Soci 181: Modern Western Society (2020)

University of California-San Diego
Spring 2019-20

Lane Kenworthy
Zoom classtime: Tu Th 8:00-9:20
Zoom office hours: Th 11:15-12:15
Tel: 858-860-6124

The aim of this course is to explore a radical policy idea: open borders.

You will examine arguments and evidence for and against this proposal. As a group, you’ll prepare and post edits to the Wikipedia “Open border” page. As individuals, you’ll post weekly comments to a group discussion board, prepare a report or presentation on one or more readings, and write a paper describing and defending your view on whether the United States should adopt this proposal.

The course will be entirely online and asynchronous.

We won’t meet during the scheduled class time (Tu Th 8:00-9:20), but I’ll be available during that time to answer questions and discuss via Zoom.

All times listed in this syllabus are California time.

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Weeks 1-4

  • Watch lecture videos available via Canvas
  • Read introductory readings
  • Read Wikipedia “Open Border” entry
  • Read Caplan and Wienersmith Open Borders book
  • Decide, as a group, which students will be responsible for which of the additional readings and videos

Weeks 5-8

  • Read the additional readings for which you are responsible
  • Student report/presentation: due week 7, Tuesday, May 12, 8:00am
  • Complete the two required Wikipedia training modules (see the “Wikipedia Project” section below): due week 7, Thursday, May 14, 11:59pm
  • As a group, prepare draft of Wikipedia edits

Weeks 9-10

  • Full draft of Wikipedia edits: due week 9, Tuesday, May 26, 8:00am
  • Post edits to Wikipedia: due week 10, Thursday, June 4, 11:59pm

Exam week

  • Paper: due Thursday, June 11, 11:00am


Required introductory readings. These are available via the links listed here.

  • Lane Kenworthy, “How Do We Know?,” The Good Society. LINK
  • Nicholas Kristof, “This Has Been the Best Year Ever,” New York Times, 2019. LINK
  • Lane Kenworthy, “Progress,” The Good Society. LINK
  • Lane Kenworthy, “America Is Underachieving,” Social Democratic Capitalism, Oxford University Press, 2020. LINK
  • Lane Kenworthy, “Migration,” The Good Society. LINK

Required reading on open borders. All students must read this book. It can be purchased from the UC San Diego bookstore and other booksellers.

  • Caplan, Brian and Zach Weinersmith. 2019. Open Borders. First Second.

Required reading: Wikipedia entry on open borders. This is the Wikipedia entry you will be editing. All students must read this.

  • Wikipedia. “Open Border.” LINK

Additional readings (and a few videos) on open borders. These can be divided up among the group, but each must be read by at least one student and each must be included in at least one student report/presentation. They are accessible via either the links below or the Canvas course page.

  • Abrajano, Marisa and Zoltan L. Hajnal. 2017. White Backlash: Immigration, Race, and American Politics. Princeton University Press. 216 pages.
  • Carens, Joseph. 2018. “Open Borders?” Janus Forum, Brown University. Video, 8 minutes, watch from 54:20 to 1:02:50. LINK
  • DeParle, Jason. 2020. “The Open Borders Trap.” New York Times. LINK
  • Esipova, Neli, Anita Pugliese, and Julie Ray. 2018. “More Than 750 Million Worldwide Would Migrate If They Could.” Gallup. LINK
  • FitzGerald, David Scott. 2019. Refuge Beyond Reach: How Rich Democracies Repel Asylum Seekers. Oxford University Press. Chapters 1, 2, 7, 11. 91 pages.
  • Frum, David. 2019. “How Much Immigration Is Too Much?” The Atlantic. LINK
  • Gonzalez-Barrera, Ana and Phillip Connor. 2019. “Around the World, More Say Immigrants Are a Strength Than a Burden.” Pew Research Center. LINK
  • Gonzalez-Barrera, Ana, Jens Manuel Krogstad, and Luis Noe-Bustamante. 2020. Report on US Hispanics’ views on immigration. Pew Research Center. LINK
  • Goodman, Peter S. 2019. “The Nordic Model May Be the Best Cushion Against Capitalism. Can It Survive Immigration?” New York Times. LINK
  • Kaufman, Eric. 2019. Whiteshift: Populism, Immigration, and the Future of White Majorities. Abrams Press. Chapters 1-6, 13. 323 pages.
  • Massey, Douglas S. 2008. “Caution, NAFTA at Work. How Europe’s Trade Model Could Solve America’s Immigration Problem.” Pacific Standard. LINK
  • Miliband, David. 2017. Rescue: Refugees and the Political Crisis of Our Time. Simon and Schuster. 160 pages.
  • National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine (NAS). 2015. “Summary.” The Integration of Immigrants into American Society. National Academies Press. 13 pages.
  • OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development). 2018. Settling In 2018: Indicators of Immigrant Integration. OECD Publishing. 263 pages.
  • Pastor, Manuel. 2018. State of Resistance: What California’s Dizzying Descent and Remarkable Resurgence Mean for America’s Future. New Press. 204 pages.
  • Polakow-Suransky, Sasha. 2017. Go Back To Where You Came From: The Backlash Against Immigration and the Fate of Western Democracy. Bold Type Books. 277 pages.
  • Salam, Reihan. 2018. Melting Pot or Civil War? A Son of Immigrants Makes the Case Against Open Borders. Sentinel. 184 pages.
  • Sanders Bernie. 2015. Interview with Ezra Klein. Vox. Read the part beginning “You said being a democratic socialist means” and ending “which has already gone down very significantly.” LINK
  • Traub, James. 2016. “The Death of the Most Generous Nation on Earth.” Foreign Policy. LINK
  • United Nations. 1948. Universal Declaration of Human Rights. LINK
  • Weiwei, Ai. 2017. Human Flow. Video, 136 minutes, $4. LINK


Here’s what you should get from this course:

Approaching issues scientifically (this is often called “critical thinking”). Approaching an issue scientifically means, among other things, considering empirical evidence rather than relying mainly on theory or ethical beliefs, looking for data rather than anecdote(s), looking for multiple sources of evidence (“If hypothesis A were true, what else would we expect to observe?”), and thinking about whether some types of evidence are more useful, and thus should be weighted more heavily, than others.

Asking important questions. For any issue or topic, there are multiple questions we might want to answer. Many are of interest, but some are more important than others.

Understanding argument and evidence. Focus on the question(s) being posed, the answer(s) given, the key pieces of evidence, and the way the author reasons from the evidence and other considerations (laws, ethical views, etc) in reaching a conclusion.

Dealing with complexity and incomplete information. Many issues are big and complicated. Scientists have struggled to understand the nature of the problem(s), to identify the main cause(s), and to figure out the most useful solution(s). The process is like detective work: seldom is the story simple and rarely do we have the exact evidence we’d need in order to be strongly confident about our conclusion, so we must ask an assortment of questions, use various types of data, and think systematically.

Spotting the progress. Social scientists and journalists often emphasize our problems and shortfalls. That’s helpful, because it spurs us to do better and (hopefully) helps us figure out how to do so. But it can also give us the impression that things are getting worse. Sometimes that’s accurate, but in other instances it’s misleading. In fact, in many areas of life things have been improving and we could be doing better.

Comfort with quantitative data. A generation ago there was a scarcity of numerical data. Now we have an abundance: data are everywhere. That’s a good thing, because data are key to answering important questions about society. You will encounter lots of quantitative data in this course, often in graphical form. If you aren’t already comfortable interpreting such data and reasoning from them, by the end of the course you should be.

Written communication. I expect your writing to be high quality. If you struggle with writing, you’re like virtually everyone else. Good writing usually comes from two things. The first is clear thinking. Writing isn’t just a way to express what you’re thinking; it’s a way to clarify your thinking. The second is extensive editing. Write a draft. Then edit it. Then edit it again. And again. For an excellent guide to good writing, see this.

Concision. Information and opinion are plentiful these days, so brevity is a valuable skill. The writing assignments are short, so you’ll need to focus on the information and argument that is most relevant or useful.

Developing a good argument. The course materials and lectures are designed to expose you to ways of developing and conveying effective argument. Keys include focusing on a specific question, formulating a clear proposal or position, making use of relevant evidence, addressing potential objections and counterarguments, and communicating clearly.

Working in groups. A good bit of life — whether in a job, in a family, or in other contexts — involves working with other people to accomplish a goal. The Wikipedia project in this course aims to improve your group-work comfort and skill.

Substantive knowledge. Last, but not least, the course aims to improve your understanding of the issues we cover.


During the scheduled class time — Tuesdays and Thursdays 8:00-9:20am — I’ll be available to answer questions and discuss via Zoom. These meetings are optional. To connect, click on the Zoom meeting link within Canvas.


Course grades will be determined as follows. See below for details.

  • 40%: Wikipedia project
  • 20%: discussion board posts
  • 20%: report/presentation on readings
  • 20%: paper

Each of these will be graded on a scale of 0 to 100. So your numerical course grade is calculated as: (Wikipedia project x .40) + (discussion board posts x .20) + (report/presentation on readings x .20) + (paper x .20).

Your letter grade for the course will be determined as follows:

  • 96.67 to 100 = A+
  • 93.34 to 96.66 = A
  • 90 to 93.33 = A–
  • 86.67 to 89.99 = B+
  • 83.34 to 86.66 = B
  • 80 to 83.33 = B–
  • 76.67 to 79.99 = C+
  • 73.34 to 76.66 = C
  • 70 to 73.33 = C–
  • 60 to 69.99 = D
  • below 60 = F

There will be no extra-credit projects or assignments.


You will, collectively, improve the Wikipedia “Open border” entry.

You will decide how to divide up the reading, communicating with the group, writing, editing, and any other tasks.


Key dates are listed in the Schedule above.

You will receive a group grade for this project.


Each week in weeks 3-9, you will post on the course discussion board. You can describe what you’ve read or thought about this week, add to an ongoing thread, or suggest something for the Wikipedia edits.

You will also write a brief response to the post of one other student.

Your post is due by noon on Thursday and your response is due by 11:59pm that day.

If you have the Canvas app, you can post your comment and response using your phone. But don’t write as though you’re texting or tweeting. Write real sentences and use proper spelling, grammar, and punctuation.

Discussion board post grading: Each week, your grade will be 100 if you write a post and respond to one other. If your post and response are poorly written or reflect little engagement with the course material, or if you post after noon (making it difficult for other students to respond to it), or if you post but don’t respond to another student’s post, your grade will be 50. There will be 7 weeks of discussion board posts; only your 6 highest grades will count.


All students must read the Open Borders book by Caplan and Wienersmith. There are a number of additional readings (and videos), listed above. You as a group will divide up the responsibility for these. Each student should be responsible for one or more reading/video. (For books, this could be a few chapters rather than the entire book.)

You will prepare a report (text, charts) or presentation (slides, bullet points, charts) on the readings for which you are responsible. Your aim is to tell your classmates what the reading (or video) says and what it implies for the proposal of an open borders policy.

The due date is listed in the Schedule above.

There is no minimum or maximum length, but shorter is better.

Upload your report/presentation on the Canvas course page.


Should the United States unilaterally adopt an open borders policy? Why or why not?

Grading will be based on the following:

  • Answer the question.
  • Refer to relevant evidence. Opinion and logic are fine but insufficient. If you include charts and/or tables, put them at the end and don’t include them in the word count.
  • Address potential objections. What would a critic say are the weak points in your case? How do you respond?
  • Write clearly.
  • Use proper grammar and punctuation (“I,” “me,” and contractions are fine), and adhere to the following length, formatting, and citation instructions. Length: No more than 1,500 words (excluding charts, tables, and footnotes). List your word count on the first page, along with your name and the date. Formatting: single-space, 12-point font size, 1-inch top and bottom margins and 2-inch side margins. Use footnotes (not a reference list or bibliography) to give credit to anyone from whom you borrow evidence or argument. The footnotes aren’t included in the word count. I’m not picky about the formatting of the footnotes, but include the author(s), title, and year rather than just an internet address.

You may draw on course readings and/or outside sources.

The due date is listed in the Schedule above. A paper turned in late but within 48 hours of the deadline will be penalized 25 points (out of 100). A paper turned in more than 48 hours late, or not turned in at all, will receive a grade of zero.

Upload your paper on the Canvas course page.

Submit the paper in a word processing program format (Google docs, Microsoft Word, Pages, etc.). Don’t submit it as a pdf document.

If you need help with writing, consider seeking assistance from the UC San Diego Writing Hub.

Don’t plagiarize. If you aren’t sure what constitutes plagiarism and how to avoid it, see the UC San Diego Library’s guide to preventing plagiarism.


Sociology’s existing policy on P/NP courses is: All courses taken for the major must be taken for a letter grade, with the exception of Sociology 199 which can only be taken P/NP.

Sociology’s Spring Quarter 2020 policy on P/NP courses is:

  • Any Sociology class taken P/NP in Spring Quarter 2020 will count toward the major and/or the minor.
  • P/NP courses taken in Spring 2020 will not count toward the 25% cap on P/NP courses for the Bachelor’s degree.
  • Students may change their selection of P/NP or Letter Grade through the end of Week 10.
  • P/NP courses are not included in calculations of GPA.
  • This new policy is in effect for Spring Quarter 2020 only.


Students are encouraged to share intellectual views and discuss freely the principles and applications of course materials. However, the paper for this course must be the product of independent effort. Students are expected to adhere to UC San Diego policy on academic integrity.


Students who need special accommodation or services should contact the Office for Students with Disabilities (OSD). You must register and request that the OSD send me official notification of your accommodation needs as soon as possible. Please meet with me to discuss accommodations and how the course requirements and activities may impact your ability to fully participate.


Information here, other than the grade and attendance policy, may be subject to change with advance notice, as deemed appropriate by the instructor.