Courses Taught Regularly


Capital Punishment

Capital punishment is the state sanctioned killing of a person convicted of committing a crime. Its existence as public policy requires the approval or acquiescence of individual citizens and social groups, and its implementation requires the approval, acquiescence, and participation of a wide range of individuals and institutions. Attitudes toward capital punishment–as public policy and as applied to the facts of a particular situation–are often strongly held and deeply felt. Debates among those holding different positions on the morality and the effects of capital punishment–again, as public policy and as applied to the facts of a particular case–are often contentious and divisive. This course will focus on people’s beliefs and attitudes about capital punishment, and will seek to understand how they develop as they do. In addition, the course will focus on the actions of specific groups of people who involve themselves, or become involved in, the implementation of capital punishment–particularly jurors, attorneys, judges, and prison officials–in hopes of learning how they understand their participation.

(In)Justice and Conflict Resolution

What personal experiences or conditions do people consider unjust? Do all persons consider the same (kinds of) experiences unjust? If so, why? If not, what factors seem to contribute to the differences? How do people respond to situations they judge as unjust? What structures of authority and decision-making, and what social and economic policies, do people consider unjust? How do they respond to authorities, decisions, and policies they consider unjust? The course will examine the role of justice and injustice in the development and resolution of interpersonal and intergroup conflict. Attention will focus on conflicts concerning (1) the distribution of scarce and valued resources (distributive justice), (2) the decision-making procedures through which these distributions are produced (procedural justice), and (3) the violation of social norms and laws. Students will read relevant social psychological theory and research as well as related work in political studies and sociology. If time and interest permit, students design and conduct original pieces of research.

Methods in Social Research: Experiments, Quasi-Experiments, and Surveys

This course will examine the research process as it is practiced in several of the social sciences. We will focus on the logic of experimental, quasi-experimental, and correlational methods as they are currently practiced in various areas of psychology, though they are also employed frequently in sociology, anthropology, economics, and politics. Methodological, statistical, and ethical issues will be examined through the lens provided by both classical and contemporary pieces of research.

SHHH! The Social Construction of Silence

Silence is a central element of social life and experience, but it has rarely been the focus of explicit research and theoretical attention. This may reflect a conception of silence as “absence,” or mere ground for figures of speaking, utterance, and noise. This course reverses these two related aspects that have governed previous conceptions: Silence is a presence, and a figure emerging from grounds of speech, utterance, and noise. Silence is also the result of a complex social process. Understanding silence thus requires understanding the process of silencing, as well as its likely consequences. This will facilitate an understanding of the deeper significance of silence, including the often devastating effects it has on those on whom it is imposed. This is primarily a course in social psychology, and much of the reading will be drawn from work in that discipline, and the allied disciplines of psychology and sociology. However, relevant readings will also be drawn from the anthropological and historical literature, as well as from the mass media.

Social Interaction: Game, Gift, Green Room

The relative orderliness of everyday social interaction is an extraordinary accomplishment. Whether between two people, or among several in a gathering or a small group, people manage, most of the time, to coordinate their activity with others. It seems to matter little whether the interaction is fleeting or lengthy, trivial or important, informal or formal, or positive or negative; there appear to be rules that underlie, create, and maintain this orderliness and permit people to carry on their activities with others. Such rules are usually out of our immediate, and conscious, awareness, and their existence is often recognized only when they are violated. In this course we will examine social interaction and the rules which seem to govern it. Among the metaphors that have been developed for this purpose are those of interaction as a game, as an exchange, and as theater. We will examine game theory as originally developed by economists and mathematicians and explore its relevance for understanding interaction through contemporary research on the prisoners’ dilemma, the commons dilemma, and various types of social dilemmas. We will then turn to social exchange theory, originally developed by economists and anthropologists, to examine interaction through the exchange of material and symbolic resources, and apply it to contemporary work on such topics as gift-giving and revenge. Finally, we will examine some examples of dramaturgical approaches to interaction, primarily through the work of Erving Goffman.

Social Psychology

An examination of various psychological and sociological perspectives on the person, social interaction, social structure, and the relationships among them. Attention will focus on such issues as obedience, disobedience, and authority; social perception and cognition; attributions of causality and responsibility; influence and resistance; social and commons dilemmas; interaction as exchange and performance; and the social consequences of various forms of social organization. Students write four short papers on selected topics, including one which discusses data they have collected.