Below are descriptions of courses I have taught at McGill and elsewhere, along with links to course syllabi.
- Contemporary Social Movements (Sociology 386)
This course introduces students to the theoretical analysis of collective protest and social movements. It addresses several key questions, including: Why are people usually quiescent in the face of oppression and exploitation? Why and how do social movements nonetheless arise? What challenges do they face? And why do movements win or lose? The course will address these questions (and others) first through an introduction to some of the foundational texts surrounding questions of collective action, and then by examining three case studiesof social movements: the workers’ movement of the 1930s in the U.S. and Canada, the U.S. civil rights movement, and the U.S. feminist movement. The twin goals of this course are to understand these particular movements better, and to master a variety of general ideas, concepts, and hypotheses for understanding a wide range of popular movements, past, present, and future.
- Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy (Sociology 501, graduate/undergraduate)
While this course has only recently come to McGill, it arrives with a storied history. It was originally developed in the early 20thcentury at the University of Wisconsin–Madison by the pioneering labour economist John R. Commons, who passed it down to his student Selig Perlman, also a labour economist of considerable renown. After World War II, the famous German emigré sociologist Hans Gerth, known for his translations of the works of Max Weber, took it over. Perlman’s lectures for this course have been published as Selig Perlman’s Lectures on Capitalism and Socialism (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1976).The course was originally designed to explore the distinctive, some would say “exceptional,” U.S. political and economic landscape, and how it came to be that way. While it is a landscape that has fostered historically unprecedented levels of economic growth and prosperity for some, it has also led to levels of poverty and inequality that are unmatched among comparable countries. In this redesigned version of the course, we will be enriching this analysis of American exceptionalism by comparing the U.S. with Canada. While both countries are similar in many ways, they have important differences when it comes to politics and social policy. Exploring and explaining why those differences exist can help us better understand both countries.
To do this, the course will trace the historical development of the conflict between labor and capital in the U.S. and Canada over the meaning and content of democracy, and how that conflict has shaped politics and social policy in both countries. The course is organized chronologically, moving from the mid-nineteenth century to today. Along the way we will study the struggles of labor and agrarian populists against “the interests” of the 19thcentury; the upheavals of the Great Depression and World War II and how they shaped the postwar period; the crises of the 1970s and the rise of neoliberalism; up to the current challenges and conflicts in the wake of the crisis of 2008. In the process, we will address questions that lie at the heart of political economy, including: Who really rules? Are capitalism and democracy compatible? Why does the U.S. have so much poverty, and why does Canada have less? Why has there been no significant socialist movement or labor party in the U.S., but there has been in Canada? Is the U.S. state weak or strong? Is Canada an economic dependency, or a global economic power?
- Sociology of Work and Industry (Sociology 312)
Working is one of the most fundamental social activities of all. Most of us will end up spending most of our waking hours at work. Work ensures our survival as a species—while potentially contributing to our destruction. It defines who we are, both as individuals and as societies. It can be a source of validation and happiness, while also being a catalyst for violence, pain, and suffering. And yet, the world of work remains a mystery to most of us, what Karl Marx referred to as a “hidden abode.”
In this course, we will delve into that hidden abode and uncover the world of work. We will start by asking fundamental questions such as: Why do we work? What counts as work? How has work changed over time, and why? We will then explore the modern world of work, focusing in particular on polarized nature of today’s workforce, with a large number of people clustered into low-paid service work, and a small number reaping outsized rewards at elite jobs. In the final weeks we will look towards the future of work.
- Social Research Design and Practice (Sociology 580)
Whether as producers, consumers, or disseminators of sociological knowledge, professional sociologists need skills to design and evaluate research. This course is designed to develop these skills. Broadly speaking, my aim is to help you develop a deeper, more rigorous way of understanding the social world. More concretely, my aim is to help you develop some of the professional tools needed to write research proposals, dissertations, and publishable journal articles and books, as well as to critically read and evaluate published sociological research. You will learn how to formulate and recognize researchable sociological research problems and how to identify research designs that may be used to conduct studies that speak to these problems.
Some methods courses focus on the techniques of data collection and the measurement and analysis of the “nuts and bolts” of research. This is not one of those courses. While we will touch on some of these issues, my main goal is not to walk you through the specific details of each method and make you an expert in each of them (for this there are other designated classes, which you will have a chance to take later on). Rather, you can think of this course as a course in “applied epistemology”: How do we know the things that we think we know about the social world, and how can we expand that knowledge? We will start by discussing the serious problems that scientists face in struggling to understand the world, and evaluating different strategies scientists have developed for addressing those problems. We will also examine some of the core obstacles that can get in the way of scientific understanding, even as they are essential for developing that understanding. These include language, concepts, and frameworks. We will spend the last half of the course making sense of the abstract debates we study in the first half by reading examples of real social research done using a variety of methodological strategies.
This course cannot and will not try to teach you “all you need to know about methods.” Instead, my aim is to increase your ability to continually practice and develop your critical thinking and your informed judgment about methodology. In addition, the course is designed to help you develop your dissertation research ideas and to learn how to write solid proposals, asking for financial support from funding agencies such as SSHRC and FQRSC.
- Sociological Inquiry (Sociology 211)
People today are barraged by information – a torrent of facts, opinions, and analyses that appear in books, in newspapers and magazines, on radio stations, through television broadcasts, on computer screens, and on cell phones. The pressure to make sense of that information has never been greater.This course will improve your ability to evaluate much of that information by showing you how to think about social research, which is commonly used to introduce and support, or challenge and discard, public policies in all societies. Your life as a citizen is shaped by people who argue that “the evidence shows” that we should abolish affirmative action, reinstitute the draft, eliminate welfare, establish markets for air pollution, keep abortion legal, and so on. Our task in this course is to learn how to treat those claims with the skepticism they deserve, without falling into the despairing conviction that since data can be used to prove anything, any kind of data is as good as any other.
This course will not give you deep proficiency in any single research method; instead, it will give you an overview of the tools used by social scientists and a sense of what distinguishes good research from bad. By the end of the semester, you will be able to assess the soundness of research by evaluating research designs and data-collection strategies in light of research questions and theory. With these skills, you will be able to determine whether or not you agree with researchers’ conclusions. And when you disagree, you will be able to articulate why.
To learn how to evaluate research, we will read some examples of real sociological research. At the end of the class, you will also be asked to try your hand and conceptualizing your own research project. The course will demand much time and effort, but it is an investment that will pay off in future courses: the logic of evaluation of evidence can be transferred to most scientific and research endeavors. You will also find this course useful after college, as you will be better able to evaluate journalistic reports of current research, design your own reports in a variety of professional settings, and think logically through situations where you are asked to evaluate evidence (e.g., on a jury, in the voting booth, at work, in response to news reports).
- Youth and Work (Labor Studies 215)
Why do young people work? What counts as “work”? How have answers to these questions changed over time? Why and how are young workers concentrated in specific industries/occupations? How does young peoples’ preparation for and participation in the labor market today differ from the role of previous generations of young workers? What are some of the challenges that young people face at work? What kinds of policies and organizational practices can improve young peoples’ experiences in the labor market?These are some of the core questions that we will explore in this course over the course of the semester.
Initially, we will discuss the concept of “child labor” in the 19th and early 20th centuries. We will start by examining how children became a separate category of individuals, in need of special protections and even outright exclusion from the labor market. Discussion will center on the cause and effects of child and youth labor, and various policy responses to this phenomenon.
Next ,we will explore how contemporary youth view and prepare for work, what expectations they have, and what role education plays in relation to workforce paths and careers. Topics discussed in this section of the course will include, among others; working students, educational opportunities, the young working poor, and different experiences among young workers in our current economic environment vis à vis class, gender, and race. We will also examine the issue of student debt and its ramifications.
Finally, the course explores internships and unpaid work, contingent workers, knowledge and skill base requirements and job-hopping as they relate to employment in today’s job market. We will discuss various policies in these contexts and brainstorm ideas for new programs and policies that can improve youth work experience and economic self-sufficiency.