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?

Two seminars are taught on a regular basis: Introduction to Development Studies: The Political Ecology of Development and The Geography of Contemporary China and Its Place in a Globalizing World Economy.

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.

2017-2018 Courses

Geography

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

Open , FYS—Year

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

In this yearlong seminar, we will begin by examining competing paradigms and approaches to understanding “development” and the “Third World.” We will set the stage by answering the question: What did the world look like 500 years ago? The purpose of this part of the course is to acquaint us with and to analyze the historical origins and evolutions of a world political economy, of which the Third World is an intrinsic component. We will thus study the transition from feudalism to capitalism, the rise of merchant and finance capital, and the colonization of the world by European powers. We will analyze case studies of colonial "development" to understand the evolving meaning of this term. These case studies will help us assess the varied legacies of colonialism apparent in the emergence of new nations through the fitful and uneven process of decolonization that followed. The next part of the course will look at the United Nations and the role some of its associated institutions have played in the post-World War II global political economy, one marked by persistent and intensifying socioeconomic inequalities, as well as frequent outbreaks of political violence across the globe. By examining the development institutions that have emerged and evolved since 1945, we will attempt to unravel the paradoxes of development in different eras. We will deconstruct the measures of development through a thematic exploration of population, resource use, poverty, access to food, the environment, agricultural productivity, and different development strategies adopted by Third World nation states. We will then examine globalization; and its relation to emergent 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 in the fall semester to be completed in the spring. Project presentations will incorporate a range of formats, from traditional papers to multimedia visual productions. Where possible and feasible, students will be encouraged to do primary research during fall study days and winter and spring breaks.

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

Intermediate , Seminar—Year

Some experience in the social sciences desired but not required.

Despite widespread daily reporting on China’s rise to superpower status—and both its challenge to and its 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. We will consistently focus our efforts on reframing debates, both academic and in mass media, to enable new insights and analyses. 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 it defies simple understandings and labels. Termed everything from neoliberalism to market socialism to authoritarian Keynesian capitalism, it is a model full of paradoxes and contradictions. Not least of these is its 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 amongst 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 its role as an industrial platform for the world. But 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 security issues, geopolitics, and potential scenarios for China’s future. Throughout the seminar, there will be comparisons with other areas of the world within the context of the broader theoretical and thematic questions mentioned above. 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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Understanding Property: Cultural and Environmental Perspectives

Open , Seminar—Fall

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

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Love, Sex, and Globalization

Open , Seminar—Year

In 2015, the issue of gay rights in Israel was thrust into international spotlight when 26 Israeli surrogate babies were evacuated from earthquake-devastated Kathmandu, but their Nepalese surrogate mothers were left behind. Among the Israeli parents were gay couples who had been forced to look abroad, as surrogacy is restricted to heterosexual couples in Israel. What this event also revealed are the strange bedfellows that love and sex find when they travel and take up new life in the age of globalization. In recent years, scholars have been increasingly concerned with the worldwide political-economic and technological restructuring that goes under the name of “globalization.” Too often, however, globalization has been figured as an abstract and all-powerful capitalist phenomenon imposed on the rest of the world by American political elites and US corporations. Missing have been accounts of how this restructuring is experienced by people in their daily lives, including their most intimate acts and practices. This course seeks to challenge the binaries of proximate/distant, economic/intimate, and global/local by which we understand globalization. Using an interdisciplinary lens drawn from anthropology, cultural studies, sociology, international relations, literature, and film and media studies, we will seek to account for the complex ways in which political-economic and technological transformations both shape and are shaped by love, sex, and intimacy. Among the topics of discussion will be gay marriage, mail-order brides, transnational adoption, international sex work, militarism, the Internet, and social media. Potential readings will include Symposium by Plato, A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments (1977) by Roland Barthes, The Transformation of Intimacy (1992) by Anthony Giddens, Neon Wasteland: On Love, Motherhood, and Sex Work in A Rust Belt Town (2011) by Susan Dewey, Gay Bombay: Globalization, Love and (Be)longing in Contemporary India (2008) by Parmesh Shehani, Love in the Time of AIDS: Inequality, Gender, and Rights in South Africa (2010) by Mark Hunter, and On the Move for Love: Migrant Entertainers and the US Military in South Korea (2010) by Sealing Cheng. For conference work, students will have a chance to expand upon their personal interests and learn the basics of ethnographic research by conducting mini-ethnography on a selected topic of their choice. Samples of past student work may be found on the instructor’s faculty home page.

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First-Year Studies: From Homer to Plato

Open , FYS—Year

The habit of asking questions, which constitutes Western thought, has its primary origin in Greece. In this class, we will read Greek epics, tragedies, histories, comedies, and works of philosophy in order to think about how our thinking got started.

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Food Environments, Health, and Social Justice

Open , Seminar—Fall

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

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Wherever You Go, There You Are: An Exploration of Environmental Psychology

Open , Seminar—Spring

This course explores the relationship between physical and social environments and human behavior. Utilizing qualitative methodologies (autoethnography and photovoice), 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 that may include food (in)security and alternative food networks, informal family caregiving, urban/rural/suburban relationships, gentrification, urban planning, environmental sustainability, globalization, social justice, and varying conceptualizations and experiences of ”home” based on gender, race, class, and people with disabilities. Topics will ultimately be driven by student interest. Films and a field trip will be incorporated. Students are encouraged to participate in service learning through local community involvement facilitated by the Office of Community Partnerships, with the possibility of conference projects resulting from that experience.

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Gender and Nationalism(s)

Advanced , Seminar—Year

Open only to juniors, seniors, and graduate students.

Nationalism can be understood as a project simultaneously involving construction(s) of memory, history, and identity. In this seminar, we will identify the multiple and shifting dimensions of nationalism as a world historical phenomenon. Central to our focus will be the centrality and particular constructions of gender in different national projects. Attention will be paid to nationalism in its colonial and contemporary trajectories. Questions to be addressed include the following: What is the relationship between nationalism and identity? Which symbols/languages are called upon to produce a sense of self and collective identity? What are the various inclusions, exclusions, and silences that particular historically-constituted nationalisms involve? Is nationalism necessarily a positive force? If not, under what circumstances, in what ways, and for whom does it pose problems? What is the relationship of nationalism(s) to minorities and socially/politically marginalized groups? How is pluralism and difference constructed and treated? How do the same positions (e.g., issues of cultural authenticity and identity) take on a different meaning at diverse historical moments? How does the insider/outsider relationship alter in different periods and conceptualizations? Women have been interpellated and have participated within nationalist movements in a variety of ways. The dynamics and contradictions of such involvement will be analyzed closely. We will strive to explore the implications of these processes for women's sense of self, citizenship, and belonging at specific periods and over time. In the spring semester, we will turn our attention more specifically to performances of nationalism through institutional and popular cultural arrangements. Under the former category, we will look at issues of migration, immigration, and exile; public policy and international relations; war and conflict. In the arena of popular culture, we will examine the production of nationalism(s) through the mass media, sports, film, museums and exhibitions, and tourism. Conference work may include an examination of a specific nationalist movement, theoretical issues pertaining to nationalism(s), memory, identity, performances of nationalism(s) in popular culture and the mass media, and the interplay between institutional and everyday constructions of nationalism in specific settings.

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