State and Society

Every aspect of our lives is shaped by the state. How do social theorists conceptualize the state? How did the modern state come to be? From where does it derive its legitimacy? We will look for the answers to these questions in the works of Marx, Weber, Foucault, Bourdieu, James Scott,  feminist scholarship, critical theory, as well as libertarian and anarchist scholarship.

We will then talk about how the involvement of the state in social and economic life has varied cross-nationally, and seek to understand in what ways the American statecraft is considered “exceptional.” We will learn about welfare states, penal states, racial states, straight states, submerged states, authoritarian states, strong and and weak states.

Law, Justice, and Democracy

In this advanced research seminar, we will study law through a political sociological lens.  We will ask: What is law? We will talk about what it means to think of law as a social construct. We will explore how these questions have been answered by social theorists like Marx, Weber, Durkheim, and Foucault, and by legal scholars writing in the tradition of legal positivism, legal realism, and critical legal studies.

We will then discuss how social phenomena get legally constructed. Who is a “person?” What is a “family?” What constitutes “speech?” What constitutes “religion?” Who is “the reasonable man? What is a “crime,” and who is a “criminal?” What counts as a “cruel and unusual” punishment? These questions have found myriad answers in different bodies of thought, understood and acted upon in a variety of ways by different social groups, and gained different levels of political salience in different societies at different times. As matters concerning the organization of public life, they are also, and inevitably, framed as legal problems and make their way to courts. We will examine how courts construct social phenomena through the lens of several historical cases.

We will talk about the relationship between law and justice. What does it mean for laws to be unjust? What are the normative arguments that have been made about how to respond unjust laws?

We will also talk about criminal justice. We will learn about the history of punishment, how the modern prison came to be, and why the penal state has expanded in the US. We will also talk about death penalty, and how, why, and when the modern state kills.

In the final part of the course, we will talk about the place of law and courts in the American system of government.

Rethinking Capitalism

Photograph of Wall Street in Panic Due to Heavy Trading - U.S. National Archives Public Domain ImageIn this course we will discuss the historical origins and rise of capitalism, as well as its failures and its future. Capitalist economies have generated growth and innovation. They have also generated inequality and caused massive exploitation. What is capitalism? How has capitalism evolved? What are its moral foundations? What types of capitalisms exist across the world? What is racial capitalism? Is an egalitarian capitalism possible? What are the unique aspects of American capitalism? How did the rise of finance in the last few decades affect state-economy relationship? Why do capitalist economies end up in decline and failures every so often? What do we learn from these crises? Can capitalism be reformed?

Politics: Fundamental Concepts

This first-year-seminar introduces students to the concepts that remain central to political life: capitalism, class, state, citizenship, power, civil society, democracy, liberalism, neoliberalism, conservatism, populism, fascism, anarchism, and intersectionality to name a few.