Teaching

I strive to make teaching and learning a collective enterprise that highlights the strength of intellectual connections and personal engagement with the social world. My classes in sociology directly relate to current social problems, such as increasing partisanship and the climate crisis. I view the classroom as a setting where I can help students develop skills that are required for productive social and political citizenship to address these complex challenges.  To that end, students need to master oral and written communications skills, take the intellectual and interpersonal risks that precede creative decisionmaking, and analyze critically the choices facing twenty-first century communities. In these aspects, my teaching philosophy is influenced by my scholarly research, in which I study how public deliberation and civic engagement contribute to healthy democracies.

I also collaborate with students in designing independent studies courses for deeper investigation of particular topics of student interest, such as Environmental Sociology, or for the advancement of independent research projects proposed in A&S 200. I also conduct EXCEL research work with students. If you are a student interested in pursuing research or independent coursework, please contact me in order to schedule an appointment to discuss your interests further.

Below are brief descriptions of the courses I teach at Lafayette in the A&S Department. These courses are also relevant to students interested in environmental studies, gender studies, Africana studies, government and law, history, economics, and policy studies. If you would like syllabi or more information on any of these courses, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

FYS 188: the Participation Economy

Public participation is celebrated everywhere, from large corporations to the IMF. New technologies have given everyday people a chance to share their opinions at formerly unheard-of scales. But some worry that all of this engagement isn’t really about empowerment. Looking to the past, how have activists influenced market activity? Why have corporations invested in populist mobilization? This FYS investigates the dynamic relationship between markets and movements over the two last centuries.

A&S 103: Introduction to Sociology

This course is intended to introduce students to sociological styles of thinking, through foundational texts of varying methodological styles and critical perspectives. The course examines key topics in sociology, with a particular emphasis on the role of power and inequality in processes of industrialization, bureaucratization, urbanization, stratification, and globalization.  Thematic sections combine classical and contemporary studies in order to develop students’ critical facility in discussing sociological phenomena—both extraordinary and everyday, popular and elite, historical and contemporary.  In some cases, students will have to bring their sociological imaginations to works that are not explicitly sociological in nature. Intended to serve as a springboard for students’ future coursework, class activities are geared towards fostering literacy of key sociological concepts and theories, developing analytical, research, and writing skills, and facilitating articulate presentation and communication of complex issues.

A&S 210: Contemporary American Society

This course examines key social issues in contemporary American society through the lens of the tumultuous and often controversial changes of the last decades—as interpreted by anthropologists, sociologists, journalists, activists, social critics, bloggers, and documentary filmmakers.  We compare these different perspectives in four thematic units tracing large-scale trends in business, culture, and politics and their effects on diverse communities and everyday livelihoods.  Throughout, the course asks students to investigate landscapes of power: those inequalities and uncertainties within production, consumption, geographic mobility, and resource scarcity that have become defining elements of American life. Class activities aim to develop research, critical analysis, and presentation skills.  Students will be asked to collaborate in selecting and presenting readings, and are expected to bring their own knowledge of current events and unique interests in contemporary American society to the discussion.  The capstone of the course is a final research paper on a topic of the student’s choice.

A&S 235: Business & Society

In contrast to neoclassical economists, sociologists study how economic practices are embedded within and facilitated by social relations and institutions. This seminar-style course uses classical and cutting-edge texts in economic sociology to explore how culture, social networks, and institutions relate to the 21st-century American economy. We read empirical studies of a wide range of topics to understand these relationships, including: behavior in jobseeking and on the job; the work of call center employees and professional economists; insurance for children and same-sex partners; pricing of modern art and credit derivatives; elite tax revolts and poor people’s movements; financialization, neoliberalism, and the current economic crisis. For sociology majors, this course will enhance students’ understanding of the role of the economy in the broader social landscape and in everyday life; for economics majors or those interested in careers in business, this course will elaborate how rationality is constructed and negotiated in the context of contemporary capitalism.

A&S 236: Sociology of Knowledge

This course examines the social creation of knowledge and the consequences of knowledge for social organization through the medium of biography.  As literally embodied representations of knowledge, eminent and obscure figures such as George Washington, the Marquis de Lafayette, Charles Darwin, Martha Ballard, Ignatius Sancho, Rigoberta Menchú, Rachel Dolezal, and JT Leroy represent fascinating case studies for social theorists.  Combining readings from Habermas, Mannheim, Swidler and Foucault with biographies and life writing of the founding fathers, scientists, everyday persons, and pop memoirists, we explore the changing politics and poetics of knowledge production across three centuries. Students will pursue their own research and analysis in an essay portfolio and a final research paper on a biographical subject of their choice.

A&S 200: Research Methods and Design

This course is intended to give students confidence in analyzing and conducting empirical research in anthropology and sociology. As such, we investigate the logic of research design and methods through practical application of quantitative and qualitative techniques. Key skills to be gained include:

  • the ability to match research questions to scientifically and ethically appropriate methods and to evaluate research design (logic of social inquiry and research ethics)
  • knowledge of a variety of research methodologies and software applications (survey of methods and tools)
  • the ability to interpret data and to identify common errors of interpretation (critical analysis and basic statistical literacy)
  • experience gathering and managing data and developing a research proposal for a larger project (practice of social research)

To achieve these goals, we use a workshop format, exploring the four major research methods with an emphasis on critiquing the advantages and disadvantages of each approach.

AMS 362: Designs for Living: Environmentalism, Counterculture, and American Utopias

This course examines utopian environmental movements in terms of their contributions to American culture and economy and their role in the construction of national identity.  From Brook Farm and La Réunion to the 1960s open-land communes and Biosphere 2, Americans have tried at various times to organize their social worlds, design their built environments, and manage natural resources in order to achieve an ideal relationship between nature and human activity. Many of these individual and collective efforts at constructing utopian modes of living have been framed as challenges to dominant paradigms such as Eurocentrism and consumerism, or reactions against large-scale social processes such as industrialization and suburbanization.  Nevertheless, they have also partaken in these processes and ultimately shaped the future of the mainstream.  Often dismissed as misguided misadventures or inconsequential failures, many of these movements have prefigured new modes of consumption and production in American life, even as their ambitions for transforming the natural environment have foundered.  Comparing these utopian experiments across time and place illustrates the ways in which the negotiation of environmental problems is bound both to particular social contexts and to the contingencies of climate patterns, population cycles, and ecosystem dynamics.