Interdisciplinary Studies

University of California, Berkeley

Overview

The Interdisciplinary Studies Field Major (ISF) is part of the Office of Undergraduate and Interdisciplinary Studies (UGIS) of the College of Letters and Science. It is one of many interdisciplinary programs, but only one of two (with American Studies) that requires a senior thesis of each major. ISF offers students the unique opportunity to develop an individualized cross-disciplinary Research Program that includes a Course of Study and a Senior Thesis. The Course of Study is made up of courses taken in the social sciences, the humanities, and/or the professional schools and colleges. Each student, with the help of a faculty adviser, follows a coherent Course of Study drawing on upper division courses. And each student, under the direction of a faculty adviser, produces a 30-40 page Senior Thesis, a sustained inquiry, based on original, cross-disciplinary research.

ISF has identified a number of Interdisciplinary Research Fields that have engendered excellent scholarship and attracted students across campus. Although ISF students may pursue other research fields identified in consultation with ISF faculty and academic advisers, the ISF Research Fields provide models and resources about scholarly interests shared by many ISF students and across campus. Research fields are dynamic bodies of knowledge that form and develop through a series of debates articulated around a given set of interdisciplinary topics, research questions, and theories. The Research Fields found on the ISF website are there to help ISF students identify their own research interests and customize their own research program and course of study. 

Admission

Students must apply to the ISF Major with a well-conceived Research Program, including a proposed course of study and an intellectual justification of their proposed study. Research programs must be interdisciplinary, integrating methodological or theoretical approaches from at least three academic disciplines (departments or programs). Interdisciplinary work may be comparative, historical, regional, thematic, or problem-focused.  The Research Program should not replicate an existing major. The purpose of the ISF major is to allow undergraduates to combine work across disciplines in courses and with faculty where no other structured program exists.  Finally, the Research Program must be feasible, and the Senior Thesis must answer a manageable research question in a semester's hard work (ISF 190). Each student's proposed Research Program is discussed with and approved by a faculty adviser to assure feasibility, but the final responsibility lies with the student.

The ISF Major emphasizes the role of the faculty adviser and the student-adviser relationship. The nature of the major requires repeated elaboration of the proposed Research Program, Course of Study, and Senior Thesis that best combine students' individual research interests and the ISF program goals. Students are assigned an adviser upon acceptance into the major, although faculty members outside ISF may serve as advisers when appropriate, as approved by the ISF Director. For more on advising, see the Student Handbook

Undergraduate Program

Interdiscipinary Studies: BA (Group Major)

Graduate Program

There is no graduate program in Interdisciplinary Studies.

Visit Program Website

Courses

ISF 10 Enduring Questions and Great Books of the Western Tradition 4 Units

Terms offered: Fall 2017, Fall 2016
This course is a broad survey of major canonical works (“Great Books”) emphasizing from the premodern traditions of Western Civilization since the Greeks. These texts offer responses to central questions that, across the disciplinary divides, continue to inform contemporary work in the social sciences and the humanities. By considering these enduring questions and the responses of writers in Ancient, Medieval, Early Modern, and Modern Europe, we seek to examine
core issues of the liberal arts as they find expression across what would later become disciplinary divisions.

Enduring Questions and Great Books of the Western Tradition: Read More [+]

ISF 61 Moral Reasoning and Human Action: The Quest for Judgment 3 Units

Terms offered: Spring 2017, Fall 2016, Spring 2015
This is an interdisciplinary survey course that seeks to understand how we define justice, evil, and individual responsibility in modern society. In particular we are going to probe carefully how humans reflect on and practice the process of moral reasoning. We will focus on human behavior in extreme situations: war, life and death conflicts, genocide and mass killing, as well as competing conceptions of human freedom. The course has a distinctive
dual purpose. On the one hand we want to encourage the learning of critical thinking skills. This includes the ability to systematically evaluate information and competing moral claims. Also, it is intended as an exposure to the interdisciplinary approach. That is, how can different perspectives illuminate the same issue? With this in mind the course draws on important work from philosophy and ethics, social psychology, jurisprudential analysis, historical-political accounts, and personal memoirs.
Moral Reasoning and Human Action: The Quest for Judgment: Read More [+]

ISF 98 Directed Group Study 1 - 3 Units

Terms offered: Spring 2017, Spring 2016, Fall 2015
Seminars for the group study of selected topics not covered by regularly scheduled courses. Topics will vary from semester to semester.

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ISF 100A Introduction to Social Theory and Cultural Analysis 4 Units

Terms offered: Fall 2017, Summer 2017 First 6 Week Session, Spring 2017
This course, required of all ISF majors but open to all students, provides an introduction to the works of foundational social theorists of the nineteenth century, including Karl Marx and Max Weber. Writing in what might be called the “pre disciplinary” period of the modern social sciences, their works cross the boundaries of anthropology, economics, history, political science, sociology, and are today claimed by these
and other disciplines as essential texts. We will read intensively and critically from their respective works, situating their intellectual contributions in the history of social transformations wrought by industrialization and urbanization, political revolution, and the development of modern consumer society.
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ISF 100B Introduction to Social Theory and Cultural Analysis 4 Units

Terms offered: Spring 2015, Fall 2014, Spring 2014
This is a course exploring how we understand the idea of the self in contemporary social worlds. The course shares the presumption that the modern self is a created endeavor. It charts traditional and contemporary understandings of individual identity, the maturation process and the notion of an inner life, the concepts of freedom and individual agency, the force of evolution and heredity, and the influence of social causation. The course stresses
the complex interplay between the development of a sense of self, and the socialization pressures at work in the family, society, and global cultures.
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ISF 100C Language and Identity 4 Units

Terms offered: Spring 2017, Summer 2013 10 Week Session, Summer 2013 Second 6 Week Session
This course examines the role of language in the construction of social identities, and how language is tied to various forms of symbolic power at the national and international levels.? Drawing on case studies from Southeast Asia, Europe, Canada, and the U.S., we will pay special attention to topics such as the legitimization of a national language, the political use of language in nation-building processes
, the endangerment of indigenous languages, and processes of linguistic subordination and domination. This course will be interdisciplinary in its attempt to understand language in terms of history, politics, anthropology and sociology.
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ISF 100D Introduction to Technology, Society, and Culture 4 Units

Terms offered: Fall 2014, Fall 2013, Spring 2013
This course surveys the technological revolutions of the 19th and 20th centuries, it then focuses on the development of the computer and the Internet. The final part examines the impact of the Internet on social movements.

Introduction to Technology, Society, and Culture: Read More [+]

ISF 100E The Globalization of Rights, Values, and Laws in the 21st Century 4 Units

Terms offered: Fall 2013, Fall 2012, Fall 2011
This interdisciplinary course is an introduction to the complex interplay of transnational values, international rights and legal institutions that increasingly govern social, cultural and geopolitical interactions in our contemporary world. Theoretical and methodological tools from the social sciences, jurisprudence, and philosophy will be applied im the analyses of these interplays. A study of rights and norms presupposes not only an understanding
of the empirical evolution of rights traditions (including constitutional traditions) in a variety of global regions, but also an understanding of the theories of rights and laws that support such traditions as they are embedded in them (just war theories, peace theories, etc.) The study of rights and norms also requires an exploration of the transformations of crucial international norms and rights due to the formation of supranational institutions and organizations in the 20th century (UN, UNESCO, GO's, etc.). The course will provide the students with an opportunity to place emerging transnational rights institutions into a historical and geopolitical framework.
The Globalization of Rights, Values, and Laws in the 21st Century: Read More [+]

ISF 100F Theorizing Modern Capitalism: Controversies and Interpretations 4 Units

Terms offered: Fall 2016, Fall 2015, Fall 2014
The focus of this course will be on the various ways the nature and trajectory of modern capitalism has been interpreted. Our stress will be on post-Marxist works of analysis. The initial focal point will be on the work of Max Weber and Joseph Schumpeter, as well as important current debates in economic history and social theory generated by their work. Both Weber and Schumpeter display a strong fascination and elaboration with the work of Marx.
The way they analyze Marx is very revealing about the way contemporary analysts seek to understand the capitalist system. We will also consider a number of current efforts that look at the systemic nature of capitalism. In particular, we are interested in how economic historians now see the development of capitalism. We also want to examine the Weberian tradition in terms of the role of culture in shaping economic behavior. Debates about the nature of globalization will also be considered as well as analysis of the changing nature of work.
Theorizing Modern Capitalism: Controversies and Interpretations: Read More [+]

ISF 100G Introduction to Science, Society, and Ethics 4 Units

Terms offered: Spring 2017, Spring 2016, Spring 2015
This interdisciplinary course will explore whether it has proven possible and desirable to understand society through value-free and positivistic scientific methods as predominantly developed in the transatlantic worlds of the 19th centuries. We shall explore questions that may be applied to the realms of public health and human biology, or to the social sciences generally, including anthropology, sociology, economics, and political science.

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ISF 100H Introduction to Media and International Relations 4 Units

Terms offered: Fall 2017, Spring 2015, Spring 2014
How have international actors used media to construct public opinion about salient issues, such as war, terrorism and intervention, international trade and finance, and global warming and resource depletion? The purpose of this course is to introduce students to key concepts, methods, and theories in the analysis of media effects, particularly in the areas of public opinion formation and international relations.

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ISF 100I Consumer Society and Culture 4 Units

Terms offered: Summer 2017 Second 6 Week Session
In many ways, consumption defines our lives – our identities as consumers are even more important, some would argue, our identities as workers or producers. But what are the implications of a society in which “you are what you consume?” In this class, we will address questions such as: Under what conditions does a “consumer society” develop? What does global commodity chain tell us about colonialization, global inequality, and environmental injustice?
How can we shape the life cycle of basic commodities—from raw materials to iPhones--in a socially sustainable way? This course will be interdisciplinary in its attempt to understand consumer society and culture in terms of political economy, geography, history, anthropology and sociology.
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ISF 100J The Social Life of Computing 4 Units

Terms offered: Fall 2017
In this class, we will look at computing as a social phenomenon: to see it not just as a technology that transforms but to see it as a technology that has evolved, and is being put to use, in very particular ways, by particular groups of people. We will be doing this by employing a variety of methods, primarily historical and ethnographic, oriented around a study of practices. We will pay attention to technical details but ground these technical details in social organization
(a term whose meaning should become clearer and clearer as the class progresses). We will study the social organization of computing around different kinds of hardware, software, ideologies, and ideas.
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ISF C100C Word and Image 4 Units

Terms offered: Spring 2011, Spring 2007, Spring 2004
This course is designed to sharpen our skills in understanding what happens when the world of images and words meet. Starting with the work from the Western "classical" tradition we will proceed to investigate how word/image constellations operate in a variety of media, including sculpture and poetry, painting and prose, death masks, tableaux vivants, photography, and advertising.

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ISF C100G Introduction to Science, Technology, and Society 4 Units

Terms offered: Spring 2016, Spring 2015
This course provides an overview of the field of Science and Technology Studies (STS) as a way to study how our knowledge and technology shape and are shaped by social, political, historical, economic, and other factors. We will learn key concepts of the field (e.g., how technologies are understood and used differently in different communities) and apply them to a wide range of topics, including geography, history, environmental and information science
, and others. Questions this course will address include: how are scientific facts constructed? How are values embedded in technical systems?

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ISF N100A Introduction to Social Theory and Cultural Analysis 4 Units

Terms offered: Prior to 2007
Introduction to central theoretical investigations concerning the construction and organization of social life. Using some works from the "classical" traditions of social theory as well as some examples of contemporary analysis, this course will explore such topics as the nature of power and social/historical change, the nature of economic production and consumption, the meaning of difference--racial, sexual, class--the development of institutions, etc.

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ISF N100D Introduction to Technology, Society, and Culture 4 Units

Terms offered: Prior to 2007
This course surveys the technological revolutions of the 19th and 20th centuries, then focuses on the development of the computer and the Internet. The final part examines the impact of the Internet on social movements.

Introduction to Technology, Society, and Culture: Read More [+]

ISF 110 Special Topics in Interdisciplinary Studies 4 Units

Terms offered: Fall 2017, Fall 2014, Summer 2005 10 Week Session
This course is designed primarily to allow faculty to develop courses which address specific issues, themes, or problems of interdisciplinary interest. Topics vary semester to semester. Students should consult the department's webpage for current offerings before the start of the semester.

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ISF 189 Introduction to Interdisciplinary Research Methods 4 Units

Terms offered: Fall 2017, Summer 2017 First 6 Week Session, Spring 2017
This class is an introduction to research methods, leading students through different units built around specific learning goals and practical exercises. The course is designed to teach a range of research skills, including the ability to formulate research questions and to engage in scholarly conversations and arguments; the identification, evaluation, mobilization, and interpretation of sources; methods and instruments
of field research (interviews, questionnaires, and sampling) and statistical thinking; and the construction of viable arguments and explanation in the human sciences. At the same time, the course is designed to help students identify their own thesis topic, bibliography, and methodological orientation.
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ISF 190 Senior Thesis 4 Units

Terms offered: Fall 2017, Spring 2017, Fall 2016
The ISF Senior Thesis requirement is the capstone experience and final product of the ISF major. The thesis is a sustained, original, and critical examination of a central interdisciplinary research question, developed under the guidance of the ISF 190 instructor. The thesis represents a mature synthesis of research skills, critical thinking, and competent writing. As the final product of a student's work in the major, the thesis is not the place
to explore a new set of disciplines or research problems for the first time, but should develop methods of inquiry and bridge the several disciplines that students have developed in their course of study.
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ISF 197 Field Studies 1 - 4 Units

Terms offered: Prior to 2007
Supervised experience relevant to the student's specific area of concentration in the Interdisciplinary Studies Field Major in off-campus organizations. Regular individual meetings with faculty sponsor and written reports required.

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ISF 198 Directed Group Study for Advanced Undergraduates 1 - 3 Units

Terms offered: Fall 2017, Spring 2017, Spring 2016
Seminars for the group study of selected topics not covered by regularly scheduled courses. Topics will vary from semester to semester.

Directed Group Study for Advanced Undergraduates: Read More [+]

ISF 199 Supervised Independent Study and Research for Upper Division Majors 1 - 4 Units

Terms offered: Summer 2011 10 Week Session, Summer 2007 10 Week Session, Spring 2007
Directed individual independent study and research of special topics by arrangement with faculty.

Supervised Independent Study and Research for Upper Division Majors: Read More [+]

Faculty

Peter Sahlins, ProfessorEarly modern France, animal-human relations, immigration, citizenship and nationality in pre-modern Europe.
Research Profile

Lecturers

Rakesh Bhandari, LecturerClassical Social Theory's Images of Asia, The Juridical Aspects of Unfree Labor Relations, The Role of Luxury Consumption in Economic Growth, The Nature and Limits of Keynesian Intervention, The Discourses of Social Darwinism.

Shreeharsh Kelkar, LecturerHistory and anthropology of computing, work, and expertise in the 20th century.

Gary Wren, LecturerTechnology & Society; Development Studies; Social/Political Theory.

Fang Xu, LecturerSocial inequality and cultural identity. Globalization, displacement, and language endangerment.

Contact Information

Interdisciplinary Studies Field Major Program

263 Evans Hall

Phone: 510-643-7691

isf@berkeley.edu

Visit Program Website

Program Director

Peter Sahlins, PhD (Department of History)

265 Evans Hall

Phone: 510-664-4315

sahlins@berkeley.edu

Program Associate Director

Rakesh Bhandari, PhD

238 Evans Hall

Phone: 510-664-4420

bhandari@berkeley.edu

Academic Adviser

Patrick Civello, MS

263 Evans Hall

Phone: 510-643-7691

isf@berkeley.edu

Faculty Adviser

Shreeharsh Kelkar, PhD

269 Evans Hall

Phone: 510-642-0660

skelkar@berkeley.edu

Faculty Adviser

Gary Wren, PhD

239 Evans Hall

Phone: 510-642-2087

gwren@berkeley.edu

Faculty Adviser

Fang Xu, PhD

269 Evans Hall

Phone: 510-642-0660

fangxu@berkeley.edu

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