As the United States decides what direction it will take in the face of growing xenophobia, policing, deportations, and disregard for human life, this course invites students to examine the causes and outcomes of forced migration. We will work to examine the criminalization of migrants and refugees by studying the systems of oppression that force people to flee and deny their dignified relocation. In connection with a variety of global contexts, from Central America to North Africa and Southeast Asia, students will analyze migration’s relationship to exploitation, race, unemployment, violence, healthcare, climate change, globalization, and mass incarceration. Addressing these linkages will involve engaging philosophical and political concepts such as citizenship, neoliberalism, hospitality, human rights, and borders. We will do so by examining scholarly, journalistic, and legal texts, as well as recorded testimonies. Through both lectures and discussions, and accompanied by critical reading and writing practice, this module will give students the tools needed to inspire analytical confidence in the face of one of the most complex issues of the present day. This module will be taught remotely, with synchronous class sessions via Zoom and asynchronous participation on Canvas. Class sessions, including lectures, will be recorded and posted to Canvas to ensure student accessibility.
- Gain a foundational understanding of why people migrate, the challenges faced in transit, and what life is like upon arrival.
- Apply and put into dialogue key economic, political, and philosophical principles that structure migration today.
- Exercise analytical thinking in order to form connections between contemporary migration and a variety of domestic and international social issues spanning race, class, and gender.
- Sharpen critical reading and writing skills by preparing weekly reflection pieces and daily discussion questions.
- Strengthen communication and analytical confidence through discussion-based, student-centered learning.
All assigned materials will be provided in digital form. Based on the assigned materials, each evening students will post a central question or concern to Canvas. These questions will serve to structure the following day’s class discussion. Students will submit brief reflection pieces on Day 4 and Day 8.
Day 1: From the Cold War to Neoliberalism
Class preparation: Pamela Yates, When the Mountains Tremble (documentary); David Harvey, “The Neoliberal State,” in A Brief History of Neoliberalism. pp. 64-87
Class activity: Course introduction; short lecture on the global reorganization of labor; class discussion on the economic and social causes of migration, focalizing assigned reading and film.
Day 2: The Deportation Regime and the MS-13
Class preparation: Excerpt from “The End: The Death and Burial of Miguel Ángel Tobar,” in The Hollywood Kid: The Violent Life and Violent Death of an MS-13 Hitman, pp. 3-17
Class activity: Short lecture on deportation under the Clinton administration; class discussion on assigned reading and the formation of youth gangs in Los Angeles and Central America.
Day 3: Transit Routes, from the Río Grande to the Shores of the Mediterranean
Class preparation: Excerpts from Óscar Martínez, The Beast: Riding the Rails and Dodging Narcos on the Migrant Trail (students each pick one narrative to read, 10-20 pages).
Class activity: Short lecture on the European refugee crisis and the structural violence of borders; class discussion on narratives selected by students.
Day 4: Philosophy of the Stranger
Class preparation: Students will prepare a 2-page (double-spaced) reflection piece on how they think migrants should be received, given what we have learned so far about the causes and processes of relocation.
Class activity: Guided reading of Jacques Derrida, Of Hospitality (selections); class discussion on students’ reflection pieces in dialogue with Of Hospitality, and on the concept of sanctuary cities.
Assignment: Submit Reflection 1 before class.
Day 5: Statelessness and Human Rights
Class preparation: Ayten Gündoğdu, Rightlessness in an Age of Rights: Hannah Arendt and the Contemporary Struggles of Migrants (selection); United Nations, “Universal Declaration of Human Rights”
Class activity: Guided reading of Hannah Arendt, “Decline of the Nation State and the End of The Rights of Man,” in The Origins of Totalitarianism; class discussion with local reporter Laura Benshoff (WHYY), who will speak about her experience covering Philadelphia-area detention centers.
Day 6: COVID-19 and Social Reproduction
Class preparation: Tithi Battacharya, Social Reproduction Theory: Remapping Class, Recentering Oppression (selections); The Marxist Feminist Collective, “On Social Reproduction and the Covid-19 Pandemic: Seven Theses”; Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, "The Black Plague"
Class activity: Short lecture on care work and racialized health disparities in the United States, before and during the pandemic; class discussion with Penn professor Pilar Goñalons-Pons (Sociology) on the overlaps between the devaluing of migrant labor and reproductive labor (domestic work, childcare, cleaning, homecare, etc.), and how to envision a just post-pandemic care economy.
Day 7: Eco-Apartheid and Climate Refugees
Class preparation: Todd Miller, “Save the Climate, Dismantle the Border Apparatus”
Class activity: Short lecture on the growing problem of eco-apartheid and climate refugees; class discussion on assigned reading and the Green New Deal’s approach to migration.
Day 8: Prisons, Detention Centers, and the Criminalization of Minorities
Class preparation: Ruth Wilson Gilmore, “Covid-19, Decarceration, and Abolition”
Class activity: Short lecture on the prison industrial complex, policing, and the militarization of the border; class discussion on key overlaps and distinctions between the policing of migrants and that of people of color in the US.
Day 9: What Can be Done?
Class preparation: Each student will pick an interview from the Ecologies of Migrant Care website and prepare a reflection piece on how it illustrates or complicates one of the topics studied in the Module (2-pages double spaced, or approximately 4 minutes).
Class activity: Students will present and discuss their reflection pieces on Zoom or via recorded post. As a class, we will brainstorm the structural and cultural changes needed to prevent forced migration and allow those who do migrate to live with dignity.
Assignment: Submit Reflection 2 before class.