Plan II Honors Logo
Plan II Honors

S S 302C • Hon Soc Sci:methods/Theory

41595 • Aiken, Abigail
Meets TTH 11:00AM-12:30PM GDC 5.302
show description

SS302C Reproductive Health: From Human Biology to Public Policy


This course is designed to help you develop a broad knowledge of reproduction both as a biological phenomenon and as an issue of public policy. During our time together, you will acquire the skills necessary to think critically about how and why reproduction is regulated in the United States today.

In the first part of the course, we will focus on the physiological processes governing the ability to reproduce, and on how these processes may be harnessed to allow individuals to choose if and when reproduction occurs. As we consider each key biological process, we will place it in contemporary social and cultural context.

In the second part of the course, we will focus on the legal principles and policy frameworks governing reproductive rights. We will use specific examples of current reproductive health policy, mainly in the U.S., but also in some comparative international contexts, to consider the various lenses through which policy problems are defined and public policies may be evaluated.

By the end of the semester you will have had the opportunity to:

1) Learn about the biological processes underpinning human capacity for reproduction and for fertility control.

2) Understand what makes an issue a matter of public policy.

3) Explore where reproductive rights come from, in which documents they can be found, and how they continue to evolve through judicial decisions.

4) Synthesize and critique the evidence and principles on which reproductive health policies are based and apply your knowledge to make policy recommendations.

5) Practice writing effectively on an issue of reproductive health policy.



We will meet twice a week on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Each class will last 75 minutes. We will address a new topic each week and we will divide our weekly meetings into two types of activity: 1) lectures, and 2) group discussions. On Tuesdays, we will review the assigned topic material for the week through a lecture and Q&A session. The purpose of this session is to ensure everyone has a sound grasp of the assigned material and has a chance to ask clarifying questions. On Thursdays, we will break out into small groups to a discuss key questions on the weekly topic. Two questions are assigned per week in the syllabus, and you must prepare both in advance of class to discuss with your group. At the start of Thursday class, each group will be assigned one of the two questions and will have 20 minutes to discuss their answers. Each group will then informally present their perspectives to the rest of the class. Groups will be assigned at the start of the semester, and each week, a new person from each set group will be elected to present, so that everyone takes a turn. The purpose of this session is to give you the chance to think deeply about the issues at hand, practice developing and communicating an informed opinion, and consider a range of perspectives offered by your classmates.


There is no assigned textbook for the course. Weekly readings will be posted as PDFs to the course web page, which is available through the UT Canvas site ( or as website links embedded in the syllabus. Please check for these on a week-by-week basis when preparing your assigned reading.


We will have a mid-term in-class exam. The exam will be closed book and will be worth 40% of your grade. It will give you the opportunity to demonstrate what you have learned in the first half of the semester about the biology of reproduction.

Your final assignment will be a choice between either writing a critique of a current piece of reproductive health legislation that interests you and proposing an alternative policy, or writing an op-ed on a reproductive health issue of your choice. The final assignment must not exceed 6 double-spaced pages in length. The op-ed must not exceed 1,000 words.

Your final grade for the course will be determined as follows: 40% mid-term exam; 20% participation in class discussions; and 40% final paper.  The class participation portion of your grade will be determined by attendance and your contributions to the weekly discussion. Written assignments will be graded holistically, but I will distribute a guide to the key elements on which you will be assessed in advance.


About the Professor:


Ph.D., Public Policy, University of Texas at Austin

MPH, Harvard University

M.D., University of Cambridge

B.A., University of Cambridge


Research Areas

Reproductive Health

Health Policy

Teaching Areas

Social Policy

Abigail R.A. Aiken held postdoctoral and lecturer positions at the Office of Population Research and Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University before joining The University of Texas in 2016. She is currently an assistant professor of public affairs at the LBJ School and a faculty associate at the Population Research Center. Her research focuses on reproductive health and spans several disciplines, combining backgrounds in biomedical sciences, public policy, demography and public health. Her current projects include: examining women's experiences obtaining self-sourced abortion in contexts where legislative barriers prevent access to safe, legal abortion through the health care system; evaluating programs and policies designed to increase access to contraception in the postpartum and post abortion setting; and investigating the determinants and impacts of unintended pregnancies through a health equity and reproductive justice framework. Her work has recently been published in the BMJ, The New England Journal of Medicine, American Journal of Public Health, Social Science & Medicine, Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, Obstetrics & Gynecology, Contraception, and the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, among others. Dr. Aiken frequently testifies on reproductive health issues at the Texas State Legislature, and provided expert testimony to the Irish Parliament on the 2018 abortion referendum. She has consulted for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and for the United Nations on issues of contraception and abortion access. 


S S 302C • Hon Soc Sci:methods/Theory

41600 • Pierce, Marc
Meets TTH 12:30PM-2:00PM PHR 2.114
show description

Honors Social Science: An Introduction to Etymology

This course introduces students to etymology, the study of word origins, which has been an object of study since antiquity.  Etymology can help our understanding of history, culture, religion, and the sciences – despite the famous quote attributed to Voltaire that etymology is “a science in which the vowels count for nothing and the consonants for very little” (and although it is by no means certain that Voltaire actually said this).  For instance, knowing that the ultimate source of the word algebra is an Arabic word meaning ‘restoration, reunion’, tells us something about the history of mathematics; knowing that kindergarten is a loan word from German illustrates the influence of German ideas on the American educational system; and understanding taboo deformation (the process leading to the creation of words like shucks and jeez, to replace the relevant profanities) reveals what sorts of things are considered taboo, and by extension, lends insight into the relevant culture.  In this course, we will strive to go beyond the “gee whiz” aspects of etymology, e.g. that silly once meant ‘blessed’ and that glamour is derived from grammar.

We will begin with a general introduction to etymology, relying on Anatoly Liberman’s excellent work, Word Origins.  From there, we will explore the study of etymology in antiquity, looking at the work of the 1st century BCE Roman Varro, or the 7th century Etymologies of Isidore, Bishop of Seville (and currently the patron saint of the Internet).  This section of the course will be followed by a section of case studies of words with particularly tricky etymologies, e.g. book, rune, and beer.  The final section of the course will address the status of etymology today, looking at some non-scholarly works on etymology, as well as recent scholarly developments in the field.  In addition, we will draw on the etymological resources of the Linguistics Research Center here at UT.  Knowledge of linguistics would be useful, but is not required; knowledge of foreign languages is also useful, but not required, as all readings will be in English.


Anatoly Liberman, Word Origins

Rosemarie Ostler, Let’s Talk Turkey: The Stories behind America’s Favorite Expressions

Coursepack with selected readings (exact readings to be determined)

About the Professor:
Marc Pierce

Historical linguistics, Germanic linguistics and philology, history of linguistics, phonology, Scandinavian studies

Marc Pierce's published research is mainly in the areas of historical linguistics (especially historical phonology and etymology), phonology, and the history of linguistics. He teaches or has taught a variety of courses in Germanic linguistics and philology (including the history of the German language, various older Germanic languages, and the structure of the German language), as well as courses in German language and literature, the history of linguistics, Scandinavian literature, and Great Books.

S S 302C • Hon Soc Sci:methods/Theory

41605 • Gregg, Benjamin
Meets TTH 3:30PM-5:00PM BEN 1.106
show description

Classical and Contemporary Social Theory


Drawing on primary sources, this seminar introduces social theory as the systematic investigation of social life: how society is organized, continually transforms itself, is sometimes beset by conflict, and is also affected by the behavior of its individual members. Topics in classical theory include how individuals are tied to groups (Adam Smith), social equality in democratic societies (Tocqueville), how social structure influences knowledge (Marx), individuals as influenced by the social collective (Durkheim), society as influenced by individual actors (Weber), how social structure influences even intimate relationships (Simmel), mass deception and manipulation through modern culture (Horkheimer and Adorno), the integration of diverse spheres of any individual’s life as a project for society (Parsons), and the relationship between the individual’s purposes and the needs of society (Merton). Topics in contemporary theory include how rituals bind us together (Collins), the nature of social cooperation and trust (Cook, Hardin, Levi), power and inequality (Tilly), the social consequences of economic structure (Granovetter), the phenomenon of racial difference (Patterson), the politics of sexual difference (Smith), the peculiar quality of our Western modernity (Elias; Giddens), the transformation of the nation state (Sassen), the modern scholar (with implications for the contemporary Plan II student) (Bourdieu), and the dangers of economic and bureaucratic imperatives (Habermas).



Classical Sociological Theory, 3rd ed. 2012. Calhoun, Gerteis, Moody, Pfaff, Virk, eds. Wiley-Blackwell

Contemporary Sociological Theory, 3rd ed. 2012. Calhoun, Gerteis, Moody, Pfaff, Virk, eds. Wiley-Blackwell


Average of four 5-page essays, adjusted for class participation



Benjamin Gregg (B.A. Yale University, Ph.D. Princeton University Ph.D., D. Phil. Free University of Berlin) teaches political and social theory, informed by political science and sociology, in UT’s Department of Government but also in Germany, Japan, China, Austria and (in 2019) Brazil. Two of his books, Thick Moralities, Thin Politics (2003) and Coping in Politics with Indeterminate Norms (2003), confront challenges of social justice in complex modern societies, especially in liberal democratic states. Another two books, Human Rights as Social Construction (2012) and The Human Rights State (2016), analyze problems and prospects for justice across national borders. He is currently writing a book (now under review at Oxford University Press) titled Human Nature as Cultural Design: The Political Challenges of Genetic Enhancement and has presented aspects of this project at invited lectures in the USA, Europe, Asia, and South America, as well as at international conferences, on the radio, and in newspaper interviews. Recent research visits to further this project include a Fulbright Professorship at the University of Linz, Austria, and visiting scholar positions at The Hastings Institute (Garrison, NY), the Yale Interdisciplinary Center for Bioethics and, for all of 2018, at the University of Oxford (at the Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics and at the Ethox Centre, Nuffield Department of Population Health).

S S 302D • Hon Social Sci: Psychology

41610 • Domjan, Wendy
Meets MWF 10:00AM-11:00AM BUR 224
show description


NOTE: Students who have already taken an introductory PSY 301 course either at UT or another institution will not be permitted to enroll in this section of SS 302; students who have credit by exam for PSY 301 will be allowed to enroll.

Description: Psychology is a discipline that is broadly concerned with the ways in which people perceive, understand and interact with the world. As such, it addresses questions that range from the micro level of perception within the eye to the macro level of social interactions among people. The SS 301 in psychology is designed to introduce students to a representative range of the topics subsumed within this discipline. We will be taking a levels-of-explanation approach, in which we will simultaneously explore the biological, environmental, and cultural aspects of each of the selected problems. We will also specifically consider the ways in which psychology investigates these problems, in terms of both methodology and epistemology. The hope is that students will leave the SS 301 with an understanding not only of what psychology studies, but also of how and why.


Schacter, Gilbert & Weber.Psychology

Ganntt: Taking Sides: Clashing views on psychological issues

Requirements: This class contains a substantial amount of writing and will involve both papers and exams. Students will write a series of four short (3-5 pages) reaction papers. For each paper, students will choose one of about five alternative questions, related to what is currently happening in class, to address. These papers are intended to involve analysis and opinion, not factual recitation. There will also be a midterm and a final exam. Both of these exams will have a short answer/short essay format, and will be take-home exams.

Final grades will be computed on the following basis:

Exams:                 50% (25% each)

Papers:                 40% (10% each)

Participation:         10%

Example paper topics:

  • An inevitable trade-off exists in research between control and ecological validity. This trade-off can be seen in a wide variety of ways in psychology: a lab versus a natural location for research, a randomly chosen versus a naturally occurring group of subjects, focusing on a limited set of factors at the expense of the diversity of influences on any behavior. In your view, how should psychology deal with this issue? For example, is psychology a science? Should it be? Should it adopt the same constraints (control) as natural sciences? You can make a strong argument for one approach or the other, or present a balanced middle ground.
  • The argument has been made that, in principle, it would be impossible for human beings to fully understand the nature of their own brain. What is your view of this argument, and why?
  • The current zeitgeist in psychology is to find the neurological mechanism associated with a given cognition, emotion or behavior. Does finding such a mechanism constitute an explanation for the given cognition/emotion/behavior? Why or why not?
  • A major issue in psychology, practically since its inception, has concerned the relative influence of genetics and environment. Originally, this was seen as an either-or question, later as a matter of degrees of influence, and most recently in terms of the components of an interaction. Though it is rarely asked, it is worth considering whether this is really an important question, and why? What is your position on this issue?
  • The research on hemisphere specialization led to the popular conception of people who are right-brained or left-brained. In light of what you have learned about hemisphere specialization, do you find this to be a useful concept? Why or why not?

About the Professor: Wendy Domjan has a Ph.D. in psychology from The University of Wisconsin, with specialties in perception and cognition, and currently has a major focus on psychology of religion and positive psychology.

  •   Map
  • Plan II Honors Program

    University of Texas at Austin
    305 East 23rd St
    RLP 2.102
    Austin, Texas, 78712-1250