Explores how challenges to society; such as crime, violence, injustice, poverty, and disease; are framed as social problems and then related to solutions. Examines the role of major institutions in problem identification, the power of language and media, and how social agendas are determined.
Waste (The Social Afterlife of Things): This course examines the meaning of “waste” in human societies, and particularly in present day industrialized societies. We will understand “waste” broadly as both a material reality and a culturally constructed process, and explore the relationships between these two aspects of its production and management. To that end, we will look at a variety of forms of waste and waste management, and we will incorporate a variety of disciplinary approaches—from the archaeology of landfills to the ethnography of dumpster-diving; from the ecology of industrial pollutants to the economics of recycling; from the sociology of garbage-pickers to the politics of homeless encampments (and public prejudices towards them).
Student learning goals
Cultural analysis and reflexivity: students will identify systemic cultural patterns of thinking in their communities and interrogate cultural prejudices towards waste.
Critical sociology and ecology: students will uncover hidden social and material lives led by waste after its abandonment, and their large-scale consequences.
Analytic vocabulary: students will digest complex texts from a variety of disciplines, and from these develop of vocabulary of key concepts with which to explore patterns of waste interdisciplinarily.
Quantitative research: students will apply documentary research methods to record and quantify the production of waste in their own lives.
Qualitative research: students will apply social and cultural research methods to identify the significance of waste in their own lives.
Tools for change: students will identify key methods for reducing or better managing waste in their communities.
General method of instruction
This course will consist largely of collegial discussion between peers, close reading of course texts (including, but not limited to: academic research, activist writing, documentary film, and popular culture), lecture, and a locally engaged final research project.
Previous courses in the social sciences dealing with the analysis of social, cultural, or ecological systems are recommended, but not required.
Class assignments and grading
Several short pieces of writing will be assigned, worth "credit" or "no credit" based on their effective engagement with course texts and in-class discussion; Further assignments analyzing specific forms of waste and waste management (including the final research project) will be assigned a grade by the instructor, to be evaluated based on their careful application of tools provided in the course; A portion of the grade will consist of in-class participation, which will be graded in dialogue between the student and instructor.
Some portions of the final grade will be determined through a process of self-evaluation, in discussion with the instructor; other assignments will be awarded "credit" or "no credit" according to standardized criteria; yet other assignments will be given a numerical grade based upon the depth and care given to their research and analysis.