Engaged Scholarship Courses

Aimed at bridging the gap between academic learning and service work, Engaged Scholarship courses in Social Studies combine rigorous reading and writing in the social sciences with public engagement. Two of the courses draw on the resources of the Phillips Brooks House and are open to students who are concurrently involved in relevant Harvard-affiliated service programs. All four courses offer students the opportunity to connect social science history and theory with practical experience, to actively shape classroom learning through personal involvement with service work, and to reflect on ways that the social sciences can contribute to addressing contemporary community needs and social problems.  

Enrollment will be limited to 10 students in each course. Courses are open to students in all concentrations as long as students meet the public service requirements (see individual course descriptions below for more details). If over-enrolled, courses will be lotteried with priority given to Social Studies concentrators.  
 

2020-21 Courses


Social Studies 68ea. Engaged Philosophy: The Theory and Practice of Altruism
Bonnie Talbert
Half course (spring term). Monday 12:45-2:45.
In the wake of a global pandemic and the George Floyd protests, many are searching for ways to take action, to improve our communities and the world, and to help others. Truly impactful action, however, requires thoughtful planning and reflection. The main question this course will address is “What is altruism?” We will approach this question from a variety of interdisciplinary perspectives: biology, psychology, political theory, and moral philosophy. Are we naturally altruistic, or are all actions in some sense selfish? How do we know when we are helping others? What is charity, or philanthropy, and what role does it play in a functioning democracy? We will spend a good portion of the course on the “effective altruism” movement, which aims to maximize the amount of good that each of us can do. Effective altruists have focused on criminal justice reform and pandemic prevention and research as two priority areas for alleviating global suffering; we will examine their claims and prescriptions about how to most effectively tackle these pressing issues. How are calculations about “effectiveness” made? What sorts of problems can be alleviated by giving away money to effective charities? What are some problems with this approach? How does the EA movement relate to activism? What is the best way to end racism and structural inequalities? More importantly, who are effective altruists, and how do they live their lives? We will read stories of anti-racism activists, people who have risked their lives to provide healthcare in the midst of war, people who have donated kidneys to strangers, people who adopted over 20 children, and many other examples that illustrate (or not!) different ways of being altruistic. The ultimate goal of this course is to think about what it means to help not just theoretically, but also in practice

This is an Engaged Scholarship course, limited to students who volunteer in a PBHA or other community-based program. Open to students in all concentrations. 

Note: This course is lotteried.

 

Social Studies 68pt. Politics: Theory and Practice - NEW
P. MacKenzie Bok
Half course (spring term). Thursday 3:00-5:00.
As the United States begins a new presidency, both the continuing global pandemic and the recent assault on the U.S. Capitol cast long shadows over the immediate political future. This course seeks to connect political theory to practice by asking how conceptual arguments about politics are reflected, transformed, or rejected in the experience of political practitioners. The class is structured as a series of two-week modules: one week focused on understanding the arguments of political theorists about a topic, then a second week focused on a relevant case at the state or local level, with political actors participating as guest speakers. Final papers will connect theory to practical politics in which students are engaged.

This is an Engaged Scholarship course, limited to students who volunteer in a PBHA or other community-based program. Open to students in all concentrations. 

Note: This course is lotteried.