A Common Core of Undergrad Articles?

One of the colleges that I adjunct at recently had an external reviewer come through to help them get some advice about how to structure (among other things) their intro course. On the one hand, the department wants to attempt to standardize their introduction to cultural anthropology course so students will all be on the same page when they arrive in upper level classes. On the other hand each professor teaches the course differently and is unwilling to change — in particular, no one is willing to adopt a singe textbook. The reviewer suggested that one way to split the difference would be to come up with a core set of articles which all professors could pick and chose from. I find the idea of developing a core set of ‘the articles every intro student should read’ a fascinating project.

I’m having trouble coming up with good answers about what should be on it, however, and have mostly come up with things that are either canonical or just good and deserving of more attention. But this is what I’ve got so far (remember, I live in Polynesia, and this affects my list):

“Haole Girl: Identity and White Privilege in Hawai’i” Judy Rohrter (being white in Hawaii)

“100% American” Ralph Linton (a two page handout on the ubiquity of diffused culture traits in the US)

“Empathy, or, Seeing From Within” Robert Lowie (nice overview of the concept of cultural relativism)

“”Indigenous Knowledge and Academic Imperialism”:http://www.hawaii.edu/cpis/files/IndigKnow.pdf” by Vilsoni Hereniko (the politics of studying Pacific culture)

“Our Sea of Islands” Epeli Hau’ofa (key text about how to envision the Pacific)

“Is Multiculturalism Bad for Women” by Susan Moller Okin and the two responses “My Culture Made Me Do It” (Bonnie Honnig) and “Is Western Feminism Good For Third World Women?” (Azizah Al-Hibri) a good dialogue about the tension between relativism and activism. Also good for teaching arguments.

“Growth and Decay: Bedamini Notions of Sexuality” by Arve Sorum (if you want one article on male homosexual initiation to get the ball rolling on gender issues, this is for you)

“Once a knight is quite enough,” Edmund Leach (a nice informal piece on how ritual works)

“ “Science and Race”:http://personal.uncc.edu/jmarks/pubs/race.pdf ” Jonathan Marks (good potted version of the anthropological critique of race)

“Abominations of Leviticus,” by Mary Douglas (classic paper on taboo and pollution)

What would you put on your list? Please note: we already know about the Nacirema, Shakespeare in the Bush, and Balinese Cockfights.


Alex Golub is an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. His book Leviathans at The Gold Mine has been published by Duke University Press. You can contact him at rex@savageminds.org

14 thoughts on “A Common Core of Undergrad Articles?

  1. Only half-joking:

    The Motel of the future (forgot teh exact title but you know it)

    The paper on the behavior of people in men’s bathrooms.

  2. Not necessarily an article but Nanda’s book “Neither Man nor Woman” seems to be a popular choice among anthro professors for intro classes. Most professors at my undergraduate university used it and most professors at my current university use it.

  3. A few random articles come to mind, a lot on language, some stuff on colonialism and development, and even one visual anthropology classic thrown in for good measure:

    Ferguson, James. 1990. The Bovine Mystique: A Study of Power, Property, and Livestock in Rural Lesotho. (Shows the benefits of the anthropological method.)

    Frake, Charles O. 1964. How to Ask for a Drink in Subanun. (Classic discourse study. Fun too.)

    Michaels, Eric. 1994. For a Cultural Future: Francis Jupurrurla Makes Tv At Yuendumu. (Great article on indigenous media production.)

    Stoler, Ann Laura. 1991. Carnal Knowledge and Imperial Power: Gender, Race, and Morality in Colonial Asia. (Anthropologists can do history too!)

    Hill, Jane H. 1998. “Today There is No Respect” : Nostalgia, “Respect,” and Oppositional Discourse in Mexicano (Nahuatl) Language Ideology. (Language ideology)

    Woolard, Kathryn A. 1985. Language Variation and Cultural Hegemony: Toward an Integration of Sociolinguistic and Social Theory. (More langauge ideology – good integration of theory and data.)

    Bailey, Benjamin. 1997. Communication of Respect in Interethnic Service Encounters. (Another classic in discourse analysis. Great for teaching.)

    Mamdani, Mahmood. 2001. Beyond Settler and Native as Political Identities: Overcoming the Political Legacy of Colonialism. (Great intro to colonialism and ethnicity.)

    That’s just off the top of my head. I was trying hard to avoid mentioning the obvious, or articles I like to use but which are harder to teach with.

  4. Here are the articles from my intro class–plus the Basso book, which is so great to teach that I think everyone should know of it. The other ethnographies are more idiosyncratic choices.

    Basso, Keith H. 1996 Wisdom sits in places : Landscape and language among the western apache. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.

    Boddy, Janice 1997 Womb as oasis: the symbolic context of pharaonic circumcision in rural Northern Sudan. In The gender sexuality reader, edited by R. Lancaster and M. di Leonardo. New York: Routledge.

    Dubisch, Jill 1981 You are what you eat: Religious aspects of the health food movement. In The American dimension: Culture myths and social realities, edited by S. P. Montague and W. Arens. Palo Alto, CA: Mayfield Publishing Company. 115-127.

    Kulick, Don 1997 The gender of Brazilian transgendered prostitutes. American Anthropologist 99 (3):574-585.

    Lee, Richard Borshay 2003 [1969] Eating Christmas in the Kalahari. In Applying anthropology: An introductory reader, edited by A. Podolefsky and P. J. Brown. Boston: McGraw Hill. 228-232.

    Traube, Elizabeth G. 1992 Redeeming images: The wild man comes home. In Dreaming identities: Class, gender, and generation in 1980s hollywood movies. Boulder: Westview Press. 39-66.

    White, Luise 1967 Cars out of place: Vampires, technology, and labor in east and central africa. In Tensions of empire: Colonial cultures in a bourgeois world, edited by F. Cooper and A. L. Stoler. Berkeley: University of California Press.

  5. Funny how so many scholars think being ironic about establishing a canon of texts makes it OK to do so, especially if the suggested canon is so heavy with postmodern writing.

    If you want some real irony consider this: it is sad that this list comes from an adjunct who is part of a college or university economic system that is not hiring fulltime professors and thus has limited academic continuity for the students, and now an adjunct professor being exploited by this system is thinking about building continuity so that this system can continue to not hire fulltime, tenure track professors.

  6. While Krusty may be right in that this encourages a flawed system, we cannot rule out this being the flowers growing from a compost heap. The best undergraduate classes I took (and of course my major was computer science not anthropology) were those centered around papers, instead of textbooks. A textbook will tell you one fact or another, but a paper might tell you why. What I’ve learned from papers has stayed with me much better than anything I learned from a textbook.

  7. If we are allowed to put ethnographies on the list (as opposed to articles), another *very* teachable ethography is Adam Ashforth’s _Madumo: A Man Bewitched_. Judy Farquhar recommended it to me several years ago, in an “advice to a novice teacher of anthro” conversation, but I didn’t actually use it till last year and really regret not having done so sooner!

    While I would also decry the elimination of permanent teaching positions, one thing I *will* say for adjuncting/visiting-assistant-professoring previous to getting a permanent position, which happens to a lot of us, is that it lets you work some of the bugs out of your teaching before you start getting evaluated as a teacher for tenure purposes. So it’s not always all bad for the teachers, though I do think the system means that students are sometimes exposed to some hinky teaching for which they don’t get a discount: like, tuition costs are the same whether you are getting someone who just finished being a grad student who has never done it before and hasn’t got a huge investment in performing well *for the institution* or whether you are being taught by a prof who is hugely invested in curricular design at the institutional level and the pedagogical experience of that institution’s students. I don’t think there is any hope that that the “elimination of permanent positions” tendency is going to be stopped at the professional end; I do think there is some hope there might be some demand for change at the student end of things.

  8. And, of course, there’s the big assumption that adjunct teaching is necessarily inferior to full-time teaching. While I’d like to have a full-time position, and I’d like a system where all our work was valued equally, I utterly reject the thesis that my teachingis necessarily of lower quality than that of my full-time or even tenured colleagues.

  9. Madumo is a never-fail “teachable text” in my experience.

    I’ve enjoyed teaching short pieces of Malinowski’s A Diary in the Strict Sense of the Term.

    But I like the Reed syllabus a lot: I think it’s extremely well-designed for this purpose.

  10. “I find the idea of developing a core set of ‘the articles every intro student should read’ a fascinating project.”

    Really fascinating it becomes when comparing a variety of different core sets on a certain academic teaching topic like ‘anthro intro’ in this case.

  11. Dustin — that seems like maybe one of the damnable aspects of adjuncting; often the quality of teaching is very very good, which creates no impetus from any direction (except basic fairness, which never seems to win out…) to create more full-time positions! So I should clarify that my comments reflected really my own hinkiness as an adjunct — not like it was all hinkiness all the way, nor that my current teaching is hinky-moment-free. I just wanted to make the point that adjuncting is usually taken to be entirely disadvantageous to adjuncts themselves and I don’t think that is the case in all circumstances.

  12. I would remove Jonathan Marks’ article on race. Marks’ critique is simply outdated in that is assumes human variation is purely clinal. As evidenced by the numerous current studies, the distribution of genetic variation in world populations has structure. Now don’t get me wrong; there are plenty of reasons to critique biological definitions of race, but clinal variation is not one of them. As a suggestion, look up race in Wikipedia. The page is very well done. I think AAA can learn a lot from the Wikipedia page, since it too has a very outdated, almost insultingly simplified statement on race.

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