Saturday, August 30, 2008

Blogging a(way) Eurocentrism?

Catching up on my blog reading, searching for those posts that have meaning, analyzing why they resonate...deconstructing before the storm (Gustav's bearing down--decidedly masculine in all his labels and metaphors).

Neuroanthropology is one of my favorite blogs to read, not because I have the academic background to truly engage with it but because of its unwavering insistence to understand from an ethnographic context. It resonates strongly with my gut. Students discussing psych experiments bring me up short. Blinking and seeking to shift the brain out of anthropological context. Can't do it. "But what is the context of these studies?, I ask. These are socialized Americans (whatever that is) this is not human behavior its the behavior of one group, at one moment, in one place. Neuroanthropology reminds me to insist upon that context; and, perhaps more importantly, it reminds me to trust my anthropological gut--the one that lives comfortably with the lived experiences of "the other"; the one that refuses to live totally in an English-speaking Wikipedia of consensual knowledge. Change the question, change the focus, move the perspective, my gut demands.

The delights that comes from the shared gut are the gift of open blogging/linking/pinging/ and trackbacking.......

1D4TW has Max pissed at the never-ending, drip, drip, drip of the Eurocentric racism couched in linguistic terms. I chuckle in complete agreement and steal his thunder for my blog title. Reading his words, I analyze the chuckle. Its the kind of moment you see when Ory Okolloh softly condemns Paltrow's ridiculous poster and then nervously giggles at her own righteous indignation. The same indignation that propels me to question the transformative nature of Wikipedia and Web 2.0 tools. That same discomfort from knowing that while I benefit from those tools, relish in them, participate enthusiastically with them. I blink. non-African, Africanist advocate self feels the contradiction, the anger, irritation, and nervous giggle in my gut.

Last year at this time, I was dealing with the Lucy issue. She was on her way to Houston under the shadiest of circumstances. Lucy the World's Oldest Prostitute, the 'ho, the exploited; she who is no longer in the sky but, definitely with diamonds. Yes, I am referring to the bones found in Ethiopia, 3.18 million years old. Such controversy. I Googled and read and called old friends, sorting it all out in my mind. I tucked my many issues in my brain and headed off for a large, public forum at Rice University, anxious to witness the fight that was to come. The fight that never was. The bios and archys in attendance lined up firmly behind the museum's decision. It was wonderful, it was great, it was going to transform America's views of evolution. The bones, the real bones would hold the magical, mystical transformative power of science, she would blind us with her science.

But, but, but....I said, uncomfortable with the microphone in a crowd. If her travel is for the greater good, why not China? 1.3 billion. The power of the bones could transform numbers untold. Or what of continental nation/state ethnicity/ rights? Africans won't see her (unless, we are truly counting Gwyneth Paltrow). Deep breath. In my mind I know just what to say: "I have stood among (one with but not one with) a small group of women beside an orange-bright dirt road, somewhere, nowhere in Africa, while the trucks bearing tourists high above the dirt, bound for the Serengeti, roll by. Dirt embedded in my scalp, my ears, my fingernails, African dirt, deep in my pores. Quiet words spoken to me with the nervous giggle. "I will never see the animals of my own country, the animals these Wazungu go to see." (You will find a webcast of the event here, I am nervously fumbling through my point some 1 hour and 17 minutes in.)

Its an African Story.

"Surely, we could at least acknowledge the privilege of our own position", I ask.....At least......

Eventually, Kappelman of UT speaks--a good man--no doubt, trying to breach the awkwardness. He is making a web site. He will make pictures, beautiful multi-dimensional images. There are internet cafes all over Ethiopia. People can log on..can see them..can share... collective relief. Problem solved. I remain seated. I hate that microphone. Its moved on. Far across the room. And the voice in my gut says to no one in particular, "But, why isn't that good enough for us?"

Friday, August 29, 2008

Its an African Story

TED has released some more of its talks. I enjoyed this one by Ory Okolloh: on becoming an African activist.

It has many teachable moments. I regret that she is only able to briefly touch on these moments because of the short time frame she is given. 15 minutes is not nearly enough time with her.

She opens using the tragedies of her own life as an example of the way we have of portraying Africa as the "victim" continent. The painful story of the loss of her father is "an African story". I borrow that phrase (and the blog title) from the movie Dirty, Pretty Things, which has the admirable main character, Okwe, (illegally) working his way back to his native Nigeria having experienced a wrenching personal loss which he labels "an African story". It is difficult to speak with any African, educated or not, rich or poor, who has not experienced tragedy of this magnitude. And yet, no human wants to be defined, solely by that experience. Nor does Okolloh want us to view Africa through the victim lens.

She touches briefly on the issue when she stops on a picture of Gwyneth Paltrow, sporting some face paint and bearing the caption, "I am an African." Succinctly she comments, "No, you are not." It was a powerful and delightful moment.

She moves on to discuss the Swahili Wikipedia---consisting of the contributions of 4 white men and one African. (Tanzanian students will have little to read on the Internet, even if they can afford the access. She issues a challenge to Africans to step up to the plate and contribute but I can't help but want to invoke the victim explanation for this problem. We are the ones with more than enough free time. There are no chickens in my back yard needing tending to ensure my survival.

Here is an older source discussing the founding of the (Ki)Swahili Wikipedia.

She, also, discusses the very real dilemma of educated Africans who face pressure to remain in the lands they have gone to to be educated to get the high-paying job and send money home. She stands tall at having made the difficult choice of turning her back on the big paycheck and stopping the brain drain, having returned to her native Kenya to help build a future for her daughter.

The nicest parts of the talk are the ways she is able to bring an African perspective to a wider audience. I loved her judgments and pronouncements--which, basically, all stemmed from her rightful desire to present her view of her continent, rather than accept the spin of the "bleeding heart liberals". Just lovely.

BTW, if you haven't seen the TED talk on William and his windmill that she references, you must. It is inspirational and humbling.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

The solution to global warming: all administrators and educational consultants should have been smothered at birth

No more students, please.

Fried, frazzled, and barely functional.

Well, our keynote speaker at the opening festivities this year was no Hillary Clinton. No Bill Clinton, either. Not even a Joe Biden. Clearly, he was drawn to the crutch of Power Point because that was the only thing he had going for him. I suspect we paid him in the thousands but I don't dare ask.

He subscribed to the school of thought that I am rapidly labeling the Hollow Academic Bully.

Formula: I am going to stand in front of you, tell you what you should be doing, assert that my way is the best, and provide no empirical evidence or argumentation for doing so, and imply that there should be no need for discussion or debate.

Off run the administrators to figure out the best way to have faculty fulfill the assertions of the Hollow Academic Bully. (Time for duck and cover.)

Assertion: We must engage, personally, with our students to reduce our drop-out rates.

Administrative Response: A task force of faculty and administrators to pilot a program to call all students three times during the course of the semester to check on them. A second Pilot Program requiring all faculty to call students who experience a class absence in the first 3 weeks of the semester.

Oh well, the World's Slimiest Philosophy Professor will find it even easier to surf his students. Bully for him.

My learning experience: The World's Hottest Political Science Professor is not as good at Hostile Hangman as the World's Most Beautiful Sociology Professor. She would have, totally, got MURDER at three letters. Took him four. But then, I think he was, actually, trying to project the image that he was listening. Poor, baby.

Should I trackback this post to the doodling discussion?

Random "big-picture" "teaching anthropology" thoughts: why is failure not an option? Where is the message that to fail is to learn. Is it necessary that I stand in to solve every problem of our society? Does the buck stop on me only? How many more expectations are to be projected onto me? How can I maintain the objectivity necessary to grade these students if have a "personal" relationship with them? Can I handle the answer when I ask the question "where have you been?" Can I provide transport, psychological counseling, and motivation?

No doubt some sleep (and margaritas) will lead to a re-framing of these issues.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

No, I have not been fired

The piece of my heart that walks around has been delivered to college and I have a new crop of babies that are now two days into the great adventure of another Fall semester. I have blogs in my head and communications owed. I will be back shortly to do it all. Never fear.

Good news. 4.5% cost of living increase was granted by the board to start the year on. If Hillary makes nice then we will know hell has frozen over.

Amended to add: gone to get my parka and to remove this large snowshoe from my mouth.....hell froze over.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Anthropology of Boredom

I wasn't, completely, joking about labeling desk doodles as wikis. A desk is an area with boundaries and yet it is free for editing..adding, erasing, building, growing, scrubbing. A far less confined space then the lines of text that this box requires of me. A piece of paper is a more freeing area of processing than this confined space. (Ah, two times the word confined.) I find that when I am prepared to write a paper, plan a presentation, or map out a semester course (the syllabus), I turn to my note pad to draw out the flow. I never start with the lines of text forced on me by this box...and my cursor moving and the letters lining up...straight and neat....neat and straigh.t..never curved..never free formed...never inserted on the an angle....arrows pointing....smaller lines of text added.....just lines of text....straight and neat.

The meaning of doodles...are those thoughts and associations.....processing...digesting....the chewing of the mental cud....the desire to escape the battle of Yorktown....Russian absolutism....the three stages in a rite of passage....liminality......core..periphery......biomass......commodity fetishism.....anthropophagy....witches....blood sucking...Dracula...sucking...fucking....Saturday night......sweet smoke....burning weed......Led such thing as.......Appomattox..Greg and Lia...together forever.....Greg and.......forever, too long....linear thinking....when only a curve will do.....

Do we learn in the frenzy of the rush or the quiet moments of we learn in the incising of a desk....the crisp click of a key depressed......the soft shuck of a page turning....a glance around the room.....the interaction with a page....with a screen...with a voice....with a click.....

Larry, this one's for you.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

An His/Herstorical Wiki?

56 years of student desk graffiti. The original model for student discourse is being celebrated as they prepare to renovate one of the (admittedly ugly) but much loved main classroom buildings at my alma mater. Its worth a look and a thought when you click on the slide show here.

Monday, August 18, 2008

God, I Love Strange Maps

The Soda/Pop Map of the United States. Now if they could only get John Hudson's BBQ Map of America--he used it in his world geography class at Northwestern when I was his grader ($500). It was awesome.

Back to useless meetings and worthless prep work.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Yes, we have NO readings, at all

(Dis)Harmonic Convergence Update: Hear us Horton, "we are here".

I was going to take a bit of a break today, expecting a nasty coming week but........Recent comments by Max, safaa and the post at another anthro blog and anthropolgi, about Open Access and Anthropology have inspired me to, yet again, contextualize the reading/technology issues pinging around the blogs.

So, here the firm belief that I speak for a silent majority of college professors and contingent faculty at the "lesser" institutions. (I prefer the Lorax image here (I speak for the trees), not the Richard Nixon allusion). We have NO readings, no readings, at all.

We just got the SACS accreditation report on our libraries. They were found to be substandard and severely underfunded. No surprise to any of us faculty. Every year we get lists of journal with a request as to what we can cut, not add. Our institution pays NO money to subscribe to any journal listing service. No JStor and very few books, most dating to the 1960's. I loan students my own books, sometimes never to get them back. Honest.

To suggest that my students can "find articles" to post to a common wiki, ain't going to happen. I hope that they can discuss an issue on a specified set of readings that I provide. And I still maintain there is precious little on the internet that is useful for students of cultural anthropology (the archaeologists do much better, IMHO). It is so pleasing to find others who have already grappled with these issues and are seeking solutions. All the whos on the dust speck of my existence are screaming, "we are here, we are here, we are here". Give us some readings. Please.

(One reason I started blogging was to get comfortable with all the technology enough to begin posting my field interviews. The college won't provide individual web sites for us and I would love to make them available to my students. Toward that end, I explored voicethread, then wetpaint, and I decided to start simple with the blogging. I figure that I am actually privileged to not face the tenure decision and can give freely of my data. Thanks to Max for reminding me of the benefits of my cost/benefit life.)

Anyway, pass the discussion on and beat the drum for a freer approach to knowledge. We at the bottom thank you.

And could you all stop being so interesting, I have dust bunnies to chase, vegetables to buy, and aimless thoughts to drift away on.

Edited to add missing link. Too busy with beginning of semester stuff to be even posting semi-humorous posts. Sorry.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Teaching Students Today: Reading is FUNdamental

Some of you may have been following the various discussions on this blog and those spilling over into/onto others: From my perspective, the discussion started in the comments section of my post below,
What Being an Anthropologist Means to Me (you will find the initial discussion there was with Michael Wesch, he was responding to my post on his website. I have included that post in the comment section, as well), and the discussion continued on another anthro blog and, a related and useful posting at Socect's Blog. I hope I got all the relevant stuff. Let me know if I left anything out.

Those discussions have touched on a number of issues most centered around the question of engaging students. I am not sure we will reach much consensus on that issue. In the end, our students are individuals in an individualistic culture and, I doubt, we will find one "magic" way to engage them. I strongly favor any sharing of ideas about what works but I, also, believe we need to be very careful about analyzing goals, messages, costs, and benefits of different approaches.

So under the Topic of Professorial Processes, I will be contributing my thoughts and links to the thoughts of others about these issues as life goes on...

Today's contribution. Reading is FUNdamental:

System-wide my College serves 30,000 students. We are going through our accreditation process. The site visits have begun and the data is being exchanged. In preparation for all that, about two years ago, faculty were asked to provide input on the single-most important issue we see as needing to be addressed in the classroom. The issue consistently and overwhelmingly reported as an issue by faculty was reading

Reading. They don't do it. And they clearly haven't done it.

I think we can all contribute multiple rants about the message in America that an education is necessary to get a job but that few students can clearly see the value of the process while they are "in it". etc, etc. Unfortunately for all of us, there is little we can do to count-act the lack of preparation they arrive with and the general anti-intellectual bias of our culture. The end result is that many students have not engaged with knowledge in a positive fashion. Many have probably not seen their own parents read, believe in the validity and equality of all opinions(the charming quote that comes to mind "opinions are like assholes, we all have one"), and many believe that if you pay for a class you should be given the credit. At least, these have been my observations of their expectations--with particular reference to those expectations that are problematic.

My response has been to add a couple of discussions to my lecture. Both are aimed at having them engage with our discipline in a way that counters those preconceived notions listed above. Discussion number one is usually done the second week of class--after the intro and settling in process is done. Basically, I have lengthened the discussion of female genital cutting from a simple example of cultural relativism to a full-fledged example of critical thinking about "opinion" and "knowledge"

I start by asking students what they know about the issue and allow the ones that know to unleash their judgments of the practice and then, I settle in to be devils advocate. I, recently, have learned to add the phrase "it is my job to be devils' advocate, after all" which saves me from too much hostility at challenging their assumptions. (I get a personal chuckle at how referencing the issue of "job" is the easily accepted metaphor for what I am doing). I allow them to drive the discussion as much as possible but, of course, its an illusion. I have very much in my mind the things I want them to engage with

In response to their comments, I unfold the process of acquiring knowledge for them. While citing all my references, I give all the detailed medical explanations of what is involved bringing in the recent controversies within our own discpline. I bring in a discussion of male circumcision and the British perspective on it--much of it summed up in a book by Robert Darby A Surgical Temptation: The Demonization of the Foreskin and the Rise of Circumcision in Britain. (do not read that one at the dentist's office, you get strange looks. Do read it in front of your sexist pig of an Academic Dean, it makes him nervous, which is a good thing.). And I bring in a discussion of breast implants (no, there are no power point slides). Then after they elicit all the information that they need, I tell them they are entitled to make a judgment. That is the procedure we will follow for the rest of the semester and that all I require of them is that their judgments be culturally universal (applied equally across the world) and that their judgments be based, as much as possible, on an understanding of empirical realities.

I hope by having this discussion early in the semester that I set the tone for the value of knowledge and the place of opinion and the relevancy of learning. I, honestly, don't know if it argues for the value of reading. I suppose I hope they realize it was reading that got me the knowledge to field their questions. I make available to them all the sources I can find but the gift they get from me is the synthesis of the reading that I give them. As a lecturer, I am a facilitator and an expert. I hope I lead by example, that I model the process of learning for them.

The second example of understanding the learning process we engage in (this one arises on a need to know basis) is the evolution discussion. I won't detail that one but it continually shocks me how much they don't know about that one. Perhaps that is a later post.

Anyway, I guess you can see my approach is fairly content-driven. I like to think about what I am doing. Not flashy but, I hope, solid. (Have you noticed that blogging is rampantly narcissistic. Next thing you know I will be running for public office and attempting to hide my illicit affairs.)

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Anthropology of Olympic Gymnastics

I saw Savage Minds has a post up about having to say something about the Olympics. Funny because I had been thinking the exact same thing. Fortunately, my wonderful students have saved me. We were discussing gender today and one of my female students offered the following observation: "I just think its wrong when you see a man doing the floor exercise in gymnastics". That led to a really interesting discussion of our gender concepts, expectations, cultural constructs, and homosexuality around the world, and why Blades of Glory was a really funny movie. Sometimes, I really do love my students.

Although the woman in me just had to agree with her on that one. Like, what's up with the synchronized diving?

Ah, sometimes its hard to be an anthropologist.......

Monday, August 11, 2008

Keith Hart' s Blog has a new post up.

Africanists and world historians will be excited to see that Keith Hart's latest blog is a detailed review of Jack Goody's new book.

Check it out here, I am well past my bedtime.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

The Bitch in/of/on Contingent Faculty: A Rant in Two Parts, No Harmony

From the Chronicle of Higher Education comes a discussion of intellectual property rights in the form of the course syllabus "When a Syllabus is Not Your Own" by Jennifer Sinor. It was this passage that got me really worked up:

To decide that a syllabus is not a made thing, not worthy of protection without regard to market value or aesthetic value, erodes the terrain of the classroom, a terrain with a history of siege. I remember in graduate school being mocked by other doctoral students for caring about the classroom. Most tried to "get out" of teaching through grants and fellowships. The real work, I was meant to understand, lay in scholarship. In a culture where teaching is feminized, I see direct connections between the lack of protection surrounding the materials produced for the classroom and the fact that female faculty members tend to have higher teaching loads than their male counterparts, devote more hours to teaching, spend less time on research and therefore publish less, and dominate the adjunct ranks while lagging behind in the numbers of full professors. My syllabus participates in larger questions in academe about what, and who, is valued.

Amen, Sister.

The anonymity of this blog is determined by my contingent status. No tenure and a contract which stipulates COE--Contingent on Enrollment, which at this time of the year has me checking my course enrollments almost hourly (got that kid going off to College this year). And I am, somewhat privileged, 18 years in and with a Ph.D. and I get just over $62,000 for a nine month COE contract in a right-to-work state. For a semester load of 5 courses and 35 hours a week expected duty time--which must be accounted for on a submitted daily schedule form. Still, its much better than say The World's Most Beautiful Sociology Prof who with a Master's and 13 years in is a victim of "compression" and pulls down maybe $43,000. Adjunct faculty (and my, much needed, overloads) are paid at mid $1800 a course.

And, I really did want to teach--all through grad school that was my goal. Add to that the issue of looking into the eyes of a 3 year old and swallowing the knowledge that Mom hasn't time to suck those cheeks because its publish or perish. Couldn't do it. But the cost hasn't just been financial--it is that complete lack of respect. I call it the taint of the Community College. But scroll down to the beginning of this Blog and check out the posted comments by those few brave early souls. This is where the bulk of teaching of Anthropology is being done. By the poor, stressed-out and disrespected. Sinor is right, it is the final measure of disrespect when we lose the product of our own labor.

Which brings us to:

Rant: Part II

Any one noticed the ever more growing wave of anti-intellectualism? I am, also, getting hyper-sensitive to that one. We are "facilitators" not "authority figures" and this tidbit of information, also, from the Chronicle of Higher Education is IMHO an example of anti-faculty, anti-education beliefs couched in "progressive" views. The piece features a Department Chair who is complaining of the SACS requirement of Master's with 18 graduate hours in the field for teaching at the Associate's level. Seems he wants to hire retired business people without the education. So, we want to argue for the value of an education by hiring people who don't have one? *blink* And our own Belle Wheelan of SACS, seems to be agreeing (in a really slippery, slimy, Twister-playing kind of way). I get the administrator point of view, this guy is a Department Chair and he has to staff classes but I am faculty--through and through--and I ain't drinking the kool-aid. If you can't find qualified faculty, stop trying to decrease the qualifications and PAY someone something. Respect Us. Value Us.

Visual anthropologists: Notice Marx is left-leaning (from his perspective) and on the left. I have choices, you know. Just can't "picture" him center or right or right-leaning.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Pedagogical Irony and the Illusion of Inclusion

I am on my college's "elearning task force". (We don't have committee's anymore, we have task forces which is a metaphor borrowed from the military, although I doubt any of our administrators would know or appreciate the rich irony of that--no, I have another irony in mind.). Our Dean of the Virtual College set up an asynchronous discussion forum on, ugh, BlackBoard, to review our policies (which are presented as document checklists) for our Distantly Learning courses and faculty.

Irony alert: no one is participating! We have yet to have a post from any administrator on the panel. Self Interest Alert. We have a couple of posts from a long time and retirement-aged faculty member who owns a piece of land a couple hours from campus arguing for permitting faculty to be located off-campus. And a couple of posts from librarians (who police the open lab areas and offer assistance) who continually witness groups of students taking exams together. Or people (spouses and friends) taking exams for students. Hey, in today's world that's collaborative learning. But, other than myself, that's about it. No responses to any postings. Most of my postings have been about allowing faculty at the departmental level to work out our evaluation. The model presented gives it all to an entity known as the Department Chair (but there are several departments glommed together under a Chair.) No responses to any of these few suggestions and arguments. The site has been up for 3 months now.

In the end, the administrators will make the decisions they want. But doesn't it look good that they had a discussion forum to tackle these issues? I am so proud of us. Embracing both new forms of media expression and models of inclusiveness. Cue Alanis Morisette. Unfortunately, the shadow world of appearances isn't accompanied by any true meaning. Because our emperor is buck naked. And that is definitely a nauseating thought.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Hurray for Librarians

This just came in via Ann Kaup from the Society for Anthropology in Community Colleges.

Information Literacy Standards for Anthropology and Sociology Students
by the ALA / ACRL / ANSS (Anthropology and Sociology Section) Instruction and Information Literacy Committee Task Force on IL Standards

Its what your librarians can do for you. It's is pretty impressive. I think I will let them teach my classes.

BTW, the blog roll issues are Bloggers, not mine. They say they are working on it. Its driving me crazy. I like to scan the topics and they keep coming and going. Score one for the neo-ludites--*&@# technology. Better go put on some Rage Against the Machine.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Breaking News: Rwandan Commission indicts French

Really interesting discussion of responsibility and consequences and, unfortunately, the diplomatic repercussions.

More Neat Stuff

Gordon Brown, recently announced plans to provide British military resources to help "shore up security" in the Niger Delta.

Contrast the BBC reporting on the "offer" and that published by the Socialist Worker or even Britain's Financial Times and you will get an idea of the nature of the controversy. And those are just the superficial mass media reports.

While checking up on the details of the story, I ran into the most amazing opportunity. Michael Watts' monograph on the Niger Delta, Curse of the Black Gold, has been made available in a free pdf version at Power House Books. I am posting both a direct and a visible link for this one:

You will notice, immediately the stunning photographs courtesy of Ed Kashi of National Geographic.

There are some useful support materials, including articles written by Watts at the books website here:

NPR's story on the book, including at interview with Ed Kashi, is here
and National Geographic coverage is here

Michael Watts, of course, published that fine work Silent Violence: Food, Famine, and Peasantry in Northern Nigeria in 1983.

Really Neat (and poignantly beautiful) Stuff

If you scroll down, you will find I have added a new blog roll entitled:

Voices of Kenya's Vulnerable Children and Youth

Thanks to the Kenyan Pundit for alerting us all to this remarkable work (asante sana, ndugu). As part of an Advocacy Project endeavor in conjunction with the Undugu Society of Kenya (USK), 17 Kenyan students have posted stories and pictures about their lives. You will find all their blogs in this blog roll.

Cutting and pasting the words of their facilitator Kristina Rosinsky:

A total of 17 students are involved with the training. Nine were chosen from USK’s Education and Training program, which helps poor and marginalized children attain an education and gain practical vocational skills. The other eight were chosen from USK’s Street Associations, which are groups of children and youth living and/or working on the streets.

Their heartfelt stories and stunning pictures are simply beautiful. It is a wonderful gift to see the world through the eyes and voices of this talented group. It seems Kristina has spent the summer setting up the program in Kenya. I hope the students and USK are able to continue the endeavor. I would like for my own students to engage with this work when they return in the Fall.

Quite some time ago, I visited several street children's homes in Tanzania. I published an article about one of the children I met at that time in an introductory anthropology reader which is now out of print. I would be happy to provide a pdf of the article for anyone who would like some background into the issues in an African context. Just email me.

Updating--Courtesy of Edouard

Snow Day! Well, not really but I can remember when we lived in Nebraska (military brat--we measure our lives by places lived, if it was Nebraska it must have been early elementary school) they would cancel school because of too much snow. It was the best time ever. We spent hours building forts and pummeling each other with every conceivable manifestation of snow artillery our minds could conceive. (Worse than the dreaded yellow snow--Frank Zappa- was the dog-poop snowball.)

We are out because the Texas gulf coast is, yet again, being pummeled with tropical storm rains and a visit by Edouard, our non-sexist multi-cultural yet somehow still anthropomorphic weather-related experiential moment(s). How come snow storms don't get names? I'll think about that later.

In remembrance of fonder times, I will be tossing out some snowball posts by way of updating. Duck, when the dog-poop flies. There is nothing more humiliating than falling victim to that one. Unless, its having it rubbed in your face while the wrathful victim sits heavily on your chest.

Friday, August 1, 2008

What being an anthropologist means to me: apparently, it means a long post

There are times when the threads of your thoughts become tangled together in the dryer of your mind, usually wrapped around an unsuspecting button or strap of an innocent piece of clothing. (How is that for a tortured metaphor?) This is one of those messy times. And every blog I read, twists those threads into a tighter tangle.

I have been working on my Distance Learning course. Mostly trying to make myself feel better about its existence. My journey down the technology inroads to achieving this goal has frustrated me no end.

I blame the Africanist in me. I first went to Tanzania in 1985 just prior to IMF restructuring. The country had pretty much ground to a halt. No petrol, no wheat flour, no electricity, uncertain water supply--this in the capital city. Life in the villages was, obviously, much more difficult. Crops couldn't get to market and life was very, very localized. (In some cases, this made things better but that is a different discussion.) I returned again in 1986-87 for my full dissertation research during a time of IMF restructuring. And then in 1994, I returned, again, this time picking up a consultancy job with USAID and the International Red Cross conducting a "rapid assessment survey" of the condition of children orphaned by the HIV/AIDS virus. It was a transformative experience as all fieldwork experience should be. Dealing with the daily poverty and the pain and guilt it induced in me was, in many respects, more than I could handle. I came to recognize that the only way I could hope to make a difference was to teach. And so I do.

And when I teach, I believe it is my responsibility to convey the reality of a world where there are other ways of thinking and other ways of doing. In an effort to achieve that goal, I will with great happiness and gusto deconstuct American popular culture with my students to try to tease out our meanings and ways of being. But in the end, I want them to move beyond our world and embrace "the other". I want them to come to terms with a global economy which impoverishes Tanzanians. I want them to understand the frustrations of the 20 million people in the Niger Delta. I want them to understand the dangers of assuming a free election will produce a "democracy" in a country that has only know the rule of a cold-war dictator.

So, as I review the great move toward technological innovation in the classroom. I find, myself recoiling in horror. I just don't get it. Michael Wesch's youtube of his oh so forlorn students who don't read and can only become excited when engaging with their own methods of discourse drove me crazy. So many problems brought up by the brief glimpses you get of his work. I get the idea that they need motivation. But what is the line between motivation and pandering?

One of Wesch's assertions is that you can learn more by "doing" than by studying/reading/attending lecture? I certainly can't agree with that. I was barely ready for participant observation after an intensive undergraduate experience and three years of graduate course work. I can't tell if these students view participant observation as just an excuse to have a good time or they actually come to understand that its ultimate purpose is analytical. You don't learn from an experiential moment, unless, you have done the ground work. Wesch, clearly, gets it when he discusses digital ethnography but then he has done his ground work, hasn't he? What, exactly, do the students learn about anthropology? (I've seen the world sim stuff--let's let that go for now. I only have so much energy for my rant. I can tackle that one later.)

Seems I might not be the only one lamenting the loss of an expectation students put in the time to read and reflect. The Atlantic Magazine this month has a summary article, Is Google Making Us Stupid?, (thanks to The World's Hottest Poli Sci Prof for the shout-out on that one), which discusses the changes to our brain when we abandon "deep reading" in favor of "power browsing". Students should be encouraged to do some deep thinking and not "pancake" processing.

Do some deep reading of Gramschi and fight the hegemonization of a capitalist agenda for education. The crime here seems to be expecting any faculty member to teach a class of 200-400 with 10 undergraduate T.A.'s. We faculty, as a collective group, should not be helping any administrator or member of the public to believe that is acceptable. I teach classes of 30. My students aren't surfing the web when we are in class. Major universities can do better and should.

And then, the Africanist in me rears its ugly head again. How many Tanzanians would, quite literally, give their right arm to be in that lecture hall? Any guesses on how much of their time would be spent on Facebook and how much time spent reading? And more: when will those American students come to understand Tanzanians? You won't find most Tanzanians posting on youtube. You are only likely to find missionaries posting videos of adorable children singing praises to God. Isn't the purpose of anthropology to expose these inequalities not reinforce a world of our own making? And youtube may be a global phenomenon but only for those in a global elite. The majority of the humans who people this planet cannot afford the luxury.

And when we turn our back on our long history of engagement with those who cannot afford youtube and when we loose the desire to engage, respectfully, with the lived experiences of all of humanity, we are losing the central focus and ethics of our discipline. I have always felt anthropology was far more than a collection of methods. I can remember being told upon declaring my undergraduate major that you became an anthropologist because of the type of person you were. My last post was about Evan-Pritchard because as I struggled with these issues, I was reminded of the ways he made that real for me. Nuer Religion (which I actually did deeply read as an undergraduate) humbled me. I no longer felt I had all the answers. Maybe "the other" had some ideas, as well. This gift of an idea led me through my fieldwork and informs every moment of my teaching practice.

Savage Minds and Open Anthropology have been crackling with the scary picture of an anthropology devoid of this focus, devoid of the ethics of respect for the other. At the same time, over at Ethnography. com , we learn that according to Foreign Policy Magazine, we are the most left-leaning academic discipline. Of course, David Horowitz has been arguing that for years. Just to annoy him further, it makes you wish Chomsky was an anthropologist--not just the linguist we anthropologists must understand.

Anyway, I say, if embracing the perspective that the lived experiences of all humans have legitimacy and deserve our compassionate understanding makes me "left" and wanting my students to come away with deeper thoughts than can be contained in a 3 minute youtube snippet makes me a dinosaur. Then I am a left-leaning dinosaur.