Explores the patterns of power that create our social world and how those patterns can be challenged or modified. Examines cultural, institutional, and interpersonal ways that people gain, challenge, and are affected by power and considers how and whether to bring about social change.
Institutions and Social Change—an SEB core course—examines the patterns of power that permeate modern social life. Specifically, the course addresses how power differentials between people are created and reinforced by social institutions (such as education, work, politics, media, family, religion, the justice system), social statuses (such as race, sex, class), as well as through everyday norms of social interaction. We will explore the social, cultural, and institutional processes through which people gain and maintain power, and critically analyze how these patterns of power function to regulate society and impact social norms and activities. At the same time, we will also attend to the means by which groups and individuals resist and subvert power in ways that can also produce broader social change. This ongoing tension—between social forces that crystalize and reproduce established patterns of power, on the one hand, and forces that fight against, challenge, and modify them, on the other—is a major theme of the class. In terms of content, the course works by evaluating a variety of social theories within the broader context outlined above. These theories will help us understand how contemporary social formations of power have emerged historically, become institutionalized, and now routinely enter into popular thought and action in a variety of consequential ways. The goal is to foster an understanding of the ways in which power works, either explicitly or implicitly, in and through things like our everyday choices regarding the seemingly mundane (e.g., Should I buy that cheeseburger?), our political allegiances (e.g., Who should I vote for?), and expressly moral and ethical decisions (e.g., Is abortion wrong?). These considerations will ultimately factor into discussions about whether and how large-scale social change should be borne into action.
Student learning goals
An understanding of the role of context in shaping, transforming, and influencing an individual’s life and social groups in the U.S.
Synthesize diverse theoretical concepts and apply these to real-world situations with plausible outcomes for change
Reflection on inequality, power, and privilege and ability to participate in respectful and collegial dialogue
Critically assess institutions and collaborate with others on future change
General method of instruction
Lectures, group-based facilitation, films
No prior preparation required
Class assignments and grading
Midterm, response papers, final paper and presentation (group-based)