View a list of core courses for each iteration of the MSSP Program.
Students in the MSSP program take three elective courses; one of the three electives must be an MSSP Theory Elective. Students in the MSSP+DA program take two electives.
Elective courses offer students the opportunity to maximize breadth in multiple substantive policy areas or to choose a specialized area of social policy analysis and conduct further research.
Elective courses may be identified in SP2, the Fels Institute, Perelman School of Medicine, School of Nursing, Wharton School of Business, Graduate School of Education, departments in the School of Arts and Sciences, and other Penn Schools and departments for possible approval.
When choosing electives, students should take advantage of what Penn has to offer and be open to searching across schools or departments. Elective courses must be graduate-level courses (5000 or above) in order to count towards degree requirements. Courses taken outside of SP2 require an advisor’s approval. Students should submit the course name, course number, and course description to their academic advisor for review.
Contact your academic advisor to submit courses for review.
Data for Equitable Justice Lab
The Data for Equitable Justice Lab is a new venture from Penn’s School of Social Policy & Practice that gives our master’s students an opportunity to analyze some of today’s most important social issues through data and, with faculty support, create a product for audiences well beyond our classrooms and campus.
MSSP 6010 – 6090
MSSP 6010: The Power of Partnerships Between Government, Nonprofits, and the Private Sector
Everything from the Affordable Care Act to the Mayor’s Rebuild Initiative here in Philadelphia could not be implemented by government without strong and vital partnerships with non-profits and the private sector. These collaborations provide an opportunity to help people, impact and change policy, improve outcomes, and multiply the impact that nonprofit and private sector organizations can have. The course will help graduate (and advanced undergraduate) students not only understand the theory, policy, and practice of these collaborations but also learn how they actually happen. Students will also learn the characteristics of these three sectors, their roles and contributions, and competitive forces that are often at work in the collaborative process. Topics for discussion will include attitudes and expectations in the public sector, the ingredients of effective partnerships, and effective communication strategies with elected and appointed officials.
The course will be conducted on a seminar basis. Graduate students are expected to take an active part in shaping the discussion. Students will be expected to rotate leadership for the class discussions and to supplement course materials with independent study of relevant magazine and newspaper articles. Course grades are assigned as follows: 20 percent for class participation, 15 percent for an in-class written exam, 30 percent for a group presentation and write up of a case study, and 35 percent for a final project. High quality written work and accurate citations is an expectation in all assignments.
MSSP 6060: Data for Equitable Justice Lab (non-credit)
The Data for Equitable Justice Lab gives SP2 Master’s students an opportunity to analyze some of today’s most important social issues through data and, with faculty support, create a product for audiences well beyond our classrooms and campus.
With guidance from the lab faculty, students develop a project – either individually or as part of a team – to examine a contemporary social policy or political issue through or on data or digital technology. Through these projects students will produce an op-ed, blog post, podcast, academic article, short film, or other product of their choosing that creates or contributes to contemporary discourse.
MSSP 6070: Practical Data Science
This course familiarizes students with no prior programming experience with the core concepts of programming and the practice of software development for data-intensive applications in industry and government. After this course, students will be comfortable (1) writing code to save and load from files and spreadsheets into basic data structures like strings, lists, and maps; (2) manipulating data with code to perform tasks like generating aggregate statistics and filtering data into subsets; (3) effectively communicating findings from interactive, exploratory programming with others; and (4) working with technical teams, using best practices of software development when building line-of-business applications.
Topics covered include:
- Basics: Hardware vs software, local vs. cloud, programming languages
- Flow control: Sequential, conditional, and loop statements
- Data structures: Strings, lists, tuples, sets, and dictionaries
- Structure in programming: functions, methods, objects, classes
- Testing and QA – manual, unit testing, functional testing
- Computational Complexity – linear, polynomial, exponential time algorithms
- Data and Communication
- Working with text files, spreadsheets, databases
- Working with a REPL
- Introductory analysis – summary statistics, significance tests, regressions
- Visualization with plots and tables
- Heuristics for presenting and describing data on teams
- Waterfall and agile project management
- Software engineering, product management, user experience research
- Organization of software teams: backend, frontend, ops, QA
- Data scientists and researchers in organizations
- Collaboration: teams, stakeholders, vendors, customers, end users
- Regulation, compliance, and privacy in the context of sensitive datasets
- Open source and proprietary software
MSSP 6080: Practical Machine Learning
This course prepares students with no background in machine learning or data science to use tools from those fields effectively in applied contexts. Using GUI-based software – or optionally, by programming with libraries – students will build skills including (1) feature representations of spreadsheet-based or text datasets; (2) training classification and regression models for prediction tasks; (3) evaluation of machine learning model accuracy and error analysis; and (4) reasoning about predictive models and making tradeoffs like bias vs. variance, granularity and annotation complexity in labeled training data, and the ethical application of predictive modeling to human-centered data.
Topics covered include:
- Input and output
- Working with files and databases
- Working with a REPL
- UIs for interacting with data
- Problem definition in machine learning
- Problem definition: classification, regression, reinforcement, structured output
- Defining labels, ground truth, and measures of inter-rater reliability
- Performance metrics and evaluation: Precision and recall, sensitivity and specificity, correlation, Kappa
- Training and testing data, cross-validation, and evaluation
- Basic data science methods
- Regression tasks: Linear, multivariate regression, basic hierarchical models
- Classification tasks: Binary and Logistic regression
- Conditional decision-making: decision trees and nonlinear regression
- Unsupervised methods: k-means clustering)
- Machine learning methods
- Feature space definition, feature extraction and dimensionality reduction
- Classification algorithms: logistic regression, decision trees, SVMs, k-Nearest-Neighbors, neural networks
- Confusion matrices, error analysis, feature selection, optimization, overfitting
- Reasoning about machine learning
- Tradeoffs: Accuracy, interpretability, and fairness of models
- Training data maintenance and semantic drift
- Active learning and human-in-the-loop data annotation methods
- Machine learning in decision-making processes
MSSP 6090: Invisible Injustices: How Policy and Bureaucracy Create (and Hide) Difference and Power
MSSP Theory Elective
How does the design of everyday objects and systems in our social word—from the workplace to the civic sector—produce variation in our political participation to promote or stifle the collective project of social justice? Systemic injustice expresses itself in everything from software interface designs to paper passport applications. Using these objects and others, this course focuses on the ways in which power operates through and within aesthetics to create and enforce difference and produce the inequalities that demand a collective reimagining of our world. What might we learn from these “aesthetic assemblages” of power and difference, and their manifestations in current social policy?
In this course, we will work with case studies from a range of politically urgent topics—mass incarceration, immigration reform, healthcare inequity—through the lens of critical theories and pedagogies that center the lives of those communities most impacted by discriminatory social policy. Students will learn to apply the thinking of scholars such as Fred Moten & Stefano Harney, Dean Spade, and Mel Chen towards their own social justice-informed approaches to social policy and practice. Through independent study projects, students will explore their own unique areas of interest beyond the scope of this course to rethink how critical theory can shape and be shaped by on-the-ground, everyday practices.
MSSP 6280 – 6340
MSSP 6280: Policy Analysis of Issues, Strategy and Process (1 CU)
Policy analysis requires an understanding of social problems/social issues and the processes by which policy is developed and implemented. Critical skills in many policy frameworks include problem definition and analysis, review of relevant research, identification of possible actions, implementation and evaluation, and fiscal analysis. Competency in written and oral communication is also essential. To develop these and related skills, this course utilizes as a base a dynamic social problem analysis framework that addresses issues of equity, equality, and adequacy. It also examines multiple theoretical and analytical perspectives. Through the review of contemporary and historical social policy debates and provisions, selected case examples and policy briefs, this course provides students with an understanding of the policy roles of the legislative and executive branches of government, including goal setting, policy rulemaking and enactment, allocation of resources, financing, regulation, and implementation. The policy process at state and local levels of government will also be addressed. The primary focus is on U.S. policy although global policies will be discussed when relevant.
MSSP 6290: Research & Evaluation Design (1 CU)
Research & Evaluation Design introduces social research methods in the context of social policy and program evaluation. The course provides a conceptual and practical understanding in the design of experimental, quasi-experimental, and non-experimental research and in the application of quantitative and qualitative methods. Students learn about the application of the research process and skills in all phases of assessing a social policy and developing a social program, including needs assessment, implementation analysis, and evaluation of policy or program effectiveness. Students learn to be critical and informed consumers of research and to apply guidelines of research ethics in social policy settings.
MSSP 6300: Quantitative Reasoning (1 CU)
What do these numbers mean? Do they confirm my theory? And what is a theory anyway? In this class, we will be exploring simple theories and how to test them using data. We will also look into how data can give us clues to formulate our theories. We will discuss how to plot data
to understand its contents and potential problems. Once we understand what is in the data, we can start testing some simple theories. For example, can we say that more educated people earn more than less educated people? And how confident can we be about this statement? Even if more educated people do earn more than less educated people, does this mean that increasing education will be causing people to earn more? Or is it simply that more educated people are smarter to begin with? We will see how data can allow us to solve this kind of question and advise policy makers on the benefits of increased education.
MSSP 6310: Law and Social Policy (1 CU)
This course introduces students to the basics of the American legal system, focusing on the interplay between litigation and social policy. Students will learn how law, and particularly case law, is made, how to read case law and evaluate precedent, legal reasoning, and argument. This course will utilize various teaching methods including introduction to the “Socratic” lecturing method which is frequently utilized in the study of law. Students will study the structure of court systems at both state and federal levels as well as the litigation process and the role of law and courts in shaping and addressing social policy issues. Students will also learn the basics of several areas of substantive law, with an eye toward consideration of how that law has been, and can be, used to effect social change.
MSSP 6320: Capstone I & II (1 CU)
The focus of Capstone I: Policy Communications (.5 CU) is three-fold:
- To enhance student integration of the theory and practice of social policy analysis;
- To enhance the student’s competencies in the written and oral communication processes and procedures necessary for the policy world; and
- To ensure basic knowledge about federal budget processes, stakeholder roles, and inter-organizational collaboration.
Capstone II: Policy Internship (.5 CU) consists of an intensive, multi-week policy internship that is selected through a consultative process involving the student, internship coordinator, advisor, and mentors/supervisors at potential sites.
MSSP 6340: Capstone I: Telling Stories with Data (0.5 CU)
The volume and complexity of data continues to increase in the world around us, including science, business, medicine, social media, and everyday human activity. This course aims to expose students to visual representation methods and techniques that increase the understanding of complex data. Good visualizations not only present a visual interpretation of data, but do so by improving comprehension, communication, and decision making. In this course, students will learn about the fundamentals of perception, the theory of visualization, and good design practices for visualization.
The course will also provide hands-on experience on the process of data communication, from initial data analysis, to identifying appropriate visualization techniques, to crafting informative visualizations.
MSSP 6670 – 7080
MSSP 6670: Critical Global Politics, Policy & Identity (1 CU)
MSSP Theory Elective
What is identity? Why do we identify with categories such as “Black”, “Latino”, “Queer”, “American,” or “Asian”? How do these categories play a role in current Global Politics, and how have Global Politics & Policies helped configure different identities throughout history? According to Fredric Jameson, in the 60’s there was a Global Shift by which the “natives of the world” became human beings. Concepts such as “diversity” and “identity” as we know them today originated in these global reconfigurations of subjectivity that occurred in the context of the decolonization of Africa, the Civil Rights movements in the United States, and the Cuban Revolution, among other historical events. As western nations were coming to terms with Otherness within their own borders, confronting the needs of women and minorities, underdeveloped nations were fighting for independence and liberation claiming their rights in the new geopolitical arena. At the same time, the Orient had become the West’s most powerful cultural contestant and, as Edward Said put it, its “deepest and most recurring” Other. This course is designed to provide students with the critical and analytical tools to understand different global policies and political events, while examining their implications in the formation of identity through the lens of critical theory. Each class will be structured around a case study that students will reflect upon using the assigned readings and supporting materials. Students will learn about the discursive formations that have made possible to name ourselves in opposition or in relation to others, claiming gender, race, national, class identities that are indebted to power-knowledge dynamics rooted in colonialism. We will examine how class is reformulated into different types of Capitals that inform positionality in the social space (Bourdieu). We will analyze how race as a tool for classifying bodies became a global category present, for example, in the War on Terror after 9/11, as well as in the Global division of nations based on different degrees of development. We will question how nationalism is formed and enacted in a changing world where migration is so prevalent. Along with racial, national, and global processes for subjectivitization, we will examine gender, non-binary and queer identities, and how they all intervene LGBTQ rights, abortion, and same-sex marriage policies. Finally, we will discuss ethics and climate change in the context of environmental racism (i.e. Flint & Newark) and Global climate strikes instigated by activist Greta Thunberg. This course will enable students to analyze and understand policy as always-already intersectional, global, and political.
MSSP 6680: Economics for Social Policy (1 CU)
Economics allows us to determine the costs and benefits of social policies like cash benefits, unemployment insurance, health insurance, pensions, education, etc. Policies typically affect the behavior of agents like individuals, families, and firms, and we have to take these reactions into account when analyzing policy. Economics allows us to predict how policy is likely to affect behavior by understanding how the policy changes the agents’ decisions, and what collective outcomes these myriad individual decisions bring about. For example, unemployment insurance allows individuals to sustain themselves and their families when they are out of a job. At the same time, unemployment insurance provides an incentive for people to search less
hard for a job, and this ultimately increases the time they spend unemployed. When all of the unemployed behave this way, the unemployment rate in the economy tends to increase. Policy makers have to take these phenomena into account in order to design a good unemployment insurance system.
MSSP 7010: Race, Technology, & the Body
MSSP Theory Elective
The history of the relationship between race and technology has long been fraught. On the one hand, the sociopolitical formation of race constituted black and brown bodies in juxtaposition to the logics of reason that the instruments of post-Enlightenment technicity were built. On the other hand, as Wendy Chun argues, the discursive formation of race was a technology in and of itself that was designed to hierarchize and differentiate bodies as well as to make black and brown bodies extracted technologies for labor and Capital. This seminar will explore this deeply enmeshed history between race and technology by engaging text in the history of science and philosophy, critical theories of technology, cybernetics, and critical theories of difference. These texts will range in topics from the transparent subject to surveillance studies to algorithmic bias to the speculative fiction of Afrofuturism. The text will include both scholarly written products as well as media and popular culture. Students will learn about the history of philosophy and technology in relation to race and the (em)body as well as how to examine for speculative futures.
MSSP 7020: Aestheticizing Assemblages: Power, Policy, Bureaucracy, and Difference
MSSP Theory Elective
While social mechanisms of power might be kept out of sight, their productive capacities are generative of volumes of material. This course focuses on the material traces of power to map how bureaucracy, at all scales and registers, creates, and enforces difference as a power differential. Specifically, we will explore how power expresses itself aesthetically in bureaucratic processes as in, for example, the organization of spreadsheets, the distribution of administrative power via forms and chains of command, and software design.
Course materials, assignments, and lectures will triangulate theory, evidence, and policy as a way of grounding parallel inquiries into the ethics of these assemblages and their manifestations. The final three weeks of term have been reserved for group reflection and synthesis. Students are able to introduce new areas of exploration at this time specific to their interests.
MSSP 7030: Ethics, Art, and Resistance: Visual Techniques for the Contestation of an Unjust World
MSSP Theory Elective
In this course we will work through a select history art, social movements, and collective organizing. This material will be used for gaining new clarity on present conditions of social injustice and to tease out novel solutions. In combination with these case studies, students will also read literature related to the field of political and decolonial aesthetics by authors such as Jacques Rancière, David Graeber, and Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui. We will discuss how social issues such as poverty, incarceration, and racism are reframed from the perspective of those positioned within impacted communities, and/or outside of government and policy. A central question of this course is to ask how aesthetics plays a role in the formation of political conflicts and subjectivities, and whether or not this role can be turned back on itself to offer new possibilities in thinking resistance and abolition.
The ultimate goal of this course is twofold. One is to train students in a new analytic framework through which to approach issues of conflict, injustice, and asymmetries of power. By drawing from diverse and potentially unfamiliar examples students are encouraged to free themselves up to think more broadly with the new tools they will gain during this course. The second goal is to encourage students to critically assess existing ethics, or evaluative patterns, by which problems and solutions are thought in policy today. Experience with and knowledge of art history is not a requirement for this course, and in fact, students from a range of disciplinary backgrounds and interests are encouraged to participate.
MSSP 7040: Critical Studies in Health Inequity and Policymaking
MSSP Theory Elective
The relentless focus on the being of health inequity often overshadows the becoming of health inequity. Each drip of social injustice pools into a confrontation that disproportionately affects the health and healthcare of the socially disadvantaged groups. This course navigates health policymaking through a sociohistoric lens and grapples with contemporary perspectives in health equity. We explore the theoretical frameworks that best informs the existence of health inequity along with the practices that eliminate health inequity. Students will have the opportunity to learn how to effectively communicate evidence-based strategies in both policy and academic grant formats. While generally structured as a seminar, this course extends the walls of the classroom and encourages students to confront real-life health policy issues while engaging local, state, and federal health policy influencers. Students will spend time in the robust archives and cutting-edge medical facilities at Penn to best hone their policymaking voice.
MSSP 7050: Ethics, AI, & the Construction of Worlds
MSSP Theory Elective
The development of digital technologies is entangled with philosophical frameworks that undergird our thinking about the shape of society. This course will interrogate the interrelation of the fields of Ethics and AI. To that aim philosophical texts on ethics will be placed in conversation with critical literature on AI, computation, and technoscience. For instance, the tension between theories of personhood in ethics and their social manifestations in the field of emerging technologies will lead to an understanding of how philosophical frameworks influence the practical operations of AI and vice versa. This will enable not only a critical interrogation of AI, but equally allow for a critical interrogation of critique itself. Institutionalizing frameworks that are taken as extra-political human characteristics undergird the operation and implementation of AI, datafication, and computation. Ethics that are directed towards equitable and fair conditions can be seen to undergird criminalizing and marginalizing technologies. These understandings structure an interrogation of rules and bureaucracies that are geared towards improvement of living conditions and place these in conversation with promises of AI. The collation of frameworks will set the stage to question the role of categorizing epistemologies and their influence on ethics. The conversation will move to AI, capitalism, networks, and logistics in order to understand why human rights might not prove a sufficient warrant against the pressures of new and emerging technologies. The materials in this course will lead us to interrogate the ethical underpinnings of, and connections between extractivism, datafication, and the notion of cyberwar.
MSSP 7060: Behavioral Economics and Social Policy Design
This course will introduce students to the field of behavioral economics and its application to designing social policies concerning health, education, childcare, voting, poverty, financial stability, legal and regulatory frameworks, among others. Behavioral economics extends the classical textbook theory of how the “rational” economic individual – often referred to as homo economicus – makes choices to include insights from psychology, biology, anthropology, sociology, and other fields in order to increase the explanatory power of economic theories. While classical economics is still a useful tool for any social scientist to possess, behavioral economics, in the words of one of the fields founding fathers, Richard Thaler (2015), “is more interesting and more fun than regular economics. It is the un-dismal science.”
MSSP 7070: AI & Revolution: Maroon Algorithms
MSSP Theory Elective
With Artificial Intelligence at the heart of what some consider the Fourth Industrial Revolution, machine learning, deep neuronal networks and prediction in combination with big data, cloud technologies and platform capitalism become indispensable to how algorithms interact with human intelligence in fields like governance, trade, wars, surveillance and geopolitics. Artificial Intelligence not only represents a privileged terrain through which to analyze the circularity between technology and politics, but it also indicates a genealogy of what idea of humanity technological innovation has drawn from when imagining and developing automated systems of problem solving; it therefore helps us to frame what our cultures’ ideas are about what it means to be intelligent about what it means to be human.
This course is an open interrogation on the possibilities and imaginations of how algorithmic logics and reasonings have been and can be used for liberational purposes.
This course will engage with histories of AI and revolution, discussing the implications of Black mathematics and revolutions (such as the Haitian Revolution) for opening up the idea of techno-political modernity. Furthermore, the Italian Postworkerist theorization of full automation articulated from within the ‘70s social movements will be interwoven with insights into critical posthumanism as developed by cyberfeminists.
The course will look at both practices of liberation (such as Salvador Allende’s ‘cybernetic revolutionaries’, the Tunisian Revolution of 2011, the abolitionist movement of 2020) for which the cybernetic dimension has been significant, while also analyzing examples like Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party’s racial coalition politics and interrogating how it can be intensified by transhuman alliance politics.
These examples will invite discussions on the politics of boundaries between human and artificial, on the philosophical framework behind the idea of intelligence and, very importantly, on the possibilities of imagining Artificial Intelligence with liberational purposes, while also taking inspiration from science fiction, art and contemporary cinema.
MSSP 7080: Data, Decision, Death: Security, Raciality, and Policy during the COVID-19 Global Pandemic (thus far)
MSSP Theory Elective
“Bio-power [covers] the set of mechanism through which the basic biological features of the human species became the object of a political strategy (…), how, starting from the eighteenth century, modern Western societies took on board the fundamental biological fact that human beings are a species.” – Michel Foucault, Security, Territory, Population
When the spread of the disease caused by the new corona virus (Sars-CoV-2) took the form of a global pandemic, in the second and third week, March 2020, very quickly we were hailed by abstract representations and had to become literate on graphs, curves, lines, and computer models. In addition to informing the public, these became the guides for biopolitical strategies, that is, policy decisions – which included the setting up of an apparatus of security, which consists primarily of abstract tools and procedures (calculation, probability, averages) that would mean life and death to millions and have led to the death of almost one million persons worldwide (so far 27 Sept 2020).
Definitely these abstract presentations of COVID-19 fit very well with Foucault’s description of bio-power and its security apparatus. To be sure, abstraction has been claimed as the distinguishing feature of modernity. Early philosophical texts dealing with scientific (Galileo’s, Bacon’s, Newton’s) and juridic (Hobbes’s, Locke’s, Montesquieu’s) matters devised and defended abstract procedures and tools because they allowed for objective descriptions of Nature and decisions on Human affairs that were not contaminated by subjective elements, such as inclinations, desires, emotions, etc. Consistently, the same applies to principles said to orient prevailing conception of social justice, namely, the principles of liberty and equality, the ethical force of which reside in their being abstractions, which support the claims to their universal applicability.
However, as the COVID-19 global pandemic showed us (also very quickly), even if the abstract presentations of this invisible threat seem to suggest that we are all in it together, the spatial distribution of the number of contaminations and deaths in the United States, shows a concentration in urban and regional areas with larger proportion of Black, Latinx, and Indigenous residents. That is, the data reveals another abstraction – one that Foucault does not take into account in his definition of biopolitics – is at work in the spread and consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, that is, raciality, a social scientific apparatus that institute racial subjects, that is, that classify and describe persons according to physical traits that are said to express moral and intellectual attributes.
In this course, we will consider these orders of abstraction – security and raciality – in order to map policy decisions during the early moments of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States. Our guiding question is: whether and how raciality has determined the decisions taken in that moment and if so, whether and how that was done so in such a way that takes into account the principles of social justice? Our goal is not so much to answer these questions as to consider what kind of shifts at the level of conceiving, designing, and implementing policies in the United States that do mitigate, contain, and eliminate the operations and effects of raciality.
MSSP 7100 – 8970
MSSP 7100: Democratizing Data? Critical Data Studies in Algorithmic Governance
MSSP Theory Elective
With the advent of digital technologies and the increasing power of computational analytics, the proliferation and ubiquity of data production has increased at exponential rates enabling new possibilities for social analysis. This course will examine the emergence of democratizing data – the movement to make government and other data more widely or publicly available and its potential enabling for democratic possibilities. The types of data being made available, through various analytic systems, and the ways in which their accessibility and inaccessibility is contributing to reconfigured power relations, will be described. The paradigmatic tensions and shifts that have emerged in the debates on “Big Data,” such as deductive versus inductive reasoning and the challenges posed to statistical sampling theory, will be interrogated. The appropriation of machine learning and predictive analytic algorithms for social analysis will be critically explored. Issues related to the ethical and legal use of administrative data, particularly data related to patient, client, student, and taxpayer information will be considered, as well as from internet-based sources including social media. Potential solutions to data security challenges will be additionally considered.
Methods for web-scraping of data, analysis of web traffic data, and the use of social networking data in the modeling of social phenomena and public opinion will be examined. Students will learn how to make results accessible to non-technical audiences via data visualization tools, such as web-based data dashboards and web-based maps. These topics will be discussed for the analysis of health, education, and social policy as well as their implications for questions pertaining to race, gender, class, sexuality, dis/abilities, age, and youth culture. This course will develop students’ knowledge of computational and data analytics and its applications for social policy analysis.
MSSP 7410: (SWRK 7410) Gender & Social Policy (1 CU)
MSSP Theory Elective
Gender and Social Policy develops an advanced understanding of social policies through the lens of gender – a socially constructed classification system based on ideals of femininity and masculinity, which are most commonly understood to be binary, mutually exclusive categories corresponding to sex (female and male). [Gender is] a concept that pervades all aspects of culture: structuring institutions, social identities, cultural practices, political positions, historical communities, and the shared human experience of embodiment*. The class provides students with the opportunity to explore how social policies respond (and contribute) to the needs and risks of different groups of people based on gender classifications. Rather than a survey of “gender” policy, students will be introduced to key feminist and trans concepts and frameworks that can be applied to any social issue and policy intervention. Policy examples may include reproduction, state violence, exclusionary/inclusive space, and national emergencies. The topics and specific readings may change based on the class’s interests and current events. Class assignments are designed to provide an opportunity to practice applying gender theory, as well as for each student to examine a policy issue of import to them through a gendered lens. *paraphrasing Garland-Thomson, 2002, “Integrating Disability, Transforming Feminist Theory”, NWSA Journal, 14(3): pg 4.
MSSP 7500: Women Leaders and Emerging Democracies (1 CU)
In this course we will explore ways to provide women with practical, “real world” skills that will enable them to achieve meaningful political and advocacy participation. The course is designed to give you the theoretical background and tools to put together a meaningful international training such as those sponsored by Women’s Campaign International. The course will also focus on political and community organizing, communications, fundraising, advocacy, and media experience, which will aid women politically, economically and civically in the life of their communities. Students will not only gain experience from working with Women’s Campaign International’s trainers but will also learn how to develop training strategies for specific countries – addressing the particular challenges within countries that women face as they determine their political and economic involvement in emerging democracies.
MSSP 7800: Policy and ‘Difference’ in Postmodernity (1 CU)
MSSP Theory Elective
Social constructions of “difference” permeate the institutions, spaces, and assumptions of our society. These social constructions include but are not limited to the racialized, gendered, sexed, classed, and dis/abled constructions of the body. By leaning on postmodern thinkers such as Iris Marion Young, Pierre Bourdieu, Judith Butler, Jacques Derrida, Ernesto Laclau, and Michel Foucault, this seminar course will begin by engaging the questions of what is “difference” and how is “difference” discursively constructed and reproduced in society. Using a postmodern lens, the remainder two-thirds of the course will engage various social science text that deal with the varieties of “difference” (i.e. race, gender, class, sexuality) and the explicit and/or implicit policy implications of these works. Thus, we will critically engage policies such as welfare, affirmative action, economic policies of taxation, and same-gender marriage among others. The underlying questions throughout the course will be to what extent does social policy enable the possibilities of freedom, justice, and democracy for the “Other”, the deviant, the abject, the marginalized, those of assumed “difference”? And, to what extent does policy constrain those possibilities at the same time?
MSSP 7970 (SWRK 7970): Whose Colony? Politics, Identity, and Social Policy in Revolutionary Cuba (1959-2017) (1 CU)
MSSP Theory Elective
Cuba represents one of the world’s long-standing institutionalized revolutions whose narrative and policies have changed from a strong nationalism yearning for Independence, to an alignment with communism’s ideology and modus operandi, to a nostalgic, post-Soviet Union “socialism” ruled by a binary, state-controlled capitalism. In addition to the myriad of social and political changes affecting the island, the transition of leadership from Fidel Castro to his brother, Raúl, and the death of the former in 2016, has put into question the theoretical pillars of the Revolution, thus undermining its initial legitimacy. This course is designed to provide students with the critical and analytical tools to dissect Cuban revolutionary politics, policies, and identity mutations within the island’s historical trajectory. We will begin by analyzing the notion of Independence – upon which Castro relied to gather massive support – in the context of the 60’s debates on decolonization and underdevelopment. In addition, we will delve into the theoretical foundations of the Revolution focusing, among other texts, on the literature by Cuba’s “founding father” José Martí, who deeply influenced the Spanish-American war (1898)’s outcomes as well as Fidel Castro’s vision for Cuba. Throughout the course, students will also have the opportunity to critically read and discuss main Cuban social policies such as its famous Literacy Campaign, and other Education, Housing, Cultural, Health, and Immigration policies, as well as the island’s complex relationship with technological development and communications. Finally, we will study identity and race dynamics, which are inextricably embedded in Cuba’s political landscape.
This course will begin with several introductory sessions at the University of Pennsylvania, followed by ten class meetings during a two-week stay in Havana, Cuba. Once in the island, students will visit key historical and cultural sites, and engage in conversations with distinguished Cuban scholars and cultural critics. Lastly, students are required to develop a research project on a particular Cuban social policy and produce a final paper.
MSSP 7980: Special Topics: Criminal Justice Policy
MSSP Theory Elective
This criminal justice policy course will address the criminal justice system from arrest to adjudication, sentencing, and incarceration. This course will be rooted in critical race theory, with special attention paid to how the system differentially affects people of color. We will also discuss how other populations are affected by the system, such as women and queer folks, and examine alternatives to our current system. In this course, students will examine a criminal justice policy of their choosing and use data to make policy recommendations. Course readings will include scholarly work, advocacy papers, and commentary from community advocates.
MSSP 8970: Applied Linear Modeling (1 CU)
This course deals with the underlying assumptions and applications of the general linear model with social science, education, and social policy related questions/data. The first half of the course begins by covering simple linear regression and the assumptions of the general linear model, assumption diagnostics, consequences of violation, and how to correct for violated assumptions. This will also include methods of incomplete case analysis (i.e. missing data analysis). Then various aspects of regression analysis with multiple independent variables will be covered including categorical explanatory variables (e.g. to estimate group differences), interaction effects, mediating effects (e.g. to estimate the indirect effect of social processes), and non-linear effects. The course will then cover some of the applications of the general(ized) linear model including logistic regression, some elements of path modeling (structural equation modeling), multilevel analysis (hierarchical linear modeling), and longitudinal modeling (growth modeling). The course will be taught using SAS, but students are welcome to use any statistical package of comfort. Pre-requisite: Introductory Graduate Statistics.