Social Sciences/History of European Civilization

Core courses in the Social Sciences explore, on the basis of significant works, the fundamental concepts and the different modes of inquiry that have defined the social sciences in the modern period. Currently, Fellows teach in three of the year-long sequences into which the Core is organized: Self, Culture and Society; Classics of Social and Political Thought; Power, Identity, and Resistance; and Social Science Inquiry.

Some Fellows also teach in the History of European Civilization Core sequence. European Civilization is taught on the basis of intensive readings of significant primary source documents.


SOSC 11100-11200-11300. Power, Identity, and Resistance.

This course examines topics such as the organization of exchange, the logic of the division of labor, the prevalence and character of exploitation in economic relationships, and the scope for political intervention in the economy. Also considered are the roles of values and culture in economic process, as well as the historical and cultural variability of the boundaries between the economy, society, and politics. Readings include classic works in modern political economy and its critique by Adam Smith, Karl Marx, Emile Durkheim, and Marcel Mauss. The focus of Winter Quarter is modern liberalism and its critics. The course begins by investigating the classical liberal emphasis on individuals and individualism, and its distinct understanding of government as a contract and of the role of the political in maintaining order and protecting the rights of its citizens. The course then considers criticisms of the liberal conception coming from both the left and the right, as well as subsequent liberal responses and reformulations questions of equality, liberty, rights, identity, boundary, order, and history preoccupy us. Readings include texts by Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Kant, Burke, Hegel, Marx, Mill, and DuBois.  Spring Quarter analyzes the way in which selected themes of the first two quarters worked themselves out in the history of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. We consider questions of the proper role of the state in the economy; the difficulty posed to liberalism by specific identity characteristics of citizens (or noncitizens), including gender, race, and ethnic claims; and the relationship between liberal ideals and governing practices and the political ideals and governing practices of non-liberal/non-Western societies in the global environment. Readings include texts by Hayek, Polanyi, Freud, Fanon, de Beauvoir, Anzaldúa, Asad, and Huntington.


SOSC 12100-12200-12300. Self, Culture, and Society.

The classic social theories of Smith, Marx, and Weber, along with contemporary ethnographic and historical works, serve as points of departure for considering the characterizing features of the modern world, with particular emphasis on its social-economic structure and issues of work, the texture of time, and economic globalization. In Winter Quarter, we focus on the relation of culture, social life, and history. On the basis of readings from Durkheim, Lévi-Strauss, Sahlins, Foucault, Benjamin, Adorno, and other anthropologists and cultural theorists, we investigate how systems of meaning expressed through metaphors, symbols, rituals, and narratives constitute and articulate individual and social experience across a range of societies, including our own, and how those systems of meaning change historically. In  Spring Quarter, we concern ourselves with the question of how personhood is constructed socially, culturally, and historically. Our considerations include issues of gender, sexuality, and ethnic identity, through the study of the wide range of approaches found in the works of Freud, Mauss, Mead, Marcuse, Vygotsky, de Beauvoir, Fanon, and others.


SOSC 13100-13200-13300. Social Science Inquiry.

How much can we trust public opinion polls? Can we determine if people in one country are better off than another? How can we tell if conventional wisdom is correct? How can we judge whether or not a public policy is working? How do economists or psychologists see the world differently than sociologists or political scientists? This course seeks to answer these and other questions by examining classic works of social science and by teaching students how to conduct their own social science research. In the Autumn Quarter, the course starts by examining the history and philosophy of the social sciences. Then, using prominent examples from anthropology, economics, political science, psychology, and sociology, it explores the major epistemological approaches to social science including experimental methods, deductive methods (such as formal models and game theory), inductive methods (such as survey analysis, epidemiology, and econometrics), and ethnography. In Winter Quarter, students study the specific research tools that social scientists employ. Students learn how to collect data, how to conduct experiments, and how to make statistical inferences. Students gain hands-on practice at empirical analysis using the General Social Survey, the National Voting Studies, the World Values Survey, and other data sets. In the Spring Quarter, students study practical applications of social science and conduct their own empirical research on a topic they choose. From both classic examples and their own research, students learn what makes a good social science concept, how to translate their theories into testable hypotheses, how to report their results, and how to draw broader inferences from their findings. The goal is for students to produce a significant research paper by the end of this sequences.


SOSC 15100-15200-15300. Classics of Social and Political Thought.

Students registered in this sequence must attend the first and second class sessions or their registration will be dropped. What is justice? What makes a good society? This sequence examines such problems as the conflicts between individual interest and common good; between morality, religion, and politics; and between liberty and equality. We read classic writings from Plato, Aristotle, and Aquinas to such great founders and critics of modernity as Machiavelli, Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Constant, Tocqueville, Mill, Marx, Nietzsche, and Weber. Writing before our departmentalization of disciplines, they were at the same time sociologists, psychologists, political scientists, economists, and moralists; they offer contrasting alternative conceptions of society and politics that underlie continuing controversies in the social sciences and in contemporary political life.


SOSC 13001-13002. History of European Civilization I, II

This sequence meets the general education requirement in civilization studies. European Civilization is a two-quarter sequence designed to introduce students to the nature and history of European civilization from the early Middle Ages to the twentieth century. It complements parallel sequences in ancient Mediterranean, Byzantine, Islamic, and American civilizations, and may be supplemented by a third quarter (HIST 13003) chosen from several topics designed to expand a student's understanding of European civilization in a particular direction. We place emphasis throughout on the recurring tension between universal aspirations, and localizing boundaries, as well as on the fundamental rhythms of tradition and change. Our method consists of close reading of primary sources intended to illuminate the formation and development of a characteristically European way of life in the high Middle Ages; the collapse of ecclesiastical universalism in the early modern period; and the development of modern politics, society, and culture in the centuries to follow. Individual instructors may choose different sources to illuminate those themes, but some of the most important readings are the same in all sections.

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