2015-2016 Geography Courses
Geographies of Inequality: Social Movements and Urban Policy
This course will explore the ways in which cities are built, used, and changed by both policy makers and popular movements. Using the New York Metropolitan Area as the primary case study, we will look at the city as a dynamic, disputed space—a place where social, political, environmental, and ideological differences are expressed in both the formal political sphere and in the politics of everyday life. This course will take us into the halls of city government, the offices of city planners, the homes and workplaces of New York residents, and the streets used by all. Throughout the course and through various lenses, we will constantly ask ourselves: How are inequalities produced and contested in an urban environment? To answer that question, we will study the city’s historical, contemporary, and future development, looking at both the hard infrastructure (such as transportation and waste management systems) that make the city work, as well as the soft infrastructure (such as planning and development policies) that shape its growth. Through various case studies—from the challenges facing Chinatown to the politics of affordable housing—we will look at the planned roots of urban inequalities, the constituencies that benefited from these policies, and the popular movements that have challenged them. We will take field trips to the city to experience the geography of inequality firsthand, taking in the landscapes as we learn about the history. In conference work, students will be encouraged to pursue one of two tracks: (1) focus on one particular expression of inequality and develop a historical analysis of how it was created, maintained, and contested; or (2) focus on one particular neighborhood and demonstrate how planning and popular movements have shaped the urban environment. As a component of conference work, students will have the opportunity to connect with local community organizations that are dealing with the subjects being studied. In addition to learning from their examples, students will be encouraged to share with these organizations the results of their research. Students are greatly encouraged to utilize the college’s new Geographic Information Systems (GIS) lab and capacities to develop maps that demonstrate their theses over time and space. Students will also be encouraged to attend the Geography Film and Lecture series in which course-related topics will be addressed.
Mapping the World? Critical Cartography and GIS for Social and Environmental Justice
A region, country, state, city, or even neighborhood cannot easily be described by “factors” (race, age, income, etc.), despite the efforts of sociologists, policy makers, and geographers to do so. Instead, the world exists as complex sets of social relations of power: relationships between people, places, the movement of capital, and the struggles against exploitation. Maps do not naturally lend themselves to explorations of these social relations; however, maps do provide insight into the conditions in which we live, work, and reproduce ourselves and one another. Maps also tell very convincing stories by appearing objective. They even produce new realities: borders, fears, and even nations. Maps can provide tools to support movements for liberation and can also reinforce dynamics of oppression and exploitation. Maps can influence perspective, policy, and grassroots activity in a variety of ways, both through the conscious efforts of the mapmaker(s) and through the implicit power relationships shown on (or left out of) maps. Maps can reveal the inherent contradictions in capitalist society. Perhaps most importantly, maps provide inroads for asking questions about the world around us, up to and including: What is space? In this course, we will explore the power of, as well as the problems with, mapping for social and environmental justice. Through a variety of case studies, we will learn how to use ArcGIS, specifically, and how to apply this use to a number of topics. Maps are also pieces of art. They are representations of the world around us; as such, we will also examine social and political aesthetics. Students will be encouraged in their conference work to think about a spatial phenomenon related to social and environmental justice and to think beyond the technology of Geographic Information Science (GIS) to the role and responsibility of maps and spatial science. Students will be encouraged to explore the production of the world itself through the lens of a particular social struggle. Students taking the geography seminar offered in the fall semester are especially encouraged to continue their conference work in this course through the medium of GIS and creation of visual representations and analyses.