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Graduate Courses

Selected Topics in Classical and Contemporary Theory

Despite the predictions that consigned it to eternal oblivion, Karl Marx’s thought has returned to the limelight in recent years. Faced with a deep new crisis of capitalism, many are again looking to an author who in the past was often wrongly associated with the Soviet Union, and who was too hastily dismissed after 1989. After the waning of interest in the 1980s and the “conspiracy of silence” in the 1990s, new or republished editions of his work have become available almost everywhere. The literature dealing with Marx, which all but dried up twenty-five years ago, is showing signs of revival in many countries.
Marx’s writings are presently being published in German under the auspices of the Marx-Engels-Gesamtausgabe (MEGA²) project, the critical historical edition of the complete works of Marx and Engels, which resumed serial publication in 1998. The purpose of this course is to reconstruct the stages of Marx’s thought in the light of the textual acquisitions of MEGA², and hence to provide a more exhaustive account of the formation of Marx’s conceptions than has previously been offered.
The great majority of researchers have considered only certain periods, often jumping straight from the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844 to the Grundrisse (1857-58). The study of priceless manuscripts, and of interesting interim results, has remained the preserve of a narrow circle of scholars capable of reading the German-language volumes of MEGA². One of the aims of this course is to make these texts more widely known, and to debate on the genesis and unfinished character of Marx’s works.
Altogether, the Marx that emerges from this examination of his work in the areas of post-Hegelian philosophy, the materialist conception of history, scientific method, alienation and political thought at the time of the International Working Men’s Association is a thinker very different from the one presented for such a long time by his detractors as well as many ostensible followers.
If we bear in mind not only the well-known works, but also the manuscripts and notebooks of extracts in MEGA², the immensity and richness of Marx’s theoretical project appear in a clearer light. The notebooks of excerpts, and the recently published preparatory drafts of Capital, show the huge limitations of the “Marxist-Leninist” account – an ideology that often-depicted Marx’s conception as something separate from the studies he conducted, as if it had been magically present in his head from birth – but also of the debate in Europe in the 1960s and 1970s. In fact, the participants in that debate could not consider the totality of Marx’s texts, and even some of these they treated as thoroughly finished works when that was far from being the case.
At a time when Marx’s ideas have finally been liberated from the chains of Soviet ideology, and when they are again being investigated for the sake of analyzing the contemporary world, a more faithful account of the genesis of his thought may not be without important implications for the future – not only for Marx studies, but also for the re-founding of a critical thought that aims to transform the present.

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Undergraduate Courses

Sociological Theory

This course deals with the development of sociological theory from the major foundational thinkers of the 19th and early 20th century, through recent approaches informed by a variety of critical perspectives. Much of classical sociological theory was focussed upon growing awareness of society, as such, being the subject of profound change. Central questions addressed by its main authors were: “What is the nature of the society emerging in (and from) 19th century Europe?” and “What is its significance with respect to the development of humanity?” Difference of opinion and profound debate have been characteristic of sociological theory and have widely been recognized as contributing to its development. Since the last decades of the 20th century, the enduring debates have been compounded, without being entirely superseded, by new critical approaches that have sought new insights not only into the nature of society and social change, but of the ways in which knowledge in, and of, society are constructed.
The first part of the course will focus on the principal authors, texts and debates of the classical era of sociology. A wide range of thinkers helped establish the context for, built upon the insights of, filled the gaps between, and discerned alternatives to, the often conflicting ideas of the recognized giants of classical social theory (among others Karl Marx, Émile Durkheim and Max Weber).
The second part of the course will focus on the contributions and controversies that have followed from broad recognition of sociology as a distinct intellectual discipline, coupled with recurrent efforts to shed light on its most basic theoretical underpinnings. These additions to the corpus of classical sociological theory have extended its critical range and multiplied its analytical power and complexity.
A primary goal of this course is to illuminate the role of critical analysis in the expansion and deepening of social knowledge, insisting upon the need for every individual to become informed by confronting ideas in debate and then to arrive at a personal position through a critical evaluation of alternatives.

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Undergraduate Courses

Capitalism, Ideology, and Social Theory

The course explores the applicability of sociological theory – classical and contemporary – to the social issues of modernity particularly, in relation to inequality, exploitation, and democratic rights of subaltern groups and their relationship to elite.

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Undergraduate Courses

Political Sociology

Although discussions on the negative effects and consequences of capitalism have recently spread, ideas about how to concretely promote a more just and democratic socio-economic system have remained deficient or lack public support. Today it seems that there is no alternative political-economic model that represents an effective challenge to capitalism.
The aim of this course is to critically survey the progressive theories and emancipatory experiments proposed in the time period between the French Revolution (1789) and Russian Revolution (1917), in order to understand how they sought to construct social, economic and political alternatives to the capitalist system. Using the lens of political sociology, we will examine some of the most relevant political changes of the “long 19th Century” in their social and historical contexts. The Industrial Revolution, the birth of labour movement, the rise of class politics and the spread of democracy will be among the main themes addressed by this course.

The readings for this course were selected in order to enhance students’ understanding of concepts central to political sociology such as the nature of political power and theories of  social change. The main analytical focus of the course will concentrate on evaluating the adequacy of capitalism to address the challenges and opportunities of European societies in the 19th Century and identifying the main characteristics of the alternatives to capitalism proposed within the Socialist tradition. Finally, we will also assess the relevance of the alternatives proposed in the past for the fundamental and enduring social problems of our society today.

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Undergraduate Courses

History of Philosophy

In the XIX Century, in Europe circulate numerous theories that sought both to respond to demands for social justice unanswered by the French Revolution and to correct the dramatic economic imbalances brought about the Industrial Revolution. Many alternative forms of social organization emerged and several theorists outlined a new and more just social order, over and above the political changes that had come with the end of the Ancien Regime.

These theories – labelled in a disparaging way as “utopian” – will be critically reconsidered, with particular attention to the thinkers who: 1) took for granted that the adoption of a new social model based on strict social equality could be the solution for all the problems of society (Babeuf, Dézamy, Weitling); 2) believed that it was sufficient to conceive theoretically reform projects in order to change the world (Saint-Simon, Fourier); 3) focused on promoting small alternative communities in order to spread socialist principles (Owen, Cabet).

After 1848 and until Paris Commune of 1871, new and more economically developed ideas emerged. In the second part of the seminar, students will focus on the different tendencies of the International Working Men’s Association to overthrow of the existing social-economic system, such as Proudhon’s mutualism, British trade unions’ reformism, Marx’s anticapitalism, Lassalle’s state socialism and Bakunin’s anarchism. These ideas will also be analyzed in light of contemporary issues of our times.

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Undergraduate Courses

Marx and Simmel

The year 2018 marks the 200th anniversary of Karl Marx’s birth and the 100th anniversary of Georg Simmel’s death. This course wants to take the occasion to reflect on the relation between their works and diagnosis of modern society and culture.
The relevance of Marx’s writings to Simmel’s oeuvre is out of question: in the premise of his major work, Philosophy of Money (1900), Simmel declares his intention “to construct a new storey beneath historical materialism” (from the Preface). The continuities between Simmel’s work and Karl Marx’s Capital are most striking at the level of the diagnosis of modern society: the analysis of alienation, commodity fetishism, and capital’s quantifying and accelerating tendencies are not only critically discussed but also expanded in Simmel’s investigations of the paradoxes of modern culture, to the point that David Frisby once said, The Philosophy of Money is a Capital written in dialogue with Kant’s Transcendental Aesthetic instead of Hegel’s Logic. These analysis, however, have very different philosophical and political foundations: whereas Marx relied on the tradition of Left Hegelianism, English political economy, and French socialism, Simmel dialogued mainly with neo-Kantianism, neoclassical economics, and vitalism. To what extent, then, do Simmel’s investigations on money supplement, widen or contradict Marx’s analysis of capital? Do their different philosophical and methodological starting points prevent a productive dialogue between their arguments? How to reconcile Marxian analyses of class and exploitation with Simmel’s focus on pathologies affecting the totality of modern individuals? In what way can the confrontation
between their perspectives become relevant for current sociology and social philosophy?
This course will try to reflect on these aspects of the relation between Marx and Simmel.

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Graduate Courses

Contemporary Topics in Social Theory

This course deals with the development of sociological theory in the major foundational thinkers of the 19th and early 20th century. Much of classical sociological theory was focused upon growing awareness of society, as such, being the subject of profound change. Central questions addressed by its main authors were “What is the nature of the society emerging in 19th century Europe?” and “What is its significance with respect to the development of humanity?” Differences of opinion and profound debate have been characteristic of sociological theory, and have widely been recognized as contributing to its development.

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Graduate Courses

Social Movements

This course deals with the developments of some of the most significant international social movements from the end of Ancien Régime to the fall of Berlin Wall (1789-1989). These include social movements that were formed around the French Revolution, the Revolutions of 1848, the Paris Commune, the birth of Soviet Union, the Chinese Revolution, the anticolonialist process in Asia, Africa and Latin America, the protests of 1968, as well as Socialist Feminism. These movements will be critically analysed, both in terms of history of ideas and of their major socio-political characteristics.
This course is taught in weekly seminars. Attendance is strongly recommended and students are expected to participate actively in class discussion.

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Undergraduate Courses

Social Movements: Theory and Practice

This course deals with the developments of some of the most significant international social movements from the end of Ancien Régime to the fall of Berlin Wall (1789-1989). These include social movements that were formed around the French Revolution, the Revolutions of 1848, the Paris Commune, the birth of Soviet Union, the Chinese Revolution, the anticolonialist movement, and the protests of 1968. These movements will be critically analysed, both in terms of history of ideas and of their major socio-political characteristics.

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Undergraduate Courses

Advanced Sociological Theory

The course will center on some of the principal conceptions of Socialism between 1789 and 1989. Its first part will be dedicated to some of the most important Socialist thinkers of the Nineteenth Century (Saint-Simon, Fourier, Owen, Proudhon, Lassalle, Marx, Bakunin and Kropotkin), while the second part will focus on the analysis of some of the main Socialist controversies and political experiences of the Twentieth Century, such as Leninism, the so-called “actually existing socialism” in Soviet Union, Cuba, the main Socialist experiences in Africa, and the so-called ‘Socialism of the XXI Century’ in Latin America.

Goal of the course is to examine the characteristics and distinguishing features of the varied Socialisms articulated by some of the main Socialists of the Nineteenth and the Twentieth century. The selection of readings will focus on the writings in which these thinkers developed their theories of how a Socialist society should be economically and politically organized.

Special attention will be dedicated to Marx’s Socialism and to his critique of other Socialisms, including Anarchism. Though he never composed a single text specifically on Socialism and post-capitalist society, through his critique of capitalism Marx pointed to some of the key social features and relations of production in the “society of free producers” which would replace the capitalist social formation. The course will explore the originality of Marx’s theories in comparison with those of his socialist predecessors, as well as the differences between his ideas and the historical record of “actually existing Socialism”.

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Undergraduate Courses

The Social Self

The course will centre on the analysis of some of the most important modern and contemporary perceptions of the social self in Western societies, starting from 1492 and the discovery of the “other” in the Americas. The selection of readings focuses on the examination of the characteristics and distinguishing features of the varied conceptions of social self articulated – among others – by liberalism, Marx, Freud and by the advocates of nationalism.

Special attention will be dedicated to the XXth century. With the “revolutions” of psychoanalysis, the feminist critique, the liberation movements of 1968, and after the huge impacts produced by mass media and technological inventions – which followed World War II -, the idea of social self changed dramatically. Therefore, on the basis of some well known essays of mainstream North-American sociology, of classics of the “new Left” – such as Marcuse and Debord -, and of the work of Baudrillard, in the second part of the course there will be a critical analysis of the differences produced in human sciences with respect to the “self”.

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Undergraduate Courses

Sociology of Knowledge

This course will centre on the principal authors, texts and debates of the sociology of knowledge. Its first part will be dedicated to some of the most important foundational texts and classic intellectual developments within the field, while the second part will focus on the contributions and controversies that have followed from Marxist and other critical approaches.

The goal of the course is to explore the ways in which ideas figure in the development of social institutions, with particular attention to the social impact of belief systems. What knowledge is, how it is comprehended, and what it implies for society cannot simply be taken for granted. On the one hand, knowledge is socially constructed in even its most strictly scientific forms; on the other hand, the forms and patterns through which things are known have the most profound influence on social experience and behaviour. The constant mutual interaction between knowledge and social existence is both inherent in what sociology proposes to study, and constitutive of such study in practice.

Francis Bacon famously proposed that ‘Knowledge is power’. The precise nature of this relationship depends, of course, on how each of these terms is conceived. Special attention in the course will be dedicated to the various meanings of ‘ideology’ and how these conceptions have figured within the sociology of knowledge over time. Although the course may appear to be devoted to studying ideas about ideas, ultimately it is about the forms and processes of social being constituted by people who grasp ideas.

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Undergraduate Courses

Century of Revolution

This course will examine, drawing on an interdisciplinary approach, the major developments in European political thought of the Seventeenth century.

The course will begin with an overview of the historical, productive and social characteristics of the principal European countries of the time, analyzing, in particular, structural changes of economy, and demographic, cultural and religious trends.

In addition to authors as Althusius or Spinoza, special attention will be given to the voices of protest of some of the major humanists, social reformers and political philosophers of the period, in particular Campanella, Bacon, Grotius, Pufendorf and the “Levellers”.

In the second part of the course we will consider the contributions of Hobbes and Locke to modern political thought, and the emergence of the liberal state, in light of both the issues and fears raised by “the world turned upside down” and the broader context of fundamental social change. Finally, in the last class the major political theories of the century, learned during the course, will be reviewed and critically compared.