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Course Descriptions

Below are descriptions for courses frequently offered in association with the program.


Environmental Social Science I: Place, Space, and Experience
Description by Leigh Graham
This seminar is the first part of a three-course sequence introducing students to the multidisciplinary theoretical bases and substantive concerns of Environmental Social Science. Environmental Psychology grew out of a desire among scholars and practitioners to work across disciplines on real world problems of people and the environment. From the start, research was conducted in naturalistic settings and often with an applied orientation. CUNY’s program, which was founded in the late 1960s, has been interdisciplinary in orientation since its inception and, for that reason, we introduce the field within a larger context than psychology alone, hence the designation “Environmental Social Science”. The term is meant to embrace a wide field of study that addresses and seeks to understand the nature of the complex relationships between people and the physical environment. As such, we will survey a range of disciplines that comprise the field, encompassing historical and theoretical overviews as well as contemporary analyses concerning people’s engagements with the environment from the fields of anthropology, sociology, geography, urban planning, architecture, landscape architecture, environmental design and management, and psychology. The goals of the course are for each of you to a) begin to develop your own perspective on the nature of people-environment relationships in their larger social, economic, cultural, political, and historical context, b) get a sense of the historical evolution of ideas in the field, and c) develop a research topic and related bibliography.


Environmental Social Science II: Ecological and Contextual Conceptions of Psychology
Description by Susan Saegert
This course is the first of two theory courses designed to prepare doctoral students to understand and be able to deploy theoretical positions across the social sciences. This course focuses on the psychological level of analysis. The theories explored lend themselves to accounts of psychology that can mesh with other levels of analysis. The course also covers some of the historically important thinkers in environmental and critical social/personality psychology. The overall objective of the course is for each student to develop a reasoned and reasonably satisfying answer to the following question: How is the psychologically experienced self related to the social and physical context? Achieving this objective requires answering another question: What is the unit of analysis of psychology? Some of the positions prominent in psychology assume the answer would be either particular psychological processes or the biological substrate/determinants of experience and behavior.  This course introduces an alternative approach in which we see selves as socially and materially contingent and knowledge of selves as contingent.  In the latter approach a student must develop an answer to the question “Contingent in what way?”


Environmental Social Science III: Space and Social Theory/Social and Cultural Theories
Description by Setha Low
This course is intended to provide a broad overview of theoretical approaches to the study of space, place and culture. Three observations must be stressed. First, this course is explicitly theoretical in nature. It is concerned with the relation between concepts and the capacity of concepts to help us understand and critically analyze spatial and environmental phenomena. It would be a mistake, however, to assume that because this is a course on theory, it has no interest in empirical matters. Quite the opposite is true: theory is not separate from the world; rather, it is an attempt to grapple with what we encounter in everyday life. It emerges from our engagement with the world, not from separating ourselves from it. In turn, theory informs how we act in the world. Accordingly, it would be false to claim a divide between ‘theory’ and the ‘empirical world’, or between ‘theory’ and ‘practice’. As we will see in this class, such dichotomies obscure much more than they reveal. The second observation is that the course is a survey. This has both advantages and disadvantages. The advantage is that by the end of the semester, you should have a general sense of the diversity of theoretical approaches that have been developed to make sense of environmental and geographical phenomena. The disadvantage is that we can only skim the surface of what is an immense literature. Over the semester, you should identify the theoretical approaches that seem most relevant, or most compelling, to you, and make these approaches a matter of sustained inquiry over the coming years. Part of being a good scholar is taking the initiative to understand the history of intellectual traditions and the debates within them and between them. The final observation is simply this: the readings in this course are often difficult. They will take time (and a degree of patience) to read. At certain points you will find yourself confronted by unfamiliar vocabulary, and with neologisms that will at least at first frustrate you. But over time you’ll begin to see why this vocabulary is being used, and why new words are invented, rather than returning to the ‘common-sense’ of old ones.




Children and Grown Ups: Cultural, Historical and Developmental Perspectives
Roger Hart


Environmental Sociology
Description by Ken Gould
This course explores the complex, dynamic interactions between social systems and ecosystems. Environmental political economy challenges social science’s human exemptionalist paradigm by incorporating the natural environment as a variable. The course will examine the social origins of the major environmental stresses facing contemporary social systems, the social conflicts that these stresses have produced, and a range of approaches to resolving social system-ecosystem disjuncture at local, regional, national, and transnational levels. Major theoretical frameworks and debates in environmental political economy will be addressed. Special attention will be paid to the roles of science and technology in generating and responding to socio-environmental disorganization, the role of socio-economic inequality in environmental conflicts, the emergence of environmental social movement coalitions, the fusion of the politics of place, production, and identity in ecological resistance movements, and linkages between transnational economic processes and efforts to achieve ecologically and socially sustainable development trajectories.


Introduction to Policy Analysis
Description by Leigh Graham
Interpreting and solving complex problems are everyday activities for public administrators, policy analysts and decision-makers, whether they are operating in international, regional, national or local political environments. In this course students will be introduced to a variety of techniques and perspectives that can be applied in real world public policy situations. Becoming more flexible thinkers is essential to learning how to improve public policy analysis, decision-making and management. Rigid, one-dimensional approaches to understanding complex problems often stem from, among other things, constraints relating to how we perceive time, space, dimension of problems, level of political response, form of governance, and culture and/or gender. The course relies on real-world cases, often drawn from contemporary urban policy issues, including, but not limited to, urban resilience and sustainability; affordable housing, crime and violence, public health, and disaster response and recovery.


Just Places: Action & Healing
Description by David Chapin
JUST PLACES. There are people committed to an equitable world; they sometimes create organizations and occupy a space. A focus on “Just Places” means a focus on places of justice or resistance to injustice, places that challenge the oligarchy. They can be thought of as places which have been appropriated by the people for the people. They contrast with the Corporate places of domination and consumption.
HEALING PLACES. People coming together in place can consciously create restoration and healing. Some places for people who have experienced disruption or historical trauma act purposefully to respect and care for each other.

The “place-ness” of Just Places implies embodied physical experience but may also require an electronic environment. The significance of “place-ness” itself is surely different from place one to another. What are these appropriated places like? How do people within these places care for each other? How is it to be in one of these places? How do the people inhabiting these places maintain their commitment? What might we learn by studying these places, both as individual examples, but also looking across these places? We will be reading and discussing literature of Theories of Change, Restorative Environments [sometimes involving nature and sometimes not], People Place Interactions, Liberation Texts, as well as Biographies and Narratives of makers of change. In this seminar we will be spending about half our time going to places, being there and experiencing them. We will want to ask for each place something of, “What is this place and how did it get to be what it is?” This will require thoughtful analysis of both the current circumstances as well as archival or other historical digging. We will do a case study for each of the places that we choose, each going into appropriate depth.


Methods Module: Participant Observation and Fieldnotes
Description by Setha Low
This methods module focuses on the ethnographic methods of participant observation and taking field notes. It is organized as an ongoing workshop of the intensive training of graduate students interested in working with qualitative methods and data. Four weekly meetings will utilize student fieldwork experience and data collected as the basis for discussion and critique of the effectiveness and theoretical utility of different methods. Topics will include: participant observation as a way of knowing, race/class/gender issues in fieldwork, ethics and values of participant observation, and the art of writing field notes.


Methods Module: Unstructured Interviewing
Description by Setha Low
1. To understand the interviewing process in the social sciences, its goals and advantages as well as its limitations, including the difference between unstructured (conversational) and structured and semi structured interviewing.
2. To develop the ability to interview in an ethical, thoughtful and substantively appropriate way.
3. To determine what the data mean, that is, what actually has been collected rather than assuming that the interview is a straightforward process of interviewees answering a given question.
4. To learn how field notes of the interview process can enhance the researcher’s understanding of the metacommunication situation and improve its subsequence analysis.
5.  To identify metacommunicative errors in the interview that can lead to insights about the interview process.
6.  To reflect upon how ones’ race, class, age, gender, sexual orientation and other abilities influences the interview situation.


Methods Module: Ethnographic/Qualitative Data Analysis
Description by Setha Low
This module is organized as an ongoing practicum for the intensive training of graduate students in qualitative data analysis of unstructured and semi-structured interviews and field notes. Weekly meetings will utilize student fieldwork experience and data collected as the basis for discussion and critique of different qualitative data methods and techniques. Topics will include: coding, content analysis, grounded theory forms of analysis, conversational analysis, other forms of data analysis and writing up of qualitative data for publication.


Participatory Democracy and Social Movements
Description by Celina Su
This seminar takes a look at what ordinary citizens do to shape public programs and engage in politics— in ways other than voting. We explore the notion that popular participation can make democratic governance more legitimate, fair, and effective. Is participatory democracy— alternatively called bottom-up participation, maximal democracy, or direct democracy— really better? Specifically, we will examine forms and functions of civil society from a comparative perspective by looking at specific examples of (1) participatory institutions (neighborhood councils, urban budgeting, school governance, etc.), (2) participation in non-governmental organizations and development projects, and (3) social movements around the world (landless people’s movements, transnational networks, mothers of political dissidents who have “disappeared,” AIDS protest groups, etc.). Sometimes, these three categories blur into one another. We will try to focus on case studies in “Global South” middle-income countries like Brazil, Argentina, India, and South Africa, though we also include domestic cases as a point of reference. How much should ordinary citizens participate in policymaking, and how? Under what circumstances? We will pay special attention to equity in participation, uses and construction of identity, and policy impacts in each case.


Politics of Public Space
Description by Setha Low
This course begins with an exploration of what it means for space to be public particularly in the urban environment.  Course readings cover the economic, social, political, and cultural ideas of what public and publicness means and the ways that this “publicness” is worked out spatially. A variety of public spaces—parks, plazas, libraries, streets, sidewalks, and beaches—where publicness is produced and contested are examined, and students will select public spaces to study as part of the learning process. This course also reviews the ways in which political expression and negotiation among constituencies occur in the public space. It considers the concepts of the “right to the city” and social justice as political ideals for public space and current trends such as privatization, surveillance, and securitization as expressions of conflict. The course organization is based on the major concepts and processes evident in public space with a focus on how they have been understood theoretically and ethnographically.


Research Methods and Ethics
Description by Susan Saegert
The aim of this course is to help students construct a critical framework for developing, conducting, and interpreting research. This will involve: 1) Understand the ontological and epistemological foundations of different approaches to research design and methods;
2) Critically evaluate published research papers in the social sciences;
3) Develop alternative research strategies that might be employed for various problems in the social sciences.
Coursework will include discussing and critiquing readings from philosophy of social science, from methods texts, and from empirical reports from multiple research traditions.  Students will also practice the skills of research by developing multiple approaches to their own research questions.


Statistical Methods in Psychology
Description by Brett Stoudt
The purpose of this course is to help you learn and apply the foundations of statistical thinking. More specifically, by the end of this first semester of a two-semester course you will increase your knowledge in the following areas:
1. Statistical Concepts: You will develop an understanding of the beginning and intermediate level statistical concepts.
2. Statistical Mathematics: You will be able to calculate by hand some of the important statistical equations.
3. Statistical Software: You will learn how to competently use two statistical programs: SPSS and SAS
4. Statistical Literacy: You will become a more aware and critical consumer of statistics in the media, policy, and research


Supportive Settings and Restorative Environments
David Chapin

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 Supported by the CUNY Doctoral Students Council.