Public Policy

Sarah Lawrence College’s public policy program addresses the most pressing public policy issues of our time, including promoting peace, protecting the environment, providing education and health services, and safeguarding human and workers’ rights. Supported by the College’s Office of Community Partnerships, students partner with unions, community organizations, and legal groups in the New York City area as a required element of their course work, gaining direct experience that they can relate to theoretical issues.

Students also participate in international fieldwork, including at a labor research exchange in Cuba, a health care worker conference in the Dominican Republic, a community-organizing project to help establish a medical clinic for residents of the impoverished community of Lebrón in the Dominican Republic, and a study trip to the United States/Mexico border area of El Paso/Juarez. This combination of study and direct experience exposes students to various approaches to problems and builds an enduring commitment to activism in many forms.

2019-2020 Courses

Public Policy

First-Year Studies: From Schools to Prisons: Inequality and Social Policy in the United States

Open , FYS—Year

Inequality and social policy go hand in hand in the United States. From the schools to the criminal justice system, policies structure our lives by either contributing to or helping to scale back inequality. This course introduces students to policymaking through the lens of different issue areas in the United States. Students will examine major policy areas—including immigration, criminal justice, health, and education—along three axes. First, we will explore these areas socially and historically to see how debates and policies have evolved. We will also draw from the social-science literature to examine the strengths and weaknesses and the intended and unintended consequences of those policies. Second, we will explore the complicated system of institutions that have the power to make public-policy decisions in each of those areas and across federal, state, and local levels. Finally, we will explore the role of different actors in attempting to influence and implement policy—organized interests, experts, and local communities. Students will leave the class with an understanding of major policy issues, policymaking, and how to effect policy change. This foundational information will feed into broader discussion about inequality in the United States. Biweekly individual conferences will alternate with group conference activities.

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The American Welfare State

Sophomore and above , Seminar—Spring

This course will assess the historical and political trajectory of the American welfare state. Students will learn about the US policy response to economic inequality and poverty via redistributive policies and evaluate different theories about why the response has been so weak. In addition, the course will explore the role of mulitiple actors and factors that have shaped this policy area, with particular attention to public opinion, interest groups, race relations, social movements, and the state. Race, immigration, and gender will also be important axes of analysis, as they have been intimately linked with the development of the welfare state and its evolution, as well as evolving understandings of race, immigration, family, and work. Finally, the course will allow for broader based discussions on the US welfare system in relation to US ideals and in relation to the welfare systems of other countries. Overall, students will gain an understanding of the scope, form, and function of social welfare provision in the United States into the contemporary period.

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The Politics of “Illegality,” Surveillance, and Protest

Advanced , Seminar—Fall

Over the past few years, newspapers, television, Facebook and Twitter have disseminated images of unauthorized immigrants and their allies taking to the streets to protest punitive immigration policies. The aerial shot of downtown Los Angeles on March 25, 2006, with more than 500,000 immigrants and allies wearing white t-shirts, was only one in a series of images that captured the 2006-2007 demonstrations in big cities where they were expected, like Chicago and New York, but also in smaller towns and cities in Nebraska, Colorado, Indiana, and elsewhere. More recently, images of unauthorized youth facing off with police and immigration officials have become more commonplace, the newest of these images being a young woman in Los Angeles sitting atop a ladder surrounded by police awaiting her fate. These images speak to us of a movement for immigrant rights that calls us to engage with questions of immigration enforcement, “illegality,” and citizenship. In this course, we will explore the historical, legal, and cultural construction of “illegality.” Rather than a strictly legal category, “illegality” has been constructed over time through policy and discourse. As such, we will ground our investigation of the present in an investigation of the past. Students will assess the evolution of immigration-control practices and of the construction of “illegality,” from the US focus on policing the Chinese through the buildup of the US-Mexico border and into the present. Our study of contemporary debates will center on the shifts in immigration control and the actions of key elite and grass-roots actors in attempting to shape this politics of enforcement. Students will use the theoretical tools provided by studies of immigration enforcement, social movements, and the politics of membership and belonging to assess immigration politics over time and to offer ways forward in the contemporary moment.

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Introduction to Economic Theory and Policy

Open , Lecture—Year

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

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

Open , Seminar—Fall

Since the 19th century, generations of economists have understood the importance of the environment and natural resources. John Stuart Mill, a classical economist, argued: “Is there not the Earth itself, its forests and waters, and all other natural riches, above and below the surface? These are the inheritance of the human race, and there must be regulations for the common enjoyment of it....No function of government is less optional than the regulation of these things, or more completely involved in the idea of civilized society.” What property-right regimes are proper for solving the “problem of the social cost”? Is privatization the only solution, as the market fundamentalist economists have argued? Why do developing countries have higher pollution levels? Are pollution activities migrating to developing countries? In Donora, Pennsylvania, “smoke ran like water” in the 1940s and led to deaths and impaired health. But in most places in the developed world, environmental quality has improved significantly in the past decades. How can we explain such changes? What are the most efficient ways to deal with pollution? Environmental degradation is far from being over in developed countries. Who is being impacted more by pollution? Why do certain population groups tend to suffer more from environmental harms? Scientists provide ample evidence that the current economic path is unsustainable, and serious policies are needed to deal with the challenge. But the policies are seriously inadequate. Why? What political economy factors are determining the environmental policies? In this course, we will apply economics principles to understand how societies use and misuse the environment and natural resources.

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Intermediate Microeconomics: Conflicts, Coordination, and Institutions

Intermediate/Advanced , Seminar—Fall

Prior knowledge of microeconomics is required.

Economics was born in the 18th century, around the same time as capitalism emerged in Europe. Since then, economists have sought to understand the ways in which people allocate, produce, exchange, and distribute things in capitalist societies and how such activities impact people’s well-being. For the most part of the 20th century, microeconomics centered on the “efficiency” of the free market. Since the late 20th century, contending paradigms in microeconomics have successfully challenged the narrow definition of “efficiency” and broadened the scope of analysis from free market to a variety of institutions in which the market is either unfree or absent. In this course, we will examine fundamental questions, such as: What are the incentives of individual decision-making under different circumstances? How do individuals make decisions? What are the social consequences of individual decision-making? We will not only learn about traditional issues such as how individual consumers and firms make decisions and the welfare properties of the market but also will examine how individuals interact with each other, the power relationship between individuals, the power relationship of the labor market and the credit market and inside the firms, the situations where individuals care about other than their self-interests, the successful and unsuccessful coordination of individuals, and the institutional solutions for improving social welfare.

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Economics of Environmental Justice: People, Place, and Power

Intermediate/Advanced , Seminar—Spring

We frequently observe that the burden of environmental harms and/or the benefit of environmental protection are unequally distributed in a society. Within a nation, the underrepresented households, such as minorities in the United States, bear a disproportionate burden. Globally, under the neoliberal regime, trade and financial lateralization have made it easier to transfer highly polluting economic activities to the Third World. Moreover, the capitalist development in the Third World has increasingly deprived the rural communities and the urban poor of their environmental rights. This course examines ways in which environmental injustices may arise and affect different people with different power in different places. We will draw knowledge from multiple fields, such as economics, political science, sociology, environmental studies, geography, etc. We will examine the issue using multiple methodologies and assess different policy options.

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Intermediate Macroeconomics: Main Street, Wall Street, and Policies

Intermediate/Advanced , Seminar—Spring

Prior knowledge of macroeconomics is required.

Keynes not only revolutionized economic theory in 1937 but also led generations of economists to believe that the government should play an active role in managing a country’s aggregate demand. Yet, since the 1980s, the theoretical and policy world of mainstream economics took a great U-turn and, once again, embraced the fundamental role of the free market. In macroeconomics, this is reflected by the pursuit of goals such as fiscal austerity, balanced budget, financial deregulation, and liberalization of international finance. In this course, we will examine the fundamental debates in macroeconomic theory and policy making. The standard analytical framework of aggregate demand, aggregate supply, labor market, inflation, exchange rate, and economic growth will be used as our entry point of analysis. On top of that, we will examine multiple theoretical and empirical perspectives on money, credit and financial markets, consumption, investment, governmental spending, unemployment, international finance, growth and distribution, economic crisis, technological change, and long waves of capitalist societies. More recent progressive theories and policies will be discussed, such as universal basic income and job guarantee, modern monetary theory, etc.

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Introduction to Property: Cultural and Environmental Dimensions

Sophomore and above , Seminar—Spring

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

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

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Food, Agriculture, Environment, and Development

Open , Lecture—Year

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

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

Open , Seminar—Fall

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

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

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Introduction to Development Studies: The Political Ecology of Development

Intermediate , Seminar—Spring

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

In this intermediate seminar, we will begin by examining competing paradigms and approaches to understanding “development” and the “Third World.” We will set the stage by answering the question: What did the world look like 500 years ago? The purpose of this part of the course is to acquaint us with and to analyze the historical origins and evolution of a world political-economy, of which the "Third World" is an intrinsic component. We will thus study the transition from feudalism to capitalism, the rise of merchant and finance capital, and the colonization of the world by European powers. We will analyze case studies of colonial "development" to understand the evolving meaning of the term. The case studies will also help us assess the varied legacies of colonialism apparent in the emergence of new nations through the fitful and uneven process of decolonization that followed. The next part of the course will look at the United Nations and the role some of its associated institutions have played in the post-World War II global political-economy, one marked by persistent and intensifying socioeconomic inequalities as well as frequent outbreaks of political violence across the globe. By examining the development institutions that have emerged and evolved since 1945, we will attempt to unravel the paradoxes of development in different eras. We will deconstruct the measures of development through a thematic exploration of population, resource use, poverty, access to food, the environment, agricultural productivity, urbanization, industrialization, and different development strategies adopted by Third World nation-states. We will then examine globalization and its relation to emergent international institutions and their policies; for example, the IMF, World Bank, AIIB, and WTO. We will then turn to contemporary development debates and controversies that increasingly find space in the headlines—widespread land grabbing by sovereign wealth funds, China, and hedge funds; the “global food crisis”; and the perils of climate change, as well as the potential of “a new green deal.” Throughout the course, our investigations of international institutions, transnational corporations, the role of the state, and civil society will provide the backdrop for the final focus of the class—the emergence of regional coalitions for self-reliance, environmental and social justice, and sustainable development. Our analysis of development in practice will draw upon case studies from Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, Europe, and the United States. Conference work will be closely integrated with the themes of the course, with a two-stage substantive research project. Project presentations will incorporate a range of formats, from traditional papers to multimedia visual productions. Where possible and feasible, students will be encouraged to do primary research over spring break.

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International Law

Open , Lecture—Fall

In a global landscape pocked by genocide, wars of choice, piracy, and international terrorism, what good is international law? Can it mean anything without a global police force and a universal judiciary? Is “might makes right” the only law that works? Or is it true that “most states comply with most of their obligations most of the time”? These essential questions frame the contemporary practice of law across borders. This lecture provides an overview of international law—its doctrine, theory, and practice. The course addresses a wide range of issues, including the bases and norms of international law, the law of war, human-rights claims, domestic implementation of international norms, treaty interpretation, and state formation/succession.

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Human Rights

Open , Lecture—Spring

History is replete with rabid pogroms, merciless religious wars, tragic show trials, and even genocide. For as long as people have congregated, they have defined themselves, in part, as against an other—and have persecuted that other. But history has also yielded systems of constraints. So how can we hope to achieve a meaningful understanding of the human experience without examining both the wrongs and the rights? Should the human story be left to so-called realists, who claim that power wins out over ideals every time? Or is there a logic of mutual respect that offers better solutions? This lecture examines the history of international human rights and focuses on the claims that individuals and groups make against states in which they live.

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Drugs, History, and Politics in Latin America and Beyond

Open , Seminar—Fall

The “War on Drugs,” shootings in favelas, colgados in US-Mexican border states, and (in)famous drug lords (or ”narcos”) dominate contemporary images of, and conversations about, drugs in Latin America. From the narconovelas and narcocorridos to even narco-tourism, narcoviolence has created a myriad of cultural and social artifacts that cultivate both fascination and repulsion over a phenomenon that has profound economic, social, and political ramifications for the region and for the world. This course seeks to understand the multiplicity of historical causes and effects of narcoviolence in the most conspicuous cases in Latin America during the 20th century: Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, and Central America. To do so, the course will situate the current narcoviolence within a longer history of psychoactive drugs as goods, linking producers and consumers through global capitalism since the early modern period. From coffee to cocaine, we will discuss the origins of both fascination with and prohibition of psychoactive drugs. We will examine the social, political, and economic functions of drugs in different historical contexts, their transformation from luxury to mass commodities, and even their fetishization. In addition, the course explores the economics, politics, and culture of drugs in the long era of narcoviolence and globalization. Using primary and secondary sources, history and social science perspectives, the course seeks to foster deep and serious engagement with the history of Latin America and its complex relation to psychoactive drugs.

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Diversity and Equity in Education: Issues of Gender, Race, and Class

Advanced , Seminar—Year

The education system is a central institution in the socialization of young people and the maintenance of the modern nation-state. Schools support meritocratic models of society by providing opportunities for social mobility. Paradoxically, schools also reproduce gender, racial, and class inequality. In this course, we will examine the roles that schools play in the transmission of culture, formation of identity, and reproduction of social structures. Paying special attention to gender and its intersection with other social categories, we will look at practices and policies that shape students’ performance as they strive for competence, achievement, and acceptance. We will also analyze the larger political and economic contexts that shape both schools and the communities in which they are situated.

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First-Year Studies: The Perils of Passion: Ancient Greek History for Today’s Troubled Times

Open , FYS—Year

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. In the fifth century BCE, the ancient Greeks devised, simultaneously, the concepts of history and democracy. 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. These early historians can help us today to analyze facts, identify causes and consequences, and avoid the pitfalls of the past. Students will read (in English translation) Herodotus’s Histories and Thucydides’s History of the Peloponnesian War, as well as selected works by Aeschylus, Euripides, Aristotle, and Ps.-Xenophon. Students will meet with the instructor individually for a half-hour conference once every two weeks. On the alternate weeks, when individual conferences do not meet, the entire class will meet for a group conference.

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An Introduction to Statistical Methods and Analysis

Open , Lecture—Fall

Prerequisite: basic high-school algebra and geometry.

Correlation, regression, statistical significance, and margin of error...you’ve heard these terms and other statistical phrases bantered about before, and you’ve seen them interspersed in news reports and research articles. But what do they mean? And why are they so important? Serving as an introduction to the concepts, techniques, and reasoning central to the understanding of data, this lecture course focuses on the fundamental methods of statistical analysis used to gain insight into diverse areas of human interest. The use, misuse, and abuse of statistics will be the central focus of the course, and specific topics of exploration will be drawn from experimental design theory, sampling theory, data analysis, and statistical inference. Applications will be considered in current events, business, psychology, politics, medicine, and other areas of the natural and social sciences. Statistical (spreadsheet) software will be introduced and used extensively in this course, but no prior experience with the technology is assumed. Conference work, conducted in workshop mode, will serve to reinforce student understanding of the course material. This lecture is recommended for anybody wishing to be a better-informed consumer of data and strongly recommended for those planning to pursue graduate work and/or research in the natural sciences or social sciences.

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Introduction to Social Theory: Philosophical Tools for Critical Social Analysis

Open , Lecture—Year

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

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Moonshots in Contemporary American Politics

Open , Seminar—Fall

While this course is open, prior background in American politics and history is preferable.

While recently it may feel like American government never accomplishes much at all, particularly at the federal level, sweeping change does happen—either seemingly at once or over a period of time. This course will look at a range of circumstances when advocates across the political spectrum have pushed ambitious agendas over the last few decades and at various levels of government. We will attempt to draw some conclusions about the factors that might make ambitious agendas succeed, including querying whether those factors are distinct in meaningful ways from the factors that make less ambitious agendas succeed. The course will also attempt to explore differences and similarities in the ways that conservatives and liberals have approached pursuing such agendas. The class will begin with an overview of some theoretical literature about agenda-setting in politics and the role of advocacy work and will continue with applied case studies.

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Chaos or Calm: The 2020 Elections

Open , Seminar—Spring

In the midst of a seemingly polarized and anxious American polity, the 2020 election cycle will be a referendum on both President Trump and the 116th Congress. This course will attempt to contextualize the current state of social and political affairs in the United States and examine why so many Americans feel disillusioned about the economic and political scene. Many believe that the country is headed in the wrong direction. They see an economy that is not improving, a social and political world that is deeply divided and full of anger, and endless fighting about numerous topics, including gun control, immigration, the environment, and global engagement. These concerns will all have a potent impact on the outcome of the 2020 elections. 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. Accordingly, we will examine present and past research on numerous questions relating to elections, such as: Who votes and participates, how, and why? How does 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? These are a sampling the puzzles that we will tackle. And while the course will certainly spend a considerable amount of time looking at the presidency, we will also focus on congressional races and local races, as well.

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Democracy, Diversity, and (In)equality

Sophomore and above , Seminar—Year

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

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Global Child Development

Intermediate , Small seminar—Fall

Prerequisite: a college-level course in the social sciences

The majority of the world’s children live in the global South, yet less than 10% of developmental science research has studied communities that account for 90% of the world’s population. Thus, there is a desperate need to better understand child and adolescent development outside of the United States and Western Europe. In this course, we will begin to do this by exploring what is currently known about children’s health and nutrition, motor and cognitive language, and social and emotional development across the globe. Where the research is limited, we will consider if and when research in the global North can be informative regarding child development in the global South. As we do this, we will discuss various bioecocultural approaches to better map out the connections between multiple factors, at multiple levels, impacting children’s developmental outcomes. Such holistic, multidisciplinary approaches will lay a foundation for sustainable, context-appropriate, community-based projects to better understand and reduce the aversive effects of multiple environmental risk factors on the development of children across the globe. These approaches will also help us understand and build upon the opportunities afforded by different contexts. Readings will be drawn from both classic and contemporary research in developmental and cultural psychology, psychobiology, anthropology, sociology, and public health, with a critical eye toward understanding both the usefulness and the limitations of this research in light of the populations studied and the methodologies employed. To better understand these contexts, we will also read the literary work of both classic and contemporary authors from the global South. Conference work will provide the opportunity for students to focus on a particular context of children’s lives in greater detail. This may include fieldwork at the Early Childhood Center or in another setting with children. This is a small collaborative seminar. In addition to the class meeting time, students will meet in small working groups throughout the semester.

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Politics of Health

Open , Lecture—Spring

In contemporary American society, “health” is both highly politicized and seen as apolitical. Health is accepted as an unequivocal social good and unquestioned personal aspiration. No one can be “against health.” At the same time, the structure of our health care system and the possibilities for reform have been the focus of intense political debates. In this lecture, we will examine the following kinds of questions: What is health? What is public health? In political and cultural debates about health, how has the body become the focal point of new kinds of moralisms? Why are there patterns in health, so that some groups live longer and have less illness than others? Why does the United States spend more on health care than other countries yet rank relatively low on many measures of good health? How likely is it that you will have access to health care when you need it? Can we make affordable health care available to more people? We will examine both the social and cultural meanings of health and the political and policy debates about health and health care. For group conference, students will research a health issue, learn how to find and interpret public health indicators, assess community resources, consider policy options, and write and present a health policy brief on the issue that they’ve researched.

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Changing Places: Sociospatial Dimensions of Urbanization

Open , Seminar—Year

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

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Intensive Semester in Yonkers: Communities, Knowledge, and Action: Engaged Research Methods in Yonkers

Intermediate , Seminar—Fall

This course, part of the Intensive Semester in Yonkers program, is no longer open for interviews and registration. Interviews for the program take place during the previous spring semester.

Over the past half century, social movements have increasingly pushed for changes in the production of knowledge. Whereas most research studies are designed by academics and policy experts, advocates have argued that research agendas, methodology, and the dissemination of new knowledge should come “from below”—through the inclusion of community members, activists, and nonexperts in all steps of the research process. Examples of movements that have mobilized on behalf of the democratization of knowledge include environmentalists, the mental-health consumer/survivor movement, and AIDS activists. In this course, we will explore this history and learn methods of community-based participatory action research (CBPAR). Some of the principles of CBPAR are recognition of communities, equitable partnership among all who are involved in research, community involvement in determining research questions and methods, and dissemination of research results to all of the partners—and that research should lead to or support strategic action. Conference work will be based on 10-15 hours of fieldwork per week in a community-based organization and on developing a proposal for a CBPAR project for your organization. As part of that project, students will practice identifying community needs and resources and conducting interviews. In addition to learning sociological research methods and the principles of CBPAR, students will grapple with the complexities of community-based work: How are communities defined, and by whom? Who represents a community? What happens when there are conflicts or tensions between researchers and community members or when hierarchies of knowledge develop within communities or social movements? How can CBPAR attend simultaneously to immediate needs and actions and to long-term structural change?

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Media Burn: Moving Image Installation in Practice

Open , Seminar—Year

This yearlong production seminar investigates histories, strategies, and concepts related to the production and exhibition of moving-image installation. Over the year, students will investigate the histories of moving-image installation and create their own works of time-based art. We will look at artworks that use moving images, space, sound, loops, performance, site-specificity, chance operations, multiple channels, and games as tools for communicating ideas. In the fall semester, our work will be inspired by close readings of specific seminal artworks in installation from the late 1960s to the present, including pieces that utilize feedback loops, multiple projections, home movies, and new technologies. Students will learn craft and concept simultaneously through collaborative and individual production. Spring semester, we will engage with our own concepts and ideas of how time-based installation can be activated. Site-specificity, social practice, and interdisciplinary projects are introduced, and students are encouraged to connect their conference in this class to collaborations in theatre, dance, sculpture, painting, and academics. Conference works involve research, craft, and rigorous conceptual and technical practice and are presented in exhibitions at the end of each semester. A component of the class will take place outside the classroom at museums, galleries, nonprofits, performance spaces, and historic sites in and around New York City. (The title of this class, Media Burn, comes from the 1975 performance by the San Francisco-based art collective Ant Farm, https://www.eai.org/titles/media-burn)

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New Genres: Cultural HiJack

Sophomore and above , Small seminar—Fall

Is art the new politics? Cultural HiJack examines the work of artists attempting to subvert, critique, and overthrow the dominant paradigm through street art, anti-advertising, meme wars, flash mobs, instant theatre, guerilla projection, and spatial intervention. Artists surveyed include Guerrilla Girls, RTMark, Rosler, Holzer, Marchessault, Banksy, Fairey, Acconci, and Franco and Eva Mattes, along with readings from Dery, Klein, Debord, Gramsci, Lacy, and others. Working individually or in small groups, students will collaborate on campaigns of détournement, designing and implementing inventions of their own through alternative and hybrid forms.

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

Open , FYS—Year

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

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Nonfiction Workshop: To Tell the Truth

Open , Seminar—Year

This yearlong class will explore the mysteries of reading and writing what has been called “nonfiction,” focusing particularly on questions around what has been called lying and what has been called telling the truth. Was Toni Morrison right when she said our minds have an “antipathy to fraud”? Does lying have a syntax? What are the cultural contexts, nourishments, and manipulations that may affect what happens between a writer or reader and a drafted or published sentence? Is it possible to identify a lie in print? When you write, is it possible to lie less? Is it possible to “tell the truth”? In conference, we’ll discuss drafts of student work; in class, in light of the questions above and as a way of guiding our own makings, we’ll discuss readings that may include the work of June Jordan, Graham Fuller, Teju Cole, Wallace Stegner, Dionne Brand, William F. Buckley, Elizabeth Cook-Lynn, and Bertolt Brecht—with the work of James Baldwin throughout. You’ll be expected to attend class, respond to assigned and suggested readings, and participate in discussions. By the end of the first semester, you’ll have written at least five pages exposing a lie in print and have given a brief presentation on your process; by the end, you’ll have produced 20 pages of publishable nonfiction in whatever form you choose. The only prerequisites are a passion for reading that equals your passion for writing and a willingness to undertake whatever might be necessary to read and write better on our last day of class than on our first.

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Our World, Other Worlds

Open , Seminar—Year

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

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Wrongfully Accused

Open , Seminar—Year

Long-form investigative journalism has opened many doors, perhaps most literally in America’s penal system where journalists have regularly revealed—and freed—the wrongfully convicted. This class will set out to expose the innocence (or confirm the guilt) of a man or woman convicted of a controversial murder or other serious felony. Working collectively and using all of the tools and traditions of investigative journalism, the class will attempt to pull out all known and unknown threads of the story to reveal the truth. Was our subject wrongfully accused? Or are his or her claims of innocence an attempt to game the system? The class will interview police, prosecutors, and witnesses, as well as the friends and family of the victim and of the accused. The case file will be examined in depth. A long-form investigative piece will be produced, complete with multimedia accompaniment.

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