Politics

The study of politics at Sarah Lawrence College encompasses past and present thinking, political and interdisciplinary influences, and theoretical and hands-on learning. The goal: a deep understanding of the political forces that shape society. How is power structured and exercised? What can be accomplished through well-ordered institutions? And how do conditions that produce freedom compare with those that contribute to tyranny? Questions such as these serve as springboards for stimulating inquiry.

Rather than limit ourselves to the main subdisciplines of political science, we create seminars around today’s issues—such as feminism, international justice, immigration, and poverty—and analyze those issues through the lens of past philosophies and events. We don’t stop at artificial boundaries. Our courses often draw from other disciplines or texts, especially when looking at complex situations. Because we see an important connection between political thought and political action, we encourage students to participate in service learning. This engagement helps them apply and augment their studies and leads many toward politically active roles in the United States and around the world.

2020-2021 Courses

Politics

Deformed Democracy: Structural Roots of Democratic Dysfunction

Open, Lecture—Year

Modern democracy, as defended by its most progressive advocates and pursued by a succession of social movements, promised to resurrect an ancient form of popular self-rule on a newly inclusive and egalitarian foundation. At certain points in recent history, it seemed credible to believe that the “moral arc of the universe bends toward justice”; i.e., that there was a long-term trend in modern democracy that more fully institutionalized meaningful self-government, increasingly treated all members with equal concern and respect, and better realized fair equality of opportunity for all while limiting social inequality and facing up to the daunting task of repairing historical injustices. Over the course of your lifetimes, however, this claim has appeared far less credible; instead, modern democratic politics seem increasingly less equal, inclusive, just, responsive, functional, and democratic. Is 21st-century democracy, increasingly an instrument of unjust politics, impotent in the face of the social and environmental changes that globalization and galloping technological innovation produce—or perhaps simply doomed? Or might it be possible to reform democracy to render it compatible with conditions of global interconnection and deeper diversity while also making it capable of securing the requisite degrees of political and social equality? To address these questions, this course surveys the development and defense of modern conceptions of democracy through the history of political thought; examines mature democracy by looking at its practice, successes, and failures from the mid-20th century to the present; and contemplates proposals for reform that seek to eliminate deformations while realizing the normative potential of modern democracy. The first semester concentrates on the history of modern democracy, looking both to develop a strong, critical account of democracy as a normative ideal—by studying its theoretic roots in seminal texts of modern political thought from Locke to Tocqueville—and to gain a critical historical overview of its cultural and institutional genesis, evolution, and decay (Fukuyama and Habermas). We will then turn, mainly in the second semester, to examine some main aspects of the forces troubling democracy in the United States and elsewhere, surveying, in turn: the decline of the legislative process; the decline of political parties and voluntary associations and the consequent “hollowing out” of civil society; important changes in the political economy that have rendered democratic capitalism more prone to economic inequality and crisis, oligarchic capture, and cultural distortion; the role of (new and old) mass media in successively structuring and disrupting the public sphere of democratic politics; the question of whether constitutional democracy is intrinsically valuable or inherently contradictory, in general, and whether the American Constitution is [anti]democratic; the way in which different aspects of an electoral system, from districting to how winners and losers are determined, structure different forms of democracy; and whether the politics of identity is, at once, redressing historical injustice while also fracturing democratic solidarity. The course will conclude by considering proposals to strengthen, reform, or refound modern democracy as we move into the middle of the 21st century. The course will draw on a wide range of disciplines and texts, drawing on political science and economy, history, sociology, and philosophy; but the central focus will be on historical and contemporary political theory.

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Modern Political Philosophy

Open, Seminar—Year

Political philosophy consists of: a discourse of thinking about the nature of political power; the conditions for its just and unjust use; the rights of individuals, minorities and majorities; the nature and bounds of political community; the relations between politics and the truth or the good; etc. Rather than tackling pressing political problems one at a time, political theorists seek systematic solutions in overall visions of just societies or comprehensive diagnoses of the roots of oppression and domination in political orders. While this discourse stretches back over 2,500 years of history, in this course we focus on modern writers who shaped the terms and concepts that increasingly populate political imaginations the world over; that is, the conscious and unconscious ideas about rights, power, class, democracy, community, and the like that we use to make sense of our political lives. Thinkers to be considered include: Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Kant, Hegel, Marx, Mill, and Nietzsche. By studying their work, we will be better positioned to answer the following range of questions. What is the nature of political power? What is the content of social justice? Does democracy threaten basic individual rights? Is it more important to respect the individual or the community when the interests of the two conflict? Is a market economy required by, or incompatible with, democracy? What aspects of human potential and social worlds do different grand theories of political life illuminate and occlude? Finally, this course will also pose the issue of the worth and legitimacy of European modernity; that is, 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 ideas that jostle for prominence within this tradition are worth defending? Which should be rejected? Or should we reject them all and, instead, embrace a new, postmodern political epoch? In answering these questions, we will be forced to test both the internal coherence and the continuing relevance of the political visions that shape modern politics. The approach we take in class will focus on close textual analysis as we seek to unpack the details of the many strands of arguments that cross-cut these texts, passage by passage.

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The Politics of Addressing the Past: Apology, Repatriation, Reparation, Remembrance

Open, Seminar—Fall

This course will investigate how states and societies address the past from official forgetting to remembrance, apology, repatriation, and reparation. What is the best course of action in the aftermath of gross violations of human rights? Which responses are feasible in a particular context, and how might this shift over time? What impact might apologies have? Why have reparations been won in some cases but not in others? Our discussions will consider the needs of victims, as well as the interests of states and the possible contradictions between the two. We will focus on the role of power in the international system and international law, as well as the ways in which seemingly less powerful groups have engaged and challenged prominent international actors. Case studies will include, but are not limited to, Native American demands for the repatriation of remains, Jewish struggles for restitution in the aftermath of the Holocaust, and postcolonial demands for reparations from former colonizing states. We will also consider the role of narratives and memorials in expanding the discussion concerning reparations for slavery and the ways in which demands for justice gain traction among the general public.

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International Political Economy: The Rise (and Fall) of Neoliberal Hegemony

Open, Seminar—Fall

It is often said that all politics is economics. The aim of this course is to show that all economics is politics. Though economists and policymakers often present their economic policy decisions and views as neutral—based solely on abstract mathematical models, guided by the laws of nature (or the “invisible hand” of the market)—they are, in fact, driven by sometimes surprisingly transparent political ends and ideology. In this class, we will question the frequently proclaimed universality, neutrality, and inevitability of economic principles and policies through a close examination of neoliberal ideology and the ways in which it limits political discourse, reforms, and development. Specifically, we will examine the economic and political origins and consequences of shock therapy in Latin America and Eastern Europe, structural adjustment policies in countries suffering from economic crisis, and austerity measures imposed by the Troika on Greece and other states in the European Union. We’ll also look at socioeconomic explanations for the recent rise of populist parties and political candidates. Some of the questions that we will explore include: What is the role of international economic institutions in domestic and international affairs? How do the interactions between international and domestic institutions and actors determine the production and distribution of scarce resources? And what is the relationship between capitalism and democracy, conditional lending and democratization, and international institutions and national sovereignty?

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Making Sense of 2020: Populism, Polarization, and Political History

Open, Seminar—Spring

There will be two sections of this course.

The events surrounding the 2020 election were jarring to many Americans, and the violence, rhetoric, and chaos leading up to November was something few ever expected to see occur in the United States. This course will attempt to contextualize the election itself and the months and years leading up to the election. In class, we will explore issues related to the media, social movements, realignments, leadership, political and social institutions and ideologies with a particular focus on populism, and polarization and will examine why so many Americans feel disillusioned about the economic and political scene. Why was it the case that so many believed that the country was headed in the wrong direction? Why and how did the social and political world become so deeply divided and full of anger. And how did the nation end up in a place of seemingly endless fighting about numerous topics, including gun control, immigration, the environment, and global engagement? This course will examine these current sentiments as the backdrop for understanding the 2020 electoral cycle. We will focus on what political science can tell us about electoral politics, with the electoral process itself being one of the most fundamental aspects of American democracy: allowing citizens to choose their representatives, from local county boards to the occupant of the White House. The course may not provide absolute answers, because so much is in flux; but we will try to understand the present based on past research that touched on numerous questions relating to elections, such as: Who votes and participates, how, and why? How do income, religion, race, and geographic region play into electoral behavior? What about institutions—such as electoral rules, various debates and the Electoral College? What about the role of mass media and social media platforms? What about the art of persuasion; that is, do campaigns matter, or is it simply the economy? Finally, 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 and leadership. We will treat this material as social scientists, not as ideologues. Comfort with numbers and statistics is expected. Moreover, students should have some background in American political history and be open to hearing many ideological points of view.

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Intervention and Justice

Open, Seminar—Spring

What are the appropriate responses to widespread human-rights violations in another country as they are occurring? Are there cases in which military humanitarian intervention is warranted? If so, who should intervene? What else can be done short of military intervention? Once the violence has subsided, what actions should the international community take to support peace and justice? This course will explore critical ethical, legal, and political questions. We will consider key cases of both intervention and nonintervention over the last three decades, from Rwanda to Libya, and consider a range of responses to those actions. Finally, we will evaluate different pathways in pursuing truth, justice, and reconciliation in the aftermath of gross violations of human rights. Cases include the International Criminal Tribunal and domestic courts established in Rwanda after the genocide, South Africa’s pioneering Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and the ongoing work of the International Criminal Court.

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The Age of Global Uprisings

Open, Seminar—Spring

There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen. —V. I. Lenin.

The first two decades of the 21st century have been decades of uprisings. Looking at images of protesters filling the streets of Paris, France, or Santiago, Chile, it’s hard to believe that, in 1989, Frances Fukuyama famously proclaimed the end of history, delivered by the final victory of liberalism over competing ideologies. He concluded: “The end of history will be a very sad time. The struggle for recognition, the willingness to risk one’s life for a purely abstract goal, the worldwide ideological struggle that called forth daring, courage, imagination, and idealism, will be replaced by economic calculation, the endless solving of technical problems, environmental concerns, and the satisfaction of sophisticated consumer demands. In the post-historical period there will be neither art nor philosophy, just the perpetual caretaking of the museum of human history.” The 1990s, indeed, seemed to confirm Fukuyama’s predictions. Liberal ideology—with its promarket, technocratic, and anti-democratic policies—left no space for politics or resistance. Margaret Thatcher’s infamous argument that “There Is No Alternative” became a posthistorical axiom rather than an ideological position. But in Belgrade on October 5, 2000, a state radio/television station was charged by a heavy equipment machine, beginning a series of Colour Revolutions in Eastern Europe; and just like that, the post-historical period of boredom was over. In this class, we will look at a series of uprisings that have taken the early 21st century by storm. We will start with the Colour Revolutions, move on to the Arab Spring and the Occupy movement, and end with more recent uprisings—including the Yellow Vests in France, independence movements in Catalonia and Hong Kong, and anti-austerity protests in Latin America, Europe, and the Middle East. Some of those movements organized in opposition to corrupt and undemocratic governments or fake elections; others, in response to democratic governments’ lack of consideration for the livelihood of the working people and dominance of capital over human beings and environment. Not all of those movements were ultimately emancipatory projects, however, and their demands and tactics have been radically different. This class will look at the differences and similarities between the movements and ask: What can we learn from those uprisings, and what is next?

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Critical Realignments in American Politics: Obama/Trump

Sophomore and above, Seminar—Fall

There will be two sections of this course.

In light of the 2020 election, this course will tackle the question of whether America is in the midst of a critical realignment that began in the 1990s with Newt Gingrich and the election of George W. Bush to the White House and may be playing out in the Obama and Trump presidencies. To do this, we will examine the concept of critical realignments in political science and political history that are, generally, a set of notable and trajectory shifting changes in party ideology, issues, party leaders, regional and demographic bases of power of political parties, and the structure or rules of the political system such as voter eligibility or financing. The changes result in a new political power structure that lasts for decades, replacing an older dominant coalition. We will look at past American examples that are universally accepted as realignments—such as the 1896 presidential election, when the issues of the Civil War political system were replaced with those of the populist and progressive eras, and the 1932 election, when the populist and progressive eras were replaced by the New Deal issues of liberalism and modern conservatism. Since the realignment of the 1930s, however, political scientists and historians often disagree about which elections are realignments, what defines a realignment, and even whether realignments occur. Thus, the course will examine major sociopolitical changes in the United States—from the voting rights era in the 1960s, to the Reagan revolution, and now to the chaos of Donald Trump. 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 understanding power and how it has been organized. 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. Comfort with numbers and statistics is expected. Moreover, students should have a background in American political history.

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Rising Autocrats and Democracy in Decline?

Intermediate, Seminar—Year

Prerequisite: Prior course work in the social sciences

At the end of the Cold War, many Western writers wrote triumphantly about the global victory of democracy and capitalism. In the last few years, we have been bombarded with news of autocrats at home and abroad undermining democracy. We hear that democracy is dying, while markets and inequality reach new heights. COVID-19 has reinforced many of these trends but also has created greater opportunities for shifting some of our current trajectories. 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 here and now: inequality in the United States and the election of Donald Trump. We then look back for a deeper understanding of political and economic regime change. We will consider 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. To understand present-day challenges and opportunities, we will discuss the rise of neoliberalism, as well as Latin American and African state experiments with social democracy and the redistribution of wealth. We will also explore the increase in both populist leaders and popular uprisings. The class will consider the role of social media in propelling protest and the rise of surveillance capitalism in tracking our movements for a wide number of ends. 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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Making the World Go Round: Children as Cogs in the Machinery of Empire

Open, Lecture—Fall

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

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Indigenous Rights and Representations

Open, Seminar—Spring

What role do indigenous identities play in global social and political movements? How do ideas about native peoples shape nationalist sensibilities and international projects? How do notions of cultural authenticity and autonomy figure in the discourse of indigenous rights? Attending to the legacies of colonialism, this course addresses contemporary representations, performances, and politics of indigeneity in places such as Guatemala, Mexico, Ecuador, Bolivia, Colombia, and the United States. Through a close look at ethnographic texts on this topic, we will investigate how perceptions about, and participation by, indigenous peoples have figured in environmental activism, transnational trade agreements, educational reform, nationalist campaigns, multiculturalist politics, and international migration. Our course readings will explore how indigeneity is engaged in struggles such as the Zapatista resistance movement in Chiapas, Mexico, the pan-indigenous mobilizations against environmental pollution in Ecuador and North Dakota, and efforts toward social justice in the aftermath of ethnic genocide in Guatemala. We will attend to the role of globalization, transnational mobilities, and technological innovation in emergent social movements, as well as to new imaginings of Native American and indigenous identity. And we will contemplate the implications of indigenous intellectuals’ and activists’ presence as key actors in both academic and public debate. Students will have the opportunity to participate in a service-learning component of the course at the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.

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First-Year Studies: Economics for Responsible Citizens

Open, FYS—Year

Today’s world is facing multiple economic, social, environmental, and political challenges: increasing income and wealth inequality, growing economic uncertainty, unstopping climate change, artificial intelligence and robotic automation of the workplace, political polarization, growing nationalism and populism, and diverging quality of life between the developed world and the majority of the developing world, to name a few. The challenging world requires every one of us to act as more responsible citizens. Using the economics literature, we will learn: Why do the challenges exist? What is our role in the community and in the bigger economic and political world? How can we transcend the “contemplation of single individuals and of civil society” and take the standpoint of “human society” or “social humanity”? In addition, through in-class practices, discussions, assignments, conference meetings, and conference work, we will work together to prepare you for academic achievement. You will enhance your academic skills, such as finding and reading academic literature, writing literature review, thinking critically, making your own argument with quantitative or qualitative evidence, and formatting a conference paper. Most importantly, you will grow professionally and prepare yourself to be a responsible citizen. During the fall semester, you will meet with me weekly for individual conferences. In the spring semester, we will meet weekly or every other week, depending on your needs and the progress of your conference projects.

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First-Year Studies: Historical Foundations of Economics: Politics, Power, Ideology, and Change

Open, FYS—Year

The first two decades of the 21st century have witnessed two major economic crashes, the first one being the subprime mortgage crisis of 2007/2008 and the second one being the pandemic crash of 2020. The irony is that, in conventional discourse (in, say, the mass media), the prelude to each of these economic catastrophes involved a triumphalist hubris that celebrated the stock-market booms, economic growth, and falling unemployment rates that occurred in each decade before the crashes occurred. As in the run-up to the previous crash, conventional commentators were blindsided when the world fell off the proverbial cliff. How did history, in a sense, repeat itself in 2020, yet political and economic “experts” at the highest levels of government and the mass media did not see the dangers ahead while they were celebrating “free markets”? The study of economics looms large with regard to the above questions; however, economics is hardly a monolithic discipline, since rival schools of thought in the discipline conceptualize the nature of markets, “market forces,” and policy in very different ways. This course will situate the current crisis in a theoretical and historical context by drawing on insights from different schools of thought in economics, as well as from other disciplines such as law, politics, sociology, and history. At the heart of this course is a methodological one that counterposes conventional or neoclassical economics, which sees the economy in apolitical and ahistorical terms, against other perspectives that argue that it is impossible to study economics outside a political, social, and historical context. Some of the key questions that we will study in this course are: Why do people distinguish between “regulation” and “deregulation” (laissez faire), and is that a false dichotomy? What if laissez-faire capitalism is, itself, the outcome of a particular type of regulatory system? What is the history of public policy in the United States and other countries? How do we understand the role of political power and the “rule of law” with regard to market outcomes? With inequality as one of the central themes of our current political climate, how do we understand its causes? And what is the link to the history of taxation policies in the United States? Can it be argued that the subprime mortgage crash of 2007/2008 and the pandemic crash of 2020 have the same roots; and, if so, what are they? These will be some of the questions that we will be tackling throughout the course of the year, thereby ensuring that students develop a solid foundation for the fundamental debates in economic theory and policy and understand the key role of methodology in the study of political economy phenomena. Finally, the goal is to ensure that students develop the ability to critically engage scholarly work in economics.

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Economic Policy and the 2020 General Elections: Money, Trade, Industrial Policy, and Inequality

Open, Lecture—Year

We live in unprecedented, turbulent times in which a pandemic crisis has combined with a major economic crisis and plunged the world into chaos. How should we, as economists, understand the nature and roots of this crisis, and how do we think of a way forward for humanity beyond these dark times? Needless to say, the general elections of November 2020 loom large in our collective consciousness. While we can speculate or worry about the effects on political institutions as the new administration takes office in January 2021, we also need to pay crucial attention to key economic issues pertaining to jobs, inequality, health care, climate change, and industrial policy. In fact, it will be argued that the nature of political institutions, including any society’s legal foundations, cannot be divorced from economic outcomes. This course will focus on the above key themes by not only looking ahead but also by looking behind at recent history to understand the roots of our current turmoil. At every step of the way, students will be exposed to rival theoretical and methodological perspectives in economics.

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Political Economy of Women

Open, Seminar—Year

What factors determine the status of women in different societies and communities? What role is played by women’s labor, both inside and outside of the home? By cultural norms regarding sexuality and reproduction? By religious traditions? After a brief theoretical grounding, this course will address these questions by examining the economic, political, social, and cultural histories of women in the various racial/ethnic and class groupings that make up the United States. Topics to be explored include: the role of women in the Iroquois Confederation before white colonization and the factors that gave Iroquois women significant political and social power in their communities; the status of white colonist women in Puritan Massachusetts and the economic, religious, and other factors that led to the Salem witchcraft trials of 1692; the position of African American women under slavery, including the gendered and racialized divisions of labor and reproduction; the growth of competitive capitalism in the North and the development of the “cult of true womanhood” in the rising middle class; the economic and political changes that accompanied the Civil War and Reconstruction and the complex relationships between African American and white women in the abolitionist and women’s rights movements; the creation of a landless agricultural labor force and the attempts to assimilate Chicana women into the dominant culture via “Americanization” programs; the conditions that encouraged Asian women’s immigration and their economic and social positions once here; the American labor movement and the complicated role that organized labor has played in the lives of women of various racial/ethnic groups and classes; the impact of US colonial policies on Puerto Rican migration and Puerto Rican women’s economic and political status on both the island and the mainland; the economic/political convulsions of the 20th century—from the trusts of the early 1900s to World War II—and their impact on women’s paid and unpaid labor; the impact of changes in gendered economic roles on LGBT communities; the economic and political upheavals of the 1960s that led to the so-called “second wave” of the women’s movement; the gendered and racialized impact of the Great Recession and its aftermath; and the current position of women in the US economy and polity and the possibilities for inclusive public policies concerning gender and family issues. In addition to class participation, requirements include regular, short (1-2 pp.) essays on the readings and approximately a half-dozen longer essays that synthesize class materials with the written texts.

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Microeconomic Analysis: Individuals, Conflicts, and Institutions

Intermediate/Advanced, Seminar—Fall

Economics was born in the 18th century, around the same time that capitalism emerged in Europe. Since then, economists have sought to understand the ways in which people allocate, produce, exchange, and distribute "resources" in capitalist societies and how such activities impact people’s welfare. For most of the 20th century, microeconomics focused on the “efficiency” of the unregulated 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. The expansion of the analytical scope and tools has allowed microeconomics to provide answers to some of the most pressing social economic issues today: increasing wealth and income inequality, the challenge of artificial intelligence and robotic automation of the workplace, monopoly and monopsony power of big firms, climate change, etc. In this course, we will learn how microeconomists think with the tools of incentives, constraints, and outcomes. We will critically examine traditional issues, such as how individual consumers and firms make decisions and the welfare properties of the market. Using applied game theory, we will also examine how individuals interact with each other, the power relationship between individuals, the power relationship on the labor market and inside the firms, the situations in which 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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Macroeconomic Analysis and Policy: Institutions, Uncertainty, and Financialization

Intermediate/Advanced, Seminar—Spring

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 free market. In macroeconomics, this is reflected by the pursuit of goals such as fiscal austerity, 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 GDP determination in the short run 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, investment, governmental spending, unemployment, growth and distribution, crisis, technological change, and long swings of capitalist economies.

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Introduction to Property: Cultural and Environmental Perspectives

Intermediate, 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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Landscapes in Translation

Intermediate/Advanced, Seminar—Spring

This course investigates the multiple ways in which landscapes have been imagined, interpreted, physically shaped, and controlled in a variety of historical and contemporary sites. The literatures of environmental humanities, landscape design, and political ecology provide theory and cases. The first section, Cartographies, explores ideas of landscape in Euro-America, Southeast Asia, and colonial-era Africa. We examine how landscapes on a variety of scales, from “bioregions” to nations, are imagined, codified, and transformed through representational processes and material moves ranging from mapping to making walls. The second section, Visions, investigates how landscapes are imagined and embodied in fine arts and literature, as well as in garden and urban design. Readings draw on examples of landscape making and design in colonial New England, Indonesia, and other sites. We examine contemporary examples of landscape design in response to climate change, especially sea-level rise in the Netherlands, United States, Indonesia, and China. We also study reworkings of the urban landscape to integrate more productive, biologically diverse “fringes,” as well as rooftop farms and apiaries. The third section, Security-Scapes: Landscape Imaginaries and Embodiments, investigates the rise of “security-scapes” or “surveillance-scapes,” dating from slavery in the United States to the Department of Homeland Security in the post-9/11 era. Contemporary urban-design imaginaries and plans for “resilience” and “smart cities” are investigated. We draw upon websites, advertisements, and new scholarship in security studies, landscape design, and critical political theory. This course is open to students with developed skills in critical thinking and the analysis of texts and other representational forms.

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Experimental Documentary: Theory and Practice

Open, Seminar—Fall

In this course, we will examine experimental documentary form as political/social/personal discourse and practice. We will take as a starting point avant-garde documentary cinema and explore it in the manner that theorist Renov defines as “the rigorous investigation of aesthetic forms, their composition and function, and the manner in which poetics confront the world.” This class will acquaint students with the basic theory and purpose of experimental film/video documentary, as compared to more commercial documentary formats, and will introduce critical methodologies that will help participants both understand the discipline of experimental documentary and establish aesthetic designs for their own work. We will survey a wide range of avant-garde documentary films and readings, from the 1920s to the present, and pair those with the student’s own film production. This course recognizes the importance of developing filmmakers being cognizant of the fundamental theories of experimental film, as well as their gaining corresponding experience in the basics of alternative forms of film production. Throughout the semester, students will produce a few experimental nonfiction shorts from several aesthetic approaches. Within this practice, issues such as whose voices are heard and who is represented become of crucial importance. This class will be equally balanced between viewing, reading about, and analyzing films and producing and editing short films with simple tools. The online class offers an opportunity for a rich engagement with experimental film forms while also allowing participants to produce nonfiction film exercises that examine issues of the world from both personal and more objective perspectives. The teaching system for the online course includes small (3-4 students) virtual group meetings, alternated with one-on-one individual mentorship meetings with the professor. That format will allow us to form community groups and also provide the opportunity for students to progress according to their own creative interests. Students must have access to an internet connection and a reliable computer able to handle media software.  If the class meets on campus, we will continue with class meetings and individual conferences. Course requirements: 1T (min.) media external hard drive

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

Open, FYS—Year

Some experience in the social sciences 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 become acquainted 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 that 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”; 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. Where possible and feasible, you will be encouraged to do primary research during fall study days and winter and spring breaks.

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Food, Agriculture, Environment, and Development

Open, Lecture—Year

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

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Intermediate Greek: The Perils of Passion: Ancient Greek Wisdom for Today’s Troubled Times

Intermediate, Lecture—Year

See course description under Literature.

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Readings in Intermediate Greek: Herodotus and Thucydides

Intermediate, Seminar—Year

This course will review grammar concepts, as necessary, while reading—in Greek—selected passages of Herodotus and Thucydides.

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First-Year Studies: The Urban Century: How Cities Shaped and Were Shaped by Modern European History

Open, FYS—Year

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, life in cities, including European ones, has changed dramatically. For weeks, almost all of urban life came to a halt. As European cities, both small and large, slowly emerge from the lockdown, the pandemic effects on urban life are difficult to predict. While the current moment is certainly historic, it is not without precedent. Urban life from its outset was also a history of pandemics and illness. Even the period of rapid urbanization on which this course will focus has been shaped by disease, from cholera outbreaks in the 19th century, to the “Spanish” flu in the wake of World War I, to the coronavirus today. And yet, amidst those diseases, Europe became increasingly more urban and its cities produced, adopted, and promoted many of the things, both positive and negative, that we consider hallmarks of modernity. In the middle of the 20th century, only 16 percent of Europeans lived in cities. On the eve of World War I, that number had roughly doubled. In Western Europe, already half of the population was urban. Though many of the cities were small, with fewer than 20,000 inhabitants, the European metropoles grew, too. In Germany, for example, by 1910, 21 percent lived in cities over the size of 100,000 inhabitants—up from only five percent in 1871. Berlin, Paris, London, St. Petersburg, and Vienna all had several million citizens. This urbanization shaped, and was shaped by, European history. Industrialization and advances in agriculture, sanitation, and transportation played a vital role in that process. Wars and Europe’s changing borders shaped cities’ fate. Much of what we today think of as modern originated in cities, which often set political and cultural trends. The “Roaring 20s” or the student movements of 1968 were fundamentally urban phenomena. Yet, precisely for that reason, cities also inspired vitriol and opposition—from nationalist back-to-nature advocates afraid of the negative consequences of their “cosmopolitan nature” to health care professionals worried by the detrimental effects on their inhabitants’ health. Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s chief propagandist, railed against “Jewish Berlin.” To this day, conservative French politicians extol “la France profonde,” the true France to be found in its provincial towns rather than in Paris, Lyon, or Marseille. Through the lens of the city, this course investigates major developments in modern European history: from the birth of mass politics and the modern welfare state that included sanitation and public health, across the effects of World War I and World War II, to the emergence of modernist art and environmentalism. Students will not only be introduced to European history but also to the historian’s craft. Making use of online archives and tools, we will work with a variety of primary sources—from government documents to literature, from movies to propaganda speeches, from city maps to diary entries. We will tour cities virtually and model urban landscapes. In addition, students will learn to read secondary sources and analyze historiographical arguments. During the fall semester, students will have an individual conference every other week and a group conference on alternating weeks. In the group conferences, we will discuss the nature of academic work in general and practice research, reading, writing, and editing skills; but we will also, on occasion, use the time for movie screenings related to the course or other shared and, if need be, virtual activities.

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Europe’s Civil War: 1914–1945

Open, Lecture—Fall

In 1909 Norman Angell wrote The Great Illusion, a book that went on to become a bestseller. Its premise: Industrialized countries had become so interconnected that war between them did not make sense and would not happen anymore. Five years later, Europe’s industrialized countries were at war with each other. The Great War, as it was called then, lasted from 1914 until 1918 and would change the course of the 20th century. But Angell was not entirely wrong. Precisely because European economies were so interconnected, the war and its aftermath were particularly devastating. After 1918, they were entangled through an additional layer of massive loss of life, devastation, and the resulting resentment and hostility from which Europe struggled to extricate itself until 1945. This period now is sometimes called “Europe’s civil war.” Not all of this, however, was war. Beyond earnest struggles for a new peacetime order, much of what we consider modern, from entertainment to consumption but also new modes of politics, has its origins in this period. The course will investigate the cultural, social, economic, and military causes and reverberations of the conflict, from the war itself to the revolutions that followed it, the enfranchisement of women and expansion of democratic government, but also the rise of Communism and Fascism and ultimately war again from 1939 to 1945. The impact of these developments was not contained to Europe alone but, rather, extended to the rest of the world—not least, the United States. In this course, we will look, on occasion, beyond the continent’s border. Through a variety of sources to be read and discussed in the group conferences, students will also be introduced to the craft of history. Making use of the rich online collections created in the wake of the centennial of World War I and 75th anniversary of the end of the World War II, we will read diary entries and private letters, government documents and poetry. We will watch movies and investigate (pop)cultural memory of the period. We will discuss the importance of smell and sound, of technology and medicine, for shaping and advancing history. In order to have sufficient time for discussions, the course meets for weekly 90-minute lectures, which will include a Q&A session following the lecture itself and weekly 90-minute group conferences.

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The Enlightenment

Open, Seminar—Year

The 18th-century Enlightenment was arguably the most important single episode in the last thousand years of European intellectual history—an upsurge of new ideas and attitudes that ushered in the “modern” climate of opinion. Dozens of our own society’s most characteristic beliefs about the structure of the universe, human nature, the foundations of political community, and the principles of morality were first put into circulation by Enlightenment thinkers. This course will examine the development of the Enlightenment from its origins in the age of the Baroque to its demise in the era of the French Revolution and Romanticism. While the course’s central focus will be doctrines, values, and sensibilities as expressed in works of philosophy, literature, and art, we will also consider 18th-century political and social history and the role of the Enlightenment in inspiring the revolutionary upheavals that brought the Old Regime in Europe to an end. Students may pursue conference projects examining almost any aspect of life or culture in early modern Europe.

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‘In an Antique Land’: An Introduction to Middle Eastern Studies

Open, Large seminar—Fall

This will be a 25-student course, with one lecture and one seminar a week, in addition to small-group work.

This course is designed as a broad overview of the cultures, religions, history, and politics of the region typically referred to as the “Middle East”—one of the most complex and least well-understood areas in the world today. Rather than viewing the Middle East as a unified whole—and in sharp contrast to prevailing Western media images of the Middle East as hyperpoliticized, overly ideological, or inherently violent—the course adopts a multilayered, bottom-up approach in order to emphasize the region’s fundamental underlying social and cultural diversity. Topics to be covered in this course include: the origins and spread of Islam and “Islamicate” civilization; an overview of the region’s major ethnic and linguistic groups, including Arabs, Turks, Persians, Kurds, among others; the evolution of Middle Eastern empires and their political structures and institutions; the varied geographies of the Middle East (ranging from empty deserts to storied metropolises); the dynamic impact of key forces of modernity (such as capitalism, globalization, and nationalism) across the region; gender and the status of women and the family in the Middle East; and the consequences of various 20th-century wars and conflicts (ethnic, sectarian, revolutionary) for Middle Eastern history and politics. 

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Revolutions in Cuba: Local Origins, Global Fault Lines

Open, Seminar—Spring

Beginning in 1959, rebels in Cuba toppled a dictatorship, defied the United States, and shocked the world. Six decades later, the Cuban Revolution’s contested legacy is enough to tilt the balance in US presidential elections, a symbol of tyranny for some and of hope for others. This course looks beyond simplistic narratives of a singular “Cuban Revolution” and considers longstanding tensions between radicalism and conservatism in Cuban history, tracing their interplay with global movements such as antislavery, decolonization, and Marxism. Beginning with the antislavery movement in the broader Caribbean, course topics will include the contours of US imperialism, the rise of Mambo and the Mafia, the politics of Cuban/West African religious practice, the limits of guerrilla warfare, radical economic reforms in practice, post-revolutionary contradictions in gender equality, LGBTQ rights and prostitution reform, and Cuba’s military role in Africa. We will conclude with the recent rise of Cuban hip hop as a new social movement. Throughout the course, we will assess when the Cuban Revolution began—and did it ever end? Did revolutionary leaders empower movements for gender, racial, and labor rights—or limit them? Did the leaders conform to international currents of totalitarian rule or foster new forms of democratic solidarity within the so-called Third World? Analyzing scholarship, testimonials, music, artistic movements, poetry, novels, and film, we will use the tools of history to construct competing narratives of revolution in Cuba and trace fault lines and possibilities of Global South solidarity.

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Liberations: Contemporary Latin America

Sophomore and above, Seminar—Fall

After the military regimes that swept Latin America came to an end in the last quarter of the 20th century, a new era of liberation emerged. The transition to democracy and the broad-based coalitions then formed renewed the hopes and expectations of justice, equality, and freedom that had been shattered by torture, censorship, and state power. But the era that emerged from those transitions—and which is coming to an end—is full of contradictions. Alongside the liberation of prisoners and the press and the return to party politics came the demise of social revolution and the retreat of the left. Alongside the liberalization of markets and the so-called neoliberal reforms came innovative social policies and a multiplicity of social movements, the most salient of which were led by indigenous groups and peasant-based organizations. Similarly, the ascendancy and hegemony of liberal ideas and policies gave rise to a new left, which brought the world’s attention back to Latin America with its combination of growth and equality. This course will examine the dynamics of revolution and counterrevolution in which contemporary Latin America emerged; study the origins of neoliberalism in Latin America and its economic and political repercussion; delve in the contradictions of the democratic transitions and its legacies; and explore the new rural, labor, feminist, and indigenous movements that challenged both neoliberalism and democracy.

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#BlackLivesMatter and #SayHerName: Centering Black Women in the Fight for Racial Justice

Intermediate/Advanced, Small seminar—Year

Three black women—Alica Garza, Opal Tometi, and Patrisse Cullors—created #BlackLivesMatter (#BLM) in 2012 to protest George Zimmerman’s acquittal in the shooting of Trayvon Martin. Three years later, #BLM became a rallying cry against police brutality across the country, particularly in Ferguson, Staten Island, and Baltimore. The African American Policy Forum created #SayHerName in 2014 to call attention to black women who have been killed by the police. Once dismissed as “hashtag activism,” #BLM has now become a global movement, as people have taken to the streets this summer not only to protest specific incidents of police brutality, such as the killing of George Floyd, but also to call for the abolition of the police state itself. Despite the popularity of #BLM, black women such as Breonna Taylor, who suffer state and gendered violence, have been downplayed or ignored in most media reports on police violence. This course will examine the historical contexts of both movements, focusing on the experiences of black women as activists and as targets of racial, gendered, and state violence. A core premise of the course is that we gain a much richer understanding of social systems and their problems by paying attention to society’s most vulnerable actors. Through classic and contemporary texts, we will also explore connections among #BLM, #SayHerName, and other social movements for racial justice in housing, health care, education, food, and the environment.

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Beginning Italian: Viaggio in Italia

Open, Seminar—Year

This course, for students with no previous knowledge of Italian, aims at giving the student a complete foundation in the Italian language with particular attention to oral and written communication and to all aspects of Italian culture. The course will be conducted in Italian after the first month and will involve the study of all basic structures of the language—phonological, grammatical, and syntactical—with practice in conversation, reading, composition, and translation. In addition to material covering basic Italian grammar, students will be exposed to fiction, poetry, songs, articles, recipe books, and films. Group conference (held once a week) aims at enriching the students’ knowledge of Italian culture and developing their ability to communicate, which will be achieved through readings that deal with current events and topics relative to today’s Italian culture. Activities in pairs or groups, along with short written assignments, will be part of the group conference. In addition to class and group conference, the course has a conversation component in regular workshops with the language assistant. Conversation classes are held twice a week (in small groups) and will center on the concept of viaggio in Italia, a journey through the regions of Italy through cuisine, cinema, art, opera, and dialects. The Italian program organizes trips to the Metropolitan Opera and to relevant exhibits in New York, as well as offering the possibility to experience firsthand Italian cuisine as a group. By the end of this yearlong course, students will attain a basic competence in all aspects of the language.

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Intermediate Italian: Modern Italian Culture and Literature

Intermediate, Seminar—Year

This intermediate-level course aims at improving and perfecting the students’ speaking, listening, reading, and writing skills, as well as their knowledge of Italy’s contemporary culture and literature. In order to acquire the necessary knowledge of Italian grammar, idiomatic expressions, and vocabulary, a review of all grammar will be carried out throughout the year. As an introduction to modern Italian culture and literature, students will be introduced to a selection of short stories, poems, and passages from novels, as well as specific newspaper articles, music, and films in the original language. Some of the literary works will include selections from Umberto Eco, Italo Calvino, Natalia Ginzburg, Gianni Rodari, Marcello D’Orta, Clara Sereni, Dino Buzzati, Stefano Benni, Antonio Tabucchi, Alberto Moravia, Achille Campanile, and Elena Ferrante. In order to address the students’ writing skills, written compositions will be required as an integral part of the course. All material is accessible on MySLC. Conferences are held on a biweekly basis; topics might include the study of a particular author, literary text, film, or any other aspect of Italian society and culture that might be of interest to the student. Conversation classes (in small groups) will be held twice a week with the language assistant, during which students will have the opportunity to reinforce what they have learned in class and hone their ability to communicate in Italian. When appropriate, students will be directed to specific internship opportunities in the New York area centered on Italian language and culture.

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Beginning Latin

Open, Seminar—Year

This course provides an intensive introduction to Latin grammar, syntax, and vocabulary with a view toward reading the language as soon as possible. Close reading of Vergil’s Aeneid in English will accompany intensive language study in the fall. By mid-semester, students will be translating authentic excerpts of Latin poetry and prose. During the spring semester, while continuing to develop and refine their knowledge of Latin grammar and vocabulary, students will read selections from the Aeneid in Latin.

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Queer Theory: A History

Sophomore and above, Seminar—Spring

For students with a background in women’s, gender, or LGBT studies.

Queer theory emerged in the United States, in tandem with Queer Nation, at the beginning of the 1990s as the intellectual framework for a new round in ongoing contests over understandings of sexuality and gender in Western culture. “Queer” was presented as a radical break with homosexual, as well as heterosexual, pasts. Queer theorists and activists hoped to reconstruct lesbian and gay politics, intellectual life, and culture; renegotiate differences of gender, race, and class among lesbians and gay men; and establish new ways of thinking about sexuality, new understandings of sexual dissidence, and new relations among sexual dissidents. Nevertheless, queer theory had complex sources in the intellectual and political work that had gone before. And it has had, predictably, unpredictable effects on subsequent intellectual and political projects. This class will make the history of queer theory the basis for an intensive study of contemporary intellectual and political work on sexuality and gender. We will also be addressing the fundamental questions raised by the career of queer theory about the relations between political movements and intellectual movements, the politics of intellectual life, and the politics of the academy—in the United States, in particular—over the past half-century.

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The Perils of Passion: Ancient Greek Wisdom for Today’s Troubled Times

Open, Lecture—Year

With the permission of the instructor, qualified students may opt to take this course as Intermediate Greek and read selected portions of the text in Greek.

Are we unwittingly reliving the past? Authoritarianism, magical thinking, and tribalism are beginning to characterize the 21st century as they characterized archaic Greece. Over centuries, however, the ancient Greeks experienced a movement in the opposite direction: They began to prioritize reality, condemn tyranny, and experiment with broader forms of political participation. During the late sixth through fifth centuries BCE, ancient Athenians devised, simultaneously, the concepts of democracy and history. As the Athenians were experimenting with the world’s first-ever democratic political institutions, the historians Herodotus and Thucydides distinguished history from myth and offered examples of behaviors to emulate or to avoid. Today, those early historians can help us analyze facts, identify causes and consequences, and avoid the pitfalls of the past. Students will read, in English translation, Herodotus’ Histories and Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War, as well as selected works by Aeschylus, Euripides, Aristotle, and Ps.-Xenophon.

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Studies in Ecocriticism: The Idea of Nature in the Western Tradition

Open, Small Lecture—Spring

As the capitalistic and predatory model aggressively promoted by the United States continues to reveal itself as a major threat for biodiversity and the environment in general, it is vital to explore and understand the concept of “nature” at the core of the Western tradition and how it was shaped over the course of more than 2,000 years. This course will create a series of bridges between and among the history of literature, philosophy, and science, with implications for many other disciplines. Most importantly, we will discuss the Western and Judeo-Christian concept of nature in the context of race and ethnicity in America today by confronting it with works and arguments developed by black, indigenous, Latine, and Asian American authors. Among many themes, we will study how antiquity came to develop a concept of “physis,” so different from our modern understanding of physics, but also shaped our aesthetic eye with the creation of the pastoral genre and the idea of agreeable and tamed landscapes or set a model for a utilitarian relationship to nature with Hesiod and Vergil’s agricultural treaties. We will also analyze specific places, such as the forest in medieval chivalric romances and American “wilderness” fictions, or chaotic landscapes admired and imagined by the Romantics, or the sea as depicted in Melville’s Moby Dick. The 17th-century scientific revolution and its mathematical and mechanistic approach to nature will lead us to discuss with Descartes the concept of animality in parallel with contemporary philosophers such as Deleuze and Guattari, who make use of models like the burrow or territoriality imported from the animal realm. Going into a completely different direction, we will question the characteristics of a Judeo-Christian conception of the world, organized around a remote and immaterial god, in direct opposition to a more organic understanding of nature as a “motherly” and immanent figure with all of the reservations that such a figure implies. These are some of the questions that we will explore, and the focus of our discussions will be to bring new voices in order to deconstruct the Eurocentric concept of “nature.”

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Imagining War

Open, Seminar—Year

This is an interdisciplinary course.

War is one of the great themes in European literature. The greatest works of Greco-Roman antiquity are meditations on war; and as an organizing metaphor, war pervades our attempts to represent politics, economics and sexuality. Efforts to comprehend war were the genesis of the disciplines of history and political science; and the disaster of the Peloponnesian War forms the critical, if concealed, background to first great works of Western philosophy. We’ll begin the first semester with readings from the Iliad, Thucydides, Plato, and Augustine and go on to study the Aeneid, Machiavelli, Shakespeare’s Second Tetralogy, and Hobbes. In the second semester, we’ll look at the origins of political economy, among other things a discipline that sought to transcend the military metaphor; at Marxism, which remilitarized the language of political economy; at Byron’s mock epic, Don Juan; and at two 19th-century novelists, Stendhal and Tolstoy—one of whom described war directly, and the other used it as an organizing metaphor for erotic, economic, and political life. We’ll conclude with a look at some 20th-century literary, artistic, historical, and critical attempts to represent war with an allegedly unprecedented accuracy.

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Literature in Translation: 20th-Century Italian Literature and Culture

Open, Seminar—Year

The course will explore 20th-century Italian literature, focusing on important intellectuals, works, and movements that helped shape it and their connection with the arts, cinema, and society at large. Italy had become a unified nation by 1860, and its literature addressed issues such as (national and personal) identity, tradition, innovation and modernity, the role of literature and of the writer, and the changing role of women in Italian society. We will also explore the interrelation between Italian literature and crucial historical events such as the Great War, the rise and fall of fascism, World War II, the Resistance, the birth of the republic, the postwar economic boom, the students’ and women’s movements of the 1960s and ’70s, and the terrorism of the “Anni di Piombo.” Among the authors and intellectuals we will explore are: Sibilla Aleramo for her literary treatment of the issue of female emancipation at the beginning of the century; Luigi Pirandello and his work as a novelist and playwright; Gabriele D’Annunzio as a poet, playwright, and novelist but also a war hero and politician; F. T. Marinetti, whose futurist manifestos and literary works reflected his desire to renew Italian art, literature, and culture in general; B. Mussolini’s fascist regime, its dictates, and their influence on propaganda literature and cinema; Ignazio Silone’s novels on the fascist era; Roberto Rossellini’s neorealist cinema; Italo Calvino’s, Beppe Fenoglio’s, and Elio Vittorini’s literature of the Resistance; Primo Levi’s depiction of the Holocaust; and influential women writers such as Anna Banti, Natalia Ginzburg, Elsa Morante, and Dacia Maraini. Readings will be supplemented by secondary source material that will help outline the social, historical, and political context in which these authors lived and wrote, as well as provide a relevant critical framework for the study of their works. On occasion, we will watch films that are relevant to the topics and period in question. No previous knowledge of Italian is required. Students proficient in Italian may opt to read sources in the original language and write their conference projects in Italian. Conference topics may include the study of a particular author, literary text, or topic relevant to the course and that might be of interest to the student.

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The World According to Ariyoshi Sawako

Open, Seminar—Fall

No previous background in Japanese studies or literature is required for this course.

In this seminar, we will read a variety of works by Ariyoshi Sawako (1931-1984), one of Japan’s most talented storytellers in the last century. Ariyoshi’s novels vividly portray the lives of women in different historical moments, such as the dancer Okuni, the originator of kabuki theatre, in Kabuki Dancer; the wife and mother of Hanako Seishu, the first surgeon to perform surgery using general anesthesia, in The Doctor’s Wife; and a mother, daughter, and granddaughter whose lives reflect changes in modern Japan in The River Ki. Many of Ariyoshi’s works also expose social issues, such as The Twilight Years, her immensely popular novel on the challenges of caring for aging parents, and Compound Pollution, her environmental novel that brought greater public attention to the harmful effects of chemical fertilizers and insecticides. Early in her writing career, Ariyoshi received a Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship to study at Sarah Lawrence College, and we will also consider how her experiences at Sarah Lawrence may have influenced the directions she took in her subsequent writing. Ariyoshi’s literature will provide us with a lens to consider various topics, such as Japanese performing arts, history, gender, social issues, and translation. In addition to these readings, we will view some film adaptations of Ariyoshi’s literary works.

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An Introduction to Statistical Methods and Analysis

Open, Lecture—Fall

Prerequisites: basic high-school algebra and plane-coordinate geometry

Variance, correlation coefficient, regression analysis, statistical significance, 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; 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. Given that this is a presidential election year, we will also be closely watching the national polls and discussing the difficulties of projecting future results with accuracy (and why pollsters got it wrong in 2016). 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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The Music of Russia

Open, 3-credit seminar—Spring

This course may also be taken as a semester-long component.

This course will survey the great contributions to Western music by Russian composers, from the first half of the 19th century to the end of the Soviet era and beyond. We will study these works in the context of the important historical events and intellectual movements that galvanized Russian artists: the desire to find the appropriate expression of Russian identity, the ambivalence toward the achievements of Western Europe, the ideals of civic responsibility, the aestheticism of the later 19th century, the Russian Revolution, and the repressions of Soviet society. Composers to be studied include Glinka, Tchaikovsky, Mussorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Scriabin, Rachmaninoff, Prokofiev, Shostakovich, and Gubaidulina. We will end the course with a look at of some of the emigré composers—such as Stravinsky, who composed his most Russian works for non-Russian audiences.

 

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The Philosophy of Tragedy: Electras

Open, Seminar—Fall

There is only one story about which tragedies exist by all three of the great Greek tragic poets: the murder of Clytemnestra to avenge her murder of Agamemnon. We will read all three plays: Aeschylus’ Libation Bearers, Sophocles’ Electra, and Euripides’ Electra—with special attention to the relation between Electra and Orestes as co-conspirators in the plot against Clytemnestra. Each play is concerned with the question of justice in its relation to a political life. Insofar as its principle is justice, political life points toward universality. Insofar as its existence depends on excluding some from its borders, it must assert its particularity. Political life involves treating fellow citizens according to universal principles, because they are like family. We want our polis to be good, but we want it to be good because it is ours. In Greek tragedy, this problematic togetherness of the good and one’s own is repeatedly represented as the tension between the polis and the family—which is, in turn, expressed as a tension between male and female principles. All of these issues are present in all three plays but in quite different ways. We will read them with a view to understanding the importance of those differences.

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Discipline and Sexuality: Reading Michel Foucault

Sophomore and above, Seminar—Fall

In this reading seminar, we will focus on two of Michael Foucault’s books: Discipline & Punish: The Birth of the Prison (1975) and The History of Sexuality, Vol. I: The Will to Knowledge (1976). Foucault is one of the most influential philosophers and historians of the second half of the 20th century, famous for developing Nietzsche’s thesis that knowledge is not a progressive quest for objective truth but, rather, a historical construct produced in the service of sociopolitical power structures. The texts that we will read mark a transition in Foucault’s conception of power, from seeing it as a mechanism of control (incarceration and punishment but also disciplining, education, and surveillance) to seeing it as a mechanism of producing pleasure (through practices, regulation, and inhibitions of sexuality, as well as its transgressions). Foucault’s is an extremely original mind, which has the capacity to change our understanding of our history, our culture, our upbringing, and ourselves in the deepest and least-expected ways. When it works (and much of it depends on our own commitment to the reading process), his writing can liberate us from bonds and preconceptions that we never even knew we had. This will be a guided reading and discussion-centered seminar, with weekly reading responses. It is reserved for sophomores and above, with preference to those who’ve had experience reading philosophy in class, in conference, or independently. The reason for this is not that we need much background in philosophy to understand Foucault but, instead, that we need the capacity and enthusiasm for actively and independently participating in a rigorous process of reading and discussing a philosophical text. For the conference component of the class—unless you have a well-defined and executable alternative in mind, which we agree upon in advance—each student will conduct an independent study with me of one philosophical text of their choice from a list of options.

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Ancient Philosophy (Plato)

Intermediate, Seminar—Spring

This course will be devoted to a careful reading of one text. The goal of the course is twofold. First, it is designed to acquaint students with perhaps the seminal figure in the philosophical tradition in more than a superficial way. (The 20th-century philosopher, Alfred North Whitehead, once remarked that the “safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato.”) This will force us to slow our usual pace of reading, to read almost painfully carefully, with a view to understanding Plato as he wrote and as he understood himself and not as a stage in a historical development. The second part of the goal of the course will be to introduce and encourage this kind of careful reading. The text for spring 2021 will be Plato’s Protagoras.

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Exploring the Work of Community-Based Agencies: Linking Theory and Practice

Sophomore and above, Practicum—Fall and Spring

A maximum of 12 students will be able to join this course each semester. This course may be taken for either two or three credits.

According to NonProfit Westchester, a local advocacy group, nonprofits make up 13.6 percent of the total workforce in Westchester County. The goal of this two- or three-credit course is to offer students the chance to develop, through readings and direct work, a deeper understanding of community-based work and of a nonprofit that has a strong partnership with the College. Largely through journal writing, students will engage in the process of action and reflection to explore and learn about community-based work. Some questions that this course will address include: What is a community, what is community-based work, and what is a nonprofit? Who are the people served by the agency? What are some of the complexities that the agency faces? What is the agency’s mission? How does a nonprofit agency develop and change over time, and how does it determine the kind of community-based work it will do? How does an agency determine the success of its work? What are the funding sources, and what are the some of the social forces that impact the work of each agency and the people it serves? Students will meet throughout the term for a weekly, one-hour seminar with the director of the Office of Community Partnerships. Students will also select a faculty sponsor with whom to discuss articles and journal entries throughout the semester. All students will participate in the end-of-semester poster session and write a 7- to 10-page paper on an aspect of their work over the semester, which brings together their reflections and experiences and readings. The number of students who will be able to take this course will vary according to the number of faculty available for any given semester.

The Social Psychology of Immigration

Open, Seminar—Spring

Immigration is a worldwide phenomenon in which people move into another nation with the intention of making a better life for themselves and/or residing there temporarily or permanently. While anchored in a multidisciplinary perspective, this seminar explores the crucial role of psychology in understanding the processes associated with our conceptualizations of immigrants and immigration. The course will begin with some theoretical perspectives on immigration, as well as a brief historical overview of some sociological and some social psychological research on immigrants. We will then examine the identity of the immigrant, stressing the profound distinctions between forced and voluntary immigrants. We will explore the processes through which “illegality” is constructed by reflecting on the lives of undocumented immigrants. We will also look very closely at the intersections of race, class, gender, sexuality, and culture to see how they shape the psychological experience of immigrants. Seeking to extend our analysis to immigration’s impact on the host population, we will conclude the course by discussing several social psychological issues, such as intergroup relations, discrimination, and modes of adaptation.

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Mobilization and Social Change

Sophomore and above, Seminar—Fall

In light of recent national—as well as international—calls for racial justice, which have propelled several movements, this course will analyze the chronology of the various theories and research in both cultural and social psychology, highlighting the need to re-examine intolerance not only in the heads of people but also in the world. Given that these biases are often defined as individual prejudice, even though their persistence is systemic, we will see how they crystallize in ways that are marked in the cultural fabric, the various artifacts, the ideological discourse, and most institutional realities that all work in synchronicity with individual biases. In this class, we will highlight various examples of historically derived ideas and cultural patterns that maintain present-day inequalities (gender, sexualities, class, persons with disabilities, and various other forms of social injustice). We will first explore the theory of minority influence, a theory that stands in contra-distinction to conformity, providing a model to develop and articulate change. With the help of cultural psychology, we will then see how injustices are anchored and objectified in our everyday world. We will analyze how our preferences and selections are maintained through the contexts of our interactions. This perspective will lead us to explore the theory of social representations, moving us away from individual tendencies to focus on changing the structures in which collectively elaborated understanding is maintained and reproduced as a system.

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Advanced Behavioral Statistics Practicum

Intermediate/Advanced, Small seminar—Spring

This course will be offered based on student need and interest. Prerequisite: previous college-level statistics course

The primary objective of this course is to understand and apply various statistical analysis techniques when conducting your own independent research. As such, it is a useful companion to the completion of an independent research project as part of a senior thesis, independent study, or research seminar course. The course covers core statistical methods that are essential in the behavioral sciences, including ANOVA, ANCOVA, and linear, logistic, and multiple regression. Relevant non-parametric statistics, such as chi square, will also be discussed. This course will meet weekly in a workshop format to learn and apply various statistical techniques to sample, as well as real, data sets. Weekly assignments will utilize SPSS, a standard data analysis program utilized in behavioral statistics. Students will be responsible for working collaboratively with their colleagues—in this course in regular weekly meetings outside of the class meeting time—to further develop their understanding of each statistical technique, as well as to develop their ability to utilize SPSS. Students will also be required to apply statistical concepts to the development of thesis or other research proposals, including a discussion of potential analyses and the relevant data to be collected that might utilize these techniques. Students will meet regularly with the instructor to discuss an ongoing project for which they will utilize some of the statistical techniques learned throughout the course. By the end of the semester, students should have completed their analyses and incorporated a report of the work completed into a final project report, be it a thesis, independent study, or other conference project. 

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Religion and Power: Islam, Christianity, and the United States

Open, Seminar—Fall

Theology, whether it is acknowledged or publicly noted, has often played a significant role in the political life of the United States. Religious arguments and positions have provided the theoretical underpinnings for institutions such as slavery and incarceration and policies in the areas of immigration, foreign relations, and military interventions. In this course, we will focus on the intersection of Christian and Muslim theologies in America from the early republic to the Trump era. Some of the topics to be explored are the religious justifications used for owning slaves and creating barriers to citizenship, the religious/nationalist ideologies of black Muslims and white supremacists, the phenomenon of apocalyptic reasoning, American religious positions on the state of Israel, and white evangelical support for President Trump. Although the number of Americans identifying themselves as having a religious affiliation has been dropping steadily over the last decade, the influence of religion on American politics has not.

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Contextualizing Communications: The Poetics of Seeing

Open, Seminar—Spring

Seeing is not a natural process or an individual activity; rather, it is embedded in social forces and imbued with historically and spatially constructed meanings. This seminar is designed to interrogate how we communicate and make meaning from such a vantage point. While this course takes a broadly construed sociology of culture as its point of departure, it understands sociology as what a British sociologist called a “parasitical” discipline that frequently disrupts and violates disciplinary borders and boundaries. The course will follow in that vein. Our initial readings, which will include Raymond Williams, Edward Said, Aime Cesaire, and John Berger, will set the conceptual framework for what follows. We will draw upon literature; film and music; (auto)biography; letters, diaries, oral histories; and archival and legal texts emanating from different parts of the globe, with an emphasis on cultural productions about and from the Global South and/or diasporic communities. Our analyses will be framed in terms of a number of themes and questions, relating those to the contexts within which the works were produced. We will start with an overview of historical and methodological questions; examine colonial texts and their critique, the production of nationalism(s) and identities, censorship, postcoloniality, and the violence of “home”; and conclude with transformative visions. It is hoped that this perusal of a diversity of genres and voices will enable us to rethink the relations between objectivity and subjectivity, fiction, biography and fact, political and social censorships to which their producers subscribe or against which they struggle, as well as struggles over voice and/in the remaking of space. Our goal is to problematize naturalistic “ways of seeing” (a term borrowed from John Berger) and thus show how seeing (through sonic, cinematic, and literary constructions) is both an ideologically regimented activity and a creative form of emancipatory action. Rather than seeing our readings as the expression of individual genius, we will engage with them as a way to become astute readers of the material poetics of social life.

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Politics of/as Representation

Intermediate, Seminar—Year

This seminar examines, in a dual sense, the relations between politics and representation. Our analysis is designed to make us critical readers and analysts of formal politics in its constitution through, and representations of, on-going practices and relations of life. Representation will thus be considered in terms of concrete representation (presence) in electoral politics of particular social actors and in terms of an embodied representational politics that exceeds the normatively political field. This will allow us to understand public and private domains as co-constituted—an insight that feminist and sexuality studies have long remarked upon—and to move beyond the limitations of disciplinary thinking and dominant constructions of power. Working through the complex and vexed relation between these various scales—macro and micro, public and private—and their attendant modes of representation will allow us to complicate our understanding of both politics and representation. In the fall semester, our primary (but not sole) focus will be on electoral politics alongside the COVID-19 pandemic and environmental crises. Reading these together will allow us to examine political speech within, and external to, normatively constituted “politics,” re-envisioning politics as a practice simultaneously productive of citizenship and its deferral. Following our focus on political speech and representation(s)—both with respect to the November election and to crises—we will turn to other sites in/through which politics is embodied, performed, and re-presented. This shift in emphasis will allow us to build on the analytical tools and insights gained earlier in the course and to examine at greater length representations of class, race, ethnicity, gender, and sexuality in a multiplicity of discursive spaces and sites, ranging from sports and work to interpersonal relations. Our analysis will be based on sources ranging from, but not limited to, social scientific texts, political speech, and the mass media. Throughout the year, our focus will be on multiple political language(s) and discursive fields with a view to re-visioning politics and representation as sites of struggle, thus allowing us to tease out dominant, subversive, as well as oppositional understandings and forms of body politics.

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Forms of Culture in the Information Age: Spanish for Advanced Beginners

Open, Seminar—Year

Course taught entirely in Spanish. All students should take the placement test prior to registration.

This course is designed for students who have taken Spanish before but need to review the essentials of grammar and develop effective communicative skills at a post-elementary level. The course will start with a thorough review of the basics of Spanish morphology and syntax. Vocabulary building will take place through an intensive program of readings that will include the study and analysis of poems, lyrics of songs, newspaper articles, short stories, and adapted novellas. The linguistic exploration of those materials will be complemented by the active exploitation of musical compositions, excerpts of scripts, and the viewing of films, as well as selected episodes of TV series. All forms and manifestations of culture originated all over the Spanish–speaking world—fashion, art, film, music, photography, theatre, science, politics, comics, video games, gastronomy, etc.—will be the objects of our attention. These and other forms of cultural expression will be incorporated into the course of study, as long as Spanish is their vehicle of expression. The syllabus will be complemented by contributions from students, who will be encouraged to locate materials suitable to be jointly exploited by the class as a whole. Weekly conversation sessions with the language assistant are a fundamental part of this course. Students will complete guided conference projects in small groups and also have access to individual meetings to address specific grammar topics.

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First-Year Studies: Theatre in Action, the ’60s Thru Tomorrow

Open, FYS—Year

This course examines the greater role of theatre in our culture, particularly as to how theatre responds to the events and movements that shape our lives—even as they occur. We will look at how theatre frames political discourse, as well as its distinct role as a means of social activism in this country over the past 50 years. Students will read and discuss a variety of plays, with an emphasis on looking at the context in which those plays were written and why they still resonate today. Discussions will range from influential works and innovations of mid-20th-century theatre artists like Bertolt Brecht and Samuel Beckett, political theatre groups like The Living Theatre and El Teatro Campo of the 1960s, agitprop theatre events of the Vietnam War and Civil Rights eras, and ACT Up in the 1980s AIDS Crisis to the form-bending techniques of contemporary theatre makers and artists like Anna Deavere Smith, Young Jean Lee, Jackie Sibbles Drury, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, Annie Baker, Tony Kushner, Dominque Morriseau, Quiara Alegria Hudes, and queer, female, and trans playwrights in The Kilroys List collection of plays, among many others. Students will read aloud from plays in class, study documentaries, and see productions and showings in New York City over the course of the year. Guest artists will join designated classes. Students will meet with the teacher to devise conference projects to serve their distinct interests. Projects might range from original plays written in the style of the events of the period and plays that we study or rehearsed or staged scenes from published plays to designing dramaturgical presentations, among other options. In addition to conference projects each semester, students are regularly required to submit critical essays and participate fully in the discussion. Theatre in Action will alternate individual conferences with small-group meetings/conferences to include screenings, field trips, performances, and workshops. Students enrolled in FYS in Theatre have the option, but are not required, to take one extra component in the theatre, dance, or music programs as part of their Theatre Third. All students enrolled in the FYS in Theatre join the theatre program community, attend theatre meetings, and complete technical-support hours (tech credits).

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Drawing Faces

Open, Seminar—Fall

Portraiture has a rich and complex history. The act of drawing a face gives artists an understanding of how to translate what they see onto paper through line, light, shadow, volume, and space. Intentionally manipulating this same graphic language can embed portraits with the complex emotional and psychological states that lie beyond mere visual representation. Politically, socially, and historically, portraits have been a means to establish class and gender, provide immortality, and document the human condition. In this course, you will learn the fundamentals of drawing through the subject of the portrait. The act of looking will be primary for us, as seeing the face accurately, as it truly exists, is a constant challenge for artists. As the semester progresses, we’ll move from observational, realistic portraits into interpreted, experimental drawings that challenge traditions and norms of portraiture. As you learn to draw what you see, you’ll simultaneously begin to reveal qualities that are not visible—those psychological, political, symbolic, and personal aspects of portraits that make them individual and unique. Students will work on daily drawing exercises both inside and outside the studio in order to build a disciplined drawing practice that allows them to work in transformative ways. For context, we will look at a range of historical and contemporary examples of portraiture and will visit New York City exhibitions to see art works in the flesh. A visiting artist working in portraiture will visit class, as well.

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The Episode: A Course in Connections

Open, Seminar—Spring

This will be a course in the episode, a flexible way of putting together content—fictional or nonfictional—in this world or another. The episodes that we know best are streamed online. We also read them, often without noticing their form. They are different from chapters or short stories. We will start by introducing each other to our favorites. Then we will do enough exercises to catch ourselves doing something right and continue until we have six episodes that connect, not necessarily conventionally. These will be supported and critiqued in small groups, while weekly exercises get presented to everyone. This course is a sneaky way to get people to write and revise something long over time. Students can write fiction or nonfiction, for adults or children, and include poetry, songs, or drawings in their work. 

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Ecopoetry

Open, Seminar—Year

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

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