the rise of new nationalisms around the world. As part of the seminar’s “practicum” dimension, students will learn the basics of initiating, designing, and carrying out sociological research using various methods of data analysis, including surveys, statistics, interview, and field research. Throughout the year, students will have opportunities to engage in new and ongoing research projects related to the themes of nationalism, borders, and mobilities by engaging with cross-campus organizations, community partners, and broader initiatives such as the Consortium on Forced Migration, Displacement, and Education. Starting in the fall, students will be introduced to some of the resources on campus that are essential for their learning and academic progress at Sarah Lawrence, such as the library and the writing center. Students will be expected to take advantage of these resources as they learn the ropes of conducting research in the social sciences and refining their academic writing skills. In addition to our regular class sessions, students will meet with the faculty instructor weekly during the fall semester for conference meetings. Conference meeting times will be used to discuss the student’s progress in the class and, more generally, during their first semester at Sarah Lawrence. In the subsequent spring semester, we will move to a biweekly conference-meeting schedule, depending on the student’s ongoing progress and needs.

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Theories of Agency and Action in Science Studies

Open, Lecture—Fall

This course surveys a rich historical debate in science, technology, and society studies on the nature of agency—or the motivation behind, and responsibility for, action. The lecture course begins with an exploration of the nature of scientific fact, including how discoveries are made and how they become accepted in society. We will pay special attention to the concepts of co-production, the idea that humans and technologies work together, and situated action, the reality that actions are rooted in social context, to study how technologies become central to social interaction. This grounding theory will lay a foundation for students to consider an ongoing debate on the distinction between human and nonhuman action. The course culminates with an exploration of three contemporary discussions on the nature of agency with respect to automated weapons systems, assistive technologies for people with disabilities, and the use of algorithms to order social life. For each topic, we will consider how technologies influence social interaction and who or what is responsible when things go wrong. In group conference, students will practice analyzing how technologies shape social interaction through a series of “object readings,” short analyses of a single technological object. These assignments are designed to prepare students for a final group analysis of a technology of their choice.

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Sociology of Global Inequalities

Open, Lecture—Spring

The focus of this lecture will be to introduce students to the processes and methods of conducting sociological research projects using a transnational and/or comparative lens. We will be taking, as our starting point, a set of global themes—loosely categorized as human rights, culture, migration, health, climate, and development— through which we will try to build our understanding of inequality in various forms and in different contexts. The approach we will take here in designing research will be one that aims to move beyond the national or the nation state as a bounded “container” of society and social issues; rather, we will aim at a better understanding of how different trends, processes, transformations, structures, and actors emerge and operate in globally and transnationally interconnected ways. For example, we can look at migration not simply through the lens of emigration/immigration to and from particular countries but also through the lens of flows and pathways that are structured via transnational relationships and circuits of remittances, exchanges, and dependencies. As part of group conferences, students will be asked to identify one of the key global themes through which they will examine issues of inequality, using a range of methods for data collection and analysis—datasets from international organizations, surveys, questionnaires, historical records, reports, and ethnographic accounts—which they will then compile into research portfolios produced as a group.

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Both Public and Private: The Social Construction of Family Life

Open, Seminar—Year

Many of us take for granted the dichotomy between public and private life. The former is frequently understood as abstract, distant, and a key site of power; the latter, as the site of warmth, intimacy and emotional sustenance. In this seminar, we will critically examine the assumptions underlying such idealized distinctions between public and private domains. Through such revisioning, it is hoped that we will better understand the public and private dimensions of the family, its complexity, and its historical variability. In particular, our analysis will enable us to critically examine notions that posit the inevitability of the nuclear, heterosexual family as a universal and “natural” institution. Through historical, cross-cultural materials and oral histories, we will look at the myriad ways in which personal and social reproduction occur; the relationship between distinct family forms and different systems of social organization and social movements; and the expression of class, gender, racial relations, and sexual relations in diverse familial settings. Throughout, we will be attentive to shifting boundaries between the private domain (often erroneously and transhistorically understood in familial terms) and public institutions and practices. The “private” domain of the family will be problematized as a site for the construction of identity and caring and, simultaneously, as a location that engenders compulsion and violence. In this latter context, we will examine how relations of domination and subordination are produced through the institution of the “family” and how resistance is generated to such dominant relations and constructions. The course will conclude with an examination of family forms in contemporary societies (single-parent, same-sex, fictive-kin based) and of public struggles over these various forms.

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The Sociology of Sports

Sophomore and Above, Seminar—Fall

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

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Measuring Difference: Constructing Race, Gender, and Ability

Open, Seminar—Spring

In this seminar, we will explore the sociology of classification, a subfield that critiques the ways in which society measures differences like race, gender, ability, and other social categories that communicate social worth. Three questions guide our inquiry: How does society construct and understand categories of difference? How do people experience and resist categories of social difference in themselves? How does social difference shape institutions like the family, education, employment, and government? Each week, students will engage a selection of texts that put theory, substantive research on social categories, and critical responses to them in conversation with one another. For a final class project, students will explore one area of social difference through individual and group writing assignments. Those assignments will provide training in documentary analysis, a qualitative method often used in historical and ethnographic research. Students will leave the course with the ability to identify areas of social difference, the practices through which these are produced, and a systematic critique of the ways in which measurement creates inequality in the social world.

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Writing Our Moment

Open, Seminar—Fall

It would be safe to say that journalism and nonfiction writing are currently undergoing a transformation. Our most storied publications are in a state of crisis. Big-city newspapers are failing by the day. Magazines are imperiled. Book publishers face encroaching competition from handheld electronic devices and online search engines that do not recognize copyright laws. What is an ambitious, intuitive writer to do going forward? Quite simply, harness all of the strengths of the storytelling past to a new world of few space restrictions, more flexible tones, and the ready presence of video, audio, and animation—which can either enrich or encroach upon text—and comprehend the role of writer in such a way as to include and exploit new media. We will examine the relationship between literary nonfiction, which has always been cinematic in focus and flexible in tone, and the once and future practice of journalism. Masters of 20th-century nonfiction such as V. S. Naipaul, Truman Capote, Joseph Mitchell, and Roger Angell—steeped as they are in the journalistic practice of their time—can serve as guideposts to our uncertain future. We will examine, through reading and writing, the ways in which the formulas of journalism are transformed into literature. We will emphasize the importance of factuality and fact-checking and explore adapting modern storytelling to video, photography, and sound. As the semester progresses, literary nonfiction will be both discovered and reinvented to fit our new world.

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Ecopoetry

Open, Seminar—Year

In this poetry class—a yearlong school of poetry and the living world—we will consider the great organism Gaia, of which we are a part. We will read and write poems every week. We will ask questions: When did we begin to think of nature as apart from us? Why did we begin to speak of the animals as if we are not also animals? What are the stories and myths that have determined our attitude toward what we are and what we believe? We will read some of these stories and myths (myths of creation; Eden, the lost garden). We will read the long and rich tradition of poetry addressing itself to this subject, from the early indigenous peoples through the Zen monks and Wordsworth and right up through Gary Snyder to utterly contemporary poets writing right now. We will read books and articles that teach us about the other animals and living entities that we call plants and trees and planets and galaxies. Each student will research an aspect of the living world and teach the rest of us what they have learned. And we will write poems that incorporate that knowledge. We will read books of poems but also watch films, take field trips, and meet with each other outside of class in weekly poetry dates. By the end of the class, my hope is that each of us will have a greater understanding of the great organism that we call Earth and will create a collection of poems that engage the questions that our class raises: What is time? What is death? What is Eden? Where is the garden now? Who are the other organisms? How have we, as a species, affected the other organisms? How have we affected the oceans, the Earth, the air? How can poetry address the planetary emergency? Required for this class: intellectual curiosity, empathy, and a willingness to observe the world, to pay attention, and to write poetry that matters. This is a class for experienced writers, as well as for those who want to give writing poetry a try. All are welcome.

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