Social Sciences Course Descriptions

SOSC 11100-11200-11300. Power, Identity, and Resistance.

The first quarter of this course focuses on the work of three central figures in modern political economy and social theory: Adam Smith, Karl Marx, and Emile Durkheim. The aim of Autumn Quarter is to introduce students to the very idea of theorizing about society, economy, and politics through close readings of central works of each author. The focus is on the organization of economic process and the ways in which it relates to social and political relations and institutions. The central questions are these: How historically distinctive is the modern form of capitalist economy? Do human beings "naturally" act in certain ways in the economy and society? How much can individual self-control be relied on? What is the role of power in economic life? Winter Quarter focuses on modern liberalism and its critics. The course investigates the distinctly modern liberal claim that society or groups of associated individuals make states for their own protection and the governance of their affairs. Authors are interrogated on questions concerning individuality, liberty, equality, the limitation of state power, the importance of stability, the value of democratic participation in governance, the role that organized society plays in political life, and the degree to which social and political relations vary historically, among other issues. Both defenders and critics of the liberal conception of liberty and the state are addressed. Texts include Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Burke, Hegel, Tocqueville, Mill, Marx, and Schmitt. Spring Quarter analyzes the way in which selected themes from the first two quarters work themselves out in the history of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Broadly, we consider the role and place of violence in liberal thought and practice. Problems of individual psychological violence as well as social and political violence are considered. Readings vary by year but have included include texts by Kant, Nietzsche, Freud, Fanon, DuBois, Arendt, Martin Luther King, Foucault, de Beauvoir, and Butler.

SOSC 12100-12200-12300. Self, Culture, and Society

The classic social theories of Smith, Marx, and Weber, along with contemporary ethnographic and historical works, serve as points of departure for considering the characterizing features of the modern world. Particular emphasis is given to the modern world's social-economic structure and issues of work, the texture of time, and economic globalization. Winter quarter focuses on the relation of culture, social life, and history. On the basis of readings from Durkheim, Lévi-Strauss, Sahlins, Foucault, Benjamin, Adorno, and other anthropologists and cultural theorists, we investigate how systems of meaning expressed through metaphors, symbols, rituals, and narratives constitute and articulate individual and social experience across a range of societies, including our own, and how those systems of meaning change historically. In spring, we concern ourselves with the question of how personhood is constructed socially, culturally, and historically. Our considerations include issues of gender, sexuality, and ethnic identity, through the study of the wide range of approaches found in the works of Freud, Mauss, Mead, Marcuse, Vygotsky, de Beauvoir, Fanon, and others.

SOSC 13100-13200-13300. Social Science Inquiry

Contemporary culture is awash in scientific claims about the human condition. As evident in best-sellers like Freakonomics, Moneyball, and The Tipping Point, a data-driven conception of social life is occurring not just in the higher echelons of business or government, but in popular discourse as well. This course provides an introduction to this "positivist" approach. The Autumn Quarter starts by introducing students to the various ways that social scientists think about the world. Examples include theoretical models from Milton Friedman, Thomas Schelling, and John Nash; path-breaking experiments from Stanley Milgram and Daniel Kahneman; and quantitative research on topics ranging from voting to gun violence to baby names. Through these works, students will learn how researchers theorize about social phenomena. In the Winter Quarter, students will be introduced to social science research tools. They will learn how to collect data, conduct experiments, and make causal inferences from statistics. Using the General Social Survey, the National Election Studies, and other surveys, students will gain hands-on experience working with large data sets. In the Spring Quarter, students will conduct their own substantial research project. Students will learn how to translate their ideas into research questions, their theories into testable hypotheses, and their findings into meaningful conclusions. By year's end, students will develop a critical perspective on many perennial social questions and, ultimately, acquire "quantitative literacy," essential skills in an increasingly data-driven world.

SOSC 15100-15200-15300. Classics of Social and Political Thought

What is justice? What makes a good society? What is the best form of government? What is the relation between a good citizen and a good human being? When are obedience, resistance or revolt justified? What is the role of religion in politics? This sequence explores such fundamental questions through classic writings from Plato, Aristotle, and Aquinas and from the works of the great founders and critics of modernity as Machiavelli, Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Tocqueville, Mill, Marx, Nietzsche, and DuBois. Writing before our departmentalization of disciplines, they were at the same time sociologists, psychologists, political scientists, economists, and moralists; they offer contrasting alternative conceptions of society and politics that underlie continuing controversies in the social sciences and in contemporary political life.

SOSC 13001-13002-13003. History of European Civilization

European Civilization is a two-quarter sequence designed to use close readings of primary sources to enrich our understanding of Europeans of the past. As we examine the variety of their experiences, we will often call into question what we mean in the first place by "Europe" and "civilization." Rather than providing a narrative of high politics, the sequence will emphasize the contested geographic, religious, social, and racial boundaries that have defined and redefined Europe and its people over the centuries. We will read and discuss sources covering the period from the early Middle Ages to the present, from a variety of genres: saga, biography, personal letters, property records, political treatises, memoirs, and government documents, to name only a few. Individual instructors may choose different sources and highlight different aspects of European civilization, but some of the most important readings will be the same in all sections. The two-quarter sequence may also be supplemented by a third quarter, in which students will have the opportunity to explore in greater depth a particular topic in the history of European civilization.