Course Descriptions

First-Year Program


First-Year Interdisciplinary Seminar: What is “Development?” (FIRST-UG76)

From Bono to indigenous community activists in the Amazon, everyone is talking about ‘development.’ The term, however, means different things to different people and has a long and contentious history. This class provides an introduction to the study of international development and poverty from an interdisciplinary perspective. To begin, it examines the different measures of the state of development, from conventional economic metrics like Gross Domestic Product to notions of “Development as Freedom.” Building on this, it then explores some of the most influential contemporary voices in the process of development. Of central importance here will be a consideration of the central development actors, including multilateral institutions like the UN and World Bank, as well as states, NGOs, and community groups. Finally, it will explore some of the key themes in contemporary development policy, including gender, the environment, and human rights. The goal is to provide a clear sense of the chief objects, processes, actors, and policies of international development in order to grapple with the important stakes held by these different approaches to combating global poverty. Readings may include: Amartya Sen, Joseph Stiglitz, Jeff Sachs, Bill Easterly, and Dambisa Moyo.

Open to Gallatin first-year students only

First-Year Research Seminar: The Writer in International Conflicts (FIRST-UG719)

In this course, we will explore how U.S. novelists, journalists, and government officials have used writing to intervene in contemporary international conflicts. What role has writing played in shaping the understanding or outcome of these conflicts? What is the relationship between writing and politics in these texts? How does the position of the writer in these works shed light on problems of rationality, subjectivity, and sympathy in contemporary international conflict? In addition to reading novels, memoirs, and scholarship that responded to or became implicated in the Cold War and Islamist jihad, we will explore the role of human rights journalism in stopping recent genocides, as well as the writings of presidential advisors and speechwriters who helped formulate international policies of the Cold War and the War on Terror. Readings may include Norman Mailer, Susan Sontag, Mary McCarthy, George Kennan, Hannah Arendt, and Susan Moeller. These texts will be the focus of several critical essays that students will write over the course of the semester, culminating in a final research paper on a topic selected by the student.

Open to Gallatin first-year students only


Interdisciplinary Seminars


Between Rights and Justice in Latin America (IDSEM-UG1580)

What is the relationship between human rights and social justice? Do both always operate in conjunction? Are they ever mutually exclusive—one sacrificed at the expense of the other? This course explores key questions around the theory and practice of human rights promotion, surveying specialized literature and founding documents to consider the promise and challenge of existing human rights frameworks as they work for, but sometimes clash with, the promotion of social justice. We ask, are there universal rights? If so, how are these defined, and by whom? What is the relationship between “political” and “human” rights, between individual and collective rights? Can human rights be in conflict, and if so, how are such conflicts to be resolved? In regions rife with inequality—political, social, and economic—is promoting a global human rights agenda unrealistic, or more necessary than ever? After exploring these general questions, we will focus on Latin America, in particular on Argentina, Guatemala, Chile, Bolivia, Colombia, and Mexico. How do human rights struggles in these countries change our view of the prevailing human rights regime? How do legacies of colonialism in these countries affect both the protection and violation of human rights in the present? Do these countries reveal a political tension social justice and human rights? Readings will draw from Bartolomé de las Casas, Ariel Dorfman, Elena Poniatowska, Alison Brysk, and Greg Grandin, among others.

International Human Rights (IDSEM-UG1622)

The course studies the discourses, practices and institutions of human rights. In addition to providing an overview of the international human rights framework, it will engage with the politics of human rights as a local/global movement for social change, a contested family of legal rules and norms, and a repertoire of globalized vocabularies and policy prescriptions enhancing and delimiting justice. This will be a conversation about the work ‘human rights’ does in relation to systemic injustices and dominant ideologies – the activism and social change agendas that it enables, and those it closes off; what it privileges and legitimates and what it obscures and excludes; its desires and obsessions and its phobias and repulsions. The latter half of the course will look at how human rights laws and norms have been imagined, invoked and negotiated in relation to specific topics; these may include questions of socio-economic justice, minority rights, war crimes, multi-national corporations, sexual trafficking, torture and taboo. Readings will draw from Karl Marx, Hannah Arendt, Phillip Alston, David Kennedy, Sally Merry, Wendy Brown, Mahmood Mamdani, Hanif Kureishi, Thomas Pogge and Talal Asad. Readings will also include a number of legal cases involving the human rights framework.

Health and Human Rights in the World Community (IDSEM-UG1641)

This course focuses on the relationship between health and human rights. First, it provides an overview of human rights violations in the world and it offers an analysis of the health consequences of human rights abuses. Second, it explores how individual and community health can be improved by protecting and promoting human rights. Third, it evaluates the ethical obligations of health professionals in the face of human rights violations, and it explores their role in caring for the victims. Intended for non-science as well as science majors, we use presentations and discussion to explore the link between health and human rights. Readings include Claude and Weston, Human Rights in the World Community: Issues and Actions, and Martin and Rangaswamy, eds., Twenty Five Human Rights Documents.

What is Global About Gender? (IDSEM-UG1682)

This interdisciplinary seminar explores how discourses about women, gender and sexuality depend on and produce visions of the global, the transnational and the international. The project of identifying affinities between women across cultures and national boundaries has long grounded the work of scholars, journalists, social movements, institutions and activists in a variety of locations, both within and outside the Euro-American context. Such efforts are intended to forge enabling alliances and solidarities, often within the larger horizon of “women’s rights” or “feminism”, yet must navigate cultural and national differences, hierarchies within a global world order and complex histories imperialism. The course explores histories of feminism and empire that unravel how imperial visions based on the “civilizing mission” ground their arguments on the “treatment of women”. We then explore the rise of a new post-war international order centered on human rights and the UN system. How and why are women and girls, gender and sexuality so central to this system? By examining development initiatives that target women and girls, anti-violence and anti-trafficking campaigns, and more contemporary discourses of the rights of sexual minorities, we explore how gender and sexuality become grounds for debating global, transnational and international visions. Readings include Kumari Jayawardena’s Feminism and Third World Nationalism, Afsaneh Najmabadi’s Women with Mustaches and Men with BeardsAre Women Human? by Catherine MacKinnon, Human Rights and Gender Violence by Sally Merry, Scattered Hegemonies by Inderpal Grewal and Caren Kaplan.

Critical Social Theory: The Predicament of the Modern World (IDSEM-UG1306)

The central theme of this course is modernity as a social and intellectual project. We will read a number of critical social theory texts which deal with modernity as their central theoretical subjects. The goal of this class is to introduce various theoretical perspectives about modernity and to examine different aspects of the current debate on modernity and its fate in our time. In the first few weeks of the class we will study original works by “classical” social theorists (Karl Marx, Emile Durkheim, and Max Weber). We will then read two modernist texts (Habermas’ Transformation of Public Sphere and Berman’s All That Is Solid Melts Into Air), a text critical of modernity (Foucault’s Knowledge and Power ), and a text which deals with modernity and the non-western world (Amartya Sen, Development as Freedom ). This is a relatively advanced social theory course and student participation in the course requires some knowledge of classical or contemporary social theory.

Guilty Subjects: Guilt in Literature, Law and Psychoanalysis (IDSEM-UG1504)

This seminar will explore guilt as the link between the three broad disciplinary arenas of our title. Literary works from ancient tragedy to the modern novel thematize guilt in various ways. Freud places it at the center of his practice and his theory of mind. While law seems reliant mainly upon a formal attribution of guilt in order to determine who gets punished and to what degree, we might also suggest it relies upon “guilty subjects” for its operation. With all of these different deployments of the concept, we might agree it is a central one, yet how to define it remains a substantial question. Is the prominence of guilt in modern Western culture a vestige of a now-lost religious world? Is it, as Nietzsche suggests, an effect of “the most profound change man ever experienced when he finally found himself enclosed within the wall of society and of peace?” Freud seems to concur when he argues that guilt must be understood as a kind of internal self-division where aggressivity is turned against the self. Is guilt a pointless self-punishment, meant to discipline us? Or does it continue to have an important relation to the ethical? Readings may include Freud, Nietzsche, Foucault, Slavoj Zizek, Toni Morrison, Ursula LeGuin, W.G. Sebald, and some case law, among others.

American Narratives I: American Race, Literature and Politics (IDSEM-UG1592)

The premise of this course is that there is no great political philosophy in the American tradition—the Federalist Papers do not rival Plato or Marx—but that profound thinking about politics does occur—in the literary art of Melville, Faulkner, Ellison, Mailer, and Morrison among others. Moreover, formally “political” writers, like Madison and Hamilton, present a world that seems antithetical to the world presented by, say, Melville and Morrison: one depicts rational bargaining and self-interested contracts among men in markets and legislatures, whereas the other depicts racial and sexual violence, rape and slavery, in claustrophobic domestic spaces or in nature on frontiers. One depicts rationality and progress, the other madness and tragedy. The literature thus makes visible what is made invisible by prevailing forms of political science and American political thought, not only the constitutive power of race, gender, and sex, but also the deep narrative forms structuring the culture. We therefore ask several basic questions. First, what accounts for this difference and how shall we understand it? Second, what can we learn about (American) political life if we read literature as a form of political theory? But third, do we lose what is precious about literary art if we reduce it to an argument about politics? Or is the literary/aesthetic character of a work—the ways it uses language and narrative to create both ambiguity and meaning—an important part of what it can teach us about politics and political theorizing? To pursue these questions we focus on Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, and Toni Morrison’s Playing in the Dark and Beloved.

Open to sophomores only.


Graduate Electives


Causes Beyond Borders: Human Rights Activism and Global Governance (ELEC-GG2730)

This course examines the enabling conditions and consequences of the turn to transnational activism in relation to other dimensions of contemporary global governance.  Reading important critical interventions of the last decade, it will collectively analyze how different approaches mobilize and challenge different actors, causes and alternative imaginings of ‘the global’.

Open to graduate students and advanced undergraduates.

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