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Fall 2020 Course

Making Change When Change is Hard: the Law, Politics, and Policy of Social Change

Prerequisites: None

Exam Type: No Exam

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.

Note: This course is jointly-listed with HKS as DPI-535.

Cross-registration petitions will be processed through HKS; please submit all cross-registration petitions to HKS.

Amy Bach, Ordinary Injustice: How America Holds Court
ISBN: 978-0805092271

Chip Heath and Dan Heath, Switch: How To Change Things When Change Is Hard
ISBN: 978-0385528757

Wendy Pearlman, We Crossed A Bridge And It Trembled: Voices from Syria
ISBN: 978-0062654441