Columbia Courses Related to Mass Incarceration

Across Columbia's campus, students can find a wide range of courses related to the subject of mass incarceration. This list aims to keep Columbia students informed of opportunities to learn more about the subject through university curriculum.

Spring 2021

The rapid proliferation, over the last fifteen years, of technologies that aim at the preservation of life at the edges of illness has created a conceptual, intellectual, and political fissure in the ways in which life and death can be fixed with any degree of certainty. This is true as much in chronic cases, such as the various neurodegenerative diseases, as in acute cases, such as COVID-19, managed in the ICU, where life is being preserved through mechanical intervention. 

Are these mechanical interventions (ventilators, stomas, monitors) prosthetics that become part of the human body, or do they remain within the space of signification of the extracorporeal? What is the glamour of the “cyborg” when it appears within the context of medico-mechanical intervention? 

These questions are not academic intellectual abstractions but they become pressing questions when they inform the decision-making process in the context of encounters between physicians and patients, patients and families, or physicians and the State. Cases such as Terry Schiavo’s, which captured the global imaginary as it posited the question of “what is a human being” and what is “life” and what is not, belie the deep anxieties that appear when medical interventions are in the process of becoming naturalized and normalized, as if the questions that they posit are exhausted when they are approved by the IRB or the Ethics Board. 

These questions become even more pressing when they are articulated within the framework of already existing systems of exclusion that seek to cancel the humanity of “other populations,” Blacks, refugees, Latinx, LGBTQI. 

This course will examine the conceptual spaces that are being created in the crevices of the fixity of life, death, and the human/non-human being by looking at concerns that have been voiced by various thinkers and social movements.

Last Instructor / Semester
Neni Panourgiá / Spring 2021

This course is about reproduction—a biological and social process that is often the target of deep-seated ideas about nation, culture, conflict, and definitions of life. With an emphasis on the reproductive justice movement in the United States, which centers the experiences and leadership of BIPOC women and LGBTQ people, we will explore a variety of literary works, films, journalism, public health studies, and policy/legal texts, all of which differently narrate, debate, script, and theorize about reproduction. Questions we will explore include: what is reproduction—scientifically, culturally, politically, and rhetorically? What is reproductive justice, and how is it distinct from reproductive rights and health? How have recent innovations in medicine and reproductive technologies both empowered and harmed reproductive experiences? And what kind of world does the reproductive justice movement urge us to imagine and create? Please note that the material for this class discusses obstetric violence; this material is important for understanding the relationships between race, science, and reproductive justice. Throughout the semester, we will discuss as a class how to work through this difficult material in respectful and inclusive ways. NOTE: This 4-credit version of First-Year Seminar (FYS)—FYS “Workshop”—is specially designed for students who believe they would benefit from extra support with their critical reading and academic writing skills. In addition to regular seminar meetings twice per week, students are also required to participate in six Friday “writing labs” over the course of the semester. The writing labs for this section will take place on the following Fridays, 11:40am-12:55pm: 1/15, 1/22, 1/29, 2/5, 2/12, and 3/26. These dates are for the Spring 2021 semester only.

Last Instructor / Semester
Cecelia B Lie-Spahn / Spring 2021

Frontiers of Justice is designed to encourage students and equip them with the skills to become active and effective  “Change Agents” within their academic institutions and larger communities.. Oriented by the question, What does justice look like?, this course aims to raise political and social awareness and engagement with the challenges facing New York City and strengthen ties between Columbia University, disadvantaged communities, and city government agencies and community organizations. Through sharing ideas about how to make structural and systemic change in ways that integrate science, law, politics, history,  narrative and community engagement, the course is intended to support students in working to break down racial and ethnic barriers and toward a more fair and just society.

Last Instructor / Semester
Geraldine Downey / Spring 2021

Past Instructor:
Ayanna Sorett

While George Orwell may have been right when he remarked that "history is written by the winners," imaginative literature is almost always preoccupied with the losers. This course investigates how representational writing (a poem, a play, a novel, a short story, a theoretical essay) wrests its central themes and rhetorical strategies from imagining the voices of the disenfranchised. We begin from the premise that such acts of representation substitute as forms of redress, whether a justice of retribution and restoration or simply a caring gesture of bearing witness. Readings may include the "Hymn to Demeter," Euripides’s Medea, Christina Rossetti’s Goblin Market, Toni Morrison’s Beloved, Ira Levin’s Rosemary’s Baby, Luisa Valenzuela's "Out of the Corner of One Eye," Nathan Englander’s "What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank."

Last Instructor / Semester
Monica F. Cohen / Spring 2021

Prison literature—poems, plays, memoirs, novels, and songs written in prison or about prison—constitute a significant part of American literature. Prisons expose many of the systemic inequalities of American life, above all those based on racism and the enduring legacies of slavery. Using the tools of critical race theory, feminism, and class analysis, this course will explore the forms of cultural expression that have emerged in relationship to the American prison experience. Though the course will touch on the rise of convict leasing, chain gangs, and work farms as part of the penal system under Jim Crow, the main focus will be on developments in the U.S. prison system and in prison literature since the 1960s, roughly from the prison writing of George Jackson, Angela Davis, and Malcolm X to the outpouring of contemporary fiction and poetry about prison life by Jesmyn Ward, Colin Whitehead, Rachel Kushner, and Reginald Betts. This is the era of what Michelle Alexander has called “the new Jim Crow,” the rise of mass incarceration, the partial privatization of the penal system, and the growth of supermax facilities. Among the questions we will explore together are these: What tools and techniques do writers use to construct the prison experience? What are the affordances offered by various genres (drama, autobiography, poetry, the novel) for exploring the prison system and the systems of oppression that converge at that site? Does some literature of incarceration perpetuate damaging discourses about “felons,” or does it revise and complicate stereotypes and narratives about incarcerated individuals? How do narratives involving change, conversion, growing up, or being defeated operate in various genres of prison literature? What role do mourning, witnessing, testifying, and resistance play in such writing? What is the imagined audience of various genres of prison writing, that is, for whom is it written? What ethical and political demands does such writing make on us as readers, citizens, activists?

Last Instructor / Semester
Jean Howard / Spring 2021

Fall 2020

This course will explore the social justice road to punitive abolition—to the abolition of capital punishment and the dominant punitive punishment paradigm in the United States. It will investigate how abolition of the death penalty might be achieved in this country, but also what it might mean to imagine abolition in the context of policing, of the prison, and also of punishment more broadly. The United States incarcerates more of its own than any other country in the world and than any other civilization in history. With over 2,600 inmates on death row, 2.2 million people behind bars, another 5 million people on probation or parole, and over 70 million people in the FBI’s criminal record database, this country now operates a criminal justice system of unparalleled punitiveness. The burden of this system has fallen predominantly on poor communities of color. In fact, in some striking ways, this country’s criminal justice system and reliance on mass incarceration have replaced chattel slavery. As Bryan Stevenson explains, “Slavery didn’t end in 1865. It just evolved.” This course will explore how the country can move from a punitive paradigm to a new paradigm that favors instead education and well-being. It will investigate: (1) how to chart a social justice path toward abolition of the death penalty; (2) how to reimagine the criminal justice system so that it is no longer based on a punitive paradigm; and (3) what it would mean to imagine abolition more broadly of policing and punishment.

Last Instructors / Semester
Bernard Harcourt, Alexis Hoag / Fall 2020

Frontiers of Justice is designed to encourage students and equip them with the skills to become active and effective  “Change Agents” within their academic institutions and larger communities.. Oriented by the question, What does justice look like?, this course aims to raise political and social awareness and engagement with the challenges facing New York City and strengthen ties between Columbia University, disadvantaged communities, and city government agencies and community organizations. Through sharing ideas about how to make structural and systemic change in ways that integrate science, law, politics, history,  narrative and community engagement, the course is intended to support students in working to break down racial and ethnic barriers and toward a more fair and just society.

Last Instructor / Semester
Geraldine Downey / Spring 2021

Past Instructor:
Ayanna Sorett

Shelter is one of our most basic human needs. Yet housing, and its legal, social and political meanings and struggles around its distribution, possession and safety, is a concept that can only be fully understood as a historical phenomenon. In the industrializing and urbanizing world, the concept of “housing” emerged at the intersection of questions of property rights, the study of urban problems, and the legal and cultural distinctions between public and private spheres. Throughout the world, the provision of shelter for urban populations has been at the center of urban crises and conflicts, as well as their solutions. This course will examine the deep history of urban segregation, fights for healthy and safe housing, and scholarly and policy debates about the “planet of slums.” The course’s geographic scope is global, using both comparative and transnational approaches, and we will explore the connections between local and global movements and historical processes. Through a historically-oriented but interdisciplinary set of readings, students in this class will become familiar with the terms of debates about the right to shelter as a social, political and legal problem in the modern (nineteenth- and twentieth-century) world. We will explore how history provides a unique view on how the question of housing is a social justice issue connected to other ones like mass incarceration and the destruction wrought by wars, famines, and intergenerational racial, ethnic and class inequalities. There are no pre- or co-requisites for this class.

Last Instructor / Semester
Amy Chazkel / Fall 2020

Used as punishment since antiquity for the political and social dissidents, exile, penal colonies, concentration camps, asylums, and prisons have been produced as conceptual and concrete spaces where constructions of the body politic have been contested. How does the experience of the spatialized body produce social and political subjectivities, especially with the employment of discourses of inclusion and exclusion, of grafting and excising onto and from the body politic?  And how does this body politic get re-produced through the double experience of incarceration and a deadly pandemic that can be survived only through radical isolation? This course explores the concepts of isolation and incarceration along the axis of discourses of health—the health of the citizen and the health of society, as it unfolds in two phases: first an introduction to ethnographic methodology in order to produce ethnographic material on the experience of double segregation: incarceration through the criminal justice system and then isolation through the public health system. Students will be asked to read short texts on ethnographic methods in order to be able to write self-ethnographies on their own experience. In the second phase the students will be asked to conduct short, salvage fieldwork with friends, and family about the effects of this double isolation on their social realities. Students will then be asked to prepare texts that present as richly as possible the current landscape of their lives.

Last Instructor / Semester
Neni Panourgiá / Fall 2020

Spring 2020

This seminar will examine the social construction of criminality and the institutions that developed to impose and enforce the criminal law as reflections of Latin American society throughout the region’s history, with a particular emphasis on the rise of police forces as the principal means of day-to-day urban governance. Topics include policing and urban slavery; policing the urban “underworld”; the changing cultural importance of police in urban popular culture; the growth of scientific policing methods, along with modern criminology and eugenics; policing and the enforcement of gender norms in urban public spaces; the role of urban policing in the rise of military governments in the twentieth century; organized crime; transitional justice and the contemporary question of the rule of law; and the transnational movement of ideas about and innovations in policing practice. In our readings and class discussions over the course of the semester, we will trace how professionalized, modern police forces took shape in cities across the region over time. This course actually begins, however, in the colonial period before there was anything that we would recognize as a modern, uniformed, state-run police force. We will thus have a broad perspective from which to analyze critically the role of police in the development of Latin American urban societies—in other words, to see the police in the contemporary era as contingent on complex historical processes, which we will seek to understand.

Last Instructor / Semester
Amy Chazkel / Spring 2020

This course is a survey of the major trends, approaches and themes in the comparative study of the politics of race. The course’s goals are four-fold. First, we will interrogate the key concepts that scaffold the course – race, politics (and international relations and law) and the comparative method. Second, we will tackle some key preoccupations of comparative political science such as race and state formation, nationalism, economic systems and their consequences. Third, we will explore the connections between race and policy formulation when it comes to restorative justice, affirmative action, immigration, criminal justice systems and human resource development. Fourth and finally, we will come to grips with how race and racism connect abstract communities and disparate peoples, shape national myths and narratives that factor into the current cycle of identity politics and practices.This course is a survey of the major trends, approaches and themes in the comparative study of the politics of race. The course’s goals are four-fold. First, we will interrogate the key concepts that scaffold the course – race, politics (and international relations and law) and the comparative method. Second, we will tackle some key preoccupations of comparative political science such as race and state formation, nationalism, economic systems and their consequences. Third, we will explore the connections between race and policy formulation when it comes to restorative justice, affirmative action, immigration, criminal justice systems and human resource development. Fourth and finally, we will come to grips with how race and racism connect abstract communities and disparate peoples, shape national myths and narratives that factor into the current cycle of identity politics and practices.This course is a survey of the major trends, approaches and themes in the comparative study of the politics of race. 

Last Instructor / Semester
Wilmot James / Spring 2020

Welcome to the Incarcerated Yet Inspired, a cross-genre, creative writing seminar. Over the course of this semester, we will conduct a close reading of literary works that are based on the lives of individuals who have been ostracized, incarcerated, and isolated from their communities. While some of the writers we will  study have been personally affected by the criminal justice system, others have drawn upon their research, observations, and experiences working in prisons to tell a compelling story. Through our weekly analysis and discussion, we will explore the thematic elements and artistic choices each writer employs in their work. We will also challenge our existing thoughts about prisons as an institution and develop a better understanding of how the prism of art and justice can be valuable to you as writers.

Last Instructor / Semester
Christopher P Wolfe / Spring 2020

This course explores the causes and consequences of crime as it relates to public policy.  We will critically examine the role of key players in the criminal justice system, including police, politicians, judges, lawyers, offenders, victims and the media.  We will also consider historical, political, sociological and theoretical dimensions of controversial issues in criminal justice practice and policy.  Classes may also include guest speakers from relevant fields.

Last Instructor / Semester
Cory Way / Spring 2020

This course will do three things: (1) critically examine the works of philosophers who have argued for justice reform and social change, (2) set this philosophical work next to writings by prominent activists, especially those interested in criminal justice reform, and
(3) work with students to do semester-long activist work. Local activists will visit class and discuss their work.

Last Instructor / Semester
Christia Mercer / Spring 2020

Fall 2019

Prerequisites: the instructor's permission. Through a series of secondary- and primary-source readings and research writing assignments, students in this seminar course will explore one of the most politically controversial aspects in the history of public health in the United States as it has affected peoples of color: intoxicating substances. Course readings are primarily historical, but sociologists, anthropologists, and political scientists are also represented on the syllabus. The course's temporal focus - the twentieth century - allows us to explore the historical political and social configurations of opium, alcohol, heroin, cocaine, medical maintenance (methadone), the War on Drugs, the carceral state and hyperpolicing, harm reduction and needle/syringe exchange. This semester's principal focus will be on the origins and evolution of the set of theories, philosophies, and practices which constitute harm reduction. The International Harm Reduction Association/Harm Reduction International offers a basic, though not entirely comprehensive, definition of harm reduction in its statement, "What is Harm Reduction?" (http://www.ihra.net/what-is-harm-reduction): "Harm reduction refers to policies, programmes and practices that aim to reduce the harms associated with the use of psychoactive drugs in people unable or unwilling to stop. The defining features are the focus on the prevention of harm, rather than on the prevention of drug use itself, and the focus on people who continue to use drugs."[1] Harm reduction in many U.S. communities of color, however, has come to connote a much wider range of activity and challenges to the status quo. In this course we will explore the development of harm reduction in the United States and trace its evolution in the political and economic context race, urban neoliberalism, and no-tolerance drug war. The course will feature site visits to harm reduction organizations in New York City, guest lectures, and research/oral history analysis. 

Last Instructor / Semester
Samuel K. Roberts Jr. / Fall 2019

Forcibly moving civilians to designated areas as a wartime measure has constituted a widely practiced military strategy for centuries. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, colonial powers increasingly provided more structure and organization to these policies of relocation and internment in the Americas, Africa, and East Asia. This course provides a social history of civilian internment and mass murder from late-19th century colonial cases to World War II.


Through case studies of the Spanish-Cuban war, the South African War, the Philippines-American War, the genocide of the Herrero and Nama in Southwest Africa, the Armenian Genocide, and the Holocaust, the course traces the evolution of the concentration camp from a counter-insurgency strategy in wartime to a weapon of mass murder. The course also examines the internment of Japanese Americans, and the Japanese “comfort stations” in comparative perspective.

Last Instructor / Semester
Khatchig Mouradian / Fall 2019

This course will explore the social justice road to punitive abolition—to the abolition of capital punishment and the dominant punitive punishment paradigm in the United States. It will investigate how abolition of the death penalty might be achieved in this country, but also what it might mean to imagine abolition in the context of policing, of the prison, and also of punishment more broadly.

Last Instructors / Semester
Bernard Harcourt, Alexis Hoag / Fall 2019

Fall 2018

This lecture course, accompanied by its weekly discussion section, will introduce students to the field of justice. It will combine an intellectual history of conceptions of justice and modes of political change with an exploration of the main areas of public interest and advocacy. The course is intended to serve as a bridge from the Columbia Core to present issues of social justice. Throughout, the discussion will question how we—contemporary subjects and citizens—can improve our social and political condition and achieve justice.

Last Instructor / Semester
Bernard Harcourt / Fall 2018

This course will examine the historical development of crime and the criminal justice system in the United States since the Civil War. The course will give particular focus to the interactions between conceptions of crime, normalcy and deviance, and the broader social and political context of policy making.

Last Instructor / Semester
Matthew Vaz / Fall 2018

This course focuses on the structures and processes that led the U.S. to build the largest carceral regime on the planet in the post-1970s United States. Through readings, lectures, and original research, students will develop analyses of how this growth coincided with a shift in the racial composition of prisons from majority white to almost seventy percent people of color. Students will develop a number of concept such as race, class, gender, neoliberalism, abolition, policing, and surveillance that are foundational for analyzing the formation of the carceral state.

Last Instructor / Semester
Jordan Camp / Fall 2018

This course will explore the major writings of Angela Davis. The focus will not only be on Davis’s major works but the way in which her thinking and activism fits into a broader lineage of black women intellectuals. Major themes to be explored will include the intersectionality of race, gender, and class in the formation of social relations; the prison abolition movement; and, the role of women of color in social justice movements.

Last Instructor / Semester
Kevin Fellezs / Fall 2018

Spring 2018

This lecture course, accompanied by its weekly recitation section, will introduce students to the field of justice. It will combine an intellectual history of conceptions of justice and modes of political change with an exploration of the main areas of public interest and advocacy. The course is intended to serve as a bridge from the Columbia Core to present issues of social justice. Throughout, the discussion will center on how we—contemporary public citizens—can improve our social and political condition and achieve justice. 

The course will integrate four principal dimensions. First, it will explore how conceptions of justice have changed over the course of the past three millennia and will ask which conceptions of justice make more sense in our present political condition. From ancient ideas of substantive justice and natural law to more modern liberal ideas of legalism and the rule of law, the course will outline, compare, and interrogate different ways of thinking about a just society. Second, the course will investigate different modes of political action and how they too have changed over the course of history. It will explore earlier forms of political contestation and ask what political action looks like today. How, for instance, might impact litigation compare with civil disobedience or other forms of contemporary disobedience, such as Occupy Wall Street, #BlackLivesMatter, or hacktivism? Third, the course will offer an overview of several major areas of public interest advocacy and public service today—from criminal justice reform, to voting rights, struggles for racial, ethnic, gender, and sexual equality, immigration reform, environmental justice, and international human rights. Fourth, the course will interrogate different kinds of political action and explore what type of political interventions seem most suited to our current political condition. It will ask, for instance, how best to address issues of mass incarceration, climate change, racial and gender inequality, or immigration discrimination.

The course will explore what it means to pursue the public interest and to become a public citizen today, informed by the long tradition of writings on justice and social change. How do we pursue justice in our time? How can history and social theory inform our current political practices? In sum, what is to be done in the face of political oppression or injustice? How do we build more just societies? 

Last Instructor / Semester
Bernard Harcourt / Spring 2018

This seminar will explore some of the most important ways in which law and the legal system transformed American society– the shift from status to contract and the role of law in shaping the economy. We will look at the legal status of slaves and the status of freed people after emancipation, the status of women, both married and single, how family and marriage law evolved to encompass marriage equality, and the status of criminals and prisoners, when guilt replaced shame as a legal concept and the penitentiary replaced the stocks, and how the concept of privacy became enshrined in law. We will also look at the role of law in releasing creative energy into the economy and how law transformed the economy in the 19th century and conversely how the explosive growth of the American economy disrupted and transformed American law. Readings will include secondary works as well as primary sources and legal cases.  

Last Instructor / Semester
Michael Hindus / Spring 2018

This course focuses on the structures and processes that led the U.S. to build the largest carceral regime on the planet in the post-1970s United States. Through readings, lectures, and original research, students will develop analyses of how this growth coincided with a shift in the racial composition of prisons from majority white to almost seventy percent people of color. Students will develop a number of concepts such as race, class, gender, neoliberalism, abolition, policing, and surveillance that are foundational for analyzing the formation of the carceral state. 

Last Instructor / Semester
Jordan Camp / Spring 2018

This course will examine the historical development of crime and the criminal justice system in the United States since the Civil War. The course will give particular focus to the interactions between conceptions of crime, normalcy and deviance, and the broader social and political context of policy making.

Last Instructor / Semester
Matthew Vaz / Spring 2018

This graduate seminar mixes sociological and historical accounts in order to explore the social determinants and consequences of the U.S. criminal justice system. The class casts a wide net — exploring classical texts as well as contemporary scholarship from a range of sociological traditions.

We begin by discussing classical texts in order to understand the theoretical traditions that underlie the most interesting contemporary work on the sociology of punishment. Building on the work of Marxist criminologists like Rusche and Kirchheimer, we explore the relationship between the U.S. criminal justice system and the market. To what extent can we understand the penal field as autonomous from economic relationships? To what extent do economic forces or logics determine criminological thinking and practice? Building on Durkheim, we explore how punishment is both reflective of social values and constitutive of social solidarity, and investigate the symbolic consequences (intended and unintended) of contemporary punishment regimes. Building on readings from Foucault, we explore punishment and its relationship to the emergence of new forms of bureaucratic and disciplinary power. Finally, with Goffman, we explore the interactive context of the prison as relatively autonomous from the external forces that bring it into being. With the classical theorists behind us, we turn to a history of the present. What is the age at which we are living today? What are the economic, political, and symbolic causes and consequences of mass incarceration? To what extent can we understand mass incarceration, and more recent reform efforts, as reflective or constitutive of new forms of power in contemporary society? Finally, we conclude by asking what the future might hold. After four decades of explosive growth, the U.S. incarceration rate has been declining slowly for the last several years. Crime rates have declined steadily for the last quarter century. At the same time, Black Lives Matter has put renewed focus on the ways in which the state continues to exert violence in poor communities of color. How should we understand the current period of reform? What are its social and political possibilities and limitations? What would a just justice system even entail?

Last Instructor / Semester
Adam Reich / Spring 2018

Fall 2017

In its everyday use, the term “trial” denotes a formal examination of evidence by a judicial tribunal in order to determine the guilt or innocence of the persons accused of a certain act. Yet trials can also stage confrontations of much wider breadth and higher stakes. Ruling powers of various shapes and sizes tend to prosecute those people whom they fear because of their identity, class, craft, or convictions. In such cases, what is often “on trial” is not just one (or more) individual persons, but a set of relationship that these ruling powers see as anathema to the social order they seek to establish or maintain, and on which their power depends. Witches, officers of toppled political orders, those accused of conspiracy (rebels, traitors, terrorists, and dissidents), gangsters and mafiosi, or corrupt officers and magnates – all share that role in social dramas that cast them as enemies of The State, The Church, The People, or Humanity. 

We will examine how such trials give us unique opportunities to examine what conceptions of society, of relationships good and evil, and of justice underlie political orders, how they codify and pursue them, and what historical processes these enactments trigger or shape. After an introductory session, we will dedicate two to three weeks on each of these categories. Our goal will be to develop tools for understanding the relationship between the micro-dynamics of trials and the changes that unfold before these events, through them, and in their aftermath.

Last Instructor / Semester
Naor Ben-Yehoyada / Fall 2017

Spring 2016

Last Instructor / Semester
Ramond Smith / Spring 2016

This course will examine the influence of race and poverty in the American system of confronting the challenge of crime.  Students will explore some history, including the various purposes of having an organized criminal justice system within a community; the principles behind the manner in which crimes are defined; and the utility of punishment.  Our focus will be on the social, political and economic effects of the administration of our criminal justice system, with emphatic examination of the role of conscious and unconscious racism, as well as community biases against the poor.  Students will examine the larger implications for a community and culture that are presented by these pernicious features.  We will reflect on the fairness of our past and present American system of confronting crime, and consider the possibilities of future reform.  Readings will include historical texts, analytical reports, some biography, and a few legal materials.  We will also watch documentary films which illuminate the issues and problems. To apply: Attend first class for instructor permission.

Last Instructor / Semester
Cathleen Price / Spring 2016

One of multiple courses offered on the subject of "Topics in the Black Experience," R.L. Lewis McCoy's course focuses on the intersection of race, schools, and policy.

Last Instructor / Semester
R.L. Lewis-McCoy / Spring 2016

Fall 2015

This course will take a transnational look at the strange ways that race and mass rumors have interacted. From the judicial and popular riots in the U.S. justified by recurrent rumors of African-American insurrection, to accusations that French Jews were players in the 'white slave trade,' to tales of white fat-stealing monsters among indigenous people of Bolivia and Peru, rumors play a key role in constructing, enforcing, and contesting regimes of racial identity and domination. In order to grasp rumor's importance for race, we will need to understand how it works, so our readings will cover both instances of racialized rumor-telling, conspiracy theories and mass panics, and some key approaches to how rumors work as a social phenomenon.

Last Instructor / Semester
Stuart Rockefeller / Fall 2017

Links

This course will examine the social and economic dynamics of crime in the United States during the 20th century. It will also explore politics and public policy related to policing and the courts, and it will situate the history of crime and policing within public discourses related to race, ethnicity, class, rights, and justice.

Last Instructor / Semester
Matthew Vaz / Fall 2015

Brendan O’Flaherty brings the tools of economic analysis—incentives, equilibrium, optimization, and more—to bear on contentious issues of race in the United States. In areas ranging from quality of health care and education, to employment opportunities and housing, to levels of wealth and crime, he shows how racial differences among blacks, whites, Hispanics, and Asian Americans remain a powerful determinant in the lives of twenty-first-century Americans. More capacious than standard texts, The Economics of Race in the United States discusses important aspects of history and culture and explores race as a social and biological construct to make a compelling argument for why race must play a major role in economic and public policy. People are not color-blind, and so policies cannot be color-blind either.

Because his book addresses many topics, not just a single area such as labor or housing, surprising threads of connection emerge in the course of O’Flaherty’s analysis. For example, eliminating discrimination in the workplace will not equalize earnings as long as educational achievement varies by race—and educational achievement will vary by race as long as housing and marriage markets vary by race. No single engine of racial equality in one area of social and economic life is strong enough to pull the entire train by itself. Progress in one place is often constrained by diminishing marginal returns in another. Good policies can make a difference, and only careful analysis can figure out which policies those are.

Last Instructor / Semester
Brendan O'Flaherty / Fall 2015

Last Instructor / Semester
Brian Goldstone / Fall 2015

Does race appear in American life in the ways we make, distribute, and consume goods?  If so, how? Through film, literary criticism, history, ethnography and philosophy, this course will examine how race manifests as an economic relationship. We will focus on the legacies of chattel slavery, the interconnections of race and property, and ongoing struggles for racial justice. The course is grounded in what Cedric Robinson has referred to as the “Black radical tradition”: a centuries-long intellectual and political tradition oriented towards contesting the definition of a specific group of people (Black people) as property. We will examine ways that this central economic claim, which underpinned the chattel slavery system, continues to appear in our own society, in prisons, international migration system, residential segregation, underemployment, and other ways.

Last Instructor / Semester
Manu Vimalassery / Fall 2017