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POL S 373 A: Violence, Exploitation and Exclusion in U.S. Labor Markets

Meeting Time: 
TTh 11:30am - 12:50pm
GUG 218
Becca Thorpe
Rebecca U. Thorpe

Syllabus Description:

POL S 373: Violence, Exploitation & Exclusion in U.S. Labor Markets

Tu/Th. 11:30-12:50 – GUG 218

Professor Thorpe


Office hours (zoom): Wed. 3-4:30 & by appt:

Teaching Assistant: Dennis Young


Office Hours (zoom): Th/Th 1:30-2:30


This course examines recurring practices of violence, exploitation and exclusion in U.S. labor markets. The material unfolds in three parts: First, we examine foundational theories of economic and political power, including classical liberal, Marxist and feminist perspectives. Second, we apply and interrogate these theories in the context of racialized labor (spanning from slavery and convict leasing to mass incarceration and prison labor), gendered labor (including domestic/caring labor and sex work) and contingent labor (migrant and undocumented labor). Finally, we shift focus to the development and growth of underground economies, including the drug trade and sex industry. Students are encouraged to question the ways in which racial, ethnic, gendered and geographic hierarchies create and fortify categories of citizenship and belonging as well as subjectivities of contingency and vulnerability, and to conceptualize labor as a site of struggle, resistance and solidarity.


Course Requirements

The grading is based on three (3) short (500-650 word) reading response papers, participation in sections, two take-home exams and a final project.

A total of three (3) 500-650-word reading response papers will be due at 11am on Fridays. I will post 2-3 discussion questions on Canvas each week to help guide your reading of course material. The prompts will ask you to address a question or argument raised in the assigned readings and are meant to serve as foundation for section discussions. Responses must be uploaded to Canvas before your Friday section begins in order to receive full credit. The responses will be graded as superb (4.0), very good (3.5), satisfactory (3.0), needs improvement (2.5) or unsatisfactory (no credit).

The exams will be available on Canvas. Each exam will ask students will to complete two essays based on class readings, lectures and discussions. Exams will be open note and open book, but students are required to work independently. Working with other students during the exams is a violation of university policies on academic honesty.

You will turn in your response papers, exams and (optional) final paper/project on Canvas. The website uses SimCheck, which is designed to identify plagiarism by indicating the amount of original text and whether quotations are appropriately sourced.

Section will focus on applying course themes to contemporary issues. Students are expected to come prepared to address the reading questions listed on Canvas and to participate in the discussions. This is an opportunity for you to engage with other in small settings, and your participation affects the group dynamic. If you have difficulties speaking in public, you can discuss this with your TA. If you must miss section, please be sure to notify your TA in advance.

Student projects should 1) identify a relevant labor issue, 2) outline the source of the problem/ controversy, and 3) propose a remedy. You may draw from any of the subjects covered on the syllabus or a different labor practice. The standard format is a 7-8 page paper (doubled-spaced), but you may also elect to use a different format (e.g., podcast, video, etc.) rather than a paper. You may work independently or with a group of 2-3 students. We will have an informal discussion of research in-progress in week 10. The projects are due during finals week. A brief summary of your research topic, format and (if relevant) group members are due February 4.



Exam 1 (10%)

Exam 2 (25%)

Section Participation (15%)

Response papers (15%)

Research outline (5%) – due February 4

Student projects + presentations (30%)


Course Material  

Course texts are available for book purchase and for free download on Canvas. All other required reading materials, podcasts and videos are posted on the course website.

Daily reading of The New York Times is also strongly encouraged. Subscriptions at reduced college rates are available here.


Primary texts include: 

*Agustin, Laura Marie. 2007. Sex at the Margins: Migration, Labour Markets and the Rescue Industry. Zed Books. 

*Holmes, Seth M. 2013. Fresh Fruit, Broken Bodies: Migrant Farmworkers in the United States. University of California Press.

*Márez, Curtis. 2004. Drug Wars: The Political Economy of Narcotics. University of Minnesota Press. 

*Pachirat, Timothy. 2013. Every Twelve Seconds: Industrialized Slaughter and the Politics of Sight. Yale University Press.

*Stuesse, Angela. 2016. Scratching Out a Living: Latinos, Race, and Work in the Deep South. University of California Press.


POL S 373 syllabus - WI22

Catalog Description: 
Examines racialized and gendered labor markets, including legacy of slavery, segregation, mass incarceration and prison labor, domestic and care labor, undocumented/migrant labor, and underground economies.
GE Requirements: 
Diversity (DIV)
Social Sciences (SSc)
Last updated: 
October 11, 2021 - 10:23pm