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This seminar was founded to study the most compelling questions of the day which then related to the war in Southeast Asia, its causes, and consequences. Today the seminar continues to examine vital current issues with an emphasis on their economic, political, and philosophical dimensions. Such issues have included welfare policy, homeless­ness, and strains in multicultural democracies, and violent conflicts within and across nation-states. The underlying nature and structure of the political economy giving rise to these issues are also considered. In this regard, sessions have addressed the extension of democ­racy to economic enterprises, refashioning American government, developments in welfare states, and new principles of income distribution. Theories oriented to deepening democracy and realizing human rights both in the US and abroad are also an ongoing focus.


Professor Carol Gould

Professor Omar Dahbour

Alvaro Contente

All seminars will meet over Zoom for the 2020-2021 academic year. Meeting links provided upon RSVP. Meeting dates and times are subject to change. 

Meeting Schedule

10/15/2020 Online Meeting
7:30 PM
Environmental Justice & the Green New Deal
John L. Hammond, Hunter College and The Graduate School, CUNY


The multiple crises of 2020 have diverted attention from the Green New Deal but at the same time made it even more urgent, considering the social needs it has exposed even as the climate crisis continues. While widely perceived as a program to alleviate climate change, in fact the Green New Deal is much more: its genius is its recognition that the environmental problem is largely a problem of inequality and that therefore environmental, social, and racial justice must be pursued jointly. The Green New Deal proposes measures to mitigate climate change by reducing the release of greenhouse gases and at the same time address economic problems through a massive jobs program and social benefits such as universal health care and free higher education. Many details are unresolved (on such issues as carbon tax and nuclear power), as are internal problems (financing, lack of an international perspective, political viability) but it represents the best hope of averting cataclysmic climate change.

11/12/2020 Online Meeting
7:30 PM
Reframing Political Ecology: Vikalp Sangam & the Search for Alternatives in India
Pallav Das, Kalpavriksh


Contemporary India is going through a perplexingly critical time in its economic development, as the neoliberal agenda being implemented in the country inflicts the worst forms of inequality on the society. Those economic choices have also pushed the country deep into an environmental mess. Home to six of the ten most polluted cities in the world, its natural resources being plundered rapaciously to realize an ill-conceived vision of development and its weather patterns becoming increasingly erratic, unreliable and often lethal, the country seems to be hurtling ever forward towards ecological mayhem.

Despite this bleak and overwhelming picture, however, there are significant efforts being made by the civil society in India to construct alternative paradigms and pathways towards a world that is sustainable, equitable and just. These are frameworks and visions, which aspire to bring together the existing heritage of ideas and worldviews, and cultures, which still survive in the country, particularly amongst the indigenous community, with new progressive ideas and grassroots practice. Vikalp Sangam, or the Confluence of Alternatives, is a unique initiative exploring this move towards alternative thinking and organizing on a large spectrum of economic, social and environmental issues in India. It is reframing the whole notion of political ecology by a grassroots, bottom-up effort to re-situate human economies in sustainable natural systems.

12/03/2020 Online Meeting
7:30 PM
17 Years of Struggle: the UN Declaration of the Rights of Peasants & Other People Working in Rural Areas
Marc Edelman, Hunter College and The Graduate School, CUNY


In December 2018, the General Assembly adopted the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas (UNDROP). This new international legal instrument resulted from 17 years of concerted effort by peasant and farmer movements and human rights organizations, along with transnational coalitions of fisherfolk, pastoralists, nomads and rural trade unionists. This talk will discuss the history of this campaign, the contention around many of its demands, and the rights enshrined in the UNDROP, including collective rights to land and food sovereignty. Scholars of human rights have emphasized local or “vernacular” interpretations and uses of international rights norms. I argue instead that the UNDROP is instead emblematic of a new kind of “vernacularization-in-reverse,” in which rights holders from diverse world regions arrive at common understandings and then collaborate in authoring the international norms that apply to them.

02/11/2021 Online Meeting
7:30 PM
Viral Contagion and Behavioral Contagion
Robert Frank, Cornell University


Behavioral contagion refers to how ideas and behaviors often spread from persons in ways that resemble the spread of infectious diseases. In this talk, the speaker will describe some of the similarities and differences between the two processes and discuss what contagion theory tells us about the policy choices we face under the COVID-19 and climate crises.