Political Economy and Social Movements

Fall 2019
Winter 2020
Sophomore - Senior
Class Size: 50
16 Credits per quarter
Log in to add this offering to your saved list.
Taught by

Faculty note: Tom Womeldorff is a member of the teaching team fall quarter only and Paul McMillin is winter quarter only. 

This program will examine the nature, development and concrete workings of global capitalism and the interrelationship of race, class and gender in historical and contemporary contexts. Recurring themes will include the study of power and inequality, exploitation, social movements, reform and fundamental change, as well as resistance to systems of oppression.

In fall quarter, we will focus on the historical emergence and evolution of capitalism as an economic system. How did capitalism arise as a global economic system?  What has been its historical trajectory and how is it different from other economic systems? We will begin by examining the transition from feudalism to capitalism in Europe, and the concurrent European colonization of other parts of the world. We will explore the globalized nature of the slave trade, and how colonial domination was fundamental to the process of wealth accumulation; we will explore the connections between the subjugation of feminized people and the control and exploitation of our natural environment. Concurrently, we will read about peasant revolts, slave rebellions and other collective struggles of marginalized communities to contest their exploitation and exclusion, and assert their right to sovereignty, democracy and a more just future. 

Through our study of history, literature, feminism and political economy, we will explore the ways in which the colonialist aspirations of the European states were legitimized historically, as well as the ways in which neo-colonialist discourses have re-inscribed asymmetrical relations of power under the guise of modernity, progress and economic development. We will develop our writing and analytical skills through our close reading of historical documents, and through weekly workshops in neoclassical economics, and feminist and Marxian theory. In fall quarter, our economics workshops will focus on the principles of microeconomics, and we will study topics such as the structure and failure of markets, work and wages, growing economic inequality, debt as a means of dispossession, and the gender and racial division of labor.

In winter quarter, we will continue our study of the historical development of capitalism, primarily from the late 19th century to the present. Much of our focus will be on the United States, but we’ll also carry forward the Fall Quarter look at colonialism and imperialism, and consider some of the decolonization movements of the mid-20th century.  We’ll look at a couple of movements that achieved “revolutionary” status, and consider their fates within the context of global capitalism. Our focus on the United States will include a close look at the Great Depression and the New Deal period. We’ll look at activism ‘from below’, while also looking at the adjustments capitalists and government made ‘from above’.  We’ll investigate the rise of neoliberalism, beginning in the 1970s and continuing, in increasingly unstable forms, up to today. The rising power of financial institutions, debt as a means of dispossession, and austerity policies and their effects on our daily lives will be central (we may look at housing and/or incarceration as case studies). Concurrently, our studies will explore feminist perspectives on the crisis in social reproduction, as well as the agency and opposition of communities to the structural violence of the neoliberal world order.

Winter quarter workshops in economics will focus on understanding key macroeconomic concepts such as gross domestic product, labor force participation rate, the unemployment rate, and income distribution. Workshops on scholarly research will provide space and support for students to work on a significant research paper.


Fall 2019 Registration

Course Reference Numbers

So - Sr (16): 10122
Winter 2020 Registration

Signature Required

This program is open to accepting new students conditional on their doing some reading and writing over Winter break.

Prospective new students should email us and/or come and visit Savvina & Paul at the academic fair.

Course Reference Numbers

So - Sr (16): 20045

Academic details

Preparatory For

Community-based organizations, advocacy, public policy, law and legal rights, education, alternative justice systems, graduate school in social science, history, law, geography and political economy.

Maximum Enrollment
Class Standing

$140 in fall and $50 in winter for entrance fees and field trips


In Person or Remote
In Person (F)
In Person (W)
Time Offered
Schedule Evergreen link
see Schedule Evergreen for detailed schedule

First Meeting

SEM 2 C1105 - Lecture
DateRevision 2019-11-26 Conditions for Winter quarter start students added and description updated. 2019-11-14 Winter required fees reduced to $50 (was $150) 2019-04-04 Required fees added to catalog listing 2018-09-25 Teaching team updated.