29 August 2016

Decolonial Atlas

This blog -- The Decolonial Atlas -- is a really interesting tool for discussions of representation. As the authors explain,
The Decolonial Atlas, started in 2014, is an attempt to bring together maps which, in some way, challenge our relationships with the land, people, and state. It is based on the premise that there is no such thing as “truth” in cartography. Only interpretation. The orientation of a map, its projection, the presence of political borders, which features are included or excluded, and the language used to label a map are all subject to the map-maker’s agenda. Because most maps in use today serve to reinforce colonial understandings of the Earth, we are consciously creating maps which help us to re-imagine the world – to decolonize.
Maps are categorized by region, but also by subject (e.g. languages, biocultural diversity, historical maps, non-North orientations...). I could see this blog, or specific maps, being incorporated into an in-class discussion or short assignment.

25 August 2016

Creating classroom culture on "Syllabus Day"

In this Vitae piece, Kevin Gannon argues that "Syllabus Day" is The Absolute Worst Way to Start the Semester (2016). Instead, course instructors are encouraged to employ a "a mindful approach to the first day of class" by engaging students in key questions of the course, interesting issues, a taste of things to come (in terms of classroom activities and assessment tools), and/ or working collaboratively with students to create and establish the norms and culture of the classroom.
"Opening day presents a unique opportunity in our courses. Our students haven’t experienced anything yet, so there’s a default level of interest which we can leverage with engaged teaching and a welcoming atmosphere. The tone we choose to set and the structure of activities we design can impart a positive first impression, and might also preempt some of the more common frustrations that pop up later in the term. Sure, some students will lament the passing of Syllabus Day, but the dividends from a more substantial and engaging first day will more than offset that disappointment."
This piece contains a few interesting strategies (and arguments) for instructors who want to start engaging students from the start of the course.

For anthropologists, this approach might be especially appealing: it speaks not only to our sensibilities and interests in studying culture, and offers a way of introducing key concepts and practices to students from the start. How could you incorporate a discussion of cultural norms, or structure and agency, or other key concepts on day one of an introductory course? How might we ask first year students to start thinking like an anthropologist from day one by thinking about the ways our courses and expectations are structured?

Update -- 9 September 2016: I just came across this wonderful 'Syllabus Day' post from Erin McGuire via Teaching Culture, "Talking Timbits and Double Doubles: First Day Conversations in Anthropology 100." McGuire originally pulled the idea from Richard Robbins' (2007) “Visiting the Happy Meal,” and updated it for her Canadian classroom. An iconic but mundane example of material culture -- Timbits and a Double Double in Canada -- are brought into the classroom as a way to begin a discussion about different themes that will be addressed throughout the class. This is a great way to think about shaking up the first day, and making it more about just the syllabus.

22 August 2016

Resource: Transitioning from high school to post-secondary education

Many students struggle with culture shock as they make the transition between high school and post-secondary education. New freedoms for many students living away from home for the first time also mean new responsibilities and stresses. To this end, teenmentalhealth.org has created their Transitions resource to provide students with information and support strategies. From their website:
“Transitions”, the first publication of its kind,  provides first-year students with information on topics including time management, relationships, sexual activity, mental illness, suicide and addictions. The guide also includes mental health self-help information and contains recommendations where students can go to get help on their campus. 
Free for download as .pdf in book or pocket (mobile) versions, instructors may be interested in sharing this resource with their students, or checking out their Resources for Educators.

Quick links:

18 August 2016

Census Data and the Social Construction of Race

Since Franz Boas, anthropologists have argued that race is not a biological but a social fact that varies across time and place. Using the US Census, Vox underscores this view, asserting that 220 years of census data proves race is a social construct (2016).

Surveying the changing racial categories used in the US census clearly demonstrates how something that many still take to be biological is actually something cultural. Rather than being fixed (based on biology and therefore unchanging) these are categories that rely on ideas of difference that are socially meaningful in a particular time and place, drawing on a range of signifiers (e.g. national origin, phenotype).

This piece is also interesting for how it underscores the census itself as a tool of power. Censuses (and census makers and takers) can create or support social categories of difference and the social inequality founded on these ideas of difference. In the classroom, we can use this article to think about how social ideas of difference, such as race, and how we/ our governments account for them have wider reaching effects.

US Census Categories for Asians in 1890 (Vox)

US Census Categories for Asians in 1940 (Vox)

US Census Categories for Asians in 2010 (Vox)

#FreeHoma: Anthropologists in dangerous contexts

Anthropology is a discipline that was born out of colonial encounters and systems of power. Anthropologists have historically been complicit in supporting the people, systems and ideas through our research of often marginalized communities.

Today, however, many anthropologists critique and challenge the very power structures and relationships that our discipline in many ways helped to build. The topics that anthropologists research and the sites in which we conduct our research can put anthropologists in danger, including at risk of imprisonment by governments who read such research as threatening.

Dr. Homa Hoodfar
Homa Hoodfar has been imprisoned since March 2016 by the Iranian government. Hoodfar holds dual Canadian and Iranian citizenships, and has been a professor at Concordia University (Montreal, Quebec, Canada) since 1991. She has explored issues of gender, development, and politics especially in the Middle East, and especially known for her work on "Muslim women's ability to realize their rights within an Islamic framework, and for her critique of essentializing Western stereotypes about veiling."

As the authors of "Academics and Authors In Support of Professor Homa Hoodfar" explain,
"It is not clear what charges the Counter Intelligence Unit of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard might bring against her.  Any accusations against Prof. Hoodfar are undoubtedly based on a fundamental misinterpretation of the nature of her ethnographic research which has never been a threat to the Iranian regime. Instead, her arrest points to a renewed campaign to target and intimidate other scholars writing about Iran.
This can be a very real issue for researchers working in such contexts. In 2014, a University of Toronto political science PhD candidate, Alexander Sodiqov, was arrested during his field research in his native Tajikistan. Sodiqov was arrested and detained under charges of espionage and treason. As in Hoodfar's arrest, the "exact rationale for this charge remains murky, and may never be explained. But the wider context is anti–Western feeling and the fact that Tajikistan's security services are cracking down on domestic non-governmental organizations, emulating Putin's Russia." While Sodiqov was released, Hoodfar continues to be detained.

For instructors, these cases highlight how research, knowledge, can be considered a threat by regimes and potentially place the researcher in danger. How do we balance or value the insights of research and the potential risks inherent in conducting it -- for our participants, and for ourselves?

UPDATE 1 November 2016: Dr. Hoodfar's release from Evin Prison was confirmed on 26 September 2016. News reports following Dr. Hoodfar's release, underscored not only the resilience of this woman, but also how anthropologists can indeed find anthropology everywhere:
After a few days of intense interrogations, she decided to treat her time there as field work. Although lacking pen and paper, she used her toothbrush to scrawl her observations on the stone wall of her cell, prompting her cellmates to view her as a kind of mad professor, she said, laughing.
“My age and the fact I was an anthropologist and quite familiar with their techniques was a problem for them,” said Hoodfar, who now plans to write a book on the anthropology of interrogation.
(6 October 2016, Montreal Gazette)

Quick links and further reading:

15 August 2016

Monitoring and Assessing Diversity Initiatives

At times throughout my (short) career as an anthropologist, I've struggled with answering the question of how would an anthropological stance/investigation/insight influence the bottom line?

This struggle, in my opinion, comes from the fact that what anthropologists (and other social scientists and researchers and practitioners of uneasily-definable issues...if that's a word) investigate can be difficult to define narrowly (or in a manner that suits a given succinct category) because of our holistic perspective and the nature of the material and our research questions themselves.

How, for example, can you quantify the usefulness of a support system or an absolute measure of one's feeling of belonging on campus?

In a recent article entitled Auditing Diversity, the author writes about the struggle to demonstrate effectiveness of diversity programs initiated in reaction to the growing discontent to considerations of "race" and race-relations on university and college campuses. The author writes about the reaction to a recent audit of Davenport University's last six years of diversity initiatives. Regarding the audit process itself, Richard J. Pappas, Davenport’s president, stated the following about the audit:

They’re not cheap, and it can be difficult for colleges to tell what, exactly, they’re getting for the money. Davenport’s audit took just over six months and cost $46,000, [..., and while] the findings weren’t earth-shattering, the assessment forced officials to be introspective about their commitment to diversity and to pinpoint which efforts to tackle first. 

In a recent workshop on leadership, I learned about the importance of monitoring and assessing 'how much one was able to move the dial' is imperative in order to gain traction, funding, and buy-in. When discussing the impact and importance of anthropological pursuits on the bottom line (a question that anthropologists must think more deeply about as we find work increasingly out/side of academic environments) we as anthropologists must learn how to articulate our findings an a consumable manner and perhaps, develop more tangible methods in which to measure the impact of our services (however imperfect this pursuit might be).

11 August 2016

How a Teacher's Race Affects their Ability to Teach about Race

I met with someone from the Diversity and Equity Office at the University where I teach part-time yesterday. We've agreed to collaborate on a few classes for my upcoming course on Intercultural Competencies. In the meeting, my colleague asked me 'What do I not feel comfortable teaching?'

In this class, I introduce and discuss a LOT of uncomfortable topics including "race" (in quotation marks here to denote that this concept while very impactful is not based on genetic/biological but social constructs), ethnic identities, gender, sexuality, religion/us identities, structures of racism and oppression, Indigenous peoples relationships with the government, the Canadian structure of English-French-Nation language use, personal biases, whiteness, microaggressions...etc.

At first when I answered her, I listed only one or two of the above topics as being difficult to teach and noted that I included guest speakers where possible.

Throughout our meeting however I came back around to the question when I realized that I only feel truly comfortable (and had the right to speak) around the topic of whiteness, privilege, aspects of gender and sexuality, and microaggressions - and perhaps a few others - because I identify (and am identified by my students) as a majority member of the Canadian community. For all other topics, I am only capable of being able to speak from an outside perspective and thus, questions surface about representation and my right/ability/want/need to speak for others on their behalf.

An interesting article came out about how a teacher's "race" affects their ability to teach about "race". There are many interesting ideas including:

Mr. Lunt: In a strange way, that authority [as a faculty member at the front of the classroom] to assert facts makes the conversation more factual. It puts limits on what’s going to be accepted as evidence. I think it prompts our students to review their assumptions before they enter them into the conversation.

Ms. Ambikar: You may be right. That "authoritative tone" makes a huge difference. But it’s not equally available to all of us, is it? When I make assertions like the one you did, I am likely to be dismissed. For example, one day I quoted the civil-rights activist and legal scholar Michelle Alexander, whose work has shown that there are more black people in prison today than there were slaves in 1850. I was met with complete disbelief until I showed a video of her saying just that. I think the only facts that I am able to use are facts about India or from my own background. My facts are acceptable only if they relate to countries or cultures outside the United States. In all other contexts, not being white myself, even the facts I present are open to being questioned.

Mr. Lunt: Sadly, I have to agree. The authoritative tone matters, but I would be na├»ve if I pretended that much of my authority didn’t come from my perceived race. I mean, one stereotype of white men is of neutrality, rationality, factuality — the political "clothing" that every instructor needs when they talk about race.

08 August 2016

A Short Resource Guide to Food, Race, and Cultural Appropriation

Cultural appropriation has been almost a buzzword lately, giving us anthropologists a lot of popular culture fodder on the topic -- and perhaps more importantly, spurring critical discussion about issues of power, cultural difference, and respect in the public sphere.

While many of these discussions have focused on fashion, or the ongoing debate about racist mascots in sports, we are less likely to see how cultural appropriation is also an issue in relation to food. In this piece, Bitch magazine has put together "A Short Resource Guide to Food, Race, and Cultural Appropriation" (2016), which includes video, podcasts, and texts on the issue.

I suggest that you get a snack before reading through the links.

Quick links and further reading:

04 August 2016

Colonialism & white saviourism in tourism and trade

Travel writer/ editor/ photographer Bani Amor's work in Bitch magazine tackles the question of what it means to decolonize travel culture (tourism) as well as our trade relationships with people in the Global South.

In their article, "Spend & Save: The Narrative of Fair Trade and White Saviorism" (2016, Bitch), Amor takes a critical look at how the Fair Trade movement is embedded in the broader processes of global inequality supported by capitalism. This includes questions of gender, class, poverty, and narratives of white saviorism that have clear connections to colonialism: "The sad state of the savage Other necessitates civilizing via white/Western intervention, which maintains dominion over resources that sometimes trickle down to the needy via acts of charity."

This critique of Fair Trade emerges again in the follow-up interview with Amor: What Does it Mean to Decolonize Travel? (2016, Bitch). In this interview (2016, Bitch), Amor discusses why it is important to critically consider the social, political and historical power relationships that shape contemporary tourism and travel culture. In their work, they ask the kinds of questions that anthropologists are interested in when we think about tourism:
How do we look critically at the business of tourism and its historical relationship and present relationship to imperialism and colonialism? How does that affect people of color who not only travel, but who depend on the tourism industry as workers and laborers, usually cheap labor and menial labor? What is the relationship between these tourist workers—these communities who often experience sort of an occupation of foreigners, of Westerners, of mostly white people coming into their communities and shifting the local economies, the local culture—and how those communities relate to their culture?
Amor also speaks to questions of intersectionality (as queer, non-binary person of colour, an immigrant, with indigenous roots in South America, and a travel writer), positionality and reflexivity in this interview and their writing.

These articles, together or separately (alongside content from Amor's own website), speak to an anthropological perspective and provide an accessible take on the some of the ways in which 'positive' or well-intended relationships between the Global North and South -- through trade (consumption philanthropy) and tourism -- are nonetheless implicated in broader processes of inequality.

Quick links and additional resources:

01 August 2016

The emotional toll of masculinity

This personal essay published in the Washington Post's Parenting section, provides a lot of insight into the powerful norms and ideals of masculinity in (North) American society. In "The part I was not prepared for as a Stay at Home Dad" (June 2016), Billy Doidge Kilgore frankly discusses the emotional toll of his choice to become a stay-at-home dad while his wife took on the role of breadwinner for their household.

The emotional toll Kilgore refers to isn't the drain of taking care of a newborn child, but dealing with "the larger, often more subtle, cultural forces. These forces, gender roles, define a man’s worth not by their efforts within their families but by their productivity outside the home."

Instructors may find Kilgore's essay useful for classroom discussions of gender as something learned, and the power of cultural constructions in our everyday lives. He writes:
Despite the fact I am prioritizing my family’s needs and enduring the grueling work of childcare, this is not enough. In my mental fog, my notions of identity turn on their head. I am confused by the strange reality of performing demanding and difficult work, work I love, yet feeling inferior and unproductive. I find myself full of gnawing doubt and fear and insecurity.
No one confronted me directly about my decision to leave my job and care for my son, but they did not have to because the subtle contempt woven into questions, comments, assumptions, and body language did most of the work to undermine my self worth. I feel naive for thinking it possible to move against the rigid gender roles still entrenched in modern America.
The piece drives home how gender is such a powerful construct as he describes his internal, affective struggle to reconcile his choice to become the primary caregiver in his family with idea(l)s of what it means to be a man that he has internalized throughout his life -- even as he disagrees with these rigid norms on an intellectual level.

Further reading: