Robert Rakoff, professor of politics and environmental studies, received his B.A. from Oberlin College and his M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Washington.
He taught at the University of Illinois/Chicago and worked for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development before coming to Hampshire in 1979.
His teaching and research interests include environmental history and policy; the politics of land use; the cultural construction of nature; creative non-fiction writing about the outdoors; and the political economy of farming and rural life in the U.S.
Who should care for the old, the sick, the unemployed, the poor? Is this a collective responsibility, to be fulfilled by government as it promotes the general welfare of the nation? Or is this an individual, personal responsibility: each adult responsible for his or her own welfare, with private charity picking up those who fall through the holes of a tattered safety net? This is the axis around which U.S. social welfare policy has turned since the early 20th century. For the last 30 years we have seen government policy move inexorably to the individual responsibility side of the debate. The state has been shifting responsibility for coping with the risks of aging, sickness, unemployment, and poverty to the individual, while relying increasingly on the private market to actually provide services. The results have not been pretty. Why this has occurred, who suffers and benefits, what are the institutional forces behind this trend, what are the prospects for change - these are the central questions to be explored in this course. We will look closely and critically at the history and politics of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, Unemployment Insurance, Workers' Compensation, and supplemental income programs. Students will work collaboratively to develop alternative approaches to these issues of social welfare policy.
This seminar will explore approaches to writing about people in the outdoors -- working, playing, transforming nature, or simply contemplating the world. We will read and critique a number of genres including traditional nature writing, historical accounts, creative nonfiction, fiction, and academic analyses. We will pay particular attention to narrative choices and the role of the narrator as well as to the use of landscape description, scientific language, and other vehicles for constructing ideas of nature. Our analytical focus will be on the historical and cultural origins of both mainstream and critical views of the human presence in the natural world. We will use these readings both as models of good writing and as contributions to the rich discourse about people in the outdoors. These readings will also help us develop some criteria for peer review of written work. There will be regular writing assignments, including portraits, analysis of primary historical materials, literary journalism, advocacy, and creative expression. Students will be expected to contribute to class discussion and group critique in an informed and constructive manner.
The U.S. is alone among the wealthy capitalist nations in not providing health insurance to all its citizens. In this course we will examine the reasons for this dubious distinction, focusing on Americans' historic distrust of government, the power of important stakeholders in medicine and insurance, the dominance of individualism in American political life and thought, and the bias toward incremental change that is built into our political institutions. We will examine the history of major health insurance programs like Medicaid, Medicare, and Veterans Affairs, the increasing problems with employment-based insurance, and the conservative push for programs based on personal responsibility. We will pay special attention to the politics and implementation of the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) and will examine possible alternatives - everything from individual vouchers to a single payer system.
Rural America is the site of much that defines American life and culture. Our national myths are rooted in rural experience from frontier settlement to rugged individualism to escape from the decadent city and back to the land. Our economy is built on exploitation of rural resources: soil, water, minerals, trees. Our cities continue to sprawl into the countryside, sparking dramatic change in rural populations, politics, economics, and landscapes. In this course we will examine the contested American countryside, looking for the changing meanings and realities of the rural in modern America. We will analyze the role of government and large corporations in reshaping rural areas, the continuing importance of farming and ranching, the role of extractive industries like mining and logging, the changing lives of rural men, women, and children, and the portrayal of rural topics in literature and popular culture. Students will study a range of interpretations of rural life and will undertake their own research projects.
Professor of Politics and Environmental Studies
Mail Code SS
Franklin Patterson Hall 207
893 West Street
Amherst, MA 01002