Monday, January 26, 2015

Essay 1: Locating Compelling Questions, Significant Ideas, and Convincing Textual Evidence

College writing is demanding. Before you even begin, you must formulate a narrowly defined and specific question, problem, or research agenda. You then must gather sources and research, and carefully mine these sources for choice quotations that clearly and succinctly support your points. Finally, in a few short pages, you must employ these resources to provide a specific, narrow, and refutable claim that responds to the dilemmas you have raised. 

Because this is a daunting task, we will start out by exploring the manner in which others have done this. This will lessen the burden of defining a question to write about, it will eliminate the need for extensive research, and it will minimize the original thinking you need to provide to formulate a claim. You will still, however, need to produce a claim or thesis--one that indicates why the problem you have uncovered is interesting and significant, and what the implications of the answer provided are. 

For this first essay, you will compose a short (2-3) page paper focused primarily on locating a central idea, tension, or problem in a text we have read and explaining its significance. What role does it play in responding to, clarifying, or even complicating the issues raised by the author? Doing this should not and will not require you to do significant research. We will focus on research beginning with the next paper. For now, we will simply practice developing a claim and using textual evidence to prove it. For this essay, you can write about almost anything that has something of a connection to our readings or to our class discussions. Here’s some general topics you might consider writing about:

1. Compare and contrast the ideas of two different theorists we have read, and develop a thesis that shows how they arrive at different conclusions regarding a similar topic or question. Focus on defining the boundaries of the debate as narrowly as possible, and indicating how subtle differences in assumptions, tone, focus, and approach lead to larger and more significant differences in outcomes. Don’t worry about explaining everything about their ideas. This isn’t a report, but rather a paper focused on developing your own argument that explores the implications of a debate between other thinkers. An easy way to approach this paper would be to pick a quote from each writer and focus your paper entirely on showing the important differences that develop from the ideas each writer expresses in those quotes.

2. Apply some of the ideas we have been discussing to current events. Pick an idea or two from a writer or two and attempt to explain what these show about a contemporary debate in current affairs. What would Hobbes say about the way we finance pharmaceutical research, for example. What would Mandeville think of restrictions on immigration? These are just a few examples of what you could write about. You could also combine this with option 1 and write about differences in how classical theorists might explain contemporary events. Again, your focus here will be on defining exactly how each author understands these issues, and the implications of these differences for their conclusions.

3. Pick a provocative quote from one writer we have read and explain why it is significant for his argument. Does it reveal something essential that we otherwise would easily overlook? If you had a strong reaction to something one of the writers we read claimed, try to formulate in a more formal, analytic language what that is and then explain the nature of your reaction. What larger implications does this quote present?

Whatever option you pick, or whether or not you pick one of the above options, try to avoid falling into the twin dangers of offering a book report or a harsh polemic. Avoid opinionated language like “I think,” “I believe,” “is wrong,” “is right,” “is good,” “is bad,” “contradicts him/herself,” etc. Also avoid summarizing or listing a series of facts without connecting them back to your thesis or explaining why they are important. The easiest way to do this is to present a clear thesis that empathetically approaches your subject matter without becoming either overly deferential toward it or totally hostile to it.

I’ll primarily be looking for three things: a clearly defined and argumentative thesis; formal, analytic language; and a detailed analysis of the thesis and its implications using specific textual evidence from your sources. For citations, use MLA style (a works cited list with in-text citations). Bring a rough draft of ~2 pages for 1/30 and 2/6. The final is due 2/13 by 12pm.

For more information on MLA, see here.

Basic summary of MLA: It consists of a Works Cited list starting on the top of a separate page at the end of the paper, which contains all the various sources you refer to in the body of the paper AND ONLY those sources that you refer to directly--don't include works that you have read but do not quote from, paraphrase, or cite as evidence. To cite paraphrases, just place the author's last name and the page number at the end of the sentence in parentheses, with the period outside the parentheses [example (Freud 8)]. For quotes, just add in quotation marks around the direct quotation and place the citation again in parentheses at the end of the sentence. If you refer to the author in the sentence and are not referencing a specific page, then you do not need an in-text citation beyond the mention of the name.

The basic rule-of-thumb for MLA is to give as much information in the Works Cited as needed so that a reader can find your source (author, title, publisher, date of publication, title of publication if the work appears in a journal or magazine or newspaper, translator, etc.); for the in-text citations, list only as much information as needed to find the source in the list at the end of the paper. The custom is to start with author's last name and page number, then add a shortened version of the title, and finally a first initial if there is still confusion.

So: (Freud 8), (Freud, Dreams 8), and (S. Freud, Dreams 8) would be how we would provide an in-text citation for the following entry in a works cited list:

Freud, Sigmund. The Interpretation of Dreams. Ed. and Trans. by James Strachey.
New York: Avon, 1998.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Blog post for 1.28

Hey All,

Our first lead blogger is RJ, and his post on the worth of college can be found here. 

For next week, please write your own entries in response and post them on your individual blogs by Wednesday. You can relate your post to the subject in any way you choose. The main thing to focus on is productively advancing the conversation. Carve out an an aspect of the topic that interests you. Locate a set of compelling questions or problems and start to explore them, working toward clarifying some ideas and laying the groundwork for eventually building a claim or thesis. We will discuss this topic Wednesday, so think of yourself as preparing to add a contribution that helps broaden and deepen our upcoming classroom discussions.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Blogroll: The Endless Possibilities of Blogging--And Our First Blogging Assignment

For this coming Wednesday, please post your first blog entry of about 300 words or so. It can be on any topic of your choosing, and it need have no explicit connection to the assigned readings, beyond generally demonstrating Smith's point about the innate human ability to locate an interesting kernel in seemingly dull subjects. For inspiration, feel free to explore the archives of our class blog, and the student blogs from past seminars (you can also check out the other archives of the other class blog, However, I also want to encourage you not to narrow the range of possible topics you pick. What is important in this class is not so much what you talk about as how you talk about it. As long as you are able to locate a substantive point for discussion in the topic, you can consider it as fair game for your blog post.

To this end, let me share a few different blogs and blog posts that demonstrate the range of possible topics and approaches that this very versatile genre supports. While of course you are always welcome to blog about current events in the worlds of politics, economics, and international relations, you shouldn't feel that you have to blog about these topics. If you do write about them, I ask that you avoid the hot-button issues whenever possible--abortion, gun control, affirmative action, etc.--and that you think beyond the standard political framing of such issues. So, for example, if you are writing about monetary policy, and you find that many people of your ideological persuasion oppose a certain Fed action, instead of adopting the party line, try writing about the reasons why this policy might appeal to people of your ideological persuasion. In other words: scramble the circuits of the standard talking points.

Some models:

Here is an example of a fun post on a very dry topic--typography.

This post is a smart and silly critique of the inanities of popular culture.

Here's an example of a music review of an old album of an old band from my hometown that more or less became The Shins.

Of course, best and worst lists can always be a fun way to do a blog post.

You can go with something light and silly on college life or other close-to-home topics. Hey, it may seem a bit informal, but it actually does a very nice job of closely analyzing the language in the emails, albeit in a goofy way.

And of course, you can always try to elevate the dialogue when it comes to current events.

In addition to blogs like the above, you can also check out these wonderful blogs on more traditional political/economic-y subjects.

Liberal/neoliberal blogs:

Paul Krugman

Brad DeLong

Dean Baker


Libertarian/classical liberal blogs:

Scott Sumner (there's an excellent blogroll in the right hand corner)

Tyler Cowen

Arnold Kling et al. (also has an excellent blogroll to the right)

Will Wilkinson

Bleeding heart libertarians

Cafe Hayek

Conservative/Conservative-friendly blogs:

Reihan Salam

Josh Barro

The American Conservative (My personal favorite conservative publication)

Andrew Sullivan (Actually an apostate who still has a soft spot for the old ways)

Gavin McInness (A silly blogger, but can be fun)

Marxist/Marxist-friendly/Left-leaning blogs:

Ta-Nehisi Coates

Mike Konczal

Doug Henwood

Crooked Timber

Jacobin Magazine

Corey Robin

Max Speak (another good blogroll)

Image source:

Monday, January 12, 2015

Lead blogger sign up sheet

Please choose a date you would like to serve as the lead blogger and leave it in a comment on this post. Dates will be assigned on a first come, first served basis. The dates below refer to the Friday that the blogpost and related links are due. The class will respond to your post by the following Wednesday, and students should read each others' posts by the next Friday's class.

Jan 23: RJ

Jan 30: John

Feb 6: Matthew

Feb 13: Sydney

Feb 20:

Feb 27: Jack

March 6 (Post due before Spring break--will discuss and post responses week after break): Kat

March 20: Hana

March 27: Isaac

April 3: Daniel

April 10: Tucker

April 17: Brady

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Welcome! Here is our online course schedule.

Note: The readings for Monday and sometimes Friday are generally set, while the readings for Wednesday are “to be determined” after the first few weeks. The lead blogger for a week will choose a topic, post at least one substantive outside reading on the subject, and create an in-depth blog post by the previous Friday. From time to time I may move readings around or replace them to more closely coincide with the class’s current interests. Watch the blog for these updates.

Smith = The Essential Adam Smith
Marx = The Marx-Engels Reader

Week 1: Intro – What is “The Market” anyway?
M Jan 12: Introduction

W 14: Read Dean Baker, The End of Loser Liberalism (Chapter 1) and Matt Yglesias. Create a blog and send me the link by the end of the week.

F 16:  Read Hobbes (chapters XIII-XV – skim other chapters if you have time) and Mandeville ("An Enquiry Into the Origin of Moral Virtue"--for some helpful background, read the entry on Mandeville in the Dictionary of National Biography).

Week 2 – Precursors
M 19: MLK day. No class.

W 21: Read Hutcheson and Smith, 1-13, 22-38.  

F 23: Read this and Nancy Sommers. Read Smith, 118-123, 321-325. Make sure you are following class blog.

Week 3 – Feelings and value
M 26:  Read Hutcheson (section 5) and Smith, 65-78, 217-219.

W 28: Reading TBA. Post first response to lead blogger’s post and readings by Wednesday’s class.

F 30: Bring in rough draft of paper 1.

Week 4 – Mercantilism, morality, regulation
M Feb 2: Read Smith, 258-269, Hume and Swift.

W 4: Reading TBA.

F 6:  Bring in rough draft.  Read Ackerman, Beggs and this.

Week 5 – Marx as a reader of Smith
M 9: Read Marx, 236-250.

W 11: Reading TBA.

F 13:  Possible library day or writing workshop. Paper 1 due by class time.  

Week 6 – The Problem of Capital
M 16: Read Marx, 351-367.  

W 18: Reading TBA.

F 20:  Read Krugman, and Marx, 443-465. Bring rough draft for peer editing. 

Week 7 – Smith as Early Critic of Capital 
M 23: Read Smith, 227-248.

W 25: Reading TBA. 

F 27: Read Keynes (primarily section VI). Bring rough draft for peer editing.

Week 8: Topics fair
M March 2: Paper 2 due by class time. Short presentations.

W 4: Reading TBA. Short presentations.

F 6: Read Sumner and Hume, Short presentations.

Week 9 – Spring break
M 9: No class. Spring break. 

W 11: No class.

F 13: No class. 

Week 10 – Wealth and Poverty
M 16: Read Marx, 473-491, and Conley

W 18: Reading TBA.

F 20: No class. Instructor away at conference. Writing workshop or possible library day. 

Week 11 – Utopian and practical thinking. 
M 23:  Read Marx (piece actually by Engels), 683-694.

W 25: Reading TBA.

F 27: Frank and Salam. Bring in rough draft for peer editing. 

Week 12 – Other matters
M 30: Read Smith, 248-258.

W April 1: Reading TBA. Paper 3 due by class time.  

F 3: Easter break. No class.

Week 13 – Taking stock
M 6: Easter break.

W 8: Reading TBA.

F 10: Read Marx, 193-200, 291-293.

Week 14 – Finishing touches
M 13: Read Smith, 269-284.

W 15: Reading TBA. 

F 17: Read Marx, Burke (2.1.313 to 2.1.327) and Mailer interview. Writing workshop. 

Week 15 – Almost there
M 20: Read Smith, 290-310. Bring in rough draft. 

W 22: Reading TBA. Peer editing/workshopping.

F 24: Read Marx, 522-534. Peer editing/workshopping.

Week 16
M 27: Last day of class. No final exam.

W 29: Study day. Final paper due Thursday, April 30th at 12pm.  

F May 1: Exams.