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 →
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 →
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 TEDsummarized 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.
[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.
It is Week 7, or, the Week I Forgot To Put Up the Check-in Post. Its been that sort of week. Here at Savage Minds, we migrated to our brand new site and in the process our comments feature got all buggy. So if you tried to comment in Week 6 and couldn’t, we’ll just start fresh today. How has your week been? Where are you in the writing? Continue reading →
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 →
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.
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?
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.
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.
A couple of years back Ken Bain wrote What The Best College Teachers Do, a book which was widely read, even by people who don’t normally read books on how to teach. One person who didn’t read it was me. So when Bain’s follow-up What The Best College Students Do came out, I decided to take a look and see what the fuss was all about. I agree strongly with Bain’s argument — I do think college students who follow his advice will be successful — but the book was hardly a home run for me. If you are a college student, then you might care for it more than I did.
Are we preparing the next crop of anthropology PhDs who enter American academe to deal with the great shift in educational culture? With some states trying to pass laws that will enable students to excuse themselves from learning scientific concepts, what sort of undergraduates will populate US universities in the future? How is this going to impact the teaching of anthropology? I wonder how new professors will be able to teach basic anthropological ideas about evolution, marriage, sex and gender in the coming years. And then there’s the additional issue of classroom audiotaping. Do you allow students to record your lectures? What if you get a job teaching in a state where conservative activists, often not even students, infiltrate the classrooms of liberal professors with the intent to tape and misrepresent them on the internet?
I’ve been using the same textbook for my Intro to Anthropology course since 2008 and now I’ve got that itch to go upsetting everything by choosing a new book. Originally, I didn’t put much thought into choosing this book either. I just copied whatever textbook the more senior professor was using. Hey! I was a grad student and writing my diss, okay?
The textbook is just fine. My class is good. I’ve got good lectures, assignments, and examples. But I just can’t leave well enough alone. I want a new book.
As an adjunct instructor I have little say in what I teach — whatever the chair wants the chair gets. So I’m saddled with teaching Introduction to Anthropology now and into the foreseeable future. I do have the power the determine my students’ assignments and I’ve created a real nice set up balancing a good physical anthropology textbook with short cultural anthropology articles. In the past I’ve allowed for a ‘recommended’ text to supplement this, but now I’m seriously thinking about switching things up big time.
Am I being foolish?
I’ll give a counter example. Once upon a time (at a different job) I was given Food and Culture to teach, something outside my area of expertise. The first semester, honestly, it wasn’t that great. So the following semester I completely retooled it. That was a smart move and it improved the class.
This is different. This is my Intro class which I’ve taught a bazillion times and now I’m bored with it. I want to do something new, but I can’t. But maybe I could get the same thrill from starting over from scratch?
Of course there’s room for improvement without touching the book. Like any competent professor I continue to tweak my established courses, keeping the things that work and altering or eliminating the things that fall flat. I could do more of that. Or I could do something even more radical like introduce a new topic and drop another.
But the class is fine. This is stupid. Why am I screwing everything up when it already works? The one great perq of my job is that it is easy and switching books will only make me work more.
[The post below was contributed by guest blogger Nathan Fisk, and is part of a series on the relationship between academic precarity and the production of ethnography, introduced here. Read Nathan’s prior posts: post 1 — post 2 — post3]
I believe I mentioned in my first post the ways in which I’ve engaged with ethnographic practice in my particular position of precarity, something which I’ve largely avoided talking much about so far. As should be clear for those who have read my earlier posts, I’m not really doing much by way of ethnographic work in my current state of job application scramble/burnout. Although, I suppose I have done a significant amount of participant observation with the feline subjects that share my home, but outside of Facebook I rarely write up my findings. That said, I have had some interesting experiences with ethnographic work during my time as an adjunct – and I think the discussion thus far is pointing towards some interesting implications for ethnographic work in the non-academic world. So, in this post, I want to get at my research experiences as a sometimes ethnographer, adjunct and potential escapee from the academic career track.
As I mentioned previously, I was lucky enough this past spring semester to have the opportunity to develop and teach a course based on my own dissertation work – Youth and Teens Online. I saw it as an opportunity to broaden out my work, moving away from the emphasis on risk and safety, and towards a broader picture of youth life online. The syllabus was filled with central readings that I wanted to return to, and selections from the vast constellation of literature that never quite made it into the frame as I wrote my dissertation. Given that I had to develop a discussion guide for every class session, I read and reread every one with a new post-dissertation perspective – and I had time to do it in a careful, deliberate manner. Better yet, I had to do the reading, and had to think of things to say before each class without fail, regardless of my feelings of post-dissertation fatigue. Continue reading →
[The post below was contributed by guest blogger Laurel George, and is part of a series on the relationship between academic precarity and the production of ethnography, introduced here. Read Laurel’s prior posts: post 1 — post 2 — post3]
One paradox of practicing ethnography at the academic sidelines is that often the further one gets from the institutional “center” of the field, the more clarity is needed about the fundamentals of ethnographic method and analysis. This need to get “back to basics” played out in my market research work in which my colleagues and I often needed to prove what ethnography could offer that consumer-data-gathering methods could not. Here I offer another example of this paradox as I describe the adjunct teaching I currently engage in outside of an anthropology department. The course I teach is a non-departmental seminar required of arts and sciences undergraduates who wish to receive academic credit in conjunction with unpaid internships not related to their majors. For example, if a biology major wants to get credit for interning in the editorial department of a fashion magazine or an English major wants to work at an education non-profit that provides afterschool mentoring to kids, they would enroll in my 2-credit internship seminar and 2-credit fieldwork course. The vast majority of my students are not anthropology majors and for most of them, my course is their first exposure to ethnographic theories and methods. Those of us working on the margins of our field often have to take on a ambassadorial role vis a vis the discipline, explaining in clear and basic terms not just what ethnography is but also what ethnography can do. In what follows, I describe what I hope ethnography can do for my non-major students engaged in unpaid internships. Along the way, I also briefly interrogate the role of unpaid internships in undergraduate study in the U.S., arguing that they are an increasingly significant piece of the kind of workplace precarity we’ve been discussing throughout this series.
Unpaid internships have been much in the news lately—the intern suing Harper’s Bazaar magazine, unpaid interns toiling behind the scenes of the movie Black Swan, and even unpaid interns (over)working at liberal icon Charlie Rose’s show. More about unpaid internships per se in a moment, but what, you may be wondering, has this to do with ethnography? A few years ago, I had feelers out for teaching work and started talking to someone who knew of my work with non-profit arts organizations and needed someone to teach an internship seminar in order to meet increased student demand for such a course. The social sciences have long acknowledged the value of experiential learning, and student placements with non-profit, social service, or public policy organizations have been common. With this in mind, I happily accepted the offer to teach an undergraduate internship seminar, with most involved (especially me) thinking that I would shepherd students through fieldwork in a range of non-profit and/or public-sector organizations. What none of us really foresaw was how high the student demand would be for a course that could grant credit in conjunction with internships in for-profit workplaces. Over the several semesters I’ve taught the internship class, about three-quarters of my students’ unpaid internships have been in for-profit settings, most notably entertainment, magazine publishing, fashion, public relations, and banking. Clearly, neither I nor any other faculty member could claim expertise in all of these industries, so my aim has become to equip students with a way of making sense of their internships beyond their sometimes-fuzzy goals of “networking” and “resume-building.’ Continue reading →