SOC 3 Honors - Social Problems: Debt, Inequality & the American Dream

Debt is among the central social problems of our times. For most people, it’s mostly a private problem – we don’t like to talk about debt. But recently it also has become a public problem. This is especially true in the United States, where indebtedness is a major topic in debates over the fate of the American Dream. But debt is not just an American thing: the growth of personal, household and government (public) debt is very much a global phenomenon. This course introduces students to the study of social problems through an exploration of public and private debt. It aims to help students develop a historical understanding on the relationship between debt and financial institutions, the growth of debt of all forms, the relationship between debt and inequality, and the political and social implications of debt. A major aim of the course is to help students contextualize debt and experiences of debt in a broad historical perspective, and to think more critically about its causes and consequences.
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Graduation Dreams







Winter 2017


The course proceeds in three parts.

PART I considers the history and definition of debt. What is debt? Where does it come from? Why is there so much of it?

PART II focuses on debt and inequality in the present-day United States. We will consider how debt looks across groups differentiated by age, race/ethnicity, sex/gender, class/socioeconomic status, and other axes of social division.

PART III gets us into questions of consequences. How do people think about, and experience, debt in their everyday lives? How does debt affect well-being and life chances? How does it affect political views?

The course format is highly interactive and student-centered. We will work through readings together, through a combination of lecture and student-driven discussion. And, as the course develops, students will develop their own research project on how they and the people around them experience debt.