Geography

Geography is fundamentally an interdisciplinary field, often seen as straddling the natural and social sciences and increasingly drawing upon the arts and other forms of expression and representation. For these reasons, Sarah Lawrence College provides an exciting context, as the community is predisposed to welcome geography’s breadth and interdisciplinary qualities. Geography courses are infused with the central questions of the discipline. What is the relationship between human beings and “nature”? How does globalization change spatial patterns of historical, political, economic, social, and cultural human activities? And how do these patterns provide avenues for understanding our contemporary world and pathways for the future?

As a discipline built on field study, students in geography classes participate in field trips—most recently, for example, to farming communities in Pennsylvania but also to Manhattan’s Chinatown, where students engage aspects of Chinese culture in walks through the community that expose the heterogeneity of China through food, art, religion, and language while simultaneously clarifying the challenges facing recent immigrants and legacies of institutions imbued with racism that are carved into the built environment. That is one of the overarching goals of contemporary geography: to investigate the ways that landscape and place both reflect and reproduce the evolving relationship of humans to each other and to their environments.

Geography 2024-2025 Courses

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

FYS—Year | 10 credits

GEOG 1024

In this yearlong seminar, we will begin by examining competing paradigms and approaches to understanding “development” and the “Third World.” We will set the stage by answering the question: What did the world look like 500 years ago? The purpose of this part of the course is to acquaint us with and to analyze the historical origins and evolution of a world political economy of which the "Third World" is an intrinsic component. We will thus study the transition from feudalism to capitalism, the rise of merchant and finance capital, and the colonization of the world by European powers. We will analyze case studies of colonial "development" to understand the evolving meaning of this term. These case studies will help us assess the varied legacies of colonialism apparent in the emergence of new nations through the fitful and uneven process of decolonization that followed. The next part of the course will look at the United Nations and the role that some of its associated institutions have played in the post-World War II global political economy, one marked by persistent and intensifying socioeconomic inequalities as well as frequent outbreaks of political violence across the globe. By examining the development institutions that have emerged and evolved since 1945, we will attempt to unravel the paradoxes of development in different eras. We will deconstruct the measures of development through a thematic exploration of population, resource use, poverty, access to food, the environment, agricultural productivity, and different development strategies adopted by Third World nation-states. We will then examine globalization and its relation to emergent international institutions and their policies; for example, the IMF, World Bank, AIIB, and WTO. We will then turn to contemporary development debates and controversies that increasingly find space in the headlines—widespread land grabbing by sovereign wealth funds, China, and hedge funds; the “global food crisis”; epidemics and public-health challenges; and the perils of climate change. Throughout the course, our investigations of international institutions, transnational corporations, the role of the state, and civil society will provide the backdrop for the final focus of the class: the emergence of regional coalitions for self-reliance, environmental and social justice, and sustainable development. Our analysis of development in practice will draw upon case studies primarily from Africa but also from Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, and the United States. Conference work will be closely integrated with the themes of the course, with a two-stage substantive research project beginning in the fall semester and completed in the spring. Project presentations will incorporate a range of formats, from traditional papers to multimedia visual productions. Smaller creative projects are also a component of the course, including podcasts, videos, art, music, and other forms. Where possible and feasible, students will be encouraged to do primary research during fall study days and winter and spring breaks. Some experience in the social sciences is desired but not required.

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Food, Agriculture, Environment, and Development

Open, Lecture—Spring | 5 credits

GEOG 2015

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

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The Rise of the New Right in the United States

Sophomore and Above, Seminar—Fall | 5 credits

GEOG 3124

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

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Understanding Experience: Phenomenological Approaches

Sophomore and Above, Seminar—Year

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

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Art and Society in the Lands of Islam

Open, Lecture—Spring

This course will explore the architecture and visual arts of societies in which Islam is a strong political, cultural, or social presence. We will follow the history of some of these societies through the development of their arts and architecture, using case studies to explore their diverse artistic languages from the advent of Islam through the contemporary world. We will begin with an introduction to the history surrounding the advent of Islam and the birth of arts and architecture that respond to the needs of the new Islamic community. We will proceed to follow the developments of diverse artistic and architectural languages of expression as Islam spreads to the Mediterranean and to Asia, Africa, Europe, and North America—exploring the ways in which arts can help define and express identities for people living in multiconfessional societies. We will then draw this exploration into the present day, in which global economics, immigration, and politics draw the architecture and artistic attitudes of Islam into the global contemporary discourse. Our work will include introductions to some of the theoretical discourses that have emerged concerning cultural representation and exchange and appropriation in art and architecture. One of our allied goals will be to learn to read works of art and to understand how an artistic expression that resists representation can connect with its audience. And throughout this course, we will ask: Can there be an Islamic art?

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Human-Wildlife Interactions: Analysis, Management, and Resolution

Open, Seminar—Spring

This course delves into the intricate dynamics of human-wildlife interactions, focusing on both the real and perceived conflicts that arise when human and wildlife habitats overlap. This course provides an in-depth analysis of wildlife management practices, the resilience of wildlife populations to traditional control methods, and the ethical considerations in human-wild animal relationships and in wildlife management. The course begins with an overview of human-wildlife conflict (HWC) in order to understand the causes, types, and consequences of these interactions. This sets the groundwork for exploring the complexities of coexistence between humans and wildlife. The course will cover a range of management strategies used to mitigate HWC, including nonlethal and lethal control methods, habitat modification, and the use of technology in wildlife monitoring and management. Discussions will critically assess the effectiveness, sustainability, and ethicality of these approaches. A significant component of the curriculum is dedicated to the ethical considerations in wildlife management, including animal well-being, conservation ethics, and the role of humans in shaping wildlife populations. A core element of this course is a collaborative project with a community partner (TBD) to assess ongoing human-wildlife conflicts in the region. This hands-on project includes: fieldwork to collect data on specific conflict scenarios, such as wildlife damage to agriculture, urban wildlife issues, or the impact of non-native species; data analysis to understand the patterns, scale, and implications of these conflicts; and development of management or mitigation strategies based on scientific evidence and ethical considerations. This course is particularly beneficial for those students seeking to understand the challenges and opportunities in positively facilitating human-wildlife interactions and those aspiring to careers in wild-animal protection, conservation, environmental management, or academic research.

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Law and Political Economy: Challenging Laissez Faire

Open, Lecture—Year

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

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Controversies in Microeconomics

Open, Seminar—Year

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

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

Open, Seminar—Spring

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

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Natural Hazards

Open, Lecture—Spring

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

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Workshop on Sustainability Solutions at Sarah Lawrence College

Open, Small Lecture—Spring

As we want to engage in individual and collective efforts toward sustainable and climate-change mitigating solutions, this workshop offers an opportunity for students to explore the multiple ways in which “sustainability” can be fostered and developed at an institution like Sarah Lawrence College. Students will work in small groups on a variety of projects and produce research and educational material that can lead to concrete and actionable proposals for the College and our community to consider. Students will determine their own areas of interest and research, from energy and water-usage monitoring to composting solutions, recycling/reusing and consumer sobriety, landscaping choices, pollinators and natural diversity, food growing, natural and human history of the land, and community collaborations, to name a few. As part of their project effort, students will engage with College administrators who are actively working toward sustainable solutions, as well as student, staff, and faculty groups such as the Warren Green vegetable garden, the Sarah Lawrence Interdisciplinary Collective on the Environment (SLICE), and the Sustainability Committee. We will also explore the possibility of writing grants in coordination with other actors at the College. This workshop will meet once a week for one hour. It is offered as pass/fail based on attendance and a group project that will mostly be developed during our meeting time. It is open to all students, including first-year students. All skills and areas of expertise are welcome, from environmental science to writing and visual and studio arts—but any interest in issues of sustainability and a strong sense of dedication will suffice!

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

Open, Seminar—Spring

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

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History of South Asia

Open, Lecture—Fall

South Asia, a region at the geographic center of the world’s most important cultural, religious, and commercial encounters for millennia, has a rich history of cultural exchanges. Its central location on the Indian Ocean provided it with transnational maritime connections to Africa and Southeast Asia, while its land routes facilitated constant contact with the Eurasian continent. The region has witnessed numerous foreign rules, from the early Central Asian Turkic dynasties to the Mughals and, finally, the British. After gaining independence from British colonial rule, the region was eventually partitioned into three different nations—India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh—each with its distinctive form of government. South Asia has produced a significant diaspora worldwide, preserving its cultural heritage and creating further cultural exchanges with the adopted nations, thereby influencing global culture. Despite facing development challenges and political instability, South Asia is rapidly developing within the capitalistic world economy and becoming an important player on the global scene, both politically and culturally. This course will provide students with a survey of South Asia from the era of the early Indus Civilization to the present. Lectures and sources will trace major political events and the region’s cultural, ecological, and economic developments that have significantly shaped South Asian history. Students will analyze both primary and secondary sources, enhancing their understanding of this diverse society. They are expected to engage in lectures, reading, class discussions, group work, and writing to examine the major themes and debates in South Asian history and develop sound arguments.

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History of the Indian Ocean

Open, Seminar—Spring

The Indian Ocean is the third-largest ocean in the world and contributes almost 30 percent to the total oceanic realm of our planet. Current scholars have defined the Indian Ocean to include the oceanic and littoral spaces in the southwest from the Cape of Good Hope, South Africa, to the Red Sea in the north, then horizontally through to the South China Sea in the east, and down to Australia in the southeast. Commerce around the Indian Ocean continued as a web of production and trade that spanned across the ports of India, the Middle East, Africa, Southeast Asia, and Europe. Indian Ocean ports were the fulcrum of maritime trade that precipitated spontaneous transcultural interactions between traders and inhabitants of different geographic regions who mingled there to exchange commodities. Ships followed monsoons or seasonal wind patterns, and sailors were obliged to wait at length for return departures from ports, which was a significant cause of cultural transfer. Various religions, including Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism, were mobile across the Indian Ocean networks; and extant beliefs, practices, and material cultures are evidence. The study of the Indian Ocean World (IOW), as some historians have termed it, is a newly emerging field in world history. New evidence from historical research of the last 30 years has recovered the lost significance of this region, which was the center of a robust and complex trade and cultural network for a millennium and that continues today. This course is designed to provide students with a survey of Indian Ocean world history from the medieval to the colonial era. Lectures and sources will help students deepen their knowledge of peoples and cultures around the Indian Ocean and gain a wider appreciation for the transnational trade and cultural and religious networks that existed there. Students will learn to examine that globalization is not a modern phenomenon but, rather, an ongoing aspect of the Indian Ocean. Each week, students will evaluate sources that explore the discrete regions of the Indian Ocean, their people, and the religious networks, commercial exchanges, migrations, and political events that they engender to make a complex and dynamic connected history. Students are expected to engage in lectures, reading, class discussions, group work, and writing to examine the major themes and debates in Indian Ocean history and develop sound arguments.

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“Friendship of the Peoples”: The Soviet Empire From Indigenization to “Russkii mir”

Open, Seminar—Spring

This seminar looks at the history of the Soviet Union through the lens of ethnonational diversity. To be a Soviet person, one had to be identified by “nationality” (closer to our understanding of ethnicity), a category that outlasted class. Soviet policy toward different nationalities varied widely from 1917 to 1991, ranging from the aggressive promotion of indigenous cadres and cultures to the deportation of whole nationalities. The USSR was the largest country in modern history and the first attempt to build a communist state, yet it ended up as a union of federal republics organized along national lines. The nation was supposed to be the vehicle that ushered people through Marxist-Leninist-Stalinist phases of historical development, yet the nations that constituted the Soviet Union outlasted it. We will look at the ways in which Soviet conceptions of nationalities shaped the Soviet project and how being a member of one or another nationality impacted people’s fates. Our readings begin with a brief overview of the diversity of the Russian Empire on the eve of revolution and continue to address the major events of Soviet history through to the continued relevance of the history of Soviet nationalities policies today.

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First-Year Studies: African Politics and International Justice

FYS—Year

The Council on Foreign Relations has succinctly noted: “The future is African.” This course offers a comprehensive introduction to international politics from the perspective of African states and societies. We will consider how states on the continent are shifting global politics from economic relations and consumer trends to humanitarian interventions and international justice. We will begin our exploration by considering the dramatic changes that African societies have experienced from colonialism to decolonization and the present. We will engage key questions regarding postcolonial governance and popular demands for democracy. How have Africans engaged their governments to call for reform or revolution? Where has this led to effective democracies? Why have some states experienced civil wars? What role have external influences, from Western aid to the expansion of Chinese influence, played on the continent? We will consider the demands of protesters and the causes for rebellion and seek to understand both pressure for and resistance to reform. At the end of the fall semester, students will simulate the US President’s National Security Council to debate a US response to an imagined political crisis on the African continent. In the second semester, we will consider cases of humanitarian crises and conflict. What are the appropriate responses to widespread human-rights violations as they are occurring? Are there cases in which military intervention is warranted? If so, who should intervene? What else can be done? Once the violence has subsided, what actions should the international community take to support peace and justice? We will explore critical ethical, legal, and political questions by considering key cases of intervention and nonintervention, including Rwanda, Darfur, and Libya. Finally, we will evaluate different pathways in pursuing truth, justice, and reconciliation in the aftermath of gross violations of human rights. Cases include the domestic processes established by South Africa’s pioneering Truth and Reconciliation Commission and Rwanda’s Gacaca, as well as the ongoing work of the International Criminal Court. Toward the end of the second semester, students will conduct a UN Security Council simulation to debate possible actions in a simulated humanitarian crisis. Finally, we will end the academic year with an exploration of what an “African future” will mean not just for Africans but also for societies across the globe. During the year, students will engage ideas, readings, and debates in class conversations, in short posts to the class, and in papers. Students will also conduct research projects both on their own and with a partner.

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Polarization

Open, Seminar—Fall

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

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Environmental Psychology: An Exploration of Space and Place

Open, Seminar—Fall

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

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First-Year Studies: Nations, Borders, and Mobilities

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, nationalism in society, and, finally, migration and displacement studies. The readings and discussions for the seminar adopt a “social problems” approach, looking at themes such as dimensions of inequality (race, class, and gender), labor, forced migration, and religious conflict through a transnational lens. 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, interviews, 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 and community partners in the City of Yonkers and wider Westchester County. During the second semester (spring 2025), students will be expected to engage in fieldwork, either independently or volunteering with community partners such as the Yonkers Public Library, Hudson River Museum, Wartburg, CURB, Center Lane, ArtsWestchester, or another organization. The fieldwork component will form the basis for the sociological research and writing that students produce for their conference work in the seminar. 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 individual conferences. Conference meeting times will be used to discuss the students' 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.

Faculty

Changing Places: Social/Spatial Dimensions of Urbanization

Open, Seminar—Fall

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

Faculty

Exploring Transnational Social Networks

Open, Seminar—Spring

This seminar offers a deep dive into the multifaceted world of social connections that span across national borders, challenging the traditional notions of space, identity, and community. The seminar’s core focus is on understanding how transnational networks operate within and influence various spheres of global society, including migration, economic practices, digital communication, and social movements. Through a critical examination of these networks, the course aims to shed light on the complexities of global interconnectedness, the role of technology in facilitating transnational ties, and the implications of these networks for social change and policy-making. In order to become equipped with a nuanced understanding of global social dynamics, students will engage with contemporary sociological theories and methodologies to analyze the formation, evolution, and impacts of transnational social networks in order. The seminar will incorporate a range of scholarly articles, book chapters, and case studies to explore topics such as the dynamics of diaspora communities and their influence on homeland politics; the economic ramifications of transnational remittances; the role of social media in fostering transnational activism and solidarity; and the impacts of transnational networks on cultural identity and integration processes. Readings include works by Alejandro Portes and Min Zhou on the concept of “social capital” within immigrant communities, Arjun Appadurai's theories on the cultural dimensions of globalization, Faranak Miraftab's notion of “transnational relationality,“ and Manuel Castells’ insights into the network society.

Faculty