Campus News

On Change: Today's Reading

Story posted January 20, 2009

Change is the buzzword of the day, and most would agree there's a need for it in many different sectors. But what do we really mean when we talk about change? We asked faculty members in different disciplines to tell us what they'd have on their reading lists if they were teaching a course on the subject. If you want to understand the concept of change across the curriculum, here's a start to your syllabus:

Susan E. Bell, A. Myrick Freeman Professor of Social Sciences


  • The Sociological Imagination by C. Wright Mills
  • Shaping History: Narratives of Political Change by Molly Andrews
  • The Making of Our Bodies, Ourselves: How Feminist Knowledge Travels Across Borders by Kathy Davis
  • When Women Come First: Gender and Class in Transnational Migration by Sheba George

Why these: "The first text is a classic in sociology, and in it Mills not only castigates sociology for losing sight of the big picture and offers a proposal for what sociologists should do, but also considers the origins and consequences of social change. In the second book, Andrews considers stories of social change at national turning points in the U.S., U.K., Germany, and South Africa. The third is a study of the translation and circulation of the classic feminist text Our Bodies, Ourselves from the time it was first published in 1970 to the present. It situates this feminist epistemological project in "global" feminism. In the last text, George traces the paths of nurses who migrated from Kerala, India to "Central City," U.S.A., connects them with global patterns of change in the organization of medical care in the late 20th century, and shows how their transnational family connections reflect and contribute to these larger patterns."

Phil Camill, Rusack Associate Professor, Biology and Environmental Studies


  • Hot, Flat, and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution — and How It Can Renew America by T. Friedman
  • The Bridge at the Edge of the World: Capitalism, the Environment, and Crossing from Crisis to Sustainability by G. Speth
  • Earth: The Sequel: The Race to Reinvent Energy and Stop Global Warming by F. Krupp
  • The Green Collar Economy: How One Solution Can Fix Our Two Biggest Problems by V. Jones
  • Natural Capitalism: Creating the Next Industrial Revolution by P. Hawken, A. Lovins, and L.H. Lovins

Why these: "Climate warming, war in the Middle East, rising demand for energy, skyrocketing national debt, and the loss of manufacturing jobs: America is poised for a fundamental shift to a new energy economy. These works outline what that change could look like, offering a blueprint for the kind of all-in-one stimulus the Obama administration needs."

Henry Laurence, Associate Professor, Government and Asian Studies


  • Japan's Quiet Transformation by Jeff Kingston
  • Regime Shift by T.J. Pempel
  • Money Rules: The New Politics of Finance in Britain and Japan, Henry Laurence

Why these: "In Japan, decades of economic growth and liberalization culminated in a greed-and-corruption-fueled stock and land price bubble. When it burst, the Japanese were forced to confront the fallout from the fact that they had been living well beyond their means. The first two texts address those issues of economic, social, and political change. I will use my book in a course looking at financial deregulation and globalization and its effect on the ability of national governments to control their economies because it tells a story of change: how these two governments essentially surrendered control of a large part of the economy to international financiers."

Rick Broene, Professor of Chemistry


  • The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas Kuhn
  • Modern Physical Organic Chemistry by Eric Anslyn and Dennis Dougherty

Why these: "The Kuhn book is a classic work in the philosophy of science and argues that we have times of normal science, during which knowledge accumulates in a linear fashion that are followed (or preceded) by "paradigm shifting" revolutions that rewrite the canon. The organic text provides a fundamental understanding of the mechanisms and interactions that result when we transform one organic molecule into another and provides a basis for predicting which changes will occur during a chemical reaction."

John Fitzgerald, William D. Shipman Professor of Economics


  • The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas Kuhn

Why these: "Kuhn discusses how paradigms are formed and why they are so persistent. Periodically, events or findings occur that should force a reconsideration, but change in thinking takes time. Economics, although not a science, progresses in a similar way, evolving slowly. The current financial crisis, interestingly, is not likely to be a paradigm-changing event — policy may change, but not fundamental models. Crises like the current one, essentially bubbles and bank runs, occur periodically. See for example Manias, Panics, and Crashes: A History of Financial Crises by Charles Kindleburger."

Barry Logan, Associate Professor of Biology and Biochemistry


  • On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin

Why these: "Change is intrinsic to living systems. Change is their natural state, and they experience it constantly. This is the text I'd use to discuss change in biology, because evolution is truly nothing more than change. And Darwin argued most effectively for natural selection, which is the incredibly intuitive — but nonetheless revolutionary — explanation for the evolution of living things."

Olufemi Vaughan, Geoffrey Canada Professor of Africana Studies and History


  • A History of Civilizations by Fernand Braudel
  • "The Past and the Present in the Present," by Maurice Bloch in Man, 12, 1977
  • "The Nation Invented, Imagined, Reconstructed," by A. D. Smith in Millennium, 26, 1991
  • The State in Africa: The Politics of the Belly by Jean-Francois Bayart
  • "The Longue Duree of the African State," by Christopher Clapham in African Affairs: Journal of the Royal African Society, 93, 1994
  • The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano by Olaudah Equiano
  • The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B. Du Bois

Why these: "These course materials underscore the complicated processes of 'tradition,' continuity, and change, which play a central role in the reconstruction of modern (African) societies, especially in colonial and postcolonial contexts. As the distinguished anthropologist S.J. Tambiah noted a generation ago, this complex interaction between the forces of 'tradition' and 'modernity' constitute 'dialectical tensions,' rather than 'age-sanctified rules.' With this in mind, these assigned books and articles on the complexities of political, social, and economic transformation were, in part, inspired by the works of the annales group of French historians and social scientists. In varying contexts, the rapid processes of change in these emerging modern states and societies are characterized by hierarchies, currents, and crosscurrents. They are conditioned by geography and demography, and are profoundly shaped by the interplay between endogenous and exogenous forces.

Janet Martin, Professor of Government


  • The Presidency and Women: Promise, Performance, and Illusion by Janet Martin

Why these: "The title reflects the fact that there is an appearance of change that has occurred, especially regarding women, but the advances have remained quite constant since 1993, and even since 1963 when equal pay legislation passed. One pattern we see is that women tend to be appointed to positions in the Cabinet in which women have previously served — for instance, Hillary Clinton is the third woman appointed Secretary of State since Madeleine Albright broke the gender gap in Clinton's second term."

Marilyn Reizbaum, Professor of English


  • Ulysses by James Joyce

Why these: "The epigraph to my syllabus for the "Joyce Revolution" provides an oft-quoted comment Joyce allegedly made to a colleague regarding his famous novel: "I've put in so many puzzles it will keep the professors busy for centuries arguing over what I meant, and that's the only way to insure immortality." Apart from its characteristic cheekiness, this signals certain maxims at the heart of the modernist enterprise, the movement that emerged in the first part of the 20th century which has been lately revisited in animating ways: we see in this taunt a shift in the literary aim to represent life as open rather than shut, to reflect character as interior more than material. In our millennial assessments, Ulysses was decreed by many sources to be the major imaginative work in English prose of the last century. It is, as I often say, the greatest book no one has ever read. When I ask what might account for this reverent reader-resistance almost a hundred years later, some will puzzle that the novel's difficulty, its seeming illegibility, keeps readers at bay. I might suggest in return that such difficulty in reading is a continual and insistent lesson about change, change being always the de facto case. Welcoming it is the trick.

Lawrence Simon, Associate Professor of Philosophy and Environmental Studies

Materials: "No book or reading comes immediately to mind."

Why these: "Change is a deep metaphysical question-or, rather, a set of questions-having to do with (i) the nature of substance, properties, and identity (What makes something what it is and what alteration of properties would make it something else? When are two things really the same thing?); (ii) personal identity (Am I the same person I was 50 years ago? Five years ago? Five minutes ago? If I am the same, what makes this the case?); (iii) time (How does the present become the past and the future the present?); (iv) space (Is space absolute or relative?); (v) motion (alteration through space and time); and (vi) action (motion of a special sort). Enough for a lifetime of work for any metaphysician. Unfortunately — or perhaps fortunately — I am not a metaphysician and so rarely teach any of this material. My focus is ethics, and so I would say that we need to be sensitive to the valence of change. Is it good, bad, or neutral? Can change for its own sake be good? For instance, in the discourse associated with the new president, "change" suggests new political and social policies that address our current problems in an effective way. But you can't know what the solution is until you know what the problem is, and you can't know what the problem is until you know what moral theory you are using, since all policy problems are at bottom moral problems. In that sense, change as it is currently so widely discussed and anticipated is a thoroughly normative matter."

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