Political Economy and Social Movements

Fall 2019
Winter 2020
Class Size: 50
Credits per quarter

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Taught by

feminist economics
historical sociology, information studies

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 We will develop our writing and analytical skills through our close reading of historical documents, and through weekly workshops in neoclassical economics, and feminist and Marxian theory.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 in the 20 th century, with a focus on the interrelationship between U.S. political economy and the changing global system. We'll take an especially close look at the Great Depression of the 1930s, with a focus on the United States; and the neoliberal period, beginning in the 1970s and continuing, in increasingly unstable forms, up to today. As we trace the evolution of capitalism, we'll look at the effects on the labor market and the gender division of labor; we’ll study the causes and consequences of the Great Recession, the rising power of financial institutions and debt as a means of dispossession; we’ll examine austerity policies and their effects on our daily lives, and on our social relations. Concurrently, our studies will explore the agency and opposition of communities to the violence of the neoliberal world order. We will study social movements such as the Zapatista rebellion beginning in 1994, the 2006 Oaxaca teachers' rebellion, as well as current struggles for farmworker justice, for immigrants rights and workplace rights. Along with our studies of the impact of global capital on the daily lives of people, we will explore alternatives to market-fundamentalism, such as social democracy, community-based economics and democratic socialism as strategies for social change.

This offering will prepare you for careers and advanced study in:

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.


Credits per quarter

Online learning:
  • Enhanced Online Learning - This offering requires access to web-based tools, but use of these tools does not displace any face-to-face instruction.

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

Class Standing: Sophomore–Senior
Class Size: 50

Scheduled for: Day

Final schedule and room assignments:

First meeting:

Tuesday, January 7, 2020 - 9:00 am
SEM 2 C1105 - Lecture

Located in: Olympia

2019-11-14Winter required fees reduced to $50 (was $150)
2019-04-04Required fees added to catalog listing
2018-09-25Teaching team updated.