Junior Seminar: The World We Live In: Crisis, Production, Time and Meaning in Contemporary Capitalism

Course Description

We frequently read about, discuss and experience the impact of economic changes that are global in nature. The extant literature on “globalization” focuses on finance and trade and, indeed, these are the most identifiable loci of economic integration. However, both finance and trade are undergirded by production. “Bring the jobs back home!” and “Buy American!” are slogans that reflect a vital reality: where production takes place, how labor is organized, who gets a job and under what conditions is the very core of economics and politics. Today, it is impossible to ignore the fact that Americans can no longer be a nation of consumers who invent cutting-edge technologies that, ultimately, replace people with machines. “Efficiency” is so automatically assumed to be a “good” that we forget to ask: “Whose efficiency?” We can also not sustain our economy on financial arbitrage in an unregulated international financial market. In short: production is key.

In this seminar we will discuss the way that the technologies, organization and geography of industrial production have changed over time. Our goal is to understand the world we live in, but to do that we need to know how we got here. We therefore begin with pre-industrial forms of production and their mutation, resulting in the first Industrial Revolution (England, c. mid-18th century). We then focus on the transition from Fordism (marked by the invention of the assembly line) to post-Fordism. Post-Fordism describes multiple and simultaneous changes in the location and processes of production. Starting with theories, or, more accurately, descriptions of these processes we will focus on case studies that address what post-Fordism has meant for social, cultural and psychological conditions in various parts of the world, particularly after the neo-liberal revolution of the 1980s and 1990s. In each of these transitions, we will attend to how technologies have affected individuals, communities, ideologies and power.

This is a very demanding seminar that has three requirements. First, participants must all do all of the readings every week, take notes on the readings and come to seminar ready to participate (40%). Second, participants will lead seminar once (15%). Third, participants will write a 15 page paper that traces a real or fictitious product through post-Fordist processes asking: why was this product made? How was it made?Who wants this product? How was this product marketed and sold? How was the price of this product set? What is the social nature of this product? This paper will be double spaced, in 12 point type with one inch borders. Paragraphs will not have additional spaces between them. Papers will be due on the last day of R and R week. Each student will present explain their product to the class in verbally and graphically. (This is the most fun part of the class!) In fairness to other students, late papers will be penalized, regardless of their quality.(45%)

Seminar will meet for three hours with a 15-20 minute break as appropriate for the pace of the discussion. My goal as instructor is not just to introduce you to material, but also train you to read carefully, and then formulate and articulate your ideas to others. A related goal is to give you experience in listening, debating, and carrying through on a common thread of conversation. These are skills you will need all your life, regardless of what you do after you graduate. There will be a reader for the course available at Replica Copy on the Oxford (at Center).


Political Science Majors of Junior and Senior status, with a minimum overall GPA of 3.3. Students must place themselves on the waitlist through TeleBEARS in Phase II. Selection and notification will occur around January 9, 2012.