Making Change When Change is Hard: the Law, Politics, and Policy of Social Change
How does social change happen?How does change happen? When, why, and how do people, and whole nations, come to together to influence large-scale policies and actions on issues like the environment, equality, criminal justice? Why do revolutions occur? This course will try to answer these questions, and do so by exploring a diversity of efforts related to societal change. In an effort to draw general lessons for those interested in making change, we will assess a range of political and legal approaches; examine mass movements and the leadership by organizations, governments, and individuals; and attempt to gauge outcomes. Using research from psychology, political science, and economics, and focusing on case studies, the course will explore the ideas behind several arguments: 1) big problems are rarely resolved with comparably big solutions, but instead are better met with small acts of reform; 2) coalition-building among strange bedfellows is usually indispensable; 3) agents of change fare best when they look to measure their impact and never lose sight of the real world results they seek, rather than the expressive highs along the way; 4) informational “cascades” are possible and critical, as people follow one another; and 5) group polarization can be both desirable and dangerous, as groups become more heated and more extreme.
Class Notes:This course has an enrollment cap and is a part of the coordinated, ranked-choice Gen Ed lottery. To participate in the lottery, you must request permission to enroll and rank your choices through my.harvard by 11:59 p.m. EST Tuesday, August 29, 2023. The Gen Ed lottery will run Wednesday, August 30; if you are successful in the lottery, your course petition in your Crimson Cart will turn to a green check that allows you to enroll. For timely updates and detailed instructions about entering the Gen Ed lottery, please see https://gened.fas.harvard.edu/fall-2023