Tag Archives: Pedagogy

Anthropology in the classroom.

Teaching Decolonizing Methodologies

This entry is part 11 of 11 in the Decolonizing Anthropology series.

By Paige West

For about a decade I have been teaching a graduate seminar in anthropology at Columbia University called “Decolonizing Methodology” which takes Linda Tuhiwai Smith’s groundbreaking book Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples as its starting point and also draws on other key texts focused on research methodologies specifically (Denzin et. al. 2008; Kovach 2010). In the course we tend to start with Smith’s work and then use her careful analysis to guide us in taking apart the various traditional methodologies that anthropologists tend to rely on in their research and the various theoretical frames that are of-the-moment within the field. This means that the course moves back and forth between “decolonizing methodology” and “decolonizing theory”.

I started teaching the course after my colleague and friend Jamon Halvaksz pointed out that in my first book I failed to engage enough work by scholars from Papua New Guinea, (PNG) where I have worked since 1997, and the broader Pacific region. Halvaksz’s critique helped me to see the colonial nature of my own anthropological practice in terms of the theoretical texts I drew on to make my arguments and produce new knowledge. From that, I also began thinking about how to teach “methods” in a way that fit with Smith’s work and my own experience of doing ethnographic research with communities in PNG that forced me, from the first day of my research, to think about the politics of asking questions, white privilege, the historic role of anthropology in the mis-representation of Papua New Guineans, and what happens when a scholar learns something that she can never write about. Since my research has always focused on engagements between Papua New Guineans and others (scientists, business people, missionaries, tourists) my colleagues and friends from PNG have always pushed me to think carefully about what these outsiders (myself included) take from PNG, give back to PNG, and how they produce PNG through their rhetoric and practice.

I am a white middle class straight cis-gendered woman from a very poor working class background who is the descendant of settlers who illegally and immorally stole land owned by people of the Coosa Chiefdom who is a full tenured professor at a university that is located on land owned by Lenape people. The students tend to be first and second year Ph.D. students (and a few MA students) who come from a range of departments, with the fields of anthropology, urban planning, history, and sociology almost always represented[i]. In the course, in terms of methods, we always focus on ‘participant observation,’ ‘interviews,’ ‘mapping’, ‘oral history’, and various visual projects like ‘filmmaking’ and ‘photography’ since these are generally the methods that the students in the course imagine that they will use during their doctorial field research. In terms of “theory” over the years we have take on “the production of space,” “ontology”, and “bare life”, among others. In the methods part of the course we tend to take a traditional text describing how to do a method and a traditional ethnographic text written from evidence gathered with that method and ‘read’ them through Smith’s arguments about the kinds of colonial artifacts (dispossession, occlusion, erasure, violence) that are smuggled into traditional social-science epistemic practices. Through this process we get to what should really be the beginning, but rarely is with students who are expected to “have a project” when they apply to Ph.D. programs, where the students start to ask themselves about, in Kim TallBear’s phrasing, “the ethics of accountability in research (whose lives, lands, and bodies are inquired into and what do they get out of it?)” (TallBear 2014:1) and how the methods that they have been imagining may not allow them to approach accountability in ways that they find ethical. The students thus begin to think about the binary that has underpinned most of their research-thinking to date. Again, following TallBear, they begin to see, “the binary between researcher and researched—between knowing inquirer and who or what are considered to be the resources or grounds for knowledge production” (TallBear 2014:1) and they begin to understand that truly decolonial work tries to do away with this binary in various ways.

In the theory part of the course we take the most canonical text for any given social-scientific body of thought, read it, and then read it through texts about the same topic written by non-Euro-American-Australian scholars. For example for “space” we might read Henri Lefebvre’s The production of Space (Lefebvre 1991) paired with work by Okusitino Mãhina, a Tongan philosopher of time-space articulations (Mãhina 1992, 1993, 2002, 2010). In the best of worlds what happens next is a similar self-awaking where the students realize that most of the conceptual frames they are using to think with about their proposed projects come not from in situ relations, conversations, ontological propositions, epistemic processes, or exchanges about what needs to be known and what can’t be known, but rather from their own intellectual genealogy and what texts, arguments, and faculty compelled them during their course work or even their undergraduate training.

We then work together, as a group, in pairs, and with multiple meeting between me and each of the students, to re-think their projects, the ethics of accountability involved in them, and how they will proceed in crafting literature reviews that expand their field of epistemic possibilities. It is a great deal of pedagogical labor on my part and a great deal of intellectual labor on their part. Perhaps more importantly however, it involves a fairly serious commitment to letting go on the part of the students and a willingness to craft a new project idea for their preliminary research (remember that most of the students are first and second year students so they have some time before they actually have to do their dissertation research), that puts the ethics of engagement front and center, and allows for a methodology to emerge in co-production with the communities with which they wish to work.

I’ve also taught a version of this course twice in Papua New Guinea. There, I taught the course on a volunteer basis through The Papua New Guinea Institute for Biological Research (PNG IBR) an NGO that I co-founded in the early 2000s with colleagues from PNG and the United States. One of our founding principals is the proposition that the conservation of biological diversity in PNG can only be achieved if Papua New Guineans have full sovereignty over that biological diversity and that that sovereignty has been slowly stripped away by outsiders conducting research and conservation in the country. In PNG the course was made up of people working as researchers for both governmental and non-governmental organizations, people working as researchers for various extractive industries, people working for national cultural institutions, and faculty from various national universities. There we took the specific methodologies that we have all seen used in an endless barrage of social research components of assessments and used Smith’s work to help us re-craft them in ways that make sense for research with communities in PNG.

PWest image

Image: Author with participants of the decolonizing methodology course in PNG (2015).

Teaching the course in the contexts of the US and PNG is always quite different. At Columbia the course is about the individual students, their projects, and the project of moving them through the graduate system so that they emerge as scholars who, for the most part, will become university professors. In PNG the course feels more like a shared project. One in which we are all committed to the same goal (decolonizing epistemic practice as it connects to PNG) and where we are able to connect with non scholars who are equally interested in epistemic practice. For example, in one version of the course the students presented their final projects to a group of elders from the communities surrounding the town where we met. These elders were indigenous, expatriate, and other and the students and I all learned from their critiques of our work.

I think of all of this teaching as a collective, on-going, project where my scholarly practice, I hope, becomes less colonial every time I teach the course. I’ve outlined the course here not because I think it is perfect or even that everyone should teach it, but rather because I think it has helped me and my students to do better, more decolonial anthropology.

REFERENCES:

Denzin, Norman K., Yvonna S. Lincoln and Linda Tuhiwai Smith 2008. Handbook of Critical and Indigenous Methodologies. Sage Books.

Kovach, Margaret. 2010. Indigenous Methodologies: Characteristics, Conversations and Contexts. University of Toronto Press.

Lefebvre, Henri 1991. The production of space. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

Mãhina, ‘Okusitino 1992. The Tongan Traditional Tala-e-fonua: A Vernacular Ecology-centered Historico-Cultural Concept. Unpublished PhD Thesis. ANU, Canberra.

Mãhina, Okusitino,  1993 The poetics of Tongan traditional history, tala–fonua: An ecology-centred concept of culture and history. Journal of Pacific History 28:109–21.

Mãhina, Okusitino, 2002 Atamai, fakakaukau and vale: Mind, thinking and mental illness in Tonga. Pac-Health-Dialog 9 (2): 303–08.

Mãhina, ‘Okusitino. 2010. Ta, Va, and Moana: Temporality, Spatiality, and Indigeneity.

Smith, Linda Tuhiwai 2012. Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples. New York, NY: Zed Books.

TallBear, Kim. 2014. “Standing With and Speaking as Faith: A Feminist-Indigenous Approach to Inquiry [Research note].” Journal of Research Practice, 10(2), 2014.

NOTES:

[i] For example in a recent year I had twelve students, three of whom identified as Asian-American, one as Chinese (but from Singapore), one as African-American, one as Indian, one as Native American, with the remaining five identifying as white but with one being German and one being Dutch. The previous year there were sixteen students with one identifying as African American, two as Latino, four as white, two as Asian-American, one as Palestinian, one as Native American, one as Peruvian, one as Columbian, one as Pakistani, one as Chinese, and one as Brazilian.

BIO:

Paige West is Professor of Anthropology at Barnard College and Columbia University. Her broad scholarly interest is the relationship between societies and their environments.  Since the mid 1990s she has worked with indigenous people in Papua New Guinea. She is the author of three books and the editor of five more.Dr. West is the founder of the journal Environment and Society, the chair of the Ecology and Culture University Seminar at Columbia University, a fellow (and past chair) of the Association of Social Anthropology in Oceania, and is the past president of the Anthropology and Environment Society of the American Anthropological Association. In addition to her academic work, Dr. West is the co-founder, and a board member, of the PNG Institute of Biological Research, a small NGO dedicated to building academic opportunities for research in Papua New Guinea by Papua New Guineans. Dr. West is also the co-founder of the Roviana Solwara Skul, a school in Papua New Guinea dedicated to teaching at the nexus of indigenous knowledge and western scientific knowledge. Her website: https://paige-west.com, you can also follow her on Twitter: @PaigeWestNYC

 

The Anthro/Zine strikes back!

Anthro/Zine, a venue for undergraduate publication from the team behind Anthropology Now, has entered its second year of publication. The premise behind the project is to provide a space for college students to reflect on how anthropology, in all its myriad forms, has touched their lives. As editor I have been completely blown away by the quality and creativity of our submissions which have included not only essay, but also art, poetry, photography, fiction, and what I call “briefs” — very short pieces. There are now four issues, open access and CC-BY, available at the link above. Check out our latest issue below!

Anthro/Zine publishes April, September, and December coinciding with each new issue of Anthropology Now. If you are a student or recent college graduate and would like to make a submission of some sort that is relevant to anthropology then we would like very much to see what you have to offer. We are most interested in seeing work that is creative, personal, and short. Original research is welcome but we do not publish term papers. Do not submit to us what you have given your professor, your peers are your audience here. Reflect on what you have already accomplished and tell us about your experience of encountering anthropology.

A/Z is not a venue for graduate students, however it is appropriate for grads to submit their work directly to Anthropology Now, please see their guidelines here.

Students or faculty with questions can reach me at mthompson@marinersmuseum.org, if you would like your work considered for the September issue than make your submission by August 1.

Click on the cover or the hyperlink below to download a pdf of our latest issue:

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Anthro/Zine | April 2016Anthro/Zine | April 2016

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Notes on peership: A conclusion

This post follows a few ideas I expressed last year, as I started the second year of my MA in anthropology here at Leuven. It was a moment when most of us in my program returned from our respective field sites; reeling from the intensity of ethnographic fieldwork, dealing with copious amounts of field notes, emotions and reflections, wondering if we have enough for a thesis.

I wrote then of the need for ‘peership’ in classrooms: a sense of ‘taking care of our own’ in educational spaces – ‘a crucial support network that enables many of us to get around.’ We called this endeavor, with seriousness and a lot of jest, ‘Peers and Beers.’ We met every couple of weeks, presented our thoughts, spoke of creative ways to write and think through our notes, shared references, helped develop tables-of-content (for a large part!), and of course drink wonderful Belgian beers. Continue reading

Return of the Anthro/Zine

Last May I introduced you to Anthropozine, a new undergraduate venue associated with the journal Anthropology Now. The concept behind the zine was to get college students interested in engaging in earnest reflexivity by articulating their personal experience of encountering anthropology. The first issue, themed around the topic of “Food,” was a roaring success thanks to the efforts of our talented writers.

I’m happy to announce that there is now a second issue of the zine to go around! Our parent, Anthropology Now, moved to Taylor & Francis which involved a slight delay in publication, but they have kept us on board. We’re excited to once again provide a place for shorter works by college students. The latest issue is themed around “the Body.” Help us help our students express themselves by sharing this over your social networks and email listservs!

Anthrozine2

click here to download the PDF

Please visit us at http://anthronow.com/anthrozine where you can download our first two issues and view the submission guidelines. While you’re there check out all the amazing stuff Anthropology Now has to offer too. Continue reading

Welcome to the Anthropozine

Back in the late twentieth century, when cut and paste still meant scissors and glue, desktop publishing opened many doors for a creative person with something to say. We dubbed  these homebrewed screeds “zines” and reproduced them by photocopier. They were distributed not by webpage and email but left stacked next to alternative newsweeklies or sold for cheap at record stores.  Drugs and sex and politics were the dominant themes, and their chaotic aesthetic served as witness to a strong DIY ethic inherited from our punk ancestors. They were cheeky and irreverent, occasionally they were even good. In many respects they were the analog precursor to the blogs of today.

Anthropozine.
Anthropozine | April 2015

With this nod to the past, let us turn now to the future for I am excited to announce the launch of a new venue for undergraduate authors, Anthropozine, lovingly inspired by the ’90s zines of yore. Sure its a PDF now, but don’t let that stop you from running off a few hard copies on the departmental printer while no one’s looking. The publication carries a Creative Commons license making it easy for you to share with your students by email, over listservs, or social networks. Anthropozine is published jointly with Anthropology Now, a peer reviewed journal from Routledge with a special vision to make available illustrated works from leading scholars that are written for a general audience. Think of it as something like a missing link between scholarly journal and a popular magazine. If you are a member of the AAA’s General Anthropology Division you already have electronic access to the journal, but there is a fair amount of free content available at http://anthronow.com. Continue reading

The Four Types of Comments

The Four Types of Comments

Passover is still a few months off, but I wanted to share a bit of wisdom from the Passover Haggadah because it has helped guide me through many an online debate. There is a section which tells the story of the four sons (we always read it as “sons and daughters” at my house): “one who is wise, one who is wicked, one who is simple, and one who does not know to ask” and “recommends answering each son according to his question.” Wikipedia can fill you in on the rest of the story and the traditional responses if you need help understanding the irony of the cartoon at the top of this post, but for my purposes I just want to focus on the central pedagogical insight: that different questions and questioners require different responses. That different questions call for different responses may not seem to be a particularly useful insight, but I think a lot of the pain involved in internet discussions can be avoided if one thinks clearly about this and learns to act accordingly.

For me, engaging in online debate means trying to think seriously about a comment1 and what work it is doing before I choose how to respond. This avoids the problem suggested by the joke of the cartoon: that one’s ideological stance will shape how one interprets the comment. I’m not saying that one can respond to comments in a way that is completely free of ideology, just that focusing on the comment text itself rather than your assumptions about the person leaving the comment can help a lot. Yes, interpretation of the motivation and character of the commenter is important, but in this approach it only enters into the equation after you have determined what type of comment you are dealing with. What follows then is my adapted typology of the four types of comments one finds on the internet, and how best to respond to each one. Continue reading

The Trouble with Teaching (and a call for help)

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. Continue reading

Writing Badly, Speaking Better. Practical Books for Doing the Life of the Mind

Rex’s post on back to school books got me thinking. `Doing the life of the mind’, as he puts it, involves lots of different activities. Its not just reading and writing. Talking is a big part of what we do.  And to different audiences, or not , as the case may be. Much of the way that we do our academic presentations gets in the way of wider communication. This might be intentional. In reinforcing the walls of the silos in which we like to situate our knowledge it fosters the aura of complexity and exclusivity which in our social universe renders academic knowledge credible.

A recent book addresses this phenomenon as it applies to writing in the social sciences and,  by extension,  to anthropology.   Learn to Write Badly . How to Succeed in  the Social Sciences   by Michael Billig is not a ‘How To’ book.  Its  a  `How Not To’ book.  But, as the author makes plain, if you don’t write in the way which has become authoritative in your field, even if it entails writing badly, there could be consequences for your reputation if not your career.

Although Billig’s is a book about writing I think that the author’s claims work pretty well for communication in the social sciences more generally. It certainly made me think about how we as anthropologists in academia tend to speak to our audiences whether they are our students or our peers. The formal style of academic presentations in anthropology based on writing rather than on `findings’ prioritizes engagement with other writing over and above engagement with either our audience or our informants. This is quite different to communication in other fields,  within and outside academia. A how to book which you may find useful for engaging with these other fields is Carmine Gallo’s Talk like TED summarized neatly here by Sam Leith of the Financial Times .

Sure,  it’s a manual in self promotion (but lets not kid ourselves that academia is any different). But it also has lots of useful tips about connecting with the audience, making a few key points and giving them something to remember.  And I learned something wholly new, useful and unexpected. That if you press the B or W keys in powerpoint you can suspend the presentation so your audience is focusing on you not the slide until you are ready to show them the next one. Despite the acknowledged allure of  intellectual  posturing sometimes you just cant beat useful practicality.

anthropology + design: laura forlano.

[This post is part of a series featuring interviews with designers reflecting on anthropology and design. This is our final post!]

LAURA FORLANO. writer and design researcher.

 

WHAT I DO.

I’m an ethnographic time traveler. For much of the last 10 years, I’ve been studying the ways in which the use of communication technology enables emergent socio-cultural practices around working and living in cities. For example, I’m interested in peer-to-peer networking, bottom-up organizing, co-located online collaboration, user-driven social innovation and open source urbanism, to name just a few. I’ve watched teens use mobile phones in Tokyo, observed activists building Wi-Fi networks on rooftops in Berlin, interviewed freelancers in Starbucks cafes in New York, watched doctors use computers in operating rooms, tested iPhone applications for navigating college campuses, visited design studios in Barcelona, and hung out with hackers in Budapest.

写真

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Writing Archaeology

(Savage Minds is pleased to run this essay by guest blogger Zoë Crossland as part of our Writers’ Workshop series. Zoë is Associate Professor of Anthropology at Columbia University. She works in highland Madagascar and writes on semiotics, and archaeologies of death and the body. Her most recent publication is Ancestral Encounters in Highland Madagascar: Material Signs and Traces of the Dead ( Cambridge University Press, 2014).)

Like fiction, archaeology allows us to visit other worlds and to come back home again. So, it can be a useful exercise to juxtapose archaeological texts with historical novels, poems and other forms of writing. Just as a novelist does, a writer of archaeology has to attend carefully to the conventions that shape the stories we tell. The written past demands some kind of narrative coherence, a consistency in our compositional form, and in the internal logic of the world we bring into being. Like poets, we have to choose our words carefully. In this comparison we can identify the shared techniques used to evoke other worlds and to draw in the reader. We can also consider the narrative possibilities that are excluded from our archaeological writing, and ask what opportunities might be opened up by allowing different forms of voice and language. Continue reading

Beyond the College Essay

UPDATE: Rebecca Schuman has come under fierce attack for her article, including calls that she be fired. Please see this letter of support.

Rebecca Schuman has a piece in Slate which is getting a lot of attention. Titled “The End of the College Essay: An essay” she complains that “It wastes 15 hours of my time to mark up my students’ flaccid theses and non sequitur textual ‘evidence’” especially when plagiarism is so rampant and the students who actually read comments are the ones who need them the least, etc. She is quick to add that “Of course it would be better for humanity if college in the United States actually required a semblance of adult writing competency.” But insists that she has tried everything, all to no avail. In the end, she offers up some alternatives to writing papers, such as written and oral exams. It is an intentionally provocative piece, and I’d like to make use of this provocation by making a few points drawn from my personal experience as well as some more general observations based on things I’ve read.

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Finding Time for Professionalization, or, Grading Less Isn’t Caring Less

One of the things that jumps out from our two surveys on the life of adjuncts and life after adjuncting is that most respondents who currently serve as adjuncts only spend 1-5 hours each week on their own professionalization (which we define like this: ‘publications, conference papers, etc.; i.e. things that ostensibly count towards tenure’ outside of teaching). This is surprising because the majority of respondents also claim to only be teaching two courses per term and spending 40 or fewer hours in all teaching-related activities (with most people responding in the 30-40 range, and some reporting as high as 60 hours each week). Which leads me to this question: What are people doing with their time?

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The first MOOC was a book

There is some interesting discussion happening right now about Massively Open Online Courses, or MOOCs. I think a lot of it conflates education with universities as an institution of learning. To better untangle some of this it is helpful to think about earlier changes in communications technology and how they changed learning. To that end, I’d like to discuss an article by my thesis advisor, F. Niyi Akinnaso (1992): “Schooling, Language, and Knowledge in Literate and Nonliterate Societies.”

Akinannso’s article questions the casual equation of formal learning with literacy. He shows how Yoruba traditions in Nigeria associated with Ifá divination have many of the same features we associate with formal learning, even though it is an entirely oral tradition. There are schools, exams, and, importantly for the present discussion, a process of socialization into the use of texts (whether those texts be written down or memorized). He compares the training of diviners to Peter Burke’s description of the training of Catholic priests in early modern Italy:

During the course of their training, these professionals develop special exegetical abilities and become speakers of the appropriate language of authority.These attributes and the specialized knowledge they have acquired become the chief source of their power in society.

The point being that these functions of the university (or seminary) as an institution can be fulfilled separately from the technology of literacy.

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Amis Hebrew School (Learning an Endangered Language Part 8)

[This is the 6th 8th1 installment in an ongoing series.]

I'm officially a student again.

Above is a picture of my student ID from the “Hualien Tribal College.” Actually the official English name on their web page is “Hualien Indigenous Community College” which sounds better to my anthropological ears. Indigenous Community Colleges in Taiwan are not degree granting institutions. Courses tend to be short-term classes focused on indigenous culture, although they offer subjects like documentary filmmaking to help students learn to document their own culture. I’ve enrolled in an eight week course in the Amis language. (At the same time I’m continuing to audit indigenous language classes at my own university.)

While these classes have been great for my research, I still don’t feel I’ve made much progress with my language skills. Unlike DJ, who recently spent half a year living in a village with a large number of old people who still are able to speak Amis, I spend most of my time with young students who have very little competence. But more than that, I’ve come to realize that my research focus on official language revitalization efforts is actually something of a handicap when it comes to language learning. This is what I wanted to write about today.

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