Relevant to Columbia students only: Taking one of my classes this spring

I’m teaching a Political Economy of Development course at both the undergraduate and graduate level (SIPA) this spring.

The unofficial subtitle for both courses is “Why are some countries poor, violent, and unfree, and what (if anything) can the West do about it?”

My overarching goal is to make you skeptical, critical and cynical about development, without crushing your idealism, optimism, or desire to serve humanity. Something in the middle.

I have not finalized the spring lectures and readings yet but last year’s graduate (SIPA) syllabus is close to what both the undergraduate and SIPA classes will look like. I hope to have fresh syllabi in a few weeks.

Some important details if you are deciding on the course:

  • I am likely on leave for the 2014-15 academic year and so will not be teaching either class, but I expect to teach both classes in subsequent years.
  • This spring’s classes will be a little less Africa-focused and bring in more readings from Latin America, early Europe and the US, and a little of Asia. But it will still lean towards my expertise, which is in sub-Saharan Africa.
  • I designed both classes to be complements to courses in economic development, and have no math or economics requirements. I spend a week reviewing economic theories in order to frame some of the political, policy, sociological, historical, and geographic topics we cover. These are designed to be a primer for those new to the subject, and serve as a review for those who have seen it before.
  • Both classes are designed to be accessible first year students (freshmen at the undergraduate level or first year SIPA students) and so there are no prerequisites. But that does not mean it is not hard.
  • In fact, this will be an unusually demanding course in terms of workload, especially reading and writing. I usually advise freshmen to wait until a later year to take the undergraduate course, but many have taken it in the past and do well.
  • For the SIPA course, there’s a small inconvenience: you need to register on a wait list in the course registration system, mainly because the course is a requirement for the EPD major and the major needs to admit them first. But we expanded the classroom and the number of TAs this year, and I expect most or all of the waitlist to be admitted in by the first or second week of classes.
  • Someone just alerted me that my SIPA class is offered at the same time as Jeff Sachs’ SIPA development class. This was unintentional and my mistake–I should have checked to avoid a conflict, and it’s now too late to change. I took and then TA’d Jeff’s class 12 years ago, and it was excellent. It’s no coincidence that my course is in may ways similar, so probably you shouldn’t take both anyways. If you must decide, his class is more focused on the natural sciences, and mine on the political side of development, so choose your poison. If you want to check out what my class is like without missing his, there will be room for a limited number of people to sit in on my first undergraduate lecture or two, which will cover similar material.

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