Sociology

Class, power, and inequality; law and society (including drugs, crime and “deviance”); race, ethnicity, and gender issues; ways of seeing...these are among the topics addressed by Sarah Lawrence College sociology courses. Increasingly, social issues need to be—and are—examined in relation to developments in global politics and economics. Students investigate the ways in which social structures and institutions affect individual experiences and shape competing definitions of social situations, issues, and identities.

While encouraging student research in diverse areas, courses tend to emphasize the relationship between the qualitative and the quantitative, the relationship between theoretical and applied practice, and the complexities of social relations rather than relying on simplistic interpretations. Through reading, writing, and discussion, students are encouraged to develop a multidimensional and nuanced understanding of social forces. Many students in sociology have enriched their theoretical and empirical work by linking it thematically with study in other disciplines—and through fieldwork.

Sociology 2021-2022 Courses

First-Year Studies: Borders, Nations, and Mobilities: A Sociological Introduction

Open, FYS—Year | 10 credits

In this FYS seminar, students will be introduced to the field of borders and migration studies based in the social sciences. We will start by reading some key sociological theories that provide students with an overview of sociology as a discipline and its relevance both within a liberal-arts education and to a wider social and political context. We will then focus on readings that provide students with foundational knowledge in border studies, globalization, the role of nations, nation states and nationalism in society, and, last but not least, migration and displacement studies. Special focus will also be given to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on globalization, migration, and the rise of new nationalisms around the world. As part of the seminar’s “practicum” dimension, students will learn the basics of initiating, designing, and carrying out sociological research using various methods of data analysis, including surveys, statistics, interview, and field research. Throughout the year, students will have opportunities to engage in new and ongoing research projects related to the themes of nationalism, borders, and mobilities by engaging with cross-campus organizations, community partners, and broader initiatives such as the Consortium on Forced Migration, Displacement, and Education. Starting in the fall, students will be introduced to some of the resources on campus that are essential for their learning and academic progress at Sarah Lawrence, such as the library and the writing center. Students will be expected to take advantage of these resources as they learn the ropes of conducting research in the social sciences and refining their academic writing skills. In addition to our regular class sessions, students will meet with the faculty instructor weekly during the fall semester for conference meetings. Conference meeting times will be used to discuss the student’s progress in the class and, more generally, during their first semester at Sarah Lawrence. In the subsequent spring semester, we will move to a biweekly conference-meeting schedule, depending on the student’s ongoing progress and needs.

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Theories of Agency and Action in Science Studies

Open, Lecture—Fall | 5 credits

This course surveys a rich historical debate in science, technology, and society studies on the nature of agency—or the motivation behind, and responsibility for, action. The lecture course begins with an exploration of the nature of scientific fact, including how discoveries are made and how they become accepted in society. We will pay special attention to the concepts of co-production, the idea that humans and technologies work together, and situated action, the reality that actions are rooted in social context, to study how technologies become central to social interaction. This grounding theory will lay a foundation for students to consider an ongoing debate on the distinction between human and nonhuman action. The course culminates with an exploration of three contemporary discussions on the nature of agency with respect to automated weapons systems, assistive technologies for people with disabilities, and the use of algorithms to order social life. For each topic, we will consider how technologies influence social interaction and who or what is responsible when things go wrong. In group conference, students will practice analyzing how technologies shape social interaction through a series of “object readings,” short analyses of a single technological object. These assignments are designed to prepare students for a final group analysis of a technology of their choice.

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Sociology of Global Inequalities

Open, Lecture—Spring | 5 credits

The focus of this lecture will be to introduce students to the processes and methods of conducting sociological research projects using a transnational and/or comparative lens. We will be taking, as our starting point, a set of global themes—loosely categorized as human rights, culture, migration, health, climate, and development— through which we will try to build our understanding of inequality in various forms and in different contexts. The approach we will take here in designing research will be one that aims to move beyond the national or the nation state as a bounded “container” of society and social issues; rather, we will aim at a better understanding of how different trends, processes, transformations, structures, and actors emerge and operate in globally and transnationally interconnected ways. For example, we can look at migration not simply through the lens of emigration/immigration to and from particular countries but also through the lens of flows and pathways that are structured via transnational relationships and circuits of remittances, exchanges, and dependencies. As part of group conferences, students will be asked to identify one of the key global themes through which they will examine issues of inequality, using a range of methods for data collection and analysis—datasets from international organizations, surveys, questionnaires, historical records, reports, and ethnographic accounts—which they will then compile into research portfolios produced as a group.

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Both Public and Private: The Social Construction of Family Life

Open, Seminar—Year | 10 credits | Remote

Many of us take for granted the dichotomy between public and private life. The former is frequently understood as abstract, distant, and a key site of power; the latter, as the site of warmth, intimacy and emotional sustenance. In this seminar, we will critically examine the assumptions underlying such idealized distinctions between public and private domains. Through such revisioning, it is hoped that we will better understand the public and private dimensions of the family, its complexity, and its historical variability. In particular, our analysis will enable us to critically examine notions that posit the inevitability of the nuclear, heterosexual family as a universal and “natural” institution. Through historical, cross-cultural materials and oral histories, we will look at the myriad ways in which personal and social reproduction occur; the relationship between distinct family forms and different systems of social organization and social movements; and the expression of class, gender, racial relations, and sexual relations in diverse familial settings. Throughout, we will be attentive to shifting boundaries between the private domain (often erroneously and transhistorically understood in familial terms) and public institutions and practices. The “private” domain of the family will be problematized as a site for the construction of identity and caring and, simultaneously, as a location that engenders compulsion and violence. In this latter context, we will examine how relations of domination and subordination are produced through the institution of the “family” and how resistance is generated to such dominant relations and constructions. The course will conclude with an examination of family forms in contemporary societies (single-parent, same-sex, fictive-kin based) and of public struggles over these various forms.

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Bad Neighbors: Sociology of Difference, Diversity, and Cosmopolitanism in the City

Open, Seminar—Fall | 5 credits

The focus of the seminar will be on questions of diversity, difference, and cosmopolitanism as it pertains to urban life in a contemporary American city such as Yonkers or New York City, as well as in urban societies around the world. We will take a sociological look at how urban communities experience, navigate, and transform social structures, relationships, and institutions in their everyday lives, as they deal with problems such as inequality, hate, and exclusion while co-existing with different and diverse populations. We will read books and essays by Arlie Hochschild, Asef Bayat, Yuval Noah Harari, Dina Neyeri, Robert Putnam, and others, as we explore ways in which cities embody particular histories as central while marginalizing others—and how communities and people in their everyday lives resist, alter, and decenter those histories and hierarchies. Through engaged field research, we will try to learn and understand how diverse communities of people work and live together; build and provide for the wider community; and rely on informal and formal opportunities, resources, and networks to make life in the city possible.

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The Sociology of Sports

Sophomore and Above, Seminar—Fall | 5 credits | Remote

This is a course about sports as practice, and practice is used here in a multiple sense. As an embodied activity, sporting practice is felt and experienced in and through the body, which is its primary but not sole “habitus”—a term that French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu popularized when elaborating on his notion of “cultural capital.” In this course, taking the sporting body and Bourdieu’s concept of habitus (taste, habits, skills, dispositions) as our point of departure, we will examine sports and its habitation of worlds that reach far beyond the individual (body) in both time and space. We will examine sports along multiple axes: as a collective and/or individuated activity; as a source of leisure and recreation; as a source of profitable employment; as a site of identity and nation-building projects; and as a space that engenders transnational mobilities and interconnections, as well as ruptures. In its commoditized contemporary form, sports is, more often than not, controlled by big money and/or the state and is part and parcel of what Debord refers to as the “society of the spectacle,” a site of production, consumption, and entertainment. The complex relationship between sports as experienced through the body and as a set of disciplinary practices will allow us to think through the relation of the individual, the collective, and institutionalized power, linking these to questions of body politics. Taking the internal dynamics and meaning of sports seriously, we will engage sports as a contradictory field—as both a productive space and a space of consumption. Our readings will include scholarly works, sports journalism, films, documentaries, and other primary sources. Possible conference topics include sports and politics; analysis of particular sports events (e.g., the Olympics, women’s basketball, the World Cup); (auto)biographies and/or oral histories of athletes; sports and protest; “fitness,” health, and the body; gender, race, sexuality, (dis)ability, and sports; nationalism(s), national “styles,” and sports; and the phenomenology of sports.

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Measuring Difference: Constructing Race, Gender, and Ability

Open, Seminar—Spring | 5 credits

In this seminar, we will explore the sociology of classification, a subfield that critiques the ways in which society measures differences like race, gender, ability, and other social categories that communicate social worth. Three questions guide our inquiry: How does society construct and understand categories of difference? How do people experience and resist categories of social difference in themselves? How does social difference shape institutions like the family, education, employment, and government? Each week, students will engage a selection of texts that put theory, substantive research on social categories, and critical responses to them in conversation with one another. For a final class project, students will explore one area of social difference through individual and group writing assignments. Those assignments will provide training in documentary analysis, a qualitative method often used in historical and ethnographic research. Students will leave the course with the ability to identify areas of social difference, the practices through which these are produced, and a systematic critique of the ways in which measurement creates inequality in the social world.

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Lineages of Utopia

Sophomore and Above, Seminar—Spring | 5 credits

Utopias have existed in human history for centuries. Guided by a critique of the world as constituted, utopias have been vehicles for both imagining and constructing a different socio-spatial order. In this seminar, we will examine the materialization of utopias in physical space and the logic(s) that informed them. Rather than dealing simply with the abstract ideas behind utopian thinking, we will examine a diversity of socio-spatial formations—both as a critique of the present state of existence and as a practice rooted in a radically divergent notion of the future. It is the contention of this course that utopias, rather than being solely imaginary, are deeply historical and informed by existing social conditions. With the objective of analyzing utopias as materialized practices, we will look at different kinds of utopian communities, ranging from millenarian movements, to socialist, anarchist and countercultural experiments, to the Occupy Wall Street movement. We will also examine architectural and aesthetic utopias which, like their more explicitly movement-based counterparts, attempt to visualize and rethink space—which remains an essential utopian preoccupation. Our foray into these various utopian designs is meant to get us to interrogate the impulses undergirding these practices instead of an approach that dwells primarily on their sustainability over time. We will attempt to understand the traces that these various experiments have bequeathed us regarding activism, social transformation, and the potential for a more just world. Participants in this seminar will be encouraged to address our living relationship with utopia by asking how we might, both individually and collectively, work to create, experience, or perform utopia without ascribing a totalizing vision to it. Student projects might take the form of a close examination of specific utopian practices or be based on creative projects and/or fictional utopias frequently encountered in science-fiction novels and film. Particular activist movements—such as Black Lives Matter, LGNTQ+ activism, and feminist movements—can also be seen as ways of visualizing futures that depart from the historical present, out of which such movements emerge and in which they are embedded. As such, these, too, have a vision of the future that is at odds with the present and will provide fertile ground for conference work. Finally, while the course will not specifically address the vexed relationship between utopias and dystopia, an examination of the latter remains yet another possible line of inquiry for student projects.

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Ethnographic Research and Writing

Advanced, Seminar—Year

Javanese shadow theatre, Bedouin love poems, and American community life are but a few of the cultural realities that anthropologists have effectively studied and written about. This is no easy task, given the substantial difficulties involved in understanding and portraying the concerns, activities, and lifeworlds other than one’s own. Despite those challenges, ethnographic research is generally considered one of the best ways to form a nuanced and contextually rich understanding of a particular social world. To gain an informed sense of the methods, challenges, and benefits of just such an approach, students in this course will try their hands at ethnographic research and writing. In the fall semester, each student will be asked to undertake an ethnographic research project in order to investigate the features of a specific social world, such as a homeless shelter, a religious festival, or a neighborhood in Brooklyn. In the spring, she or he will craft a fully realized piece of ethnographic writing that conveys something of the features and dynamics of that world in lively, accurate, and comprehensive terms. Along the way, and with the help of anthropological writings that are either exceptional or experimental in nature, we will collectively think through some of the most important features of ethnographic projects, such as interviewing others, the use of fieldnotes, the interlacing of theory and data, the role of dialogue and the author’s voice in ethnographic prose, and the ethnical and political responsibilities that come with any attempt to understand and portray the lives of others.

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Telling Lives: Life History in Anthropology

Open, Seminar—Fall

Through studying life-history narratives (one person’s life as narrated to another), autobiographical memoir, archival documents, and more experimental forms in print and on screen, we will explore the diverse ways that life courses are experienced and represented. Throughout our readings, we will carefully examine the narratives themselves, paying attention to the techniques of life-history construction and familiarizing ourselves with ethical, methodological, and theoretical challenges. We will consider a number of questions about telling lives: What is the relationship between the narrator and his or her interlocutor(s)? How does a life-history approach inform debates about representation? What can the account of one person’s life tell us about the wider culture of which he or she is a part? How can individual life narratives shed light on issues such as poverty, sexuality, colonialism, disability, racism, and aging? The selected texts attend to lives in various parts of the world, including Australia, Great Britain, the Caribbean, East Africa, and the United States. Students will also analyze primary sources and create a life history as part of their work for the course.

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Children in Imperial Projects

Sophomore and Above, Seminar—Fall

At the close of 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 Kenyan settler children growing up with African playmates and expressed her concerns about the morally deleterious effects of such play on these 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 success of imperial projects. In this seminar, we will examine a series of cases to understand the diverse roles, both intentional and unintentional, of children in imperial 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 and fathers) 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 poor-houses of the responsibility of taking care of them. The ancestors of many contemporary citizens of Canada, Australia, and South Africa were exported from metropolitan orphanages as children. In our intellectual explorations, 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 materials for this class include fiction, memoirs, scholarly texts, ethnographic accounts, historical documents, and visual images.

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First-Year Studies: Working USA: American Workers in the Globalized Political Economy

Open, FYS—Year

Globalization, neoliberal political institutions, and information technology have created foundational changes in the structure and content of work, both in the United States and around the globe. These changes have also had an enormous impact on workers’ traditional modes of organizing and on their ability to pursue their economic and political interests. Today, only 6.7 percent of private-sector workers in the United States belong to unions. Partly as a result, inequality in the United States today rivals that of the pre-Depression 1920s, our (already modest) welfare state is in retreat, and political discourse and policy have become increasingly reflective of the interests of the wealthy. This course will explore the state of US workers (both native-born and immigrant) from the Civil War to the present. We’ll examine the major changes in the structure of the US economy (e.g., from small, competitive firms to huge, transnational oligopolies) and the implications of those changes on workers’ lives and the possibilities for organizing. We’ll explore the history of workers’ attempts to organize and the obstacles to their success, including divisions by race, gender, nativity, and sexual orientation/identity. We’ll examine recent efforts—such as worker centers, social movement unionism, and nonprofit organizing—to improve the conditions of workers outside a traditional union framework. And, time permitting, we’ll compare the state of the US labor movement with that of workers in selected countries. Requirements for the course include frequent short papers and periodic group presentations on the readings and a yearlong conference research project. During the fall semester, students will meet with the instructor weekly for individual conferences. In the spring, we will meet weekly or every other week, depending on the students’ needs and the progress of their conference projects. Required texts will include: Beaten Down, Worked Up: The Past, Present, and Future of American Labor by Steven Greenhouse, The Southern Key: Class, Race, and Radicalism in the 1930s and 1940s by Michael Goldfield, To the Promised Land: Martin Luther King and the Fight for Economic Justice by Michael Honey, and Making the Woman Worker: Precarious Labor and the Fight for Global Standards 1919-2019 by Eileen Boris.

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Introduction to Economic Theory and Policy

Open, Lecture—Year

Economics has a profound impact on all of our lives, from where we live and go to school to what we do for a living, what we eat, and how we entertain ourselves. Economics is also crucially intertwined with the social and political issues that we care about, from global climate change to poverty and discrimination. We begin this course with a brief history of the US economy, including the economic impact of slavery, unpaid household labor, and immigration. We then introduce a variety of approaches to economic analysis, including neoclassical, Keynesian, behavioral, Marxian, and feminist. Finally, we’ll apply those contrasting theoretical perspectives to current economic issues and controversies. Requirements include frequent, short, writing assignments and participation in both small-group work in class and group conferences.

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Political Economy of Global Climate Change

Open, Large seminar—Fall

Climate change caused by greenhouse gas emissions will be the number-one global threat of the 21st century. Global warming has caused destructive effects on the environment and on human society and has pushed our planet past the boundary within which humanity can safely operate. Scientists estimated that we had, at most, one generation in which we could take actions to prevent us from going beyond the point of no return. In 2016, parties to the Paris Agreement committed to a target of keeping the increase in global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels; however, by far, almost no major industrialized or industrializing countries are doing enough to meet the target. Drawing on economics and interdisciplinary materials, this seminar will provide a political economy analysis of global climate change. Have economists been playing a constructive role in climate-change policies? Can we price carbon? How are interest groups in the society promoting and blocking climate actions? How should we reform global institutions to promote climate actions? Who benefits from global economic activities that cause global warming, and who bears the costs? Why is climate change also rooted in the global history of racial discrimination and gender discrimination? By the end of this seminar, you will be able to form a holistic understanding of global climate change, conduct political-economy research on climate change, and make policy proposals.

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Environmental and Ecological Economics: Theories and Policies

Open, Seminar—Fall

Since the 19th century, generations of economists have analyzed the role of environment and natural resources in society and the economy. 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 most places in the developed world, environmental quality has improved significantly in the past decades. How can we explain such progress? Should efficiency be the top concern in protecting the environment? How can we incorporate equity and justice in environmental decision-making? What political-economy factors are determining environmental policies? What do we mean by “sustainability”? By the end of the seminar, you will be able to apply theories of environmental economics and ecological economics to real-world problems, conduct independent research in environmental and ecological economics, and form policy proposals.

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Intermediate Microeconomics

Intermediate, Seminar—Fall

What assumptions, methodologies, values, vision, and theoretical foundations do microeconomists incorporate and rely upon for analyzing economic behavior at the individual level? What insights, knowledge, inferences, and/or conclusions can be gleaned through examining characteristics of individual firms, agents, households, and markets in order to understand capitalist society? How do our theories of individual and business behavior inform our interpretation of distributional outcomes? Among other topics, this semester-long seminar in intermediate microeconomics will offer an inquiry into economic decision-making vis-à-vis: theories of demand and supply; the individual (agents); households; consumption (consumer choice); theories of production and costs; theories of the firm; theories of markets, market governance, and competition; prices and pricing theory; and business legal history. As a course that is designed for students interested in pursuing the study of economics at the graduate-school level, this course will provide a rigorous analysis of theory and policy in the neoclassical and political economy traditions. A central theoretical issue will be an engagement of the “governments versus markets” dichotomy, which is at the heart of neoclassical economics. This important theme will be addressed by investigating the rival treatments of institutions in neoclassical economics (new institutionalism) and the law and political economy tradition. Among other topics, we will analyze how these different approaches to institutions and the economy study cost-benefit analysis, Pareto optimality, business competition, and the Coase Theorem. Students should be prepared to deploy their high-school level math skills in dealing with certain topics.

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Political Economy of Environmental Justice

Open, 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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Political Economy of Cities

Open, Large seminar—Spring

Today, more than 50 percent of the world population—4.2 billion people—live in urban areas. By 2050, the global urban population will more than double its current size, and nearly 70 percent of the population in the world will live in cities. Understanding the economic future of human societies requires understanding cities. As cities become hubs of innovation, trade, finance, and modern life, there is also a rapid urbanization of inequity, inequality, and injustice among class, race, and gender. In this seminar, we will examine modern cities from a political-economy perspective. We will discuss foundational and classical perspectives of cities, including the Chicago school; neoclassical economics and location theory; Marxist school; and feminist, poststructuralist, and postcolonial approaches. We will examine issues such as urban poverty and inequality, environmental degradation, job precarity, intercity and intracity social and economic dynamics, rural-urban dynamics, and democratic governance of cities.

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Media Lab: Youth Education and Community Engagement

Open, Seminar—Year

This yearlong course is designed for students with a strong interest in community work and digital-media production. We’ll explore new forms of research creation and pedagogical, performative mode of engagement by considering the role of digital media in making new connections, building friendships, and forging communities. We’ll begin the year by examining the relation of aesthetics to politics and exploring the myriad ways in which theory and praxis can inform one another—with special attention to digital-media pedagogy. Students will engage in a series of short exercises that will equip them with the basic skills needed for digital-media production. Students will then have the opportunity to put those skills into practice, as we design a new kind of after-school program and host a digital-media workshop for youth in consultation with the College’s community partners in Westchester (schedules and groups TBD). This course asks students to play the role of teaching artists, integrating their art form, perspectives, and skills into the community setting. Students will team up to teach and support youth participants to create short audio (fall) and multimedia pieces (spring) through which they show and tell stories about themselves and their communities. All workshops will take place on campus for four Saturdays in the first semester (in October and November) and possibly more in the second semester. This format will allow us to cultivate emerging moments of coming together that vitalize creative making, as well as to find innovative ways to share what was learned from the teaching experience. This interdisciplinary and practice-based course invites students from all disciplines. No prior experience in teaching and/or media production is required.

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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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Introduction to Development Studies: The Political Ecology of Development

Sophomore and Above, Seminar—Fall

In this seminar, we will begin by examining competing paradigms and approaches to understanding “development” and the “Third World.” We will set the stage by answering the question: What did the world look like 500 years ago? The purpose of this part of the course is to acquaint us with and to analyze the historical origins and evolution of a world political-economy of which the “Third World” is an intrinsic component. We will thus study the transition from feudalism to capitalism, the rise of merchant and finance capital, and the colonization of the world by European powers. We will analyze case studies of colonial “development” to understand the evolving meaning of this term. These case studies will help us assess the varied legacies of colonialism apparent in the emergence of new nations through the fitful and uneven process of decolonization that followed. The next part of the course will look at the United Nations and the role 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 North America. 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, you will be encouraged to do primary research over fall study days. Some experience in the social sciences is desired but not required.

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Nationalism

Open, Large seminar—Fall

This course provides a broad historical and theoretical inquiry into the phenomenon of nationalism—one of the most enduring ideological constructs of modern society. Indeed, the organization of the globe into a world of bordered territorial nation states—each encapsulating a unique social identity—is such a taken-for-granted feature of contemporary geopolitics that it is easy to forget that nations did not exist for most of human history and that nationalism dates back only to around the 1700s. And yet, despite many predictions of its imminent demise at different moments in history—Albert Einstein quipped famously that nationalism was an “infantile disease” that humanity would eventually outgrow—nationalism remains perhaps as powerful an ideological force as ever in the United States, as elsewhere. This course will examine a range of foundational questions about the emergence of nations and nationalism in world history: What is a nation, and how has national identity been cultivated, defined, and debated in different contexts? Why did nationalism emerge when it did? Who does nationalism benefit, and how do different social groups compete for control over national identity and ideology? How and why did nationalism become such a vital feature of anticolonial political movements beginning in the late-19th century? Is nationalism fundamentally a negative force—violent and exclusionary—or is it necessary for forging cohesive social bonds among diverse and far-flung populations? The course will begin with the emergence of nations and nationalism in Western Europe but will then move on to explore its evolution and ensuing spread to all parts of the globe, exploring a number of case studies along the way. The course will conclude with a brief survey of the state of nationalist politics today, with a particular emphasis on Brexit and white nationalism in the United States.

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Environmental Politics, Informality, and Democracy in Brazilian History

Open, Seminar—Fall

When wildfires spread across the Brazilian Amazon in the summer of 2019, international concern spread rapidly. Containing more than one-third of the world’s primary rain forest, Brazil has featured prominently in hopes for a carbon-neutral future. Yet, Brazil is also home to a complicated past. Since the colonial era, inequality and authoritarianism have competed with democratic reforms and populist social movements. From the occupation of urban favelas by poor families to the development practices of wealthy corporations, legal reforms have often given way to the politics of informality—gray areas beyond the law. How have these politics enabled democracy, and how have they subverted it? And what have they meant for environmental conservation efforts? This course seeks to peel back the layers of informal politics in Brazilian history, with specific attention to the intersection of informal practices, democracy, and environmental politics in the present. We will begin by examining indigenous environmental practices before 1492 and continue with the Iberian glorifications of the walled city as a site of order and the social implications of sugar production and slave society. We will continue by examining the rise of populism in the 1930s; slum clearance in the 1940s and ’50s; contemporary indigenous social movements; and the explosion of drug traffic, gentrification, and deforestation in a neoliberal age. Along the way, we will trace the destruction of Brazil’s once vast Atlantic Forest near Rio de Janeiro, the rise of the Green Party in Brazilian politics, and future prospects for the Amazon. The course makes use of a variety of sources, including scholarship, films, and novels, with a critical analysis of urban popular music..

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

Open, Small Lecture—Fall

As the capitalistic and predatory model aggressively promoted by the United States continues to reveal itself as a major threat to biodiversity and the environment in general, it is vital to understand the cultural and literary history of the concept of “nature” that is at the core of the Western and Judeo-Christian tradition while also putting that concept in the context of gender, race, and ethnicity in America today. For example, comparing stories of world creation from indigenous nations, with narratives taken from the Bible and from Greek and Roman classical texts, will allow us to better grasp how language in the European tradition functions as a deep divider between humans and other living creatures. We will also follow the development of the genre of the pastoral as an idealized construction of nature that deeply influenced Europe from third-century BC to 19th-century English and American Romanticism. We will try to better understand how the conception of wilderness in America is in close relation to the presence of enslaved black bodies on its land. Going in a different direction, we will analyze how contemporary feminism and gender studies provide crucially important models to invent new ways for the West to relate to nature. Animals will also be a focus of our discussions, from classical representations of animals as machines to the use of models like the burrow or territoriality imported from the animal realm by Deleuze and Guattari, to the possibility of shifting from a humanist understanding of nature inherited from European Renaissance, to new forms of ecocentric expression. These are some of the themes that we will cover in this lecture, with the goal of reading texts of the past in order to better understand the complexities of today’s discussions and debates about how to invent new forms of relating to the living environment around us.

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An Introduction to Statistical Methods and Analysis

Open, Lecture—Spring

Variance, correlation coefficient, regression analysis, 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. Group conferences, 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 advanced undergraduate or graduate research in the natural sciences or social sciences.

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The Beatles

Open, Large seminar—Spring

The impact of The Beatles has been immeasurable. In their seven years as a recording band, they explored and enlarged every aspect of songwriting technique, producing one musical milestone after the next. This class will trace the development of The Beatles chronologically through their 12 original English albums and the singles that were released alongside them. We will focus on the ways in which The Beatles used harmony, phrase structure, rhythm, structural ambiguity, and sonority in continuously innovative ways. We will also look at some of the of musical styles and cultural phenomena that The Beatles assimilated and transformed—from early rock & roll, Motown, and The Goon Show to 1960s counterculture—and explore how The Beatles, in turn, influenced music and culture in the 1960s. There will also be guest-led discussions by other members of the music faculty on the following topics: The Beatles and the evolution of studio recording; the use of electronic music techniques (Yannelli); Norwegian Wood and the great sitar explosion (Higgins); electric guitar techniques (Alexander); and acoustic guitar techniques (Anderson). There are no conferences.

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Women Philosophers in the 20th and 21st Centuries

Open, Seminar—Year

Western philosophy originated in Ancient Greece more than 2,000 years ago, addressing fundamental questions about being and time, about the human condition, about ethics and politics, about science and religion. Despite the fundamental and universal nature of these questions, philosophy was practiced (at least publicly) mostly by men for the majority of those 2,000 years. It was not until the 20th century that this convention began to be significantly challenged, both practically (by the fact that more and more women entered the forefront of philosophical discussion) and theoretically (by questioning the validity and scope of this male-dominant tradition). This yearlong course is a survey of 20th-century continental philosophy that, countering the aforementioned tradition, focuses exclusively on the work of women in philosophy. Among the authors we may read are Sarah Ahmed, Hannah Arendt, Simone de Beauvoir, Talia Bettcher, Judith Butler, bell hooks, Luce Irigaray, Melany Klein, Julia Kristeva, Audre Lorde, Maria Lugones, Simone Weil, Sylvia Winter, and Virginia Woolf. Some of these philosophers are feminists or consider the issue of sexual difference as central to their work or to philosophy in general; some are not. More importantly for our purposes, surveying their thought will be our means of acquiring a comprehensive view of the key developments in continental philosophy of the 20th and 21st centuries and the relations between them, including phenomenology, existentialism, psychoanalysis, critical theory, structuralism and poststructuralism, feminism, black feminism, and trans-feminism, decolonial and queer theories. During the fall semester, in addition to biweekly individual conferences, first-year students will have a biweekly group conference, in which we will discuss the nature of academic work in general and practice research, reading, writing, and editing skills.

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International Politics and Ethnic Conflict

Open, Seminar—Spring

Writing about the democratic transitions and ethnic conflicts that followed the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, Holocaust survivor and writer Elie Wiesel pessimistically declared in his 2002 novel, The Judges, that “the malevolent ghosts of hatred are resurgent with a fury and a boldness that are as astounding as they are nauseating: ethnic conflicts, religious riots, anti-Semitic incidents here, there, and everywhere. What is wrong with these morally degenerate people that they abuse their freedom, so recently won?” Although written from a perspective of moral outrage, one would be hard-pressed to find a quote that more accurately illuminates both the sense of severity associated with ethnic conflict, broadly defined, and the absolute lack of understanding of its causes. Indeed, the end of the Cold War was seen by many conservative and liberal thinkers as “the end of history” and the beginning of a steady march toward global political stability and peace. Yet, despite an explosion in the number of electoral democracies, the frequency and intensity of bloody and brutal scenes of ethnic violence seemed to belie all expectations. The proliferation of such violence over the last 30 years has thus caused many scholars and policymakers to more critically examine their assumptions about the sources and potential solutions to the problem of ethnic conflict as an international problem. Despite significant evidence to the contrary, commentators like Wiesel and even many politicians still frequently attribute the sources of such strife to the existence of “morally degenerate people,” ethnic diversity, or the history of animosity between various ethnic communities. Looking at the problem from a more holistic perspective—which engages with the economic, cultural, and political motivations underlying ethnic conflict—this course will challenge those commonly held assumptions about the cause of ethnic violence and explore some possible solutions for preventing further conflicts or resolving existing ones. Some of the questions that this course will address include: What are the main sources behind political conflicts deemed “ethnic”? How and for what purposes are race and ethnicity constructed? What is the role of the international community in managing ethnic conflicts? What is the effect of democratization on territorial integrity and political conflict between ethnically divided communities? What constitutional designs, state structures, and electoral systems are most compatible with ethnically divided societies?

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Crossing Borders and Boundaries: The Social Psychology of Immigration

Open, Small Lecture—Fall

Immigration is a worldwide phenomenon, whereby 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 begins with some theoretical perspectives on immigration, as well as a brief historical overview of sociological and social psychological research on immigrants. We then examine the identity of the immigrant, stressing the profound distinctions between forced and voluntary immigrants. We will analyze the processes through which “illegality” is constructed by reflecting on the lives of undocumented immigrants. We will look at how the intersections of race, class, gender, sexuality, and culture shape the psychological experience of immigrants. Seeking to extend our analysis to immigration’s impact on the host population, we conclude the course by discussing several social psychological issues, such as intergroup relations, discrimination, and modes of adaptation.

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Play and Imagination

Open, Seminar—Fall

Children’s play is considered the primary mode of communication for all children. This course examines children’s embodied storytelling, imaginative drawings, toys, and free play, as children themselves rarely separate play from the arts. A sophisticated set of processes often trivialized, psychologist Brian Sutton-Smith states, “The flexibility of the imagination, of play, and of the playful is the ultimate guarantor of our survival” (1997). Topics to be addressed include: play in the time of COVID, play aggression and trauma, and access to play as a social-justice issue. The course may involve observational fieldwork and online toy study, as we examine children’s opportunities for play, learning, and development. Students will read critical works in the psychology of play and recent cutting-edge, interdisciplinary research. There will be discussions, documentaries, and class presentations. Conference projects may relate to a literature review about a topic of interest, an original study, and/or a creative piece reflecting course insights and imaginings.

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Urban Health

Open, Seminar—Fall

This community partnership course will focus on the health of humans living within physical, social, and psychological urban spaces. We will use a constructivist, multidisciplinary, multilevel lens to examine the interrelationship between humans and the natural and built environment, to explore the impact of social group (ethnic, racial, sexuality/gender) membership on person/environment interactions, and to explore an overview of theoretical and research issues in the psychological study of health and illness across the lifespan. We will examine theoretical perspectives in the psychology of health, health cognition, illness prevention, stress, and coping with illness; and we will highlight research, methods, and applied issues. This class is appropriate for those interested in a variety of health careers or anyone interested in city life. The community-partnership/service-learning component is an important part of this class. We will work with local agencies to promote health-adaptive, person-environment interactions within our community.

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Doing Research With Young People

Open, Seminar—Spring

How is research conducted with young people? What are the ethical dilemmas when working with children, adolescents, and young adults? Instead of focusing on traditional research methods on subjects, this course will explore the possibilities of conducting research with, or alongside, young people. This is an interdisciplinary course, and our readings will be pulled from a variety of disciplines, including psychology, sociology, history, anthropology, education, criminal justice, and critical childhood studies. First, we will examine the sociohistorical context of children, adolescents, and youth. Next, we will investigate the rights of young people and the policies that designate them as protected populations. This course will survey a number of different research methods with youth participants, including but not limited to interviews, mapping, narrative analysis, youth participatory action research, and visual and performative research. We will apply a critical eye to a number of case studies of young people dismantling systemic oppression and working toward racial, immigration, and environmental justice. Students will develop their own conference project, focusing on how to conduct research with young people. Fieldwork in partnership with the Early Childhood Center or Community Partnerships is also possible.

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The Psychology of Social Influence

Intermediate, Seminar—Spring

Individuals are often influenced by others and by the social situations in which they find themselves. Social influence refers to the processes by which a person or group changes, or attempts to change, the opinions, beliefs, and/or behaviors of another person or group. This process can be either intentional or unintentional. In this seminar, we will examine the basic concepts, theories, and applications of social influence by reviewing four of its key areas: conformity, innovation, compliance, and obedience. Additionally, we will explore some related topics to demonstrate the pervasive nature of social influence. The topics to be addressed include attitude measurement and attitude change, propaganda, cults, subliminal persuasion, and the use and abuse of persuasion in our current social context. The seminar will make use of case studies and situations in daily life to better illustrate how social influence works.

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From Secure Communities to the DREAM Act: Critical Themes and Reflections in Immigration Policy, the Livelihoods of Migrants, and Societal Inequality

Open, Seminar—Spring

Immigration has been a recurring and polarizing political issue in the United States and globally. During the Trump administration, we witnessed sweeping changes to our immigration and enforcement systems. While some of those changes were sharp disjunctures from the previous Obama administration, others have roots and continuities with earlier administrations. Now, again, immigration is set to be a central part of public debate and policymaking. And yet, despite immigration having been a central part of public debate in contemporary politics, it is still debated as if it were ahistorical and decontextualized. In this semester-long course, students will explore critical themes in the study of immigration and policy. We will answer questions such as: How do federal, state, and local immigration policies and their linkages impact the livelihood of migrants, and what does that mean for the shaping of societal inequality? Where is the most effective location at which to effect policy change, why, and how? More specifically, this course will trace critical moments of immigration policymaking at multiple scales and in multiple arenas. We will also center the contemporary moment by exploring the policies of the Biden/Harris administration and situating these within broader trajectories of policymaking. Finally, students will contribute to ongoing debates by reflecting on where we are and what we can we do to create a better system and a more equitable society.

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Gold Hoops, Red Lipstick, and YHLQMDLG: The Cultural in Everyday Politics and The Political in Everyday Culture

Sophomore and Above, Seminar—Spring

While ideas of politics and policy change can focus on electoral and sometimes contentious politics, the role of culture is important in (re)shaping ideas and discourses on particular issues and as political acts in and of themselves. For example, the visual imagery, musical soundtracks, theatre productions of migrant justice, Black Lives Matter, climate justice, and many other social movements have aided in providing and disseminating counternarratives and political claims that disrupt everyday institutional politics. In doing so, these cultural productions can help to build movements and provide power to those on the outside seeking change. Everyday culture, however, can also be political. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sonia Sotomayor have raised the significance of gold hoops and red lipstick as fashion choices rooted in Latinx communities but also as symbols of disruption, as they are Latinx women traversing hegemonic political spaces. Trap artist Bad Bunny debuted his studio album, YHLQMDLG, during a mobile concert in New York that started in the Bronx, traveled through Washington Heights, and ended in Harlem. According to anthropologist Yarimar Bonilla, while on its face the concert was expressly apolitical, the route it traversed, the date it was planned, and the songs themselves posed a political critique of a history of governmental neglect; it marked the eve of the devastation of Hurricane Maria and traversed historically Latino communities that have been most devastated by the current pandemic. At the same time, the mobile concert provided Latino communities a respite, a moment of collective joy and celebration that was also a response and production of this time of social distancing and the end of large gatherings. Popular culture in the form of beauty, fashion, music, and other productions and practices is shaped by, and responds to, cultural, political, and historical forces in ways that can sustain or reject dominant hegemonic constructions. This course, then, aims to provide an understanding of how the political marshals culture, of how everyday practices of looking and consuming are mediated through fields of power, and of how these practices can become the locus of world-building for different marginalized communities. In centering culture in this course, race, immigration, and gender/sexuality become important axes of analysis, as they have been intimately linked with major social movements and with world-making on the margins. While the course will cover politics and popular culture historically, it will also highlight current movements and social issues and include a community engagement component that will help to situate the course’s themes in time and place.

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The Emergence of Christianity

Open, Seminar—Year

Perhaps no one has not heard the name of a seemingly obscure carpenter’s son executed by the Romans around 33 CE. Why? The religion that we call Christianity shaped the Western world for at least 1,500 years. In this course, we will study the origins of that tradition. As we study those origins, we will explore Judaism in the strange and fertile Second Temple period (515 BCE–70 CE). We will encounter the learned societies of holy men like the Pharisees and the Qumran sectarians, as well as the freedom fighter/terrorists called the Zealots. Our main source will be the New Testament of the Christian Bible, though these sources will be supplemented by other primary materials. Excerpts from the Dead Sea Scrolls, rabbinic literature, as well as other Hellenistic texts from that period provide the cultural backdrop in which Christianity has its roots. We will learn about the spread of the new movement of “Christians,” as they were called by their detractors in Antioch, from its roots in the Holy Land into the greater Greco-Roman world. How did that movement, which began among the Jews of the Eastern Mediterranean, come to be wholly associated with Gentiles by the end of the second century? Who became Christian? Why were they hated so much by the greater Greco-Roman society? What did they believe? How did they behave? What are the origins of Christian anti-Semitism? What kind of social world, with its senses of hierarchy and gender relations, did these people envision for themselves?

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

Advanced, Seminar—Fall

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: Two Lenses on Writing

Open, FYS—Year

The first semester of this FYS course will be focused on words and pictures, with its central lens on stories: how to find them, tell them, and make your listener, viewer, or reader come along with you. The course includes adding a visual element, photography, drawing, paste-ups, collage, animations, anime. We will read and then make a few of the following: a collective graphic novel, some children's books, adult books with pictures, illuminated manuscripts, comics. Your conference work will be a finished version of a project of your choice. The second semester of the course will be a class in episodes: pieces of a continuing story that follow a thread but may have different leading characters in each episode; or a frame, with many peoples' stories inside; or movement from one time, place, and set of characters to another. We will bring in and discuss episodes that we love in books, TV, podcasts. We will do exercises until we come upon something that engages us and then start our conference work, which will involve six episodes, more or less. In both semesters, we will have an extra meeting every other week to discuss whatever comes up: paper writing, social issues, food, procrastination. These sessions may be led by the professor, outside speakers, or a rotating group of students.

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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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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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