Spring 2014 Special Topics Courses from the Department of Social Science & Cultural Studies

7:34 PM

Every semester, in addition to its many permanent electives, the Department of Social Science & Cultural Studies features a number of Special Topics (SS490) courses that are focused upon the current topics related to the current research interests of faculty or the result of our students suggesting subjects that they would like to explore more deeply. 
For Spring 2014, the selection of Special Topics courses range from the Culture of Food to the Anthropology of the State to Iranian and Indian Cinema.  The offerings change each semester but many of them ultimately become permanent courses.  Descriptions follow below.

Special Topics Courses 
Spring 2014

SS 490: Fetishism and the Gift
01 Prof. Matt Carlin NH 111 TH.9:30-12:20
3 credits
This course is designed to introduce students to the study of political economy. We will take an interdisciplinary approach to our study through an engagement with philosophical, anthropological, and sociological texts in order to become versed in some of the foundational aspects of past and contemporary economic life. We will study a variety of forms of production and exchange including the gift and the market economy. We will also study the relationship between capitalism, modernity, and urban life with special attention paid to the inherent aesthetic dimension of consumption that is most clearly identifiable in commodity fetishism.

SS 490: Anthropology of the State
02 Prof. Matt Carlin NH 111 T.5:00-7:50
3 credits
With contemporary political speak in the United States saturated with allusions to "big government" and "individual freedom," it is crucial for us to identify what these terms actually mean. To participate in such a discussion brings up a number of questions about contemporary popular politics, in particular the role of the state. What exactly is the state? Has the state always existed or is it a comparatively recent historical invention? Is the critique of "big government" the same as the critique of the state? When we talk about the state are we merely referring to a collection of individuals connected by their particular relations? If so, why do we seem to grant so much power to the state--fetishizing as if it were an independent institution. In this class we will take a social scientific approach to these questions, drawing from classic anthropological and sociological by A. R. (Anarchy) Brown, Pierre Clastres, Karl Marx, Philip Abrams, Marshall Sahlins, and David Graeber and others. Particular attention will be paid to discussing what is at stake when we start talking about living outside of the grasp of the government and/or the State.

SS 490: Law, War, Empire in Modern History
06 Prof. Sameetha Agha NH 305 W.2:00-4:50
3 credits
Societies and cultures world-wide have debated the justification, conduct and ethics of warfare for thousands of years. The technological and organizational transformations of war that accompanied the rise of modern empires continue to propel these questions into our times. A salient example can be found in the current international debates over drone attacks. Providing an historical background, including an examination of classic texts of war such as the Bhagvad Gita, Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, and writings in the Judeo/Christian/Islamic tradition, this course explores major themes within the framework of law, war and empire. These will include “just war”, civilized vs. savage warfare, military tribunals, treatment of prisoners of war, the use of torture, genocide and war-crimes, and the impact of new technologies on warfare and ethics.

SS 490: The Politics of Food
07 Prof. Josh Karant NH 111 W.2:00-4:50
3 credits
Americans have grown increasingly aware of the fact that what – and how – we eat has repercussions that extend far beyond simple sustenance or pleasure.  Our meal choices – be they fast food on the go, or elaborately prepared locally-sourced feasts – effect not only our own lives, but also the environment and world in which we live. Yet what does it mean to eat responsibly or ethically?  Does the Big Mac necessarily herald a physical and spiritual collapse?  Are organic, sustainable foods a viable remedy, or merely an exclusive privilege of those fortunate enough to be able to afford them?  Or is there some middle ground that recognizes how, in an ideal world, we should eat and provides concrete, realistic ideas to bring these dreams to fruition?  Using this tension between theory and practice as our guiding concern, we will examine the political implications of food in contemporary life.  Topics will include everything from the locavore movement, “slow” vs. “fast” food, and organic and sustainable foodstuffs, to the ethics of meat eating, dieting, body image, genetically modified crops, global hunger, and water supply.  This course is writing intensive.

SS 490: Iranian Cinema
08 Prof. Mareena Daredia NH 202 F.12:30-3:20
3 credits
The frequent presence of Iranian films in esteemed international festivals is a testimony to Iran’s growing film industry and the Persian filmmakers who make compelling movies - often times underlining socio-political subject matter as well as beautifully highlighting the complexities of humanity. This course attempts to offer an understanding of life and culture in Iran through its cinema. A variety of films from different genres will be presented and discussed. Attention will be given to the social and political contexts from which these works have originated.  The discussion will revolve around themes such as development of Iranian Art Cinema, Women and Children and Politics and Religion in Iranian cinema; all along focusing on cinematic productions-its challenges and its development.

SS 490: Indian Cinema
09 Prof. Mareena Daredia NH 202 F.4:00-6:50
3 credits
This course is an introduction to Indian cinema, focusing on Bollywood and Crossover films. We shall concentrate on the evolution of Hindi cinema from the old formula of melodrama to some of the new paradigms in Bollywood. We will discuss the role of the changing socio-political background and the changing audience and analyze some of the new genre of films. We will also pay attention to the aesthetics of film-making such as, script, music, shot division, lighting and editing. This is a cinema that has kept billions around the world rapt for over half a century, so plan to submit entirely to its pleasures. No prior experience of India or knowledge of Hindi is required. This class is for students at all levels. Those who have had no prior experience of Indian Cinema and culture will get an exposure to a new world-view, and those who have some prior experience with Hindi films will find and articulate new ways of approaching and interpreting the films.

SS 490: Great Port Cities of the World
10 Prof. Francis Bradley NH 111 TH.2:00-4:50
3 credits
The world's great port cities have been centers of cultural production. Such cities include New York City, Venice, Amsterdam, and Hong Kong, among others. Each of these cosmopolitan cities has been a point of incredible interaction as the meeting places between artists, artisans, merchants, students, and rebels. From the early modern to the post-modern period, we will take a look at each of these cities in turn, as points of mobility, interaction, and conflict, and the embarkation point and destination for networks of peoples from around the globe.

SS 490: Social Justice & Participatory Action Research Studio
11 Prof. Caitlin Cahill ISC 101A W.2:00-4:50
3 credits
How do social research and practice play a role in the struggle for justice? This course is designed to introduce students, artists, and designers to the theory, methods and ethics of community-based participatory research and social practice. Students will gain the necessary skills and knowledge to integrate community-based research into their artistic practice, scholarship, and everyday life. We will engage with the history, theory, methods and ethics of participatory and community-based research and learn how to work collaboratively and build community partnerships. Methods we will work with include mapping, photo-voice, participatory survey design, interviews and focus groups. The class will involve field trips and hands-on experience engaging in community-based research.

SS 490: Leonardo’s Notebooks
12 Prof. Paul Dambowic NH 112 F.9:30-12:20
“A well-lettered man is so because he is well-natured…” (Leonardo da Vinci, Thoughts on Art and Life)
Leonardo observed all of nature, invention, the world, climate, geography, and human character with his drawings and with his writings. This course will study the Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci, and examine how (in addition to his sketches) his letters, fables, prophetic and scientific writings, natural history and natural philosophy reveal his methods. We examine the illustrated books, as well as recent discoveries of newly attributed paintings and drawings. Leonardo’s investigations provide a model of creative innovation, a model for students to explore in research and practice through the study of journals and sketchbooks.

SS 490: Invisible Histories of NYC
13 Prof. Ann Holder & Uzma Rizvi NH 110 W.2:00-4:50
This course combines both theory and practice to examine various sites in New York City that have become historical place-holders for heritage, history and memory. The four key sites will be the African Burial Ground in lower Manhattan, the Weeksville historic houses in Brooklyn, the Seneca Village site in Central Park and NYPL’s Schomburg Library in Harlem. The long-term goal will be to develop a walking tour that links these and other less well marked physical sites that in ways that reinvoke/reimagine the crucial but neglected history of Americans of African, Afro-Caribbean, and Native American descent in the founding, building and dynamic growth of New York City. Key themes of the class include public memory, tangible/intangible heritage, and community mobilization. The class will interrogate what aspects of history are remembered, by whom, how and why. Through this questioning, the class will uncover the processes by which traditional narratives of history selectively “forget” particulars. Additionally, the class will document the use of heritage and history in the city and how re-discovered sites can mobilize community action and spur a remaking of the past.

SS 490: Life and Society in Russia and the USSR
14 Prof. Jeff Surovell ISC 101A T. 2:00-4:50
3 credits
In 1991, humanity’s first communist state—the USSR—collapsed after 75 years of existence. The 15 Republics that made up the USSR were immediately transformed into independent, generally non-communist and pro-capitalist countries. Russia, which had been the biggest Republic and the heart of the USSR, became the “successor” state to the USSR. This course focuses on the nature of and historical developments in both societies—including Russia (before 1917 and after the USSR collapse in 1991) and the USSR, which existed as a communist state from 1917-1991. Students will examine the two societies’ Social Institutions and Structures (the economy, government, military, foreign policy) and the Daily Life and Lifestyle of individual citizens (art, education, cuisine, the media, sports, the general standard of living and quality of life, etc.). Required activities for this course include weekly readings supplemented with videos, a museum trip, and a dinner at a Russian restaurant.

SS 490: Creative Impulse
15 Prof. Joshua Blackwell NH 305 TH.9:30-12:20
3 credits
Art is not an object, but experience.” - Josef Albers
Behind the impulse to create is a search for meaning. Therefore, when we make something (a painting, a photograph, a dress, an advertisement) we are literally constructing its meaning. This course will focus on the methods, techniques and processes of making things and their underlying rationales. How does the artist’s intimate knowledge of craft inform the way s/he looks at objects? What are our responsibilities as makers? Does art exist in a world of its own or can it be used as a tool to think about the world around us? Divided equally between making, reading, and analysis, the class will investigate construction from both practical and theoretical perspectives. Extensive class discussions will focus on weekly assigned projects ranging from critical responses to texts, studio projects, and creative problem solving. Critiques will examine the ways and means of making, from inspiration to final product. Topics considered include: the value of skill, materials and their meaning, amateur versus professional, and the differences between art and design. Considering historical instances such as the Arts and Crafts Movement in England, the pedagogy of the Bauhaus, and the interpretation of Minimalism will provide further context for discussion.

SS 490: Art and Social Activism
16 Prof. Barbara Esgalhaldo NH 110 M.2:00-4:50
3 credits
In this course, we examine the role of the artist as social activist from theoretical, artistic, aesthetic, and practical points of view. We study the interplay between the artist and social, historical, and political events – past and present -- and attempt to locate ourselves in the social and political concerns of our present day lives in meaningful ways. The emphasis of the course is on the examination, exploration, and development of the artistic, aesthetic, and political agency of student’s work. Students read and critically examine written and visual texts, write, take field trips, and individually and/or collectively conceptualize and create artwork and/or project(s) that attempt to create personal and social change.

SS 490: Fashion & Modernism
17 Prof. Joshua Blackwell NH 111 F.9:30-12:20
3 credits
Considering the intertwining of art and fashion throughout the 20th century, this course examines various movements and moments including the Ballets Russes, Futurism, Constructivism, Surrealism, Pop, Op, Conceptualism, and Feminism through the lens of fashion. Emphasis is on artists as designers and their particular or peculiar takes on the garment as a means of perpetuating political and social ideals. For the final project, students will create original garments.

SS 490: Imagining NYC
18 Prof. May Joseph ISC 209 TH.9:30-12:20
3 credits
This course explores the history and context of New York City. Its central focus will be philosophical and historical inquiries into the idea of the city. Participants will also read and discuss ideas about the city that have emerged since the World Trade Center. Using ethnography and fieldwork as tools of inquiry, students will study emerging concerns, theories, and ideas about the future of New York City. In the process, we will also consider current international developments and their implications for the future of cities. This course will culminate in a series of creative and scholarly explorations focusing on the idea of the city. This course is writing intensive and encouraged for junior and senior students in particular.

SS 490: Food & Cinema
19 Prof. May Joseph DK 308 W.9:30-12:20
3 credits
This course studies African modernity through and exploration of African Cinema and globalizing African cities. Using African cinema, students will explore the idea of the postcolonial city and the impact of migration, immigration, and travel on urban Africa. Students will also study the question of how the circulation of people, capital, and commodities affected urban life in African societies and, in turn, how it is African cosmopolitanism is transforming spaces within national borders as well as outside Africa..

SS 490: Modern Conspiracy Theories
20 Prof. Josiah Brownell NH 110 W.9:30-12:20
3 credits
Conspiratorial worldviews have entered the mainstream in modern American culture. Viewing major events, past and present, and even the general flow of politics and history, as being directed by a (semi) secret cabal is no longer considered to be expressions of paranoid minds nor is it shunned to the outer fringes of public political discourse. In the internet age, new conspiracies are constantly being created alongside older, and until recently largely forgotten, conspiracies, all of which are spreading faster and gathering more popular attention than ever before. Why is this happening now, when the availability of reliable information is also exponentially greater than it has ever been in the past? What is the historical, political, and social context of conspiracy theories? Who believes in these various conspiracy theories, and why do they find them appealing? And perhaps most importantly, are any of them true? These are some of the questions which will be explored in this course.

SS 490: Hip Hop Culture
21 Prof. Josh Karant NH 111 M.2:00-4:50
3 credits
Hip Hop is one of the most influential cultural movements of the past 30 years, yet its origins are relatively humble. Drawing upon historical, sociological and philosophical writings, as well as music and film, we will examine this phenomenon’s unlikely rise to global recognition. Topics of investigation will include: Hip Hop vs. Rap; popular culture vs. mass culture; regionalism and mutability; the civic value of art; the politics of provocation; and deliberative democracy.

SS 490 Occupy! The Politics of Public Space & the Right to the City
22 Prof. Catlin Cahill NH 305 TH.5:00-7:50
25 Prof. Caitlin Cahill NH 305 TH.2:00-4:50
3 credits
Knowing that rights are not given, but won in the course of struggle, people around the world are putting their lives on the line to defend their right to public space. But what’s so important about public space? From Tahrir Square to our own Zucotti Park, mass protests raise critical questions about the relationships among public space, the state of democracy, and our political economy. In this course students compare public and private spaces in New York with case studies from around the world, engaging various documentation methods that include visual digital tools, interviewing, mapping and ethnography.

SS 490: Doubles, Duplicates, and Copies: Imitation and Its Discontents
23 Prof. Saul Anton ENGR 311 TH.9:30-12:20
3 credits
The ever-increasing power of media over the past two centuries has produced an explosion in our powers of imitation, reproduction, representation and virtualization. An age-old question has for us now become fundamental: what is the place of imitation and, more broadly, the image, in human life? This
course surveys a number of important moments in the history of Western accounts of imitation, duplication, representation and the copy that will allow us to consider topics such as: realism in art and language, classical history painting and its modern avatars, the theory and practice of photography and film, modern theories of painting and mass spectacle, appropriation, pornography and the participatory model of contemporary digital media culture. Spanning a wide range of texts from antiquity to the present, we will explore the evolution of Western ways of thinking about the social, moral and political implications of imitation, reproduction and art in general.

SS 490: Film Festival: Practice and Theory
24 Prof. Basil Tsiokos NH 111 M.5:00-7:50
3 credits
This course offers the practical tools and information necessary to successfully organize a film festival, culminating in Wallabout 2013, Pratt's student-run film festival showcasing student films. In addition, discussions with film industry professionals, lectures, and readings will provide insight into the roles film festivals play in the larger film industry.

SS 490: Bad Memories
26 Prof. Gregg Horowitz NH 202 TH.5:00-7:50
3 credits

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