This week, I embark on my 12th year as an adjunct at the College of Southern Nevada (formerly the Community College of Southern Nevada, which I much prefer — they changed the name in a bid to sound classier). For the last 11 years, I’ve taught intro-level anthropology, even as my career shifted from academia into the museum world.
Teaching is a choice for me. I have a full-time job, a MORE than full-time job, running the Burlesque Hall of Fame, and much of what little spare time I have left is spent as a caretaker for my father (who suffers from Alzheimer’s) and maintaining some kind of social life, but when I can pick up a class, I do. I enjoy the classroom experience, and if you’ve ever worked at a community college, you know how rewarding it can be.
My classes are typically full of very bright, hopeful young people (along with a scattering of returning students and retirees) who have been terribly served by the educational system. Many of them are minorities and/or from poor families, which means not only has their K-12 education been abysmally bad (on purpose, I’d argue), but so has the rest of their lives during their developmental years.
So much of what I do in my classes is aimed not just at teaching the rudiments of cultural anthropology but helping them develop from the subject material something of a toolkit for contextualizing (and hopefully improving) their own lives. The hope is always that you can help them overcome the deficiencies of their elementary and secondary educations, nudging them towards stronger reading comprehension, better critical thinking skills, and a clearer understanding of the ways the social order in which they are embedded works.
But of course, they also have to learn basic anthropology. Subsistence strategies, kinship charts, political organization, the types of religious practice, and so on. Ironically, this is the stuff that I tended to pay little attention to in grad school, where I was more focused on theories of language and power, state domination and resistance, and historical process. So I’ve spent 11 years deepening my understanding of the basics — to the point, I fear, where I’ve fallen almost completely out of touch with the state of the art.
So I’m asking Savage Minds readers to help me catch up. Here’s the challenge: What should I read that well-represents what’s going on in cultural anthropology today? Bonus points (note: no points will actually be awarded) if it helps me breathe some new life into my classes. I’ll remind you that my time is limited — I figure I can probably pull off two or three extra books over the course of the semester, provided they aren’t Debt: The First 5,000 Years– or Capital In the Twenty-First Century-length. I also read a lot in nonprofit administration, museum practice, and fundraising, so, you know, something with a bit of zing would be welcome. And if its available on Kindle, all the better!