Past Courses

Proseminar: Theory and Methods in the Social Sciences: Interdisciplinary Perspectives (Fall 2016)
Instructor: Gianpaolo Baiocchi

This seminar, designed for incoming M.A. students, provides a broad introduction to theories and methods that have shaped the interdisciplinary terrain of the social sciences. The course emphasizes the reading of classic and more contemporary works of social theory and methodology, with a focus on key concepts and thinkers. How does one define a society? What is culture? How have social and cultural processes been understood? What is the relationship between a society or culture and a social group, an institution, or an individual? What is the nature of power, difference and identity? How do such foundational questions generate theories of modernity, capitalism, nationalism and globalization? How do such foundational questions orient the variety of disciplines within the social sciences? The course also surveys qualitative and quantitative methodologies, exploring the relationship between theory, methods, and the broader goals of research within the social sciences. Empirically grounded writings will explore the links between research frameworks, methodologies, data collection and theoretical claims. Readings will include classic texts by Karl Marx and Max Weber and more contemporary theorists such as Michel Foucault, David Harvey and Judith Butler, among others. Guest lectures by Gallatin faculty will introduce students to a range of methodologies (ethnography, quantitative data sets, the case study method, documentary analysis, interviewing and survey methods) and interdisciplinary research frameworks.

Communities And/Of Justice (Spring 2016)

This course explores scholarly debates about communities and justice. Course material covers longstanding themes, such as state-society relations, democracy and political participation, emergence of political identities, grassroots and netroots, community organizing and urban governance, and social movements. Students will acquire critical literacy in social studies, including the bodies of literature mentioned above that draw on anthropology, political theory, geography and sociology. These insights should be able to inform students’ further critical engagement in the world. Particular attention will be paid to 1) how political problems both reflect and help constitute social practices, identities and inequalities, and 2) how this complex relationship between the ‘social’ and the ‘political’ is manifested on a variety of levels, from global networks and nation-states to cities, regions and local neighborhoods.

(Dis)Placed Urban Histories (Spring 2016)

According to the vacation rental site, Airbnb, Brooklyn’s “ultra-trendy” Williamsburg neighborhood is “New York City’s top spot for looking awesome” and can be credited with being one of the borough’s “first neighborhoods to create collector’s items out of defunct warehouses.” Until recently, such descriptions were assumed to be about the northern section of Williamsburg, where boutiques and chic restaurants, galleries, lofts, and artisanal markets abound. Now, as the New York Post notes, the formerly “scruffy” and “barren” South Williamsburg is also “growing up” as LEED-certified luxury construction and trendy restaurants materialize there as well. This language of encroaching gentrification, though relatively new to both North and South Williamsburg, has a longer history, having been applied to Manhattan’s Greenwich Village, East Village, and Soho neighborhoods decades before. Yet while twenty-somethings pour into South Williamsburg, many question their role in displacing long-term residents, small businesses, and local traditions with a homogenizing “hipster” culture. This course invites students to become historical activists whose objective is to learn who and what is being displaced by gentrification and what the historical processes are that have aided this change. Students will conduct archival and secondary research; produce collaborative oral histories with neighborhood residents and business owners; and meet with activists who are working to stem the tide of gentrification. The course will culminate in an on-line archive and a physical exhibit to be co-produced with neighborhood residents and displayed at El Museo de Los Sures in South Williamsburg.

Expertise and Democracy (Fall 2015)

One of the central questions facing activists and reformers is that of expertise. We live an increasingly complex world in which experts of all sorts are unavoidable. Many of central issues facing us – from climate change to global poverty and vaccinations – are problems that require expert knowledge to adjudicate. What role should experts play in a democracy? How can we productively articulate expertise and democracy? Using activism and social change as a backdrop, students will explore theoretical questions as well as practical attempts from the world of social justice to resolve these issues. We will explore the literature in both science studies and in democratic theory and will explore a range of case studies of attempts to “democratize expertise.” Guest speakers will include activists from local organizations and former Gallatin students who have gone on to pursue activism. Readings will include a range of “classic” and more contemporary texts on the connection between expertise and democracy, including: Paulo Freire, Martin Luther King, Cornel West,Frances Moore Lappe, among others.

Madrid: Faces of the Changing European City (Summer 2015)

THIS COURSE TAKES PLACE AT N.Y.U. MADRID. This course explores the contemporary history and geography of Madrid, with a focus on recent changes. Compared to just twenty years ago, Madrid, like most European cities, is today more diverse, more interconnected (and subject to more complex governance arrangements), more unequal, more subject to volatile financial investments, and more environmentally vulnerable. This course explores both how residents have experienced these changes and how organized groups and institutions have sought to respond to these challenges.

(Dis)Placing Urban Histories (Spring 2015)

According to the short-term vacation rental site, Airbnb, Brooklyn’s “gritty” Bushwick neighborhood is “quickly ascending the ranks when it comes to creative-minded destinations and hotspots for self-expression.” Only five years ago in Bushwick, as Douglas Elliman Real Estate puts it, “a parent would cringe if they saw where their children were living,” but today, “this industrial neighborhood full of street grit thrives with twentysomethings.” This language of creativity-driven gentrification, though new to Bushwick, has a longer history, having been applied to the area’s near neighbor Williamsburg more than a decade before and to Manhattan’s East Village, SoHo, and Tribeca neighborhoods even earlier. Yet even as twentysomethings pour into Williamsburg and Bushwick, many question their own role in stripping these neighborhoods of their “authenticity,” of displacing long-term residents, small businesses, and local traditions with a homogenizing “hipster” culture. This course invites students to become historical activists whose objective is to learn precisely who and what is being displaced by gentrification and how this process takes place through both legal and illegal means.  Students will conduct archival and secondary research; interview neighborhood residents and business owners; and meet with neighborhood activists who are working to stem the tide of gentrification. The course will culminate in a collaborative museum exhibit to be shown at El Museo de Los Sures in South Williamsburg, as well as pop-up historical interventions at select development sites in each neighborhood.

The Public Conversation on the Urban Environment (Fall 2014)

In this course, students will work in four communities along Broadway doing Participatory Action Research on the nature of the public conversation about the urban environment at each site. Based on observations, interviews, focus groups, analyses of newspapers, blogs, and other community media, we will learn about the various ways in which people, especially young people, think about, experience, and find meaning in urban environments. By the end of the semester, students will stage a public forum at each site that will prompt an explicit conversation on the topic. Present at the conversation will be experts and community members alike. We will present the findings of our projects to policy makers and public artists identified by the instructor as interested in working in those communities.

The Politics and Anti-Politics of NGOs (Spring 2014, Spring 2015) 

Over the last two decades non-governmental organizations, or NGOs, have played an increasingly active and visible role in international aid, disaster relief, development, post-conflict rebuilding, and local governance. They have received increasing amounts of aid and development dollars, in many cases supplanting more traditional actors, like governments. They have thus provided fodder for exciting and contentious academic and public debates marked by extreme positions: Are NGOs the solution to some of the world’s most difficult problems, or are they Trojan horses for neoliberal reforms? Do they represent a form of global civil society or simply a circulation of elites? This course steps back and offers a broader perspective, by introducing students to the critical analysis of non-governmental organizations and their role in shaping global institutions and domestic political and social change. It locates NGOs within the web of transnational assemblages that they operate in, and pays attention to the experiences and practices of “local” populations that fall in and out of the category of “client.” We draw from a range of literatures to inform our analysis: democratic theory around citizenship and civil society; theories of the state; critical studies of development; and analyses of social movements, institutions and global networks. We focus on a few emblematic cases of transnational NGOs and their consequences, including human rights, fair trade, and alter-globalization NGOs.

The Lives, Deaths and Rebirths of Public Space (Fall 2013)

Recent and very visible social movements have reclaimed public spaces in cities around the world, prompting the question of what, exactly, public spaces are and to whom do they (and the cities around them) belong. For many scholars, the existence of public spaces—the town square, the agora, the rialto, are what makes cities distinctive, but a number of critics have, for at least the last fifty years, been decrying the end of such spaces. This course first examines a number of the classic statements on public space, followed by a close reading and interrogation of the decline of public space theses. Finally, we examine a number of attempts to recapture and reinvigorate public spaces, drawing freely from examples of public art, planning and architecture, and social movements. Among the statements on public space will be selections from classical, democratic, and critical theory, including Aristotle, Arendt, Habermas, De Certeau, and Foucault. Critical contemporary readings on urban space will include Jane Jacobs and selections from urban geographers, sociologists, feminist scholars, and critical race theorists who have engaged the question. The last third of the course, dedicated to rebirths, will include selections and materials from planners and architects, activists and artists who have reflected on the issue while engaging it. Course requirements include student presentations of materials, three short writing assignments, and a final paper on a case of a reimagined public space from NYC.

Tools for Social Change (Fall 2013)

This course serves as the anchor for community-engaged course work at Gallatin. It complements the range of course offerings at Gallatin and NYU by focusing on connection between theories of social change and the practice of social change. This course thus gives students a platform to question and start defining their roles in social change, through readings, case studies, conversations with activists, and reflection exercises. Tools for Social Change is a course for proactive, humble-yet-ambitious students who are motivated to engage deeply with the challenges of this course work. This hands-on course will help students make important decisions about their own values and belief systems, and figure out how to put those into practice. Students will then reflect on the experience in the form of small writing exercises and a final project. Guest speakers will include activists from local organizations and former Gallatin students who have gone on to pursue activism. Readings will include a range of “classic” and more contemporary texts on the connection between critical theories and practice, including: Paulo Freire, Martin Luther King, Cornel West, Frances Moore Lappé, among others.