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Fall 2020 Courses

ST690 Health, Bodies, and Debility

Anastasia Todd (GWS) and Nari Senanayake (Geography)

Fall 2020, M 2-4:30

Course Description

We live in a moment where struggles over health and bodies are ubiquitous. Recent research, for instance, has examined these struggles under conditions of global climate change (Curtis and Oven), resource conflict (Sultana 2011, 2012), mass displacement and detention (Loyd and Mountz 2018), extrajudicial killings of black and brown bodies (Mbembe 2003, 2019) and life under military occupation (Puar 2017). While scholarly engagement with questions of health and bodies is not new, it assumes renewed importance in the context of these highly dynamic, contested and intractable problems and thus, increasingly captivates academic interest across the social sciences and humanities. 

In this course, we explore the potential of debility - as both a concept and lived experience - to extend these scholarly conversations. We position debility as a conceptual thread that cuts across the seminar and allows us to envision a productive interdisciplinary collaboration between health geography and feminist disability studies. Broadly, engaging with debility allows us to theorize the materiality of the bodymind and question the ontological assumptions that undergird the dichotomies of health/illness, and disability/able-bodiedness. Debility also provokes us to think through the porosity of bodies, troubling distinctions between the human/non-human and the body/environment. 

Recent scholarship in feminist disability studies, for instance, has troubled the constructed boundary between able-bodiedness and disability. This work presents debility as a conceptual alternative to theorize the nuanced and various ways in which the body is incapacitated, or alternatively, recapacitated under neoliberal capitalism (Fritsch 2015; Kolarova 2015; Puar 2017; Shildrick 2015). The concept of debility does not necessarily signal the death of the disabled subject; but rather, it decenters the spectacularized white, western, rights-bearing disabled subject. In this way, debility presents a capacious conceptual framework that helps us make sense of how certain bodies and minds, who may not identify as disabled, are subjected to slow death. In health geography the concept animates questions about everyday life in toxic spaces and has been used to blur the lines between health and illness and normal and pathological, particularly in cases of chronic and contested illnesses (Murphy 2000, 2006, Moss and Dyck 2004). In this literature, the concept of debility helps theorize more continuous and less dichotomous understandings of health and illness and bodies and environments. It has also been powerfully mobilized to illuminate the gradual brutalities that communities who live with toxic pollution endure over time (Davies and Polese, 2015, Davies, 2018, 2019, Lora-Wainwright 2018, Petryna 2013).

Across these literatures, the seminar will pay close attention to how race, gender, class, nation, sexuality, and ability shape which bodies (both human and non-human) are rehabilitatable, which bodies are marked as contagious or toxic and in need of containment, and which bodies are consequently rendered disposable (Chen 2012, Fritsch and McGuire 2018; Taylor 2017). Through this course, we ask: What is the utility of debility, as a theoretical intervention, to conceptualize the ways in which the body lives, labors, and copes under the conditions of neoliberal capitalism and toxic pollution? And, how do race, gender, class, sexuality, and citizenship come together to create uneven access to “health,” both material and imagined, for some bodies more than others? 


ST 690 Social Theoretical Approaches to Economic Phenomena

Fall 2020, T 5-7:30 pm

Chris Pool and Ted Schatzki

Course Description

The discipline of economics has long claimed that economic phenomena are its domain.  This claim ignores long traditions in political economy, Marxism, anthropology, and archaeology as well as historical or more recent approaches in sociology and geography.  Economic phenomena are social phenomena. Theories of social life, accordingly, should inform accounts of such phenomena or at least stand in the background of such accounts. The aim of this seminar is to provide an overview of select social theoretical approaches to economic phenomena.  Given the vast range of social theoretical or social theory-informed accounts of economic matters, the seminar must be selective regarding the literature it considers and the specific economic phenomena it focuses on.

We will first consider several approaches whose analyses of economic phenomena reflect general propositions about social life, not just in the modern world but across history, thus in premodern worlds, too.  These approaches, which include the substantivist economics of Karl Polanyi, actor-network theory, assemblage theory à la Deleuze and Guattari, and practice theory, find resonance in the wider social theoretical community.  We will also read from within the penumbra of political economy. Although selections are not yet finalized, we will read texts from such thinkers as  Michel Callon, Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Pierre Bourdieu, Ester Boserup, David Harvey, Eric Wolf, and Immanuel Wallerstein.

After this introduction to general social theoretical approaches to economic phenomena, we will turn our attention to two crucial such phenomena: money and markets.  We will read theoretical works about these two phenomena and pay special attention to similarities and differences in money and markets in premodern and modern worlds.  On markets, we will read such authors as Karen Ho, Viviana Zelizer, Neil Fligstein, Richard Blanton, and Karin Knorr Cetina, whereas on money we will consult such authors as Jane Guyer, Geoffrey Ingham, Nigel Dodd, and Frederick von Hayek.

We will conclude by considering several social theoretical analyses of the latest form of money: cybercurrencies.

Details have not been finalized, but participants will be expected to present in class and to write a term paper. We also anticipate that each participant will have the opportunity to call the seminar’s attention to a work of special interest to him, her, or them.


SPA 685: Interdisciplinary Approaches to Latinx Studies

Dr. Arcelia Gutiérrez

Fall 2020, Mondays  3:30-6p.m.

Course Description

Latinx studies encompasses a set of interdisciplinary approaches to the study of Puerto Rican, Mexican, Cuban, Caribbean, Central American, and Latin American communities in the US. Latinx studies offers a rubric for understanding not only the interconnections between diverse Latinx communities but also the differences that sometimes divide them. This course will expose students to core knowledge about Latinx histories and communities as well as the various disciplinary rubrics through which Latinx studies is elaborated including sociology, historical studies, political science, studies of immigration and citizenship, anthropology, and cultural studies. As a true interdisciplinary “introduction” to the study of Latinxs in the U.S., the pedagogical aim of this course is to help graduate students develop the background knowledge, theoretical language and methodological skills needed to analyze the histories, cultural production, and material realities of Latinxs in the U.S. Required texts will provide students both with an overview of longstanding questions in the field, while familiarizing them with emerging areas of scholarship. This course will be taught in English.


GWS 630: Feminist Research Methods

Srimati Basu

Thursday 4-6:30

Course Description

How do we gather and produce knowledge, and how do we hold ourselves accountable for this knowledge? What constitutes feminist methodology, and what is its relationship to intersectional, decolonizing and queer methodologies? In this graduate seminar, we explore questions of epistemology, ethics and method by a. reading theoretical texts and debates b. evaluating examples of particular methods including surveys, participant observation, ethnography, discourse and visual sources c. applying your knowledge of these techniques to design a semester-long project where you gather data through participant observation, interviews and other methods of your choice and analyze the data and your methods in a final paper. 


ST 500 Introduction to Social Theory

Tad Mutersbaugh

Fall 2020, TR 12:30-1:45

Course Description

This course is an advanced introduction to social theory. It will focus on the genre of theory known as critical social thought, by which is meant the use of theoretical concepts and approaches to investigate sociocultural dimensions of the human condition. Part One will take up classics: Marx and Engels's The Communist Manifesto, Frederick Douglass's Narrative, and Firestone's The Dialectic of Sex. Part Two will examine contemporary works with a focus on issues including theories of affect, embodiment and value (e.g. Butler, Hochschild, Ahmed, Bifo), postcolonial, poststructural, and posthumanist critique (e.g. Deleuze, Mbembe), transnational feminism (Mohanty, Federici, Cusicanqui), and feminist political ecology (Guthman, Mansfield).