Social inequality is not only the key structural feature of any society. It is the main determinant of how life goes on in that society – from how valued resources are distributed to the most intimate details of social interaction and personal identity. This course explores the contours of social stratification and mobility in the United States as well as in several other contexts. Nations and regions of the world have been tied together from the era of mercantilism to today’s late-stage capitalism, making global inequality a fundamental part of this course. Because Semester at Sea offers a unique opportunity to see first-hand myriad forms of inequality, the course will use readings, critical discussion and writing to study inequality: what it is; its historical development and maintenance; and its consequences for individuals and nations. In addition, it will examine in comparative perspective various responses to inequality and efforts to mitigate its most problematic features through political, cultural, organizational and economic policies and practices.
Field WorkCountry: Brazil
Date: November 10, 2019
Brazil has for decades been one of the most economically unequal societies in the world. As a middle-income country and one of the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) “breakout” economies, many people have seen a significant increase in their standard of living, while many more – especially in rural areas and urban favelas – have not. Salvador has its share of poor neighborhoods, including some that are tourist sites. The World Cup (some early matches were played in Salvador) brought attention to the violence but also the strength of communities in Salvador’s favelas. This field course offers an opportunity to see first-hand, the physical and cultural geography of extreme inequality, and to compare it to that in the U.S. and what students saw in Ghana, Portugal, and elsewhere. Brazil also offers an excellent opportunity to focus on the intersection of ethnic and gender dimensions of social inequality. Beginning with the Afro-Brazilian Museum and with the help of a local expert in gender inequality, we will examine women’s place in Brazil’s history of slavery, in today’s official and gray economies, and women’s lack of political representation. We will focus attention as well on reproductive rights and violence against women, two areas of controversy that expose the clash between secular modernization and traditional values and practices in Brazil and Latin America more generally.
1. Students will recognize ethnic diversity and extreme social stratification as reflected in the urban geography of Salvador and compare this to other sites they have visited.
2. Students will locate social class inequality in a complex matrix of ethnicity, history, culture, and gender.
3. The focus on women and inequality in Salvador provides a valuable comparative illustration to understand both the contours of, and the obstacles to, overcoming inequality that lie in both traditional culture and modern institutions that benefit from gender inequality.