Global Studies 300
Local Responses to Global Issues: Case Studies from Around the World
Tu, Th 9:20-10:35 Stevenson 2052
Professor Tom Shaw
Fall 2014


Global issues cross national borders. They are not isolated within single societies or cultures. Still, our understanding of global human issues is greatly enhanced by a careful analysis of how they affect particular people in particular places. In this course we will examine a handful of important global issues in the context of how they impact individuals in a particular place and culture, at a particular time. In keeping with the GE, Area D1 requirement, this class focuses on how people respond to issues as these are filtered through a lens comprised of culture, social structure, institutions, ideologies and customary practices. Human responses to global issues will be the focus and primary point of interest in this course. Not all global issues will be dealt with each semester this course is offered. Candidates for coverage include health pandemics, human trafficking, refugees, poverty, hunger and the politics of food and water, human rights, a spectrum of environmental issues, inequality, racism and other fundamentalist ideologies. Determination of the issues covered in any given semester will be made by the professor before the start of the class. This semester we will cover human responses to health pandemics, to economic inequality, to environmental degradation and human rights abuses.

Course readings will highlight the diverse ways humans adapt to global challenges at the local level. Case studies will feature individuals who have made a significant impact locally as they have faced and dealt with a global issue. Cases will illustrate how these persons have had to interact with social systems and institutions in response to a variety of challenges. Students will spend three or four weeks on each case study, focusing first on prevailing political and cultural institutions, and secondly on the specific actions of individuals who have (more or less) successfully navigated those institutions to meet the challenges they faced. Students will discover how institutions and cultural frameworks impact a person’s or group’s responses to global challenges, and they will learn how people often “bend” forces to meet challenges. They will see how in some instances individuals creatively negotiate solutions that oppose social norms and institutions. At the same time, they will learn how individual responses are impacted by social structures that distribute resources and life chances unequally and, some would argue, unfairly.

Course Objectives

1. Students will explore global human issues and people’s responses in a variety of cultures and settings.
2. Students will gain an understanding that people respond to global challenges in their environment using the tools at their disposal: cultural frameworks, social institutions, ethnic politics, religious and other ideological narratives, including artistic media.
3. Students will better understand the systemic causes of global social problems including political and social oppression, poverty, resource shortages and so on.
4. Students will explore how social structures and institutions change as problems are challenged and addressed.
5. Students will learn how responses to global issues are impacted by social structures that distribute resources unequally.
6. Students will learn how different people creatively resist oppressive social structures and institutions.

Course Readings

Autobiography: Unbowed, by Wangari Maathai
Biography: Mountains Beyond Mountains, by Tracy Kidder
Documentary (non-fiction): Fanshen, by William Hinton
Book:  2048: Humanity's Agreement to Live Together by J. Kirk Boyd

*all books available at SSU bookstore
Also available online, through the SSU Library:

Book:Mountains Beyond Mountains
Book: Fanshen.
Book: Witness to Aids

Also, various articles may be provided in class to give students some historical background and context for each of the issues discussed in class.

Evaluation Criteria

The class will use a combination of assessments, including a final project. Final grades will consist of:

Participation 10%
Exams (2) 30%
Presentation 25%
Research Paper 35%

Thesis statement 15%
Annotated outline 15%
Paper 70%

Class Schedule





I.  The ecology of health pandemics:  TB and AIDS

Tues, Aug 19

Introduction to course

Thurs, Aug 21

Treatment cultures

Variation in treatment cultures:  personal experience
Read:  HIV/Aids and Sorcery

Tues, Aug 26

Disease environments:  man and nature

Read NY Times article here
Sign up for oral presentation topic/week

Thurs, Aug 28

Treatment ethics - Farmer's and others'

Read: Mountains Beyond Mountains, Pgs. 3-121

Tues, Sep 2

Belief systems, poverty, racism and just plain denial

Read: How belief effects treatment adherence

Thurs, Sep 4

Choosing an effective research topic
(statement due Tuesday)

Also, giving an effective oral presentation

Read:  Mountains Beyond Mountains, Pgs. 125-177

Tues, Sep 9

Video:  Patents and Patients VHS 5797

Due: Two paragraphs describing the topic, and the analysis you are planning for your final paper.

Thurs, Sep 11

Clash of culture and politics

Read Book: Witness to Aids , Chaps 6,7 Pgs. 157-204.

Tues, Sep 16

Student presentations: health and social justice  (approx 5 students each day/10 mins each)

Thurs, Sep 18


II. Environment, Resources and the People: 

Tues, Sep 23

Standing up to social, cultural and political forces

DVD:  Taking Root:  The Vision of Wangari Maathai.
Corte Madera. Maathai BIO

Thurs, Sep 25

Environment is the people's interest

Read:  Unbowed  Pgs. 98-295.

Tues, Sept 30

Swimming upstream


Thurs, Oct. 2

Sustainability standards and certification. 
Forest Stewardship Council:  market-driven product management and network governance.

Read:  Standards initiatives
Read:  Forest Stewardship Council

Tues, Oct 7

Student presentations: environment and its protection
(approx 5 students each day/10 mins each)


Thurs, Oct 9

Tues, Oct 14

EXAM: Health pandemics & Environmental degradation


III. Inequality: Understanding the revolution in China & the roots of Chinese communism

Thurs, Oct 16 Land redistribution and collectivization Read article on inequality research.
Book: Fanshen. Chaps. 1,2,3,8-11
Film: China: A Century of Revolution (DVD 702)
Tues, Oct 21
Thurs, Oct 23 Collectives
Marxist ideology, capital and commodity fetishism
Read Fanshen Chaps. 13-16, 20-24
Tues, Oct 28
Thurs, Oct 30 Descent into chaos
Identifying the class enemy

Finish FanshenChaps 29-34
Movie:  Up the Yangtze  DS793 Up

Tues, Nov 4 Student Presentations: Current Struggles for Economic Equality in China
Thurs, Nov 6

IV. Human Rights movement

Tues, Nov 11

Veteran's Day Holiday - no classes

Thurs, Nov 13 History of the international human rights movement

Read:  Kirk Boyd, 2048: Humanity's Agreement to Live Together
Read:  Aryeh Neier, The International Human Rights Movement: A History  Chaps 1-3  pgs.1-92

Tues, Nov 18 Students work on human rights in chosen area Due: Annotated Outline of Final Paper
Thurs, Nov 20 Students present on human rights in chosen area

Swiss Panel on Human Dignity

Tues, Nov 25- Fri, Nov 28


Tues, Dec 2 Student Presentations: Human Rights
Thurs, Dec 4 Student Presentations:  Human Rights

Final Papers Due
(for a relatively brief guide to writing a paper that argues a point, check this out)

(for a more extensive look at the ins and outs of making an argument in an academic paper, check this out)
Finals Week

EXAM: Inequality & human rights

Class Policies

There are important University policies that you should be aware of, such as the add/drop policy; cheating and plagiarism policy, grade appeal procedures; accommodations for students with disabilities and the diversity vision statement. (Go to this URL to find them: )