New York University professor Lisa Duggan says that the Occupy Wall Street movement has inspired an entire generation to want to learn about what might otherwise seem like a dry subject: financial history.
That’s why she’s teaching the course “Cultures and Economies: Why Occupy Wall Street? The History and Politics of Debt and Finance” in the NYU Department of Cultural and Social Analysis this spring. And indeed, although NYU does not begin its semester until Jan. 23, the 80-student course is already 3/4 full and Duggan expects it to be totally booked by the time classes begin.
NYU was not the only New York City university planning to bring Occupy Wall Street to the classroom. The Committee on Global Thought at Columbia University listed the course “Occupy the Field: Global Finance, Inequality, Social Movement” in its literature, only to announce — following some bad press — that the course hadn’t yet been fully vetted by the administration and might not happen.
“The proposal for a new anthropology course involving fieldwork on this topic had yet to be considered for approval by the faculty Committee on Instruction,” Brian Connolly, associate vice president for public affairs at Columbia, said in an email. ”A course does not appear in the official directory of classes and cannot be offered in advance of required approvals. News reports and some departmental postings regarding the spring semester were premature.”
The NYU students in Duggan’s course will read current texts about Occupy Wall Street as well as essays by anarchist/activist David Graeber and the sociologist and political economist Giovanni Arrighi. They will also screen documentaries including “Too Big to Fail” and Naomi Klein and Avi Lewis,’ “The Take,” as well as hear guest lectures from both the OWS movement and from academia. Confirmed speakers include NYU professors Andrew Ross and Angelique Nixon and Richard Kim of The Nation. Duggan also plans to invite Klein and the activist and writer Rinku Sen to talk with students.
MetroFocus recently chatted with Duggan about the teachable moment the Occupy Wall Street movement presents.
Q: Why does OWS warrant a college course?
A: I’ve been teaching “Cultures and Economies” for a couple of years and with a twist each year. This year it seemed obvious that it needed to be about OWS. It’s the kind of issue that I can use to teach economic history within a cultural context. OWS gives us a perfect opportunity to teach the long background of financialization [the growing influence of the financial sector] and the long history of popular protest about economic arrangements. The class goes back to the 15th century and teaches about different empires that have fallen at the time that their economies became heavily financialized. We’ll show that the point when finanicalization is accelerating is the time the empire starts falling, which has implications for us right now. We will also look at the history of debt and the way debt has shaped financial economies.