24.236 | Fall 2014 | Undergraduate, Graduate

Topics in Social Theory and Practice: Race and Racism


Course Meeting Times

Seminars: 2 sessions / week, 1.5 hours / session


One philosophy subject or permission of the instructor.

Course Description

Controversies about race and racism continue to play an important role in the public domain. This term we will consider the following questions: What is race? Do races exist? If so, in what sense? What is the relationship between race and ethnicity, race and class, race and gender, race and citizenship? How should we understand racial injustice? Does racial injustice continue to exist? If so, what steps might legitimately be taken to end it?


Most readings for the course will be articles that can be found in the Readings section.

The following texts are also useful:

Blum, Lawrence. “I’m Not a Racist, But…”: The Moral Quandary of Race. Cornell University Press, 2002. ISBN: 9780801488153. [Preview with Google Books]

Boxill, Bernard, ed. Race and Racism. Oxford University Press, 2001. ISBN: 9780198752677.

Mills, Charles W. The Racial Contract. Cornell University Press, 1999. ISBN: 9780801484636.

Shelby, Tommie. We Who Are Dark: The Philosophical Foundations of Black Solidarity. Belknap Press, 2007. ISBN: 9780674025714.

Zack, Naomi. Philosophy of Science and Race. Routledge, 2002. ISBN: 9780415941648.

Undergraduate Requirements

All students will be responsible for each week’s reading and will write 10 weekly response papers of approximately 400–600 words. Response papers may focus on study questions provided in the text, on questions raised in class, in the media, or in personal reflection on the assigned reading. Further guidance will be provided in class. We will also experiment with the forms in which we write. Students may write their response papers on the class blog, in the form of letters to the editor, and / or op-ed pieces.

Students will each co-lead one class, providing questions for discussion on that day.

A longer research paper (min. 2500 words) will be due during the last class. A 300 word project proposal must be submitted by Session 13, and a draft must be submitted by Session 22.

An important theme of the course will be that there are different perspectives from which one can view a single phenomenon. Because of this, class attendance and class participation are especially important components of the course. Students are expected to attend all or nearly all classes, and to come to class having completed the assigned readings indicated for that day.

Please keep a copy of all work you turn in. Late work will be accepted only under exceptional circumstances, and will be penalized unless an extension is granted in advance. Failure to perform in any of the grading areas listed below will result in a failure of the course.

Graduate Requirements

Graduate students enrolled in the course will be expected to read both the required readings listed and also additional recommended readings. Additional recommended readings will be suggested throughout the course. Depending on the number of graduate students in the class, a separate discussion session may be required in lieu of response papers. A single 20–25 pages research paper is due at the end of the term. A paper proposal should be submitted by Session 13.

Grading Policy for Undergraduates

Class participation and leading discussion 20%
Ten response papers 40%
Research paper and presentation 40%

Grading Policy for Graduates

Final paper 80%
Class attendance and participation 20%

The class does not have a final examination. Please be aware that plagiarism of any kind will be severely punished, up to and including not only flunking the paper, but also having a letter placed in your file at the Institute. Plagiarism includes using another’s arguments without acknowledging them, borrowing text wholesale, paraphrasing text in excessive quantity without attribution, borrowing someone else’s arguments and merely rearranging them.

Course Info

As Taught In
Fall 2014
Learning Resource Types
Lecture Notes
Written Assignments with Examples