POL S 249 A: Introduction To Labor Studies

Meeting Time: 
TTh 11:30am - 12:50pm
EEB 125
Joint Sections: 
HSTCMP 249 A, SOC 266 A
Michael Beyea Reagan

Syllabus Description:





Instructor:      Dr. Michael Reagan   reagan@uw.edu       


Course Description: Welcome to Intro to Labor Studies and the University of Washington. This course is designed to introduce you to both field of historical sociology and political science as disciplines including specific critical thinking skills, and the content of labor history; the people, events, and ideas that produced our world today. More specifically, we will be looking at the material and cultural constructions of work and labor, through the frame of “class” studies.

The content of the course will cover the varieties of modern labor systems from slavery, to the origins of industrial capitalism, and on to our own structures of work and labor. This is a big expanse, and we will not be able to cover everything. Instead, we are going to focus on particular moments, themes, and ideas. As such, we will look at cultural and material factors in the history of labor, in particular the ideological, social, cultural, political, and economic forces that shape it. We will also work on developing arguments of historical and sociological causation. Above all we will be in a constant process of reading, writing, and asking questions.

Learning the methodology of historical sociology is important. Interrogating sources, developing analysis, and crafting your ideas are skills that take practice. They are the building blocks of critical thinking. They will undoubtedly help you in your future course work as a university student, but more than this, the process of history helps us develop essential skills that are broadly applicable. Ultimately, the process of historical discovery is also a process of self-discovery. It is a process of discovering your own ideas about our world, about how we got here, and what we can do to make it a better place. Therefore my hope is that as better historical and critical thinkers, you’ll be happier, stronger, and more engaged social and historical agents.

In addition to a substantial reading load, you will be writing essays based on primary and secondary source materials. Participation and engagement in class discussion is vitally important; the expectation is that every one of you has something to contribute, and the more you engage in the work of the class, the richer the class discussions will be. There will be a midterm exam and a final exam, occasional in-class writing assignments, and weekly reading responses. There will also be three short essays due throughout the quarter.


Finally, if we are to succeed in our goals for this course we must work together to create a collaborative, inclusive and respectful learning culture. I look forward to getting to know you and working together this year.



  • To develop strong writing and critical thinking skills
  • To develop the practice of asking productive, conceptual questions
  • To learn how to participate effectively and contribute meaningfully to class discussion
  • To practice and develop reading comprehension
  • To understand the work of historical and sociological scholarship
  • To develop effective study habits and to learn how to ask questions and get help
  • To be an independent scholar and yet to be collegial with others
  • To develop a basic introductory understanding of Labor Studies



  • To come to class each day prepared and ready to engage in the work
  • To turn in all work complete and on time
  • To provide fellow students with helpful feedback and constructive criticism
  • To take responsibility for one’s own learning, and our collective learning environment
  • To be respectful of others’ views even if profoundly different from your own



There will be three essays over the course of the term. These will range in length from around three pages to up to six. All work must be typed, double-spaced, with standard margins.

Please use Chicago Style Format for your essays; there is a tutorial on the Chicago Style on the class Canvas site (via the UW Libraries tab). For the essays, rough drafts are not required but are strongly encouraged. There will also be opportunities for peer review in addition to feedback from me and from the TA. An essay is not a solitary endeavor. The process of editing, revising, and rethinking can and should involve colleagues and teachers. More information about the essays will be provided during the term. Essays should be both posted on the Canvas site but also a physical copy must be handed in at the beginning of class on the day it is due.


Weekly Reading and Discussion Assignments

A central component of this course is discussion. It is important that our conversations revolve around your own questions and not just mine. As you are reading the material, not only should you be sorting through the ideas in the text, the way in which those ideas are expressed, and in general coming to an understanding of the text, but you should also be asking questions: what is the central argument or idea from a text? How does this writer’s ideas compare with another’s? What does the author’s argument reveal about the values and attitudes of the time? What is confusing about this text, what is problematic, what is beautiful? How does this text inform our understanding of the historical period we are studying?


Asking questions is the historian’s most fundamental task. Bringing one or two of those questions to the table in class discussion is your responsibility as a member of our community of scholars. To help facilitate this process, you will have weekly reading and discussion assignments.  These assignments will be on the Canvas site, and you will be expected to turn yours in on Canvas; there is no need, with the reading responses, to provide me with a physical copy. Finally, there will also be occasional ungraded in-class writing assignments.



The midterm exam will be 120 minutes in length. You will be given study questions one week before the exam to help you organize your review; there will also be an in-class exam review. The exam will short answers and an essay question, with some choice. This is an in-class exam. You will need to bring a “blue book” (sometimes called a “green book”) with you to write in. These are sold in many cafes and kiosks on campus. Let me know if you have documented test-taking anxiety or any other impairment that might affect your ability to take in-class tests, and we will work together to figure out a solution.


Plagiarism and Academic Integrity

The process of learning is hard, and sometimes students are tempted to take shortcuts in the form of plagiarism. However, any student who uses words, ideas, or sources without proper citation will be given a failing grade and reported for further action in line with the University’s policies. We will talk more about what constitutes plagiarism and how to avoid it. See the University’s policy here: https://depts.washington.edu/pswrite/plag.html

Use of the Canvas site

We will be making use of Canvas, an on-line system that allows for easy transmission and organization of assignments and other materials. You will be sent an invitation to join the site, and thereafter will have access to the UW Intro to Labor Studies site.  You will turn in work and check the site for information. However, most of our communication will be via email or in person.


Assignments and Grading Policies

Within our class, I will be using an evaluative tool, the UW’s decimal grading system

(0.0-4.0), for much of your assigned work. Exams and major papers will receive such a grade.

The weekly reading responses will not – they will receive a plus, check, or minus, with comments.  Late work is not accepted for a grade. If you need to ask for an extension of a due date, you must see me before the due date and make your case. Additionally, no electronic devices are allowed in the classroom, including phones, laptops, tablets, or other devices except by special permission.




Course Packet (available at TBD)


Class Schedule and Assignments


Week 1

Course Introduction

Central Question: What is labor, work, and class?

Readings: Poetry from the Foxconn workers, Xu Lizhi and others

E.P. Thompson, excerpts from The Making of the English Working Class

Active Reading and Notation Handouts

Assignment: Due Monday,– Weekly Reading Response


Week 2

Liberal Capitalism: Indigeneity, Empire, Conquest, and Colonialism

Central Question: What defines liberal capitalism in theory and practice? Why?

Readings: John Locke, excerpts from Two Treaties on Government, (Course Reader)

Ellen Meiksins Wood, excerpts from The Origins of Capitalism, (Course Reader)

Juan Gonzales, excerpts from Harvest of Empire, (Course Reader)

Assignment: Due Thursday,– Weekly Reading Response Paper


Week 3

Slavery as System of Labor

Central Question: Why did chattel slavery develop?

Readings: Edmund Morgan, excerpts from American Slavery . . .  (Course Reader)

Olaudah Equiano, excerpts from An Interesting Narrative, (Course Reader)

John Harrower, excerpts from his diary, (Course Reader)

Assignment: Due Thursday,– Weekly Reading Response Paper


Week 4

Gender and the First Industrial Revolution

Central Question: Why were women the first industrial workforce?

Readings: Michael Reagan, excerpt from Band of Sisters, (Course Reader)

Harriet Hanson Robinson, excerpts from Factory Girl, (Course Reader)

Assignment: First Paper Assignment Due: Tuesday,

Due Thursday,– Weekly Reading Response Paper


Week 5

Workers Movements: Origins of a Critique

Central Question: What were the emerging views of Industrial Capitalism? Why?

Readings: Pierre Joseph Proudhon, excerpts from What is Property?

Karl Marx, excerpts from The Communist Manifesto and The Critique of Political Economy

Assignment: Due Thursday,– Weekly Reading Response Paper


Week 6

Class Violence and the State: Haymarket and the Paris Commune

Central Question: Why have labor struggles proven so violent? Is there a “permanent antagonism?”

Readings: Donny Gluckstein, excerpts from The Paris Commune

Lucy Parsons, biography and selected writings

Assignment: Midterm Exam: Tuesday,

Due Thursday,– Weekly Reading Response Paper


Week 7

New Deals: Social Democracy and a New Direction for the State

Why was unionization successful during the Great Depression?

Readings: Boyer & Morais, excerpts from Labor’s Untold Story (Course Reader)

Henry Kraus, excerpts from The Many and the Few, (Course Reader)

Assignment: Due Thursday,– Weekly Reading Response Paper


Week 8

Labor, Race, and Gender

Central Question: Why did civil rights and women rights become major domestic issues in the post-war period?

Readings: Silvia Federici, excerpts from Wages for Housework , (Course Reader)

Cedric Robinson, excerpts from Black Marxism

Assignment: Second Essay Assignment Rough Draft Due Tuesday,

Due Thursday,– Weekly Reading Response Paper


Week 9

40 Years a Neoliberal

Why did the New Deal consensus begin to fall apart in the 1980s?

Readings: Peter Rachleff, excerpts from Hard Pressed in the Heartland, (Course Reader)

Keeanga Yamhatta Taylor, excerpts from From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation,

Assignment: Second Essay Assignment Due Tuesday,

Due Friday,– Weekly Reading Response Paper


Week 10

Service Work in Modern America

Is class still a relevant category of analysis?

Readings: Prole.Info, excerpts from Abolish Restaurants, (Course Reader)

Staughton Lynd, Solidarity Unionism

Assignment: Final Essay Assignment Rough Draft Due Tuesday,

Due Thursday,– Weekly Reading Response Paper


Week 11

Course Wrap Up

What is class? What is labor?

Assignment: Third and Final Essay Assignment Due Monday,

Due Wednesday,– Weekly Reading Response Paper


Final Week 12: Date TBD




Catalog Description: 
Conceptual and theoretical issues in the study of labor and work. Role of labor in national and international politics. Formation of labor movements. Historical and contemporary role of labor in the modern world. Offered: jointly with HSTCMP 249/SOC 266.
Department Requirements: 
American Politics Field
Political Economy Option
GE Requirements: 
Individuals and Societies (I&S)
Last updated: 
November 14, 2017 - 9:26pm