Constitutional Moments

The History of Class, Race, and Gender and
the Struggle Between Corporations and Democracy

In certain moments of history, we experience revolutionary openings. In these periods, fundmamental shifts in national or global constitutional arrangements— in the economy and the polity—take place. These are pivotal moments, in which the fundamental character of our reigning capitalist order is transformed. In these eras, which redefine the fundamental social and legal contract of capitalism, the basic economic and human rights related to class, gender and race are established (or abolished), and democracy is either renewed or eroded. Tensions between property and human rights, between democracy and autocracy, between dominant groups and females and minorities, are constested and tentatively resolved in class, gender and race struggles.
 This course has two main goals. The first is to introduce graduate students to historical sociology—a must for all sociologists. We shall re-examine US history with a fresh eye, to understand what history can teach us about the growing consolidation of a global corporate capitalist order, dominated by increasingly sovereign global corporate entities. Each constitutional moment involves a step in the growth of the power of property and corporate sovereignty, but each involves new prospects for social change and social movements related to class, race, gender, and democracy.

We examine five constitutional momentsî in which the fundamental structure of the capitalist order was reconstructed and the powers of property and corporate sovereignty advanced or transformed: the American revolutionary period, the civil war and the abolition of slavery, the consolidation of corporate capitalism at the turn of the last century, the New Deal, and the current restructuring of a new global economy. We shall examine each period with an eye to understanding the economic, political and cultural forces that help shape capitalism and democracy and the formation or dissolution of new rights associated with class and property, race and gender.

The second course goal is to explore current openings—especially in the global context. We are now engaged in a process of writing a global economic constitution. While this is currently being shaped by global corporations in a corporatist direction, there are opportunities to extend labor, women, environmental and human rights into a new global regime involving unprecedented global rights—and to remake class, gender and race movements on a global scale. We shall explore the remaking of global political and economic institutions—from the UN to the IMF to the WTO—and look at the openings and the social movements that offer the hope of a new global constitution that challenge corporate sovereignty and embrace economic rights, human rights and social democracy across lines of race, class and gender.

The books include Foner, the Story of American Freedom, Zinn, Peopleís History of the US,  Scott, Gender and the Politics of History, Beard, The Economic Interpretation of the Constitution, Genovese, Roll Jordan Roll, Kolko, Jones, Labor of Love, Labor of Sorrow, Main Currents in American History, Skocpol, Widows, Soldiers and the Making of the Welfare State, Chomsky, Old and New World Orders, Block, The Origins of International Economic Disorder. Students will focus on one of these periods and on the particular movement or set of rights that interest them, responsible for presenting at least one session as well as a research paper related to their main concerns. The course is for both new and advanced graduate students.

Course Readings

  1. The Revolutionary Era: Writing the Constitution
    • Beard, The Economic Interpretation of the Constitution
    • Maier, The Declaration of Independence
    • Foner, The American Idea of Freedom
    • Scott, Gender and the Politics of History
    • Zinn, People's History
  2. The Civil War: Race, Class, and Gender Themes
    • Jordan, Labor of Love, Labor of Sorrow
    • Foner, The Story of American Freedom
    • Genovese, Roll Jordan Roll
  3. The Populist and Progressive Era: The Constitution of American Corporate Capitalism
    • Kolko, Main Currents; and The Triumph of Conservatism
    • Derber, Corporation Nation
    • Cott, The Grounding of Modern Feminism
    • Flexner, Century of Struggle
  4. The New Deal: The Constitution of Liberalism
    • Skocpol, Widows, Soldiers...
    • Piven and Cloward, Poor Peopleís Movements
    • Foner, The Story of American Freedom
  5. The Bretton Woods Era: The Post War Global Constitution
    • Block, The Origins of International Economic Disorder
    • Kuttner, The End of Laisse Faire
  6. The Sixties and Beyond: Race, Class, and Gender Remade
    • Tobias, Faces of Feminism
    • Foner, The Story of American Freedom
    • Jones, Labor of Love, Labor of Sorrow
    • Scott, Gender and the Politics of History
  7. The Millenial Era: Writing The World's New Constitution
    • Greider, One World, Ready or Not
    • Derber, Corporation Nation
    • Kuttner, Everything for Sale