Desire and Demand
Does consumption shape culture or does culture shape consumption? As even the most mundane purchase becomes socially symbolic and culturally meaningful, we can persuasively argue that the concept of "need" has been transformed. Analyzing a variety of physical and virtual consumer venues, the goal of this seminar is to understand and to analyze historical and contemporary issues related to a culture of consumption. We investigate social and political-economic factors that impact when and how people purchase goods and argue that behavior attached to consumption includes a nexus of influences that may change periodically in response to external factors. Readings and research assignments are interdisciplinary and require a critical analysis of global/local linkages. The city of Philadelphia becomes the seminar's laboratory as we ask how have issues of culture, consumption, and global capitalism become intertwined around the world?Cultural Diversity in the U.S.
Euro Zone Crisis - The EU in a Currency War for Survival?
“Let me put it simply… there may be a contradiction between the interests of the financial world and the interests of the political world…. We cannot keep constantly explaining to our voters and our citizens why the taxpayer should bear the cost of certain risks and not those people who have earned a lot of money from taking those risks.”
Chancellor of Germany, at the G20 Summit,
In January 1999, a single monetary system united Germany, a core nation, with 10 other European states. Amidst the optimism of the euro’s first days, most observers forecast that Europe would progress toward an ever closer union. Indeed, in the ensuing decade, the European Union became the world's largest trading area, the euro area expanded to include 17 member states, and the Lisbon Treaty enhanced the efficiency and democratic legitimacy of the Union. In 2009, Greece’s debt crisis exposed deep rifts within the European Union and developed into a euro zone crisis – arguably the most difficult test Europe has faced in the past 60 years. After two years of a more benign EURO debt situation, the risk of recession, EU sanctions against Russia, and a possible collision of a newly-elected Greek government with its creditors, the euro crisis returns with a vengeance in 2015. Does the EU have what it takes to emerge from this crisis? Will the European nations find a collective constructive solution that will lead to a fiscal union that implies further integration?
At a time when Germany is increasingly expected to provide leadership to prevent the collapse of the EU, the goal of this seminar is to explore how and why the euro zone has arrived at the situation in which it now finds itself, and to consider how major European euro and non-euro members see the consequences of the crisis for their own role in the EU and what role the United States has to play in the future of the euro zone. Two major issues, the complexity of decision-making within the EU and the challenges to forming a European identity, further compound the issue. Studying different perspectives, the goal is to stimulate thinking about if and how different national identities of European member states and varying political, economic, and cultural climates still pose major obstacles to potential solutions to the crisis.
This freshman seminar on medical decision-making will focus on personal and public medical and health decisions - how we make them and how they can be improved. While in theory medical decisions are in large part both informed and constrained by scientific evidence, in reality they are much more complex. Drawing upon a range of information sources including textbooks, original research and popular media, the seminar will introduce students to the challenges of making personal and public (i.e., policy) decisions under conditions of inherent uncertainty and resources constraints and how research and scholarship can inform and improve decision making processes and decisions. Using a variety of highly engaging approaches (in-class discussions, examination of primary research, popular media, simple experiments, expert panel debates) this highly interactive seminar will provide students a strong introductory foundation to medical decision making specifically and, by extension, to decision making under conditions of uncertainty more generally. The seminar will take a multi-disciplinary perspective, drawing upon knowledge developed from psychology, sociology, economics, insurance and risk management, statistical inference, neuroscience, operations research, communications, law, ethics and political science.
The CDC estimates that 1 in 150 children have autism. Three decades ago, this number was 1 in 5,000. The communities in which these children are identified in ever increasing numbers are ill prepared to meet their needs. Scientists have struggled to understand the causes of this disorder, its treatment, and why it appears to be rapidly increasing. Families, policy makers, schools and the healthcare system have argued bitterly in the press and in the courts about the best way to care for these children and the best ways to pay for this care. In this class, we will use autism as a case study to understand how psychiatric and developmental disorders of childhood come to be defined over time, their biological and environmental causes identified, and treatments developed. We will also discuss the identification and care of these children in the broader context of the American education and healthcare systems.
Medical Missionaries and Partners
Global health is an increasingly popular goal for many modern leaders. Yet critics see evidence of a new imperialism in various aid programs. We will examine the evolution over time and place of programs designed to improve the health of underserved populations. Traditionally categorized as public health programs or efforts to achieve a just society, these programs often produce results that are inconsistent with these goals. We will examine the benefits and risks of past programs and conceptualize future partnerships on both a local and global stage. Students should expect to question broadly held beliefs about the common good and service. Ultimately we will examine the concept of partnership and the notion of community health, in which ownership, control, and goals are shared between outside expert and inside community member.
Social Identity in Language
Language and social interaction are fundamentally intertwined. In this course we will explore their influence on one another. In the first part of the semester we'll ask what we learn about someone from the way they speak: how social meaning is extracted from language. In the second part of the course we will ask how our social judgments about speakers influence the perception and processing of language itself. Themes throughout will include linguistics as a science, hypothesis formation and testing, experimental design, and the social impacts of linguistic bias.
Three sorts of questions belong to the philosophical study of ethics:
(a) Practical ethics discusses specific moral problems, often those we find most contested (e.g., abortion, euthanasia, killing noncombatants in war).
(b) Ethical theory tries to develop systematic answers to moral problems, often by looking for general principles that explain moral judgments and rules (e.g., consequentialism, contractarianism).
(c) Meta-ethics investigates questions about the nature of moral theories and their subject matter (e.g., are they subjective or objective, relative or non-relative?).
We will rigorously investigate all three of these types of questions. A large part of the course will be focused on two highly contentious moral problems, abortion and killing noncombatants in war.
The central aim of the required readings and discussion is a) to develop each question deeply and sharply enough for us to understand why it has been contentious; b) to see what new evidence could change the nature of the problem; and c) to suggest how to seek that further evidence. We will focus on how to read complex contemporary philosophical prose in order to outline and evaluate the arguments embedded with it. This will provide the basis for writing papers in which you defend a position with evidence and arguments.
These skills are central to the practice of Philosophy. This course does not presuppose that students already have these skills. It is intended to teach them and presupposes a willingness on the part of students to do what is necessary to learn them. What this involves is detailed in a note on Penn in Touch called "Success in the Course". You should read this note before deciding to enroll in the course so that you understand the commitments this course involves.
Graded work: weekly paragraphs on a topic of your choice; three papers in multiple drafts; take-home final exam; class participation.
The Contemporary American City and Its Challenges
This course explores the economic and social challenges facing large US cities since roughly 1965 as well as the cities' political responses. Its major topics include the changing relations between racial and ethnic groups, the political impact of suburbanization, and the political effects of deindustrialization and economic transformation. The course readings are drawn from recent urban political history and sociology as well as political science. The course pays special attention to the changing distribution of political and economic power in US metropolitan areas, and considers regional coordination and other potential policy responses.Cultural Diversity in the U.S.
Planning to Be Offshore?
In this course we will trace the economic development of India from 1947 to the present. Independent India started out as a centrally planned economy in 1949 but in 1991 decided to reduce its public sector and allow, indeed encourage, foreign investors to come in. The Planning Commission of India still exists but has lost much of its power. Many in the U.S. complain of American jobs draining off to India, call centers in India taking care of American customer complaints, American patient histories being documented in India, etc. At the same time, the U.S. government encourages highly trained Indians to be in the U.S.
Work and Careers in the 21st Century
This course will introduce social-science perspectives on work and careers. The focus will be jobs as they currently exist, and prominent emerging trends that are likely to affect careers and opportunities in coming decades. We will be investigating a number of questions, including the following:
How we will train the 21st century workforce? What skills will be needed? What technological changes are in progress that will affect where work is done, how it is done, and whether any workers at all will be needed? For example, will information technology make it easier to balance work and family, by facilitating work from home, or will the long reach of mobile communication technology make it difficult, if not impossible, to leave work and the workplace? How are relationships between employers and employees changing, and what are the implications of these changes going forward? Will the 21st century labor force be more diverse than ever before? If so, are adjustments going to be needed to effectively incorporate these diverse groups and capitalize on their talents and abilities?
Diversity, Technology and the Penn Experience
Penn is diverse in many ways. Let’s explore this diversity together and understand its subtleties. How has the word “diversity” evolved over the years? Why is it (at times) such a loaded concept? When, where and how does diversity change within various contexts? What does the concept mean in a university context? How might it change in the future? We will explore different constructions of diversity at Penn, in the context of new media. Have new technologies changed the ways in which we perceive culture, communicate and share ideas? Increasingly, we construct notions of ourselves and of others using video and social media in addition to personal experiences. How do such technologies define who we are, and the boundaries we draw to define “us” and “them”? Do sub-cultures thrive now in new ways? How does each student’s journey to Penn (childhood, high school) bring in new perspectives on the university?
Reflections on personal experiences in the context of theories (cultural capital, social capital and self-efficacy theory) will be a core part of this seminar. Readings and research assignments are interdisciplinary and will require critical analysis of both classic and contemporary perspectives.
Poverty and Inequality
What does it mean to live in poverty in the land of plenty? In this seminar, we will explore this question and others related to poverty in contemporary America. We will discuss topics such as poverty measurement, current poverty trends, the causes of poverty, and poverty-related outcomes. We will also consider inequalities in other related domains (e.g. the labor market, health, family, education, and the justice system) and how they help produce, maintain, and reproduce poverty and inequality. Throughout the semester, we will consider the roles of race/ethnicity, gender, age, and place. Lastly, we will examine anti-poverty policy programs in the U.S, their effectiveness, and how they compare to programs in other countries. To encourage engaged class discussions, students will complete short weekly response papers regarding course readings.Cultural Diversity in the U.S.
Homelessness & Urban Inequality
This freshman seminar examines the homelessness problem from a variety of scientific and policy perspectives. Contemporary homelessness differs significantly from related conditions of destitute poverty during other eras of our nation's history. Advocates, researchers and policymakers have all played key roles in defining the current problem, measuring its prevalence, and designing interventions to reduce it. The first section of this course examines the definitional and measurement issues, and how they affect our understanding of the scale and composition of the problem. Explanations for homelessness have also been varied, and the second part of the course focuses on examining the merits of some of those explanations, and in particular, the role of the affordable housing crisis. The third section of the course focuses on the dynamics of homelessness, combining evidence from ethnographic studies of how people become homeless and experience homelessness, with quantitative homelessness, research on the patterns of entry and exit from the condition. The final section of the course turns to the approaches taken by policymakers and advocates to address the problem, and considers the efficacy and quandaries associated with various policy strategies. The course concludes by contemplating the future of homelessness research and public policy.Cultural Diversity in the U.S.
Race and Identity: Coming of Age in 20th Century America
In this First Year Seminar we will use coming-of-age autobiographies to explore some of the most significant historical developments of the 20th century. By coming of age I mean autobiographies in which the author focuses primarily on the periods of childhood and adolescence into young adulthood. We will read books by people who lived during segregation in the South, the Great Depression, Japanese
Internment during World War II, and the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. We will consider many issues, including: race, racism, immigration, religion, social class, and gender. We will contemplate questions about identity, family, honesty, and memory. As we read each book we will examine an individual life in a particular place and time, and we will move out beyond the confines of a person, family, or town to explore the broader historical moment in which the individual lived. To make this deeper contextualization possible, the course is divided into segments that will allow us to study the historical context of the autobiography as well as engage in focused discussion of the texts themselves.
Feith Family Seminar: The Messianic Impulse in Jewish History
Among Judaism’s foundational ideas is the notion of a messiah, a messianic age, and a final denouement of history culminating in a perfect world of harmony and peace. The idea has served both to inspire Jews that, despite hardships of their collective past, there was a bright future waiting for them on the horizon. At the same time the messianic idea was also unsettling and destabilizing, assuming a quick and unnatural disruption of their normative Jewish life in Israel and the diaspora. This dual or dialectic function of the messianic idea, as Gershom Scholem once described it--to restore the previous existence and stability Jews once had but had lost or to establish instead something entirely new, a supernatural utopia unlike anything previously experienced--represents one of the principal foci of this course. The seminar will discuss the history of Jewish messianic ideas and messianism from antiquity until the present through reading primary sources in translation, including how rabbis, philosophers, and kabbalists understood the idea. It will linger on the most important messianic figure of pre-modern times, Shabbetai Zevi, the seventeenth century messianic mystic and his movement. It will also consider the secularized versions of messianism in the modern era as reflected in Reform Judaism, Zionism and socialism; and it will consider the contemporary manifestations of messianic behavior in modern Israel and among diaspora Jewry.Cross-Cultural Analysis
Life Stories in Early America
This seminar explores the social and cultural history of early America by focusing on the lives of specific individuals, ranging from Jesuit priests in early Quebec to Philadelphia politicians to Saramaka slaves to Maine midwives. As we critically examine biography and autobiography as two of history's most powerful narrative frames, we will concentrate on the spaces and places in the social landscape that shaped individual understandings of work, sense of self, gender, beliefs, and political power, and why.
Africa in World History
This seminar examines Africa's connections--economic, political, intellectual and cultural--with the wider world from ancient times to the 21st century, drawing on a diverse sample of historical sources. It also explores Africa's place in the imaginations of outsiders, from ancient Greeks to modern-day development "experts." Whether you know a lot or almost nothing about the continent, the course will get you to rethink your stereotypes and to question your assumptions about the importance of Africa in world history.Cross-Cultural Analysis
Snip and Tuck
Before the discovery of anesthesia in the nineteenth century, surgery was often a grizzly and horrific affair, inevitably involving extreme pain. Surgeons had a reputation as dirty, blood-thirsty "barbarians," and patients rarely sought out their services. But all of this changed during the twentieth century. Today surgery is one of the most prestigious medical specialties, and patients-especially those who long to look younger, thinner, and trimmer-voluntarily submit to multiple procedures. This course will investigate the cultural and scientific sources of these dramatic changes, with readings ranging from graphic descriptions of "bonesetting" and suturing during the Middle Ages to contemporary accounts of childbirth and plastic surgery in antiseptic hospitals and clinics.
Most of the languages now spoken in Europe, along with some languages of Iran, India and central Asia, are thought to be descended from a single language known as Proto-Indo-European, spoken at least six thousand years ago, probably in a region extending from north of the Black Sea in modern Ukraine east through southern Russia. Speakers of Proto-Indo European eventually populated Europe in the Bronze Age, and their societies formed the basis of the classical civilizations of Greece and Rome, as well as of the Celtic, Germanic and Slavic speaking peoples. What were the Proto-Indo-Europeans like? What did they believe about the world and their gods? How do we know? Reconstruction of the Proto-Indo-European language, one of the triumphs of comparative and historical linguistics in the 19th and 20th centuries, allows us a glimpse into the society of this prehistoric people.Cross-Cultural Analysis
Bilingualism in History
Throughout the course of human history, and still around much of the world today, it has been the norm to find more than one language in regular use in a single community. How do individual speakers handle multiple languages? How does language contact influence languages? This course takes an historical approach to tracing and reconstructing the nature of language contacts and bilingualism in order to understand what happens to languages spoken by bilinguals. We find that contacts between groups of people speaking different languages, motivated by trade, migration, conquest and intermarriage, are documented from earliest records. At the same time, differences in socio-historical context have created different kinds of linguistic outcomes. Sometimes languages are lost; sometimes new languages are created. In still other cases, the structure of a language is radically altered. The course introduces the basics of linguistic structure through a discussion of which aspects of language have proved to be relatively stable, and which are readily altered, under conditions of bilingualism.