Students want to understand the world around them, make sense of their situation in it, and imagine a future that will offer choices and fulfillment. Understanding social change in a critical way is fundamental to these goals. This course – theoretically informed and reliant on social research – seeks to make sense of the Modern Era (since 1500) by studying five drivers of social change: science and technology; social movements; war and revolution; large corporations; and the state. Semester at Sea offers students the chance to visit not only a range of societies in transition but to recognize first-hand the many ways social change comes about. Primarily using the comparative, historical approach, students can come to understand not only how social change happens in all its diversity but gain a sense of empowerment to direct social change in desired directions in their own life.
Field WorkCountry: Poland
Date: September 16, 2019
Gdansk offers perhaps the most important and seismic example of recent social change among the many locales we will visit. The transition from a command economy and communist-party state domination to the market-oriented, populist nationalism of today is dramatic enough. But the process of getting from there to here – including the birth and success of Solidararność in the Gdansk shipyards in orchestrating the fall of the Jaruzelski government; the ‘shock therapy’ devised by Western governments and advisers; the ascendancy of the Catholic Church as a political force; and the rapid growth in national GDP the past two decades makes Poland – and Gdansk in particular – a perfect site to begin our study of social change. Because we dock at Gdansk at such an early date in the voyage, students will have only the briefest idea of the topic of social change as examined in the course. Some familiarity with social change in contemporary Poland will be acquired, but you will be working largely in unknown territory.
Our task will be to use Gdansk as the first of several opportunities to recognize social change. We will be joined by a seasoned Polish social scientist who will provide an understanding of the past four decades of Polish history and the forces that have driven social change in Poland. We will visit the European Solidarity Centre (Europejskie Centrum Solidarności) and Poland's new World War II Museum. In addition to touring Gdansk, we will make an excursion into a rural area outside the city. Among the most important features of social change in Poland, as it was in the U.S. in the twentieth century, is the transition from rural to urban society – in terms of technology, the application of state power, the growth of a complex modern economy, and as the site of mass social movements. Add to this the revolutionary demand for change and the lingering consequences of the Second World War, and we will have a preview of our text’s and the semester’s topical organization. Students will participate in composing what will be the first draft of a template for seeing social change – to be used and revised throughout the semester as we visit cities along our voyage.
1. Students will gain a familiarity of Poland in the context of the dramatic social changes that were initiated by the collapse of the Soviet Union nearly thirty years before.
2. Students will acquire a heightened sensitivity to what they are seeing and hearing as data to be assembled in understanding a specific site of social change.
3. Students will become aware of the drivers of social change in the modern era: science and technology; social movements; war and revolution; large corporations; and the state.
4. A field guide for recognizing social change will be created that the class will develop and apply in other ports. After each visit the class will evaluate and refine the guidelines in anticipation of visiting and using it in subsequent ports.