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. They 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, go to law school, and enter graduate programs in public policy and international development.

2019-2020 Courses

Economics

Introduction to Economic Theory and Policy

Open , Lecture—Year

This yearlong lecture will, broadly speaking, cover introductory microeconomics and macroeconomics from a wide range of theoretical perspectives, including neoclassical, post-Keynesian, Marxian, feminist, and institutional political economy perspectives. The objective of the course is to enable students to understand the more “technical aspects” of economics (e.g., usage of supply/demand analysis within and outside neoclassical economics), as well as some economic history and the history of economic thought. The theoretical issues will be applied to contemporary policy debates, such as the Green New Deal, inequality, health care, and international trade.

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Economics of the Environment and Natural Resources: Market Failures, Capitalism, and Solutions

Open , Seminar—Fall

Since the 19th century, generations of economists have understood the importance of the environment and natural resources. 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 Donora, Pennsylvania, “smoke ran like water” in the 1940s and led to deaths and impaired health. But in most places in the developed world, environmental quality has improved significantly in the past decades. How can we explain such changes? What are the most efficient ways to deal with pollution? Environmental degradation is far from being over in developed countries. Who is being impacted more by pollution? Why do certain population groups tend to suffer more from environmental harms? Scientists provide ample evidence that the current economic path is unsustainable, and serious policies are needed to deal with the challenge. But the policies are seriously inadequate. Why? What political economy factors are determining the environmental policies? In this course, we will apply economics principles to understand how societies use and misuse the environment and natural resources.

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Feminist Economics

Open , Seminar—Spring

This course has two sections; students should sign up for either the Monday/Wednesday section or the Tuesday/Thursday section. Some prior experience in economics is recommended.

Feminist economics arose as a critique of many of the fundamental assumptions underlying mainstream economics. For instance, feminist economics interrogates the androcentric and Eurocentric assumptions behind economics’ “homo economicus,” the supposedly autonomous individual who collects (freely available) unbiased information and makes rational decisions, self-interested in the market and altruistic in the home. Over the past 30 years, feminist economics has developed into coherent perspective in its own right. This approach acknowledges and investigates the existence of power differentials by race/ethnicity, gender, class, sexual orientation, nation, and other variables in both the home and the market; it studies human behavior in relationship rather than as autonomous individuals; and it proposes policies to measure and to maximize the well-being of families and communities. This course will examine the underlying theoretical assumptions of this emerging paradigm and its application to questions of economic policy. Topics to be covered include: what we mean by “the economy,” which activities and transactions “count” (and “should count”) as economic, and the implications of these definitions; the role of unpaid caring labor and of publicly provided services to both individual economic success and national economic development; the persistence of both occupational segregation and wage differentials—explanations for and policies to mitigate these inequalities; the impact of domestic violence and other forms of nonmarket coercion on economic success; the conceptualization and measurement of economic development and success; and the capabilities approach and new measures of economic growth. In addition to class participation, requirements for the course will include frequent short essays on the readings and working in small groups to present those readings. In lieu of writing a conference paper, it may be possible for some students to engage in service-learning at My Sister's Place (a local domestic violence shelter) or another local feminist organization.

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Intermediate Microeconomics: Conflicts, Coordination, and Institutions

Intermediate/Advanced , Seminar—Fall

Prior knowledge of microeconomics is required.

Economics was born in the 18th century, around the same time as capitalism emerged in Europe. Since then, economists have sought to understand the ways in which people allocate, produce, exchange, and distribute things in capitalist societies and how such activities impact people’s well-being. For the most part of the 20th century, microeconomics centered on the “efficiency” of the free 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. In this course, we will examine fundamental questions, such as: What are the incentives of individual decision-making under different circumstances? How do individuals make decisions? What are the social consequences of individual decision-making? We will not only learn about traditional issues such as how individual consumers and firms make decisions and the welfare properties of the market but also will examine how individuals interact with each other, the power relationship between individuals, the power relationship of the labor market and the credit market and inside the firms, the situations where 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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Economics of Environmental Justice: People, Place, and Power

Intermediate/Advanced , Seminar—Spring

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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Intermediate Macroeconomics: Main Street, Wall Street, and Policies

Intermediate/Advanced , Seminar—Spring

Prior knowledge of macroeconomics is required.

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 fundamental role of the free market. In macroeconomics, this is reflected by the pursuit of goals such as fiscal austerity, balanced budget, 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 aggregate demand, aggregate supply, labor market, inflation, exchange rate, and economic growth 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, consumption, investment, governmental spending, unemployment, international finance, growth and distribution, economic crisis, technological change, and long waves of capitalist societies. More recent progressive theories and policies will be discussed, such as universal basic income and job guarantee, modern monetary theory, etc.

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How Things Talk

Open , Lecture—Spring

A long-standing tradition within Western thought has conceptualized language as a system of signs clearly separate from material reality and aimed at enabling the transmission of information. The divide between the intangible realm of language and the material domain of things has dominated scholarship across several disciplines, leaking into common sense. This lecture course questions this deeply entrenched divide and suggests that, in order to understand our contemporary moment, we need to bring into the same analytical field both the linguistic and the material. The course readings provide an introduction to anthropology’s theories and methods through an investigation of how words and things mediate and enable human experience, creating the complex semiotic landscapes that we inhabit. Throughout the semester, students will be introduced to a series of theoretical and ethnographic readings aimed at illustrating the blurred boundaries between words and things, subjects and objects, signs and referents, artworks and artifacts, gifts and commodities, alienable and inalienable possessions. On the one hand, the course will challenge the classic language-world divide that has dominated both academic scholarship and popular common sense. Contrary to the view that language is exclusively a system of symbols that stand for and allow speaking about the world, a series of theoretical readings, practical exercises, and ethnographic case studies will reveal the materiality and performativity of language. Through this journey, language will appear as a material entity and as a form of action endowed with the power to shape the world. On the other hand, the course will dialogue with the emerging cross-disciplinary interest in materiality to invert the longstanding exploration of how people make things and generate a new reflection on how things make people. Contrary to the deeply entrenched opposition between subjects and objects, a selection of essays drawn from recent material culture studies will show how things mediate social relations and how inanimate objects may, in fact, be endowed with a form of agency.

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Language and Capitalism

Intermediate/Advanced , Seminar—Spring

One of the effects of advanced capitalism is to complicate the distinction between words and objects and between humans and things. Given the radicalization of market ideologies of our contemporary moment, what counts as inalienable spiritual values opposed to alienable material entities? What should and what should not have a price? Which is the original, and which is the copy? Is a brand a symbol that stands for a product or a product in itself? How can we distinguish medium from message? Is kindness a virtuous demeanor or a form of immaterial affective labor that requires the performance of specific acts of speech? This advanced seminar will engage the role of language—both as a symbolic code and as a material tool—in the spreading of late/neoliberal capitalism. While most analyses of the world’s current order tend to focus on political and economic aspects, this course explores how certain ways of speaking and using language may partake in producing capitalist forms of reasoning and practical conduct. Students will learn, for example, how to look at graphic artifacts (e.g., street signage, wall texts, typefaces, letterforms, logos, and other types of graphic media) as socially and politically meaningful semiotic technologies that shape our contemporary capitalist landscapes. They also will learn how to analyze new protocols of discourse that characterize our everyday lives: the customer satisfaction survey, the service encounter, the checklist, the logbook, the flowchart, the electoral mission statement, the training session, etc. In spite of their apparent ordinariness, these discursive genres/textual artifacts are key for the production of the self-improving and self-reflexive subjects required by the regimes of moral accountability and the forms of market rationality that characterize our contemporary moment. While reading ethnographic analyses of specific technologies of discourse, students will engage broader questions: How pervasive are neoliberal structures of practice? To what extent can neoliberalism be represented as an overarching and coherent global trend generated by the homogenizing forces of Western capitalism? Is our moral and affective experience completely shaped by the extension of economic rationality to all areas of life? The aim is to show how, within a regime of advanced capitalism, life and labor unfold through complex interplays of semiotic codes, affective registers, and material objects.

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Introduction to Property: Cultural and Environmental Dimensions

Sophomore and above , Seminar—Spring

Course background in the social sciences, arts or humanities will be useful.

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? How are property rights performed, publicized, and enforced? Debates over the “commons” implicate ideas of citizenship, community, the public good, justice, and governance. Controversies over public space, community gardens, genetic recombinant research and rights to the genome, blood supplies and public health, and North-South disputes over rights to biodiversity, as well as debates over landscapes in the Middle East, are part of this contested terrain. This course introduces ideas, practices, and cultures of property (private, public, and collective); debates, claims, arguments over the commons; and the environmental and social consequences of different property regimes. What will be the fate of urban coastal cities and property rights in the Anthropocene? At the end of this course, students should possess clear understandings of the cases covered in class, including key ideas about property, its arguments, tensions, and pivotal keywords. These conceptions and understandings will be obtained through writing, critical thinking, and seminar discussions and should be useful both inside and outside the classroom.

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Food, Agriculture, Environment, and Development

Open , Lecture—Year

Where does the food we eat come from? Why do some people have enough food to eat and others do not? Are there too many people for the world to feed? Who controls the world’s food? Will global food prices continue their recent rapid rise? 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 answers 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, 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 analyses 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, related to the course; the poster will be presented at the end of each semester in group conference, as well as at a potential public session.

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The Geography of Contemporary China: A Political Ecology of Reform, Global Integration, and Rise to Superpower

Open , Seminar—Fall

Some experience in the social sciences is desirable but not required. Advanced first-year students are welcome to interview.

Despite widespread daily reporting on China’s rise to superpower status—and both its challenge to and necessary partnership with the United States—what do we really know about the country? In this seminar, we will explore China’s evolving place in the world through political-economic integration and globalization processes. Throughout the seminar, we will compare China with other areas of the world within the context of the broader theoretical and thematic questions mentioned below in detail. We will consistently focus our efforts on reframing debates, both academic and in mass media, to enable new insights and analyses not only concerning China but also in terms of the major global questions—in theory, policy, and practice—of this particular historical moment. We will begin with an overview of contemporary China, discussing the unique aspects of China’s modern history, and the changes and continuities from one era to the next. We will explore Revolutionary China and the subsequent socialist period to ground the seminar’s focus: post-1978 reform and transformation to the present day. Rooted in the questions of agrarian change and rural development, we will also study seismic shifts in urban and industrial form and China’s emergence as a global superpower on its way to becoming the world’s largest economy. We will analyze the complex intertwining of the environmental, political-economic, and sociocultural aspects of these processes, as we interpret the geography of contemporary China. Using a variety of theoretical perspectives, we will analyze a series of contemporary global debates: Is there a fundamental conflict between the environment and rapid development? What is the role of the peasantry in the modern world? What is the impact of different forms of state power and practice? How does globalization shape China’s regional transformation? And, on the other hand, how does China’s global integration impact development in every other country and region of the world? Modern China provides immense opportunities for exploring key theoretical and substantive questions of our time. A product first and foremost of its own complex history, other nation-states and international actors and institutions—such as the World Bank, transnational corporations, and civil society—have also heavily influenced China. The “China model” of rapid growth is widely debated in terms of its efficacy as a development pathway and, yet, defies simple understandings and labels. Termed everything from neoliberalism, to market socialism, to authoritarian Keynesian capitalism, China is a model full of paradoxes and contradictions. Not least of these is the country's impact on global climate change. Other challenges include changing gender relations, rapid urbanization, and massive internal migration. In China today, contentious debates continue on land reform, the pros and cons of global market integration, the role of popular culture and the arts in society, how to define ethical behavior, the roots of China’s social movements—from Tian’anmen to current widespread social unrest and discontent among workers, peasants, students, and intellectuals—and the meaning and potential resolution of minority conflicts in China’s hinterlands. Land and resource grabs in China and abroad are central to China’s rapid growth and role as an industrial platform for the world, but the resulting social inequality and environmental degradation challenge the legitimacy of China’s leadership like never before. As China borders many of the most volatile places in the contemporary world and increasingly projects its power to the far corners of the planet, we will conclude our seminar with a discussion of global security issues, geopolitics, and potential scenarios for China’s future. Weekly selected readings, films, mass media, and books will be used to inform debate and discussion. A structured conference project will integrate closely with one of the diverse topics of the seminar.

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Introduction to Development Studies: The Political Ecology of Development

Intermediate , Seminar—Spring

Some experience in the social sciences is desirable but not required.

In this intermediate 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 the term. The case studies will also 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 the United States. 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, students will be encouraged to do primary research over spring break.

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Postwar: Europe on the Move

Open , Lecture—Spring

When World War II ended, Europe was a continent of displaced peoples. It was a continent on the move: returning POWs, emigrating Displaced Persons, refugees, and arriving occupation soldiers. The postwar period is sometimes dubbed a history of the unwinding of populations, the return or resettlement following the logic of nation states. Yet the assumption that, once that was done and the Cold War started, populations stayed put until 1989 is misleading. Successive attempted revolutions in the East begot more political refugees. Decolonization and industrialization resulted in the immigration and recruitment of non-native European populations, as well as the return of European colonial settlers. In addition, Europeans moved to the cities, turning the continent from one in which almost half the population lived in the countryside in 1950 into a predominantly urbanized one within the span of 30 years. Political crisis abroad, Europeanization, the fall of the Iron Curtain, and globalization led to still more mobility. The so-called migration crisis of 2015 is thus but one of a series of migratory events—and by far not the largest. This lecture introduces students to the history of Europe, both Eastern and Western, since 1945. The movements of peoples and borders will provide students with insight into political, cultural, and social developments of the continent following the defeat of the Third Reich. In order to avoid an undue Euro-centrism and remain critical of the language that we use to talk and think about migration, the lectures will be twinned with a number of group conferences that are conducted jointly with Partibhan Muniandy and his class on Lexicons of (Forced-)migrations.

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An Introduction to Statistical Methods and Analysis

Open , Lecture—Fall

Prerequisite: basic high-school algebra and geometry.

Correlation, regression, 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. 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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Calculus I: The Study of Motion and Change

Open , Seminar—Fall

Prerequisites: successful completion of trigonometry and precalculus courses. Students concerned about meeting the prerequisites should contact the instructor. This course is also offered in the spring semester.

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. Calculus was invented to develop a language to accurately describe and study the motion and change happening around us. 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, 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 processes 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 calculus or conduct a study of some other mathematically-related topic. This seminar is intended for students interested in advanced study in mathematics or sciences, 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

Prerequisite: one year of high-school calculus or one semester of college-level calculus. Students concerned about meeting the prerequisite should contact the instructor. This course is also offered in the fall semester.

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 calculus or conduct a study of some other mathematically-related topic. This seminar is intended for students interested in advanced study in mathematics or sciences, students preparing for careers in the health sciences or engineering, and any student wishing to broaden and enrich the life of the mind. The theory of limits, differentiation, and integration will be briefly reviewed at the beginning of the term.

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Introduction to Social Theory: Philosophical Tools for Critical Social Analysis

Open , Lecture—Year

How can social order be explained in modern societies that are too large, fluid, and complex to rely on tradition or self-conscious political regulation alone? Social theory is a distinctly modern tradition of discourse centered on answering this question and focused on a series of theorists and texts whose works gave rise to the modern social sciences, overlap with some of the most influential modern philosophy, and provide powerful tools for critical understanding of contemporary social life. The theorists whose works form the backbone of this course explore the sources of social order in structures, many of which work “behind the backs” of the awareness and intentions of those whose interaction they integrate and regulate. The market economy, the legal and administrative state, the firm and the professions, highly differentiated political and civil cultures, racial and gender order, a variety of disciplinary techniques inscribed in diverse mundane practices—one by one, these theorists labored to unmask the often-hidden sources of social order in the modern world. Moreover, this understanding of social order has evolved side-by-side with evaluations that run the gamut, from those that view Western modernity as achieving the apex of human freedom and individuality to those that see it as insinuating a uniquely thorough and invidious system of domination. This class will introduce many of the foundational texts and authors in social theory, the social sciences, and social philosophy—including Thomas Hobbes, Adam Smith, Alexis de Tocqueville, John Stuart Mill, Karl Marx, Emile Durkheim, Max Weber, Sigmund Freud, Michel Foucault, and Jürgen Habermas. In this way, we will also cover various schools of social explanation, including: Marxism, structuralism, poststructuralism, and (in group conferences) critical race theory, postcolonial studies, and feminism. The thread connecting these disparate authors and approaches will be the issue of the worth or legitimacy of Western modernity, the historical process that produced capitalism, representative democracy, religious pluralism, the modern sciences, ethical individualism, secularism, fascism, communism, new forms of racism and sexism, and many “new social movements.” Which of the institutions and practices that structured the process of modernization are worth defending or reforming? Which should be rejected outright? Or should we reject them all and embrace a new, postmodern social epoch? In addressing these issues, we will grapple both with classical texts and with the contemporary implications of different approaches to social analysis.

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Democracy, Diversity, and (In)equality

Sophomore and above , Seminar—Year

Modern democracy, as defended by its most progressive advocates, promised to resurrect an ancient form of popular self-rule on a newly inclusive and egalitarian foundation. At certain points in recent history, it has seemed credible to believe that the “moral arc of the universe bends toward justice”—i.e., that the long-term trend of modern political life moved in the direction of democratic polities that treated all members with equal concern and respect; realized genuine fair equality of opportunity for all; limited social inequality so as to render it compatible with political equality; and repaired historical injustices like those rooted in race, gender, sexuality, and class. Since the beginning of the current century, however, this claim has appeared far less credible. Instead, modern politics appears increasingly less equal, inclusive, just, and democratic. On the one hand, democratic societies have become increasingly unequal as a result of globalization, changes in the nature and remuneration of work, new policies and technology, and new political conditions. On the other, the hitherto dominant (understood variously in racial, ethnic, national, gender, and/or religious terms) appear increasingly unwilling to surrender their privileges in the name of social justice, diversity, or inclusion—even while democratic societies are increasingly diverse as a result of immigration and demographic shifts and their citizens less willing to “forget” their many differences to melt into a dominant national culture. These two trends are far from unrelated: The failure to preserve fair distributions of income, wealth and opportunity contribute to the rise of nationalism and reactionary populism, while the fracturing of common civic identities undermines the resources of commonality and solidarity needed to resist the concentration of wealth and power in ever-smaller elite circles. These developments raise some basic questions: Is 21st-century democracy increasingly an instrument of unjust politics, impotent in the face of the social changes that globalization and galloping technological change produce, and perhaps simply doomed? Or might it be possible to reform democracy to render it compatible with conditions of deep diversity while also making it capable of securing the requisite degrees of political and social equality? This course will explore these questions in a number of ways. We will study exemplary historical statements of the ideal of democracy, drawing on traditional works in political philosophy. We will also draw on contemporary work in sociology, anthropology, cultural and legal studies, and political science to examine the nature of social and cultural diversity—including religion, class, gender, sexuality, and race. We will draw on a similar range of disciplines to seek to comprehend the causes and consequence of the widening inequality characteristic of almost all economically advanced democratic societies. Finally, we will explore works that bring these themes together by examining current scholars efforts to (re-)articulate the ideal and practice of democracy in light of increased diversity and inequality.

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Rising Autocrats and Democracy in Decline?

Intermediate , Seminar—Fall

At the end of the Cold War, many Western writers wrote triumphantly about the global victory of democracy and capitalism. Today, we are bombarded with news stories of autocrats, both at home and abroad, undermining democracy. We hear that democracy is dying while markets and inequality reach new heights. 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 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. We will also consider Latin American and African state experiments with social democracy and redistributing wealth. The class will study the interaction between democracy and the market to focus on the last decade in the United States and globally and to ask: Is democracy in decline? We will investigate how populist leaders and extreme income inequality threaten ideals of democracy. We also explore the role of recent popular uprisings, from Occupy and the Arab Spring in 2011 to Algeria and Sudan in 2019. The class will consider the role of social media in propelling protest and the rise of surveillance capitalism in tracking our movements. As we evaluate the present, we will consider a range of popular responses to these challenges, as well as alternative frameworks for the future.

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Sociology of Global Inequalities

Open , Lecture—Fall

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 try to build our understanding of inequality in various forms in different contexts. The approach we take here in designing research would 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—that they will then compile into research portfolios produced as a group.

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Changing Places: Sociospatial Dimensions of Urbanization

Open , Seminar—Year

The concept of space will provide the thematic underpinning and serve as the point of departure for this course on cities and urbanization. Space can be viewed in relation to the (human) body, social relations and social structures, and the physical environment. In this seminar, we will examine the material (social, political, and economic) and metaphorical (symbolic and representational) dimensions of spatial configurations in urban settings. In our analysis, we will address the historical and shifting connotations of urban space and urban life. Moving beyond the historical aspects of urbanization and transformations therein, we will turn our attention to the (re)theorization of the very notion of spatial relations itself. Here, emphasis will be placed on representational practices and processes whereby social “space” is created, gendered, re-visioned. “Space” will no longer be seen simply as physical space but also in terms of the construction of meanings that affect our use of, and relation to, both physical and social settings. While economic factors will continue to be implicated and invoked in our analysis, we will move beyond the economic to extra-economic categories and constructs such as notions of power, culture, and sexuality. The focus will also shift, as the year proceeds, from macroanalyses to include an examination of everyday life. Through our exploration of these issues, we will attempt to gauge the practices and processes whereby social space is gendered, privatized, and sexualized and distinctions are established between “inside” and “outside” domains and between public and private realms. Particular attention will be paid to attempts by scholars and activists to open up space both theoretically and concretely. The theoretical/conceptual questions raised lend themselves to an analysis of any city; so while many of our readings will be New York City and US-based, the course will have relevance to cities globally. Students should feel free to extend the analysis to other places that are of interest to them. This applies particularly to conference work.

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Travel and Tourism: Economies of Pleasure, Profit, and Power

Advanced , Seminar—Year

This course takes a long view of travel, seeing travel as a “contact zone,” a contradictory site of learning, exchange as well as exploitation. Among the questions the course will address are the following: What are the reasons for travel historically and in the modern world? What factors draw individuals to travel singly and as members of collectivities? What sites draw the traveler and/or the tourist? What is the relationship between the (visited) site and the sight of the visitor? How is meaning produced of particular sites? How do those meanings differ, depending on the positionality of the traveler? How and why do particular sites encourage visitors? What is the relationship between the visitor and the local inhabitant? Can one be a traveler in one’s own home (site)? What is the relationship between travel and tourism, pleasure and power in/through travel? How are race, gender, and class articulated in and through travel? These and other questions will be addressed through a careful scrutiny of commercial (visual and written) writings on travel and tourism; diaries, journals, and memoirs by travelers; and films and scholarly writings on travel and tourism. Our emphasis will be on an examination of travel and tourism in a historical context. In particular, we will focus on the commodification of travel as an acquisition of social (and economic) currency and as a source/site of power. We will study different forms of travel that have recently emerged, such as environmental tourism, heritage (historical) tourism, sex tourism, as well as cyber travel. Throughout, the relation between material and physical bodies will remain a central focus of the course. Conference possibilities include analyses of your own travel experiences, examination of travel writings pertaining to specific places, or theoretical perspectives on travel and/or tourism. Fieldwork locally is yet another possibility for conference work.

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First-Year Studies: Ecopoetry: Poetry in Relation to the Living World

Open , FYS—Year

Poetry is the human song called out: in joy, in love, in fear, in wonder, in prayer, in rebuke, in war, in peace, in story, and in vision. The human poem collects us together, individuates us, and consoles us. We read poems at funerals, at weddings, graduations...they accompany us through the gates of our lives, in public, or in private...shared through a book, a computer, a letter, a song. Now we find ourselves at the brink of an unstoppable ecological disaster. A change of consciousness is necessary. How can poetry accomplish this? For a long time, we have not noticed how our civilizations and technologies have affected the rest of the living world. This course will ask questions: Who do we think we are? Who taught us that? Who are we in relation to the other animals? To trees and plants? To insects? To stars? How have our human myths informed those relationships? How are those myths evident in our human world today? What is poetry? What is ecopoetry? How can poetry instruct? How can poetry document? How can poetry re-vision? Prophesy? Protest? Preserve? Imagine? In our time together, you will read poetry written by published poets. You will write your own poems, one each week, and share them with each other. You will keep observation journals, meet with another person in our class each week in a poetry date, and meet with me in individual and small-group conferences. We will proceed as curious learners and writers. Through our close study, each of you (in conference work and together) will learn about a very specific aspect of the natural world that interests you (an animal, a forest, a coral reef, etc.) and then teach the rest of us in class what you have learned. We will learn how to write poems about these subjects so that the poem itself becomes an experience we have never had before. And we might slowly move away from the human as the center of the poem and welcome the rest of the living world in. We will know more at the end of this class about the other animals and plants and insects and rivers and oceans. If our hearts break with this deepening relationship, we might also discover a great joy and a new responsibility. We will want to share what we have learned and written with the wider community. We will find ways to do that. I can assure you, we will be changed. Students will have an individual conference every other week and a half-group conference on alternating weeks.

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Our World, Other Worlds

Open , Seminar—Year

This is a writing course that explores the use of episodes in a world made of words. We read short stories, parts of novels, poems, newspaper articles, and essays from many times and worlds and occasionally watch episodes and films. We also do exercises designed to help practice character drawing, dialogue, pacing, composition, editing, and world building. Still, much of the work of the class involves writing episodes of a long work that becomes our conference work and can be completed in one or two semesters. These works are discussed in small groups, whose members become experts on each others’ creations. Many of the works take place in an imaginary world, some are memoirs, others go back and forth between worlds. The course is open but involves a willingness to enter sympathetically into someone else's work over time and to be an informed reader for that person. It also involves the ability to work on a piece of writing for at least a semester.

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Writing Our Moment

Open , Seminar—Spring

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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