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Amherst College Courses

Amherst College Courses

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Anthropology and Sociology

Professors C. Dole*, Fong (Chair), Gewertz, Himmelstein, Lembo and Schmalzbauer; Associate Professors Chowdhury and Holleman; Assistant Professor Zhang; and Postdoctoral Fellow and Visiting Assistant Professor Nguyen.

The Anthropology and Sociology program is committed to familiarizing students with the systematic analysis of culture and social life. While anthropology once tended to focus on pre-industrial peoples and sociology on peoples in industrial societies, both disciplines are now thoroughly involved in understanding the contemporary, globalizing world—albeit through the use of somewhat distinctive methodologies. Moreover, both disciplines share a common theoretical and epistemological history such that insights garnered from one are relevant to the other.

Major Program. Students will major in either Anthropology or Sociology (though a combined major is, under special circumstances, possible). Anthropology majors will normally take ANTH 112, 323, and 332, and at least one Sociology course. In addition, majors will take at least four additional Anthropology electives. Sociology majors will normally take SOCI 315 and 316 and at least one Anthropology course. In addition, majors will take at least five additional Sociology electives. Courses especially suited for students with little background in sociology include SOCI 112, 225, 226, 230, 234, 237, and 260. Candidates for degrees with Departmental Honors will include ANTH/SOCI 498 and 499 in addition to the other major requirements.

Majors fulfill the department’s comprehensive requirements by passing the eight required courses for their major.  Courses taken for the major must earn a letter grade, except for those taken while studying at an institution outsie the Five College Consortium.

*On leave 2022-23.†On leave fall semester 2022-23.‡ On leave spring semester 2022-23.

Anthropology

112 Sociocultural Anthropology

An examination of theory and method in sociocultural anthropology as applied in the analysis of specific societies. The course will focus on case studies of societies from different ethnographic areas.

Limited to 45 students. Fall semester. Professor Gewertz.

Other years: Offered in Fall 2011, Fall 2012, Fall 2013, Spring 2015, Fall 2015, Fall 2016, Fall 2017, Fall 2018, Spring 2020, Fall 2020, Fall 2021, Fall 2022, Spring 2024, Fall 2024

115 Health and Happiness in Different Societies

How do various kinds of people in various societies worldwide define and pursue happiness? How do they deal with aspects of everyday life that affect their physical and psychological health? How does one’s gender, age, country, sociocultural background, and socioeconomic status shape the ways in which one might pursue health and happiness? Students will read and discuss books and articles that try to answer such questions, and learn how to conduct collaborative research to answer questions about the ways in which people in a variety of different societies worldwide experience, define, and strive for health and happiness, with a particular emphasis on comparisons between China and the United States. All required course readings will be in English and have English translations, and no knowledge of Chinese language is needed for success in the class, though students with Chinese language skills will have the option of working with Chinese language materials as they do their research.

Limited to 15 students. Admission with consent of the instructor. Omitted 2022-23. Professor Fong.

Other years: Offered in Fall 2024

116 Anthropology and Life Stories

How can anthropology help us understand life stories? How can life stories illustrate, challenge, or extend theoretical claims? How can the life stories of anthropologists help us understand their perspectives and research methods? This course will teach students how to answer such questions. We will look at how and why anthropologists have chosen to write about particular experiences, life histories, and narratives of their research participants; how and why they wrote about their own life histories and experiences; and how such choices affected their research methods, approaches, and findings.

Limited to 19 students. Admission with consent of the instructor. Omitted 2022-23. Professor Fong.

2024-25: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2018, Fall 2019, Fall 2020

117 Anthropological Perspectives on Building a Better World

How can anthropological perspectives help us understand the intended and unintended consequences of our efforts to build a better world? This course will address this question by looking at anthropological studies of the implementation and consequences of large-scale, deeply transformative policies and practices intended to improve people’s lives, solve current problems, and prevent future catastrophes. We will focus especially on comparisons between China and the United States, which have two of the world’s largest and most influential economies and face many similar problems, but have developed very different approaches to trying to build a better world. We will evaluate current proposals for transformative new policies and practices, and consider how efforts to build a better world might benefit from anthropologists’ ability to look holistically at relationships between personal experiences, psychology, cultural norms, social structures, philosophy, laws, history, politics, economics, biology, technology, environmental issues, global systems, and international relations. Students will learn to draw on anthropological perspectives as they develop and write about their own ideas for building a better world and about consequences those ideas might have.

Limited to 19 students. Admission with consent of the instructor. Fall semester.  Professor Fong.

2024-25: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2022

201 Anthropology and Science Fiction

How can anthropology help us understand the cultural assumptions, empirical knowledge, and causal and interpretive theories underlying science fiction and related genres such as fantasy, magical realism, and social science fiction? How can anthropology help writers of such genres draw on more valid and plausible assumptions, knowledge, and theories as they build fictional worlds and characters? How can fictional writers’ hypotheses about what events, people, and processes might look like under different conditions, and their efforts to write about such hypotheses in innovative, engaging, and thought-provoking ways, help us think about how anthropologists might write about real-life experiences that differ from those we already understand? This course will help students think about such questions by engaging with anthropological studies and science fiction stories that relate to each other in enlightening ways. We will read and discuss stories that describe how people in a variety of societies might react to experiences that have not yet been documented in our world, as well as anthropological ethnographies of how real people in those same societies deal with analogous experiences in our world. As part of this process, we will discuss the nature and meaning of life, the universe, science, and human behavior, and consider how understandings of anthropology, science fiction, and related genres might help us predict the outcomes of current news events.

Limited to 19 students. Admission with consent of the instructor. Fall semester. Professor Fong.

2024-25: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2022, Fall 2023

233 Listening, Hearing, and the Human

(See MUSI 232)

239 Soundscapes of the Connecticut River Valley

(See MUSI 238)

241 Visual Anthropology

(Offered as ANTH 241 and FAMS 378) This course will explore and evaluate various visual genres, including photography, ethnographic film, and museum presentation as modes of anthropological analysis—as media of communication facilitating cross-cultural understanding. Among the topics to be examined are the ethics of observation, the politics of artifact collection and display, the dilemma of representing non-Western “others” through Western media, and the challenge of interpreting indigenously produced visual depictions of “self” and “other.”

Limited to 30 students. Spring semester. Professor Gewertz.

Other years: Offered in Spring 2013, Spring 2016, Spring 2017, Spring 2021, Spring 2022, Spring 2023

245 Medical Anthropology

The aim of this course is to introduce the ways that medical anthropologists understand illness, suffering, and healing as taking shape amidst a complex interplay of biological, psychological, social, political-economic, and environmental processes. The course is designed to engage a broad range of medical anthropology topics, theoretical approaches, and research techniques by examining case studies concerned with such issues as chronic illness and social suffering, ritual and religious forms of healing, illness and inequality, medicalization, the global AIDS crisis, the social life of new medical technologies, and the politics of global health and humanitarian intervention. A basic premise of the course is that an understanding of illness, health, and the body requires an understanding of the contexts in which they are experienced, contexts contingently shaped by interwoven processes of local, national, and global significance. Particular emphasis will thus be placed on ethnographic approaches to the lived context in which illness and other forms of suffering are experienced, narrated, and addressed. Our focus will be comparative, treating illness, suffering, and healing in a range of societies and settings—from Haiti to China, from urban Brazil to rural Nepal, from the townships of South Africa to genetic labs in the United States.

Limited to 30 students. Omitted 2022-23. Professor C. Dole.

Other years: Offered in Fall 2011, Spring 2014, Spring 2015, Spring 2016, Fall 2016, Fall 2017, Fall 2018, Fall 2019, Fall 2020, Fall 2021, Fall 2023

248 Islamophobia

(Offered as ANTH 248 and SOCI 248) This course explores the historical roots and contemporary manifestations of anti-Muslim discrimination in the United State and Europe. What, in short, accounts for the anxious fear of Islam and the ascendance of “the Muslim” as the defining racial and religious “other” of our time. The course frames Islamophobia as anti-Muslim racism, challenging the idea that Islamophobia is merely a problem of individual bias and that “knowing more” about Islam will necessarily lead to a decrease in anti-Muslim racism. Instead, the course will explore how anti-Muslim discrimination is a reality of structural inequality rooted in the history of US and European empire building. By the end of the course, students will have considered how anti-Muslim discrimination relates to histories of white supremacy, racial exclusion, nationalism, settler colonialism, and the security logic of US foreign policy and war. Although the course’s primary focus is on the impact of anti-Muslim racism in the United States and Europe, this will necessarily require us to consider how anti-Muslim discourse functions as an organizing principle of US and European global power.

Limited to 20 students. Omitted 2022-23.  Professor Dole.

2024-25: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2018, Fall 2018, Fall 2020

251 Commodifying Nature: An Anthropology of Resource Politics

From diamonds and bananas to coca and coal, natural wealth as commodities have shaped the way we think of global connections from early colonial encounters to the present. They are signs of the legacies of colonial exploitation as well as the seemingly infinite reach of global capital. Yet, anthropology of the politics around these commodities—that is, a critical understanding of the places of their production, extraction and exchange, along with the people whose lives are intimately tied to these processes—has also brought to the fore the provocative and often unpredictable ways in which the politics of natural resources has generated new forms of resistances, cultural practices and social worlds. They are pivots around which nations are being imagined, states are being legitimated, and nature itself is being re-defined. This course will examine anthropological literature on the politics and practices around natural wealth. Drawing on examples from varied cultural contexts, such as the petroleum boom in Nigeria, the occult practices of tin miners in Colombia, coffee-drinking in American households, or the coal mining communities in South Africa, among others, this course aims to understand the social and political lives of natural resources and how they help us to conceptually approach colonialism, capitalism and globalization.

Limited to 30 students. Spring semester. Professor Chowdhury.

2024-25: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2023, Spring 2024

259 (En) Gendering Development: Historical Genealogies / Contemporary Convergences

(See SWAG 259)

265 The Middle East: Anthropological Perspectives

(Offered as ANTH 265 and ASLC 266) This course draws on ethnographic writings, documentary film, and literary accounts to examine the everyday realities of people living in the region commonly referred to as the Middle East. Rather than attempting a survey of the entire region, the course explores a number of important themes in the anthropology of the Middle East. These themes include, among others: gender and sexuality, religious piety, urban space, migration, and political protest. By the end of the course, students will have gained an understanding of some of the most pressing issues being faced in the region, and the ways that anthropologists have explored these issues. No previous knowledge of the Middle East or anthropology is assumed.   

Limited to 25 students. Omitted 2022-23.  Professor Dole.

Other years: Offered in Spring 2020, Fall 2021, Fall 2023, Fall 2024

268 Contentious Natures: Race, Nature, Power

How do appeals to nature—so called “natural” traits or “essences”—undergird the way race adheres to specific bodies? How does race, in turn, go beyond bodies to mark particular “natural” landscapes and non-human entities as other? In short, how can we understand the historically powerful relationship between race and nature? Drawing on anthropology and critical race studies, this course examines how race and nature work to convey “timeless truths,” inform notions of identity, and justify inequalities. Throughout the semester, we consider how race and nature act through bodies, environments, discourses, and metaphors to create new forms of belonging and exclusion. To these ends, we analyze concepts such as wilderness/wildness, scientific racism, contamination and purity, human-animal relations, sovereignty and nationalism, environmentalism, and environmental disasters to explore how race gets naturalized, and nature racialized.

Fall semester. Professor Nguyen

Other years: Offered in Fall 2022, Fall 2023, Fall 2024

310 Culture, Affect, and Psychiatry

This seminar draws on readings from medical and psychological anthropology, cultural psychiatry, and science studies to examine mental health and illness as a set of subjective experiences, social processes, and objects of knowledge and intervention. The course invites students to think through the complex relationships between categories of psychiatric knowledge, techniques of clinical practice, and the subjectivities of persons living with mental illness. The course will take up such questions as: Does mental illness vary across social, cultural, and historical contexts? How does the language of psychopathology, and the clinical setting of its use, affect people’s experience of psychological and emotional suffering? What novel forms of care, as well as neglect, have emerged with the “pharmaceuticalization” of psychiatry? How does contemporary psychiatry articulate a distinctive relationship between affect and power? These questions, among others, will be examined through richly contextualized ethnographic and historical writings, literary accounts, clinical studies, and films. The course will emphasize a comparative approach, as it explores the ways that anthropologists have struggled to examine mental illness and mental health in a cross-cultural perspective.

Limited to 25 students. Omitted 2022-23. Professor C. Dole.

2024-25: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2024

311 Culture and Mental Health: Decolonizing the Psyche

Are psychiatric disease categories and treatment protocols universally applicable? How can we come to understand the lived experience of mental illness and abnormality? And how can we trace the roots of such experience – whether through brain circuitry, cultural practices, forms of power, or otherwise? In this course, we will draw on psychological anthropology, cultural psychiatry, science studies, and decolonizing methodologies to examine mental health and illness in terms of subjective experience, social processes, and knowledge production. Our goal will be to recognize the centrality of the social world as a force that defines and drives the incidence, occurrence, and course of mental illness, as well as to appreciate the complex relationship between professional and personal accounts of disorder.

Limited to 18 students. Omitted 2022-23. Five College Assistant Professor Aulino.

2024-25: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2021

317 Researching China

(Offered as ANTH 317 and ASLC 317) This course teaches students how to design research projects and analyze data about people in China. Students will read about and discuss previous findings from the instructor’s longitudinal project about Chinese only-children and their families, and findings from comparable projects in China and elsewhere. Course assignments will be tailored to the interests, skills, and academic background of each student, so first-year students, sophomores, and students with no Chinese language skills are welcome and just as likely to succeed as juniors, seniors, and students with Chinese language skills. Each student will work not only on assignments suitable for his/her current skills and interests, but also read the work of other students with different skills, interests, and disciplinary knowledge and participate in discussions of their work, so all students will learn about the many different kinds of skills and research methods that can help them gain a better understanding of China.

Requisite: Chinese language skills or ANTH 112, 115, 288, 318, 323, or 332, or a similar course. Admission with consent of the instructor. Limited to 20 students. Omitted 2022-23. Professor Fong.

2024-25: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2013, Spring 2017, Spring 2019, Fall 2021, Fall 2023

318 Chinese Childrearing

(Offered as ANTH 318 and ASLC 318) This course examines Chinese childrearing, focusing primarily on childrearing in mainland China. We will look at differences as well as similarities between childrearing in Chinese families of different socioeconomic status within China, as well as between childrearing in mainland China and in childrearing in Chinese and non-Chinese families worldwide. We will also look at dominant discourses within and outside of China about the nature of Chinese childrearing and ask about relationships between those discourses and the experiences of Chinese families. Students will work together to conduct original research about childrearing in China, drawing on data from the instructor’s research projects. Course assignments will be tailored to the interests, skills, and academic background of each student, so first-years, sophomores, and students with no Chinese language skills are welcome and just as likely to succeed as juniors, seniors, and students with Chinese language skills.

Chinese language skills or ANTH 112, 115, 288, 318, 323, or 332, or a similar course. Limited to 20 students. Admission with consent of the instructor. Spring semester. Professor Fong.

Other years: Offered in Spring 2013, Fall 2015, Spring 2018, Fall 2020, Spring 2023, Fall 2024

323 History of Anthropological Theory

A general survey of writings that have played a leading role in shaping the modern fields of cultural and social anthropology. Beginning with a discussion of the impact of Darwin and the discoveries at Brixham Cave on mid-nineteenth century anthropology, the course surveys the theories of the late-nineteenth-century cultural evolutionists. It then turns to the role played by Franz Boas and his students and others in the advent and later development of cultural anthropology in the U.S. Readings of Durkheim and Mauss will provide the foundation for a discussion of the development of British social anthropology, French structuralism, and Bourdieu’s theory of social practice. The course will conclude with a discussion of recent controversies concerning the work of a key theorist in the anthropological tradition.

Spring semester. Professor Gewertz.

Other years: Offered in Spring 2012, Spring 2013, Spring 2014, Fall 2015, Fall 2016, Spring 2018, Spring 2019, Spring 2020, Spring 2021, Spring 2022

325 Protest!

(See SOCI 325)

329 Feeling Politics: An Anthropology of Political Affect

When were you last outraged at the state of politics? When did you feel an inexplicable love for political symbols, either objects or personalities? Do they ever make you cringe? Or perhaps you glean much pleasure from the often-farcical nature of modern political life? Do you cry, laugh, get scared, or feel overwhelmed by political spectacles that make up our 24/7 existence? If so, you, like most of us, experience politics at a corporeal level. Instead of discounting these “feelings” as irrational and secondary to reasoned deliberations and solemn institutions, this course takes them seriously. The readings at this seminar consider public political life as an affect-laden world where emotional and bodily attachments – some articulate, others unconscious – are as indispensable and effective as discourse and procedure. This course is as much about feeling politics as it is about the politics of feelings. Even when our feelings seem deeply personal, the forms of their expression reveal larger histories – of modernity, colonialism, secularism, and the economy, to name a few. In other words, our senses, much like our institutions, are shaped by culture. Feeling Politics aims to understand the cultures of affect in politics and the lifeworlds that are shaped by them.

Limited to 20 students. Omitted 2022-23. Professor Chowdhury.

2024-25: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2023

332 Topics in Contemporary Anthropology

The aim of this advanced seminar is to introduce students to a selection of major concepts, theories, and debates inspiring, informing, and disrupting anthropology today. The central themes of this year’s seminar will include, among others: affect, materiality, borders, sovereignty and citizenship, multispecies ethnography, and decolonization. Alongside these themes, the course will also explore “ethnography” as simultaneously a method of inquiry, mode of theory-making, and genre of writing. With this in mind, one of the goals of this course is to introduce students to the possibilities and challenges of ethnographic research and writing.

Limited to 20 students. Spring semester. Professor Chowdhury.

Other years: Offered in Spring 2012, Spring 2013, Spring 2014, Spring 2015, Spring 2016, Spring 2017, Spring 2018, Spring 2019, Spring 2020, Spring 2021, Spring 2022, Spring 2023, Spring 2024

339 The Anthropology of Food

Because food is necessary to sustain biological life, its production and provision occupy humans everywhere. Due to this essential importance, food also operates to create and symbolize collective life. This seminar will examine the social and cultural significance of food. Topics to be discussed include: the evolution of human food systems, the social and cultural relationships between food production and human reproduction, the development of women’s association with the domestic sphere, the meaning and experience of eating disorders, and the connection among ethnic cuisines, nationalist movements and social classes.

Limited to 20 students. Fall semester. Professor Gewertz.

Other years: Offered in Fall 2011, Fall 2012, Fall 2013, Fall 2015, Fall 2016, Fall 2017, Fall 2018, Fall 2020, Fall 2021, Fall 2022, Fall 2024

378 Toxic Worlds: Environment, Exposure and Inequality

Toxins today pervade our lives and bodies. Yet they remain difficult to pin down, simultaneously ubiquitous and elusive, proliferating harm as well as uncertainty. With an eye toward these contradictions, this course begins by asking: What is toxicity? How does it enter our awareness? Who bears the burden of its designation? From here, we consider how the uncertainty of toxic exposure shapes the politics of evidence, social difference, and assumptions about the integrity of bodies and nations. Throughout our readings, we interrogate the relationship between toxicity, politics, memory, and remedy to explore how living in a toxic world requires technical, ethical and aesthetic modes of understanding. Connecting ethnographies of environmental exposure and contamination with larger contexts, histories, and settler colonial logics, we investigate relations of segregation, contingency, and kinship in uneven terrains of vulnerability and risk.

Limited to 21 students.  Spring semester.  Visiting Assistant Professor of Anthropology Nguyen.

Other years: Offered in Spring 2023, Spring 2024, Fall 2024

453 Feminist and Queer Ethnography

(See SWAG 453)

490, 490H Special Topics

Independent reading course. A half course.

Fall and spring semesters. The Department.

Other years: Offered in Fall 2011, Fall 2023, Spring 2024, Fall 2024

498, 499 Senior Departmental Honors

Spring semester. The Department.

2024-25: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2012, Spring 2013, Spring 2014, Spring 2015, Spring 2016, Spring 2017, Spring 2018, Spring 2019, Spring 2020, Spring 2021, Spring 2022, Spring 2023, Spring 2024

Special Departmental Courses & Seminars

449 Seminar in the Anthropology of Music: Voice

(See MUSI 449)

Sociology

112 Self and Society: An Introduction to Sociology

The course introduces students to what C. Wright Mills referred to as the “sociological imagination.” Through accounts both classic and contemporary, students will learn to interrogate in a systematic way both their own lives and the lives of those around them, understanding how they are shaped in significant ways by groups, communities, institutions, and social structures, even as they remain authors of their own actions and determiners of their own fate. In this sense, the dynamics of what sociologists call “power” and “agency” are woven into every aspect of the course. Inequalities—most notably, race, class, and gender—will figure importantly as we explore important topics such as higher education, gendered expectations of parenting, mass incarceration and structural racism, cultural transformations accompanying neoliberal capitalism, and present-day opportunities for social mobility.

Limited to 18 students. Fall and Spring semesters. In Fall, 10 spaces are reserved for first-year students. Professor Lembo.

Other years: Offered in Fall 2011, Spring 2012, Fall 2012, Spring 2014, Fall 2014, Fall 2015, Fall 2016, Spring 2018, Fall 2018, Spring 2019, Fall 2019, Spring 2020, Spring 2021, Fall 2021, Spring 2022, Fall 2022, Spring 2023, Fall 2023, Spring 2024, Fall 2024

200 Race, Education, and Belonging

(See AMST 200)

202 The Asian American Experience

(See AMST 204)

203 Youth, Schooling, and Popular Culture

(See AMST 203)

208 Sociology of Work: Discourses on Toil

Sundays are not necessarily sunnier than Mondays. Nonetheless, most people prefer Sundays to Mondays. In this course, we discuss this interesting phenomenon in reference to the following question: which historical factors distinguish between days, hours, activities, and places within the “productive” and “unproductive” binary? We will review the basic theoretical perspectives on the homicide of homo ludens by homo faber, read excerpts from ethnographic and historical works on the transformation of the condition of labor from the late nineteenth century onwards in different regions of the world, and discuss the countervailing tendencies toward homogenization and diversification in the labor process, employment, and career building.

We will also look at how millennials have responded to some of the challenges pertinent to dual labor markets, such as investing further in their skills, “delaying” many of the common rites of passage such as marriage, and sometimes withdrawing partially from both productive and consumptive activities.

Along with these discussions, we will review some of the important labor datasets collected by key agencies and institutions such as Bureau of Labor Statistics, World Bank, ILO, and UnStat and use these materials to address the question of how the conditions of work may become diversified and/or homogenized, depending on the region, sector, and group of laborers. Students will gain the skills to assess the basic dynamics in work and employment relations and to investigate related empirical questions using a range of data sources.

Limited to 18 students. Omitted 2022-23. Visiting Associate Professor Balaban.

2024-25: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2021, Spring 2022

209 Racism and the City

(Offered as SOCI 209, ARCH 207 and BLST 319) Defying the hopes of many for the future of democracy, cities continue to be the hotbed of racial oppression, exploitation, and injustice in the United States. In this course, we will focus on this connection and discuss the alternatives.

The first theme of the course is the intellectual origins of structural racism in urban theory. The redefinition of racism in the early twentieth century as a predominantly urban phenomenon happened at the same time as (if not as a result of) the foundation of urban sociology in the United States that implicitly justifies racial stratification as a “natural” component of “urban ecology.”

The second theme is the role of U.S. urban planning and policymaking in structural racism. The formation and transformation of urban spaces and institutions such as suburbs, the highway system, the police force, and homeowner associations account for a complex matrix that keeps both the illusion of legal equality and the reality of social inequality intact.

The third theme is urban resistance against structural racism. Both well-known and mostly forgotten incidents, such as the protests in the Watts region of Los Angeles or the MOVE bombing in Philadelphia, and the global demonstrations about the death of George Floyd inform us about the actors of urban collective action in the post-WWII context. We will embark on studying the literature concerning social movements to relate these instances to a broader discussion about how urban resistance could both facilitate and contain anti-racist mobilization.

Last, we will focus on the urban elements in alternative political, intellectual, and artistic visions and practices such as the African American communal experiences, separatism, and Afrofuturism. In this section, the goal is to develop ideas collectively about anti-racist urban political action and policymaking in the years to come.

Omitted 2022-23.  Visiting Associate Professor Balaban.

2024-25: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2020, Fall 2021

211 Introduction to Urban Sociology: Invention of the Urban Space

(Offered as SOCI 211 and ARCH 211) All urban spaces are invented by the users of those spaces. Following this axiom, this course introduces the basic concepts and themes of urban space theories and then discusses these concepts and themes within the historical context of the invention of mental and physical urban spaces.

Reviewing the basic foundational notions of urban ecology, political economy, and urban planning, we will discuss contrasting urban utopias that underlie different spatial inventions from the nineteenth century and beyond. Then, we will move to ethnographic and historical works that focus on key urban spaces, including suburbia, social housing, slums/barrios/gecekondus, ghettoes, and global cities. We will also discuss the idea of whether the nation state itself is an urban space invented to contextualize other urban spaces.

Along with these discussions, we will review some of the important datasets on cities collected by key agencies and institutions such as GaWC and Eurostat Urban Audits. Students will use these materials to analyze urban spaces during the semester. Students will gain new skills to contemplate social relations through the prism of spatial dynamics and to investigate related empirical questions with the assistance of different data sources.

Limited to 18 students. Omitted 2022-23. Visiting Associate Professor Balaban.

2024-25: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2020, Spring 2021, Spring 2022

215 "The Embodied Self" in American Culture and Society

(See AMST 115)

220 What is Development? Rethinking Solutions for Health, Sustainability, and Global Justice

What is “development”? What makes some places more or less “developed”? Does the process of development unfold simply as a steady “march of progress” and modernization, or also as a contested historical process of social change? This course is an introduction to development sociology and the interdisciplinary field of development studies. We will study the history and major theories of development and globalization and examine some of the most pressing contemporary issues of health, sustainability, and social justice. By tracing the historical transformations between colonialism, the development era, the neoliberal globalization project, and sustainable development, this course will show how development stems from unequal power relationships between and among peoples and countries of the Global North and Global South.  Students will learn to think critically about past ideas and proposals for development and modernization and search for better solutions for the twenty-first century. Readings include foundational texts and cutting-edge research in development sociology and interdisciplinary development studies. In addition to the lectures, students will cultivate critical thinking and improve skills in reading, writing, discussion, and creativity through dialogue, creative group projects, and independent research.

Limited to 20 students.  Omitted 2022-2023.  Professor Zhang.

Other years: Offered in Spring 2024

226 Unequal Footprints on the Earth: Understanding the Social Drivers of Ecological Crises and Environmental Inequality

(Offered as SOCI 226 and ENST 226) Creating a more sustainable relationship between human society and the rest of nature requires changing the way we relate to one another as humans. This course will explain why, while answering a number of associated questions and introducing the exciting and engaged field of environmental sociology. We study the anthropogenic drivers of environmental change from an interdisciplinary and historical perspective to make sense of pressing socio-ecological issues, including climate change, sustainability and justice in global food production, the disproportionate location of toxic waste disposal in communities of color, biodiversity loss, desertification, freshwater pollution and unequal access, the accumulation and trade in electronic waste, the ecological footprint of the Internet, and more. We examine how these issues are linked to broad inequalities within society, which are reflected in, and exacerbated by, persistent problems with environmental racism, the unaddressed legacies of colonialism, and other contributors to environmental injustice worldwide. Industrialization and the expansionary tendencies of the modern economic system receive particular attention, as these continue to be central factors promoting ecological change. Throughout the course a hopeful perspective in the face of such interrelated challenges is encouraged as we study promising efforts and movements that emphasize both ecological restoration and achievement of a more just, democratic world.

Course readings include foundational texts in environmental sociology, as well as the most current research on course topics. Writing and research assignments allow for the development of in-depth analyses of social and environmental issues relevant to students' community, everyday life, personal experience, and concerns.

Limited to 18 students. Fall semester. Professor Holleman.

Other years: Offered in Fall 2012, Fall 2013, Spring 2015, Fall 2016, Fall 2017, Fall 2018, Fall 2020, Fall 2021, Fall 2022, Fall 2024

241 Trump, the Right, and American Society

The election of Donald Trump in 2016 was startling to say the least. We begin with the many efforts to explain the results of the 2016 election as well as the more fledgling efforts on the 2020 elections (outcome unknown as I write this), focusing on the role of race, class, place and political party.  We then contextualize the results of these elections in four ways: (1) historically (how the American Right has developed over time), (2) socially (how political choices emerge from the complexities of everyday lives), (3) comparatively (how “right-wing populism” is similar or different in different societies), and (4) structurally (the role of large structures and big processes like globalization and neo-liberalism).  Placing recent political events in broader social/historical contexts will be challenging and exciting.

Limited to 20 students. Spring semester. Professor Himmelstein.

2024-25: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2019, Spring 2021, Spring 2023, Spring 2024

243 Drugs and Society

This course examines the use and control of mood-altering drugs in the United States today from a sociological and critical perspective. The issues we examine include the strange confluence of legal and illegal drugs in the making of the opioid “epidemic” and the ongoing effort to criticize and reform the “War on Drugs.”

Limited to 20 students. Omitted 2022-23. Professor Himmelstein.

2024-25: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2008, Fall 2009, Fall 2011, Fall 2012, Spring 2015, Spring 2016, Spring 2017, Spring 2019, Spring 2020, Fall 2020

248 Islamophobia

(See ANTH 248)

249 Social Inequalities and Social Change

(See AMST 249)

264 Migration Across the Americas

(See AMST 264)

265 Unequal Childhoods: Race, Class and Gender in the United States

(Offered as SOCI 265 and AMST 265) This course explores the ways in which race, class, gender and immigration status shape children’s lives. We begin by conceptualizing childhood as a social construct whose meaning has changed over time and that varies across context; for class privileged individuals, for example, childhood or adolescence may extend into the third decade of life, whereas for “others,” poverty and/or family responsibilities and community struggles may mean it scarcely exists at all. The bulk of the course draws from ethnographic scholarship focused on the relationship between childhood and inequality in key institutional contexts including school, family and the legal system. Through ethnography, we will critically examine the ways in which inequalities among and between groups of children shape their daily life experiences, aspirations and opportunities, and what this means for overall trends of inequality in the United States.

Limited to 25 students. Spring semester. Professor Schmalzbauer.

2024-25: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2016, Spring 2019, Spring 2023

268 Rethinking Race and Class in Rural America

(See AMST 268)

305 Gender, Migration and Power: Latinos in the Americas

(See AMST 305)

306 Pandemics and Society: The Socio-Ecological Construction of Infectious Diseases throughout History

(Offered as SOCI-306 and ENST-306) How and why do pandemics emerge? How have pandemics been shaped by social and ecological conditions around the world? And how do pandemics in turn transform society and our environment? This is a research-oriented interdisciplinary seminar examining how epidemic infectious diseases are not naturally given but socially and environmentally constructed. We will study the plague (including the Black Death), smallpox, dengue, malaria, cholera, tuberculosis, influenza, HIV, SARS, MERS, and COVID-19, and draw upon examples from all around the world throughout history. Special attention is given to environmental change and modernization, science and technology, state-making and globalization, migration and geopolitics, as well as class, race/ethnicity and gender inequalities. The seminar will draw on readings in sociology, anthropology, history, geography, public health, biology, epidemiology, political ecology, and other interdisciplinary fields. Lectures will be accompanied by discussion, and students will be required to undertake independent research, write a final essay, and present their work to the class. We will explore the possibility of publishing final essays as a collection.

Limited to 20 students. Spring semester. Professor Zhang.

Other years: Offered in Spring 2023, Spring 2024

308 Gender, Feminisms, and Education

(See AMST 308)

314 Climate Justice Now

(See ENST 314)

315 Foundations of Sociological Theory

Sociology emerged as part of the intellectual response to the French and Industrial Revolutions. In various ways, the classic sociological thinkers sought to make sense of these changes and the kind of society that resulted from them. We shall begin by examining the social and intellectual context in which sociology developed and then turn to a close reading of the works of five important social thinkers: Marx, Tocqueville, Weber, Durkheim, and DuBois. We shall attempt to identify the theoretical perspective of each thinker by posing several basic questions: According to each social thinker, what is the general nature of society, the individual, and the relationship between the two? What holds societies together? What pulls them apart? How does social change occur? What are the distinguishing features of modern Western society in particular? What distinctive dilemmas do individuals face in modern society? What are the prospects for human freedom and happiness? Although the five thinkers differ strikingly from each other, we shall also determine the extent to which they share a common “sociological consciousness.” Required of sociology majors.

Limited to 20 students. Spring semester. Professor Himmelstein.

Other years: Offered in Fall 2011, Fall 2012, Fall 2013, Fall 2014, Fall 2015, Fall 2016, Fall 2017, Fall 2018, Fall 2019, Fall 2020, Spring 2022, Fall 2022, Fall 2023

316 Social Research

This course introduces students to the range of methods that sociologists use to understand humans as social beings. It explores the strengths and weaknesses of these methods. Students will design and execute an original research project. The course emphasizes the general logic of social inquiry and research design rather than narrowly defined techniques and statistical proofs. Required of sociology majors.

Limited to 15 students. Spring semester. Professor Schmalzbauer..

Other years: Offered in Spring 2012, Spring 2013, Fall 2013, Spring 2015, Spring 2016, Spring 2017, Fall 2017, Spring 2019, Spring 2020, Spring 2021, Spring 2022, Spring 2023, Spring 2024

325 Protest!

(Offered as SOCI 325 and ANTH 325) From Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street to Black Lives Matter and the Women’s March, protests across the globe are questioning the social, political and economic status quo. This course explores the concept and practice of protest from sociological and anthropological perspectives. Why do people protest? What are their cultural and social forms? How does one understand the emotions involved? What is the role of technology? What relationships exist between the act of protest and social movements? Are protests always progressive? How does the study of protest help one understand power, democracy, and societal change? To explore these questions we will look at ethnography and history of collective mobilizations, from anti-colonial movements to nationalist struggles, as well as contemplate the future of protest for the U.S. and the rest of the world. While the readings will include case study research and key theoretical texts, we will also speak with organizers and participants of current uprisings to understand concerns on the ground.

Limited to 15 students. Fall semester. Professors Holleman and Chowdhury.

2024-25: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2017, Fall 2018, Fall 2020, Fall 2021, Fall 2022

326 Immigration and the New Latino Second Generation

(See AMST 326)

334 The Social Construction of Whiteness

(Offered as SOCI 334 and BLST 336 [US])  Being “white” is typically treated as a default identity in the United States, yet whiteness remains relatively unexamined as a source of accumulated institutional advantages and cultural entitlements. This course will interrogate prevailing constructions of whiteness, examining its origins as a racial category, its function as group identity and source of individual meaning-making, and its role in reproducing racial hierarchy. Drawing on historical, theoretical, literary, and sociological accounts, our aim will be to contextualize whiteness as a discourse of power.  The course will focus primarily, but not exclusively, on the United States, from the pre-Civil Rights era through the contemporary passage from colorblind to nationalist constructions of whiteness.

Requisite: SOCI 112 or equivalent. Open to juniors and seniors. Limited to 20 students. Admission with consent of the instructor. Spring semester. Professor Lembo.

2024-25: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2014, Spring 2015, Spring 2016, Spring 2017, Spring 2018, Spring 2019, Spring 2023, Spring 2024

337 Dilemmas of Diversity: The Case of Higher Education

(Offered as SOCI 337 and EDST 337) In this course, we will focus on the diversification of higher education. We will pay particular attention to efforts made by selective liberal arts colleges and universities to open their doors to students disadvantaged by barriers of racial discrimination and excluded by the means of class privilege. We will critically interrogate the concept of diversity and its implementation, paying attention to both successes and problems. Among these problems is the gap between a diversity promised and a diversity delivered.

We will employ sociological theories and concepts to explore this gap, the dilemmas it presents, and the cultural strategies that have emerged in response to them. Situating contemporary efforts of selective colleges and universities to diversify in historical context, we will pay particular attention to broader transformation of racial and class discourse in the United States in the post civil rights era, including federal efforts to address discrimination, Supreme Court decisions regarding race-based admissions policy, changes in corporate personnel policies, the rise of “colorblind” rhetoric, growing economic inequality, and the expansion of neoliberal policies and practices in higher education today. Drawing on this context, we will assess the strengths and weaknesses of diversity initiatives that have been put into place, the patterns of cultural change occurring on campuses, and the role social difference can play in constructing alternatives to inclusive communities as we presently envision them.

Students will be encouraged to work collaboratively and will employ a variety of methods to document systematically the current state of diversity on their respective campuses.

Requisite: SOCI 112 or equivalent. Limited to 15 students. Admission with consent of the instructor. Fall semester. Professor Lembo.

Other years: Offered in Fall 2015, Fall 2016, Fall 2018, Fall 2019, Fall 2021, Fall 2022, Fall 2024

345 Model Minorities: Jewish and Asian Americans

(See AMST 345)

352 The Purpose and Politics of Education

Other years: Offered in Fall 2022, Spring 2024

375 Amherst Latinx Lives

(See SPAN 375)

498, 499, 499D Senior Departmental Honors

Spring semester. The Department.

Other years: Offered in Spring 2013, Spring 2018, Spring 2019, Spring 2021, Spring 2022, Spring 2023, Spring 2024

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