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.
Womanism, Identity and Hip Hop
This course centers on the intersections of womanism, woman of color identity development, and agency within hip-hop culture. We will touch on several topics that uncover the condition of minoritized women in hip-hop media, including creating/owning space, lyrical assault, defining womanhood, sexuality, and fetishes. In exploring music, literature, advertisements, film, and television, we will discuss the ways women of color construct understandings of self, while navigating and reimagining reality within hip-hop contexts.
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.
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 Courses in Touch called "Success in the Course". You should read this note before enrolling in the course to understand the commitment this course involves.
Graded work: weekly paragraphs on a topic of your choice; three papers in multiple drafts; take-home final exam; class participation.
Terrorism & Civil Wars
This course is a freshman seminar, examining terrorism, insurgency, and civil war. The first half of the course explores the causes of these different forms of political violence, including how group leaders mobilize individuals to participate in violent political action, the role that economic and political grievances and inequality play in motivating rebellion, and the influence of ethnic and religious identity. The second half of the course examines responses to terrorism and civil war, with a particular focus on international efforts to address these forms of violence. This section of the course analyzes the effectiveness of different government counterterrorism and counterinsurgency strategies, as well as considers various international policy responses aimed at combatting transnational terrorism or resolving ongoing civil wars. The course focuses on contemporary conflicts.
Business & Politics in Developing Countries
The purpose of the seminar is to understand the relationship between business and politics (or relatedly between state and capital) in developing countries, the factors which shape this relationship and its consequences. The seminar will analyze the difference between markets and ownership, the mechanisms by which business and politics influence each other and the implications for economic growth and equity. How do the characteristics of a country’s politics as well as those of businesses — the sectors in which they operate, their market share, whether they are multinational or domestic firms, whether they are export oriented — affect this interaction? Finally we will examine the effects of globalization of markets on domestic politics in developing countries. The seminar readings draw upon both conceptual and historical material from a wide range of disciplines and geographical settings.
Race, Crime and Punishment
Why are African-Americans and members of other historically disadvantaged groups disproportionately incarcerated and subjected to other penal sanctions in the United States? What are the political, social, and economic consequences for individuals, communities, and the wider society of mass incarceration in the United States? What types of reforms of the criminal justice system are desirable and possible?
This freshman seminar analyzes the connection between race, crime, punishment, and politics in the United States. The primary focus is on the role of race in explaining why the country’s prison population has exploded since the early 1970s and why the United States today has the highest incarceration rate in the world.
The class will likely take field trips to a maximum-security jail in Philadelphia and to a state prison in the Philadelphia suburbs.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.
For decades the City of Philadelphia has been plagued by problems of population and job loss, poverty, racial segregation and failing public schools. Today, parts of Philadelphia are experiencing remarkable growth and investment and the city has reversed its decades-long trend of population loss. But significant challenges remain. In particular, educational inequality has become a problem of major public concern and debate. This class will look at the historical development of this problem in South Philly, a largely poor and working-class area undergoing some of the most dramatic social change in the city. For over a century South Philly has been among the city’s most diverse and culturally vibrant areas and a gateway for immigrants from across the globe – most recently from the Mexican region of Puebla. We will discuss the rapidly changing face of public education in Philadelphia and the US, including the highly controversial issue of how to “fix” urban public schools as the middle class returns to urban cores. In particular, we will focus on the racial and class politics of educational reform, education funding, and charter schools. We will use sociological theories to assess the evidence related to a number of pressing questions central to these politics (e.g. Why are suburban schools, on average, so much better funded and performing than urban schools? Are teachers’ unions standing in the way of urban school reform? Is there a “neoliberal assault” on public education? Are charter schools part of a solution to inequality or just a more defensible way to reproduce schools segregated by income and/or race?).
Diversity, Technology and the Penn Experience
Penn is diverse in many ways. Let us 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. 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 bring in new perspectives on the university?
Reflections on personal experiences in the context of theories (cultural capital, social capital) 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. In addition to other assignments, small weekly response papers are due before each class meeting to encourage engaged discussions.Cross-Cultural Analysis
Environment & Society
This freshman seminar will introduce students to a range of novel social perspectives on the contemporary global environmental crisis that is usually represented in strictly scientific terms or according to clichés about environmentalists, grouped into four themes.
First, we will emphasize the fundamentally global nature of environmental problems like greenhouse gases and water scarcity. Second, we will explore the rich analogies between human and non-human consciousness, and how the relationship between humans and non-humans varies across time and space. Third, we will explore new thinking on environmental inequality, which explores the subtle ways in which all social groups both make and suffer the global environment in distinctive ways. Fourth, against the intuitive despair that global environmental crisis is too great for any of us to have any positive impact, we will explore the surprising ways in which motivated individuals, working together, can do more than ever to help alleviate our ecological crises.
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 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.
Visions of America
This course will introduce students to a more hemispheric understanding of the American experience, through the writings of many authors from the New World, including the United States, on what it means to be an American. Students will read texts from many genres including but not limited to poetry, film, prose, political speeches, and autobiography, to come to terms with histories of native Americans, African-Americans, Latinos, and whites in the United States, as well as peoples of South America and the Caribbean. In the process students will become familiar with scholarship across the social sciences and humanities that consider issues of race, culture, nation, freedom and inequality in the Americas, and how racial slavery and the Afro-American hemispheric experience has informed multiple American visions.
Reading the Classics: Antiquity to Renaissance
In this seminar we will study the early roots of Western culture -the Biblical, Greek and Roman traditions- as well as how sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Europeans reproduced, rethought and reshaped these early traditions. Instead of reading and discussing the required texts according to the date when they were written (first the early traditions and then the Renaissance views), we will focus our attention on a few themes that were central concerns to those living in Classic and Renaissance times and that continue to influence modern ways of thinking and acting in Western societies: conceptions of God and place of religion in society; nature of power and authority, and individuals’ rights and duties; good and evil; views on women, their nature and roles in society; ethnography and the perception of other cultures and societies. In addition to reading and discussing several biblical books — Genesis, Exodus, The Book of Revelation — we will work with other seminal classical works — Sophocles' Antigone, Aristotle's Politics and Ethics, Herodotus' The Histories, Plato's Apology — and works by Michel de Montaigne, Maria de Zayas y Sotomayor, Marie de Gournay, Christopher Marlowe, William Shakespeare, Blaise Pascal, and several others. We will also work with books published in the last decades, analyzing the impact of these works in various periods of history, but also books that analyze the impact of these books and ideas today — Dreyfus and Kelly's All Things Shinning: Reading the Western Classics to Find Meaning in a Secular Age, Anthony Grafton's Bring Out Your Dead: The Past as Revelation, James Miller's Examined Lives, from Socrates to Nietzsche, and Sarah Bakewell's How to Live: Or A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer.
A Tale of Two Cities: London and Paris 1750-the present
“Paris is the capital of the nineteenth century,” wrote Walter Benjamin. “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life,” quipped Samuel Johnson. These two great cities have captivated authors and artists, politicians and philosophers, tourists and traders for centuries. They share many things in common, and they both helped set a paradigm for the “modern city” that has shaped urban centers around the world. And yet, many have also remarked on the differences between them. Examining novels, maps, stories, paintings, plays, political writings, and statistical inquiries, we’ll study the characters, companies, and crimes that have made each city tick. What does it mean to be a Londoner or a Parisian? How have both cities changed over the last 250 years? Can the study of these two metropolises tell us something about modern urban life in general?
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.