Education is an essential component of democracy, which requires citizens who are curious, well informed and critically engaged with the world they are part of. To this end I see teaching as a way to equip students to understand, critique and transform their societies. Doing this requires sparking and maintaining students’ curiosity by posing big questions that force them to reconsider preconceived beliefs; providing students the tools they need to rigorously evaluate conflicting answers to these questions and ask/answer their own research questions; and pushing students to connect what they learn in the classroom to their own lived experiences and to what is happening in the world beyond.
Sparking and maintaining students’ interest requires convincing them that what they are learning is interesting and important. I view social theory as essential for this task, with theory understood not as an inert body of work but something that is living and relevant to students’ lives. I present a variety of theoretical frameworks and push students to use these competing lenses to understand historical processes and current events in more than one way. To help students connect what they are learning to the broader world I use in-class exercises and written assignments that require students to juxtapose contradictory interpretations of current events. In Fall 2008, for example, I taught sociological theory and did an exercise in which students debated the US presidential campaign through the eyes of Adam Smith, Karl Marx and Antonio Gramsci. In Spring 2009, during the second semester of this yearlong theory sequence, I asked students to evaluate the 2008 financial crisis using the theories of Marx, Durkheim and Foucault.
Sociology has developed a rich array of methodological tools for assessing competing views. As a teacher one of my tasks is to expose students to these tools, and help them learn how to use and evaluate different tools. I do this in two ways. First, I help students identify the overt and hidden methodological presuppositions of the texts we read. Second, I have assigned and supervised in-depth research projects that give students hands-on experience asking and answering questions on relevant topics of their choosing. In the senior seminar I taught in Fall 2012 (as the Instructor of Record), Is Another World Possible? From Social Theory to Social Transformation, students conducted semester long research projects on a local “real utopia” (an actually-existing experiment that is institutionally viable and embodies values that challenge the world-as-it-is). This assignment required students to conduct primary research on examples such as food and housing cooperatives, urban farms, participatory budgeting, etc. using participant observation and interviews. Students then analyzed their data using several of the theoretical frameworks presented in the seminar. Each student presented the results of his or her research in the final two classes and turned in a research paper (which they worked on in installments all semester) for their final assignment. In the course evaluation one student wrote, “The semester long research project was an excellent way to connect theory to practice”.
My teaching has been highly rated, with students praising my clarity, creativity and passion. In 2011-2012 I received the campus-wide University of California, Berkeley Outstanding Graduate Student Instructor Award.
I have taught the following courses:
Classical Social Theory Development Studies
Contemporary Social Theory Is Another World Possible? From Social Theory to Social Transformation
Introduction to Sociology Democracy and Development in Latin America
I am qualified to teach additional courses on:
Qualitative Methods Political Sociology
Urban Sociology Social Movements
Postcolonial Theory Politics and Social Change in Latin America
Comparative Historical Methods Democracy in Theory and Practice