Making Change When Change Is Hard: the Law, Politics, and Policy of Social Change (Gen Ed 1102)





How does social change happen?

Ethics & Civics icon with textHistories, Societies, Individuals icon with text


Cass Sunstein

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.

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