Fox Professing
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Course Description/Tentative Syllabus


York University - Fall 2009
Department of Psychology
HH/PSYC 4021 3.0 / GS/PSYC 6800 3.0
Seminar Director: Dennis Fox, Visiting Professor

Seminar Room 328A BSB
Time Tuesday / Thursday 11:30-1:00
Dennis Fox Office: 248 BSB
Office hours By appointment
Secretary Ann Pestano 296 BSB
Prerequisites Graduate students in Psychology: No prerequisites
  Undergraduates in Psychology must be in Honours Program and have completed 14 university courses or 84 credits.
  Other disciplines: Contact your department
Course Website

Seminar Description

This advanced interdisciplinary seminar explores interactions among individuals, the community, and the larger society. It builds especially on challenges to basic assumptions posed by critical psychology and anarchist theory. Interpreting social psychology broadly, we examine material from anthropology, sociology, politics, law, education, philosophy, and other fields. Student input is central as we try to make sense of topics such as these:

  • Everyday choices about the things we take for granted.
  • The tension between autonomy and community within corporatized and globalized societies, especially those whose individualistic ethos conflicts with indigenous, egalitarian, environmental, and other subcultural values.
  • The influence of institutions such as schools, universities, corporations, legislatures, courts, religious bodies, and the media.
  • Law's assumptions about human nature, the implications of legal thinking and the rule of law, the sources of legal and political legitimacy, and the link between law and justice.
  • Social scientists' ideological and methodological assumptions, especially social psychological approaches to power, hierarchy, competition, values, justice, group dynamics, aggression, conflict resolution, and similar subjects.
  • Mainstream psychology's societal role.
  • Prospects for achieving mutuality and liberation.

Organization of the Seminar

Discussion, lecture, student presentations; possible audiovisual supplements and guest speakers.

A seminar is not a lecture course. Our class should be small enough to allow informality, flexibility, and even fun, but a seminar generally requires more work and more commitment than other kinds of classes. Focused on small-group participatory discussion, its primary goal is learning through interaction among students rather than through lecture. Ideally, students play equal roles in presenting material based on outside research, directing class discussion, and responding to other’s contributions. Students, thus, should have enough time and interest to read assigned material critically, think about its implications, and come to class prepared to participate. Regular preparation, attendance, and participation are required.

Students will also take an active role in seminar organization and self-management to better meet course goals. Especially during the first two weeks we will discuss possible course modifications based on class size and student backgrounds and interests. Furthermore, some details may change throughout the semester based on our experience.

Note: I am visiting York only for a single semester. I know very little about the university’s culture, routines, and expectations. If I miss something obvious, please let me know!

Learning Objectives

  • Developing the habit of noticing previously unexamined assumptions about human nature and forms of social order.
  • Understanding the role these assumptions play in psychology, in other disciplines that use psychology’s knowledge base or methods, and in dominant societal institutions.
  • Understanding how our own assumptions might affect our choices, plans, and goals.
  • Improving the ability to think critically about the connections among different disciplines.
  • Improving discussion, presentation, writing, and group self-management skills.

Reading Material and Links to Resources

Tentative Semester Schedule

Requirements and Evaluation

Creating a useful, thought-provoking course depends in part on identifying our own assumptions about hierarchy, power, competition, and similar social-psychological topics. As the instructor, I am required to prepare this syllabus in advance so you can decide whether to take the course. Although these tentative requirements make sense to me, some are arbitrary choices among many options, and in a few cases I’ve left details undecided. In keeping with our focus on basic assumptions about powerful institutions, we will consider modifying the assignments, procedures, grading options, and so on to better mesh my goals with yours.

Throughout the course we will talk and write about controversial issues. You should feel free to say what you really think and to disagree with me, with the readings (including mine), and with other students. Your personal views do not affect your grade. However, improving critical thinking skill means learning to make thoughtful arguments. Rather than simply trashing viewpoints you disagree with, you should show that you understand them. Try to respond to the other side’s best arguments rather than just sneer at their weakest.

In the absence of modifications made early in the course, requirements include the following:

  • Regular attendance and constructive participation in discussion (20%)
  • Periodic brief written comments on readings (25%)
  • Seminar presentation(s), either individual or group (25%)
  • Written paper(s) or equivalent term option (e.g., compiling a detailed annotated reading list, creating a comprehensive wiki or some other form of website, or producing a presentation for external distribution) (30%)

Graduate students should more actively lead class discussion during their presentations. Their papers and presentations should demonstrate more sophisticated awareness of relevant issues in their discipline.

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Page updated August 15, 2009