30 January 2017

Professional Development: the Informational Interview

I recently gave a workshop for anthropology graduate students in my department on strategies for professional development. One of the most interesting things for me about this workshop was talking to these students about Informational Interviewing. Although no one around the table was familiar with the term, we all understood the concept. After all, anthropologists are trained to talk to people, to conduct interviews -- we just aren't trained to think about applying our research expertise to our own lives and careers in the same ways.

As Robin Mazumder writes, the Informational Interview is basically "when you interview someone who has a career that you might be interested in. You can find out first-hand what the job really entails, or about the path required to obtain that job" (2017, Gradventure, University of Waterloo).

Check out Mazumder's piece or these for more information about how and why to arrange an Informational Interview, and the kinds of questions you might want to ask:

26 January 2017

Teaching ethnography

The anthro everywhere! authors recently came across an intriguing article written for the online magazine Quillette entitled "Tyranny of the Ethnography: How Lived Experience Corrupts the Social Sciences." This piece, written by Toni Airaksinen, an undergraduate student at Barnard College, argues that teaching ethnography is misleading students, and even dangerously so. Citing her experiences of most social science classes (though all appear to be in sociology), where professors are keen to assign recent works such as Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond, On the Run: Fugitive Life in an American City by Alice Goffman, or Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D Vance, Airaksinen writes that:
Ethnographies — books based on “lived experience” — are one of the most powerful types of books professors can assign. Yet, most of these books give students an extremely distorted understanding of what life is like for people living at the lowest rungs of society. Academia’s multicultural oppression fetish, which permeates the social sciences, ensures assigned books will invariably revolve around at least one aspect of the Holy Trinity of Oppression: race, class or gender.
The complicated and nuanced issues that face people of color, women, and the poor do exist in reality, of course. But ethnographies are not reality. Instead, they are a collection of the most sensational anecdotes of a novel culture deliberately curated to convey the most shock value.
As anthropologists, our first instinct is to dismiss this statement as part of a clear misunderstanding of what ethnography is and is intended to convey to the reader. Yet, as anthropologists, we also have to respect the fact that these condemnations are (ironically) based on Airaksinen's own lived experience and observations as a student. For her, the real problem with ethnography is that "books like these give students the sense that they “understand” phenomena they’ve never had personal experience with."

As university instructors with backgrounds in anthropology, we can't help but read Airaksinen's complaint as a teachable moment -- for instructors teaching ethnography in their classrooms. If this is what students like Airaksinen are taking away from the ethnographies that we teach, where are we failing them, and how can we teach ethnography better?

While we don't have all of the answers, here is a short list of blog posts and online resources shared by anthropologists on how they approach teaching ethnography as text and method in the classroom.

On encouraging critical engagement with ethnographic texts in the classroom:
  • Julia Kowalski's outline for creating "Ethnography Labs: Unpacking Ethnographic Narrative" offers a useful assignment structure for helping students "recognize ethnography as a rigorous, empirical, and argumentative method by learning to identify where arguments are in ethnographic texts and to help them see the distinctions between argument and evidence." 
  • Carole McGranahan's post offers her experience of teaching and tracking "What Makes Something Ethnographic?" (Savage Minds, 2012) in her classroom.
These posts offer instructive reflections and suggestions for how to teach ethnography as a method:
For instructors/ writers reflecting on ethnography as a form of writing, these discussions may be useful:
If you have resource suggestions for teaching ethnography in the classroom (guiding students through critically reading ethnographic texts, as a methodology, or otherwise) we'd love to read them! Contact us via email or Twitter @anthrolens.

23 January 2017

Opinion on an Op-Ed: Academic Underperformers Must be Called Out by Gerald Walton

A very interesting article came out in University Affairs for their February (2017) issue - An opinion piece which will surely provoke opinions. In it, Walton advocates for withholding annual raises, professional development allotments, and sabbatical from those faculty members who 'chronically under-perform'. In reading this opinion piece, one can see the fine line that Walton walks as he writes about the plausible negative responses to his comments throughout. Yet, it's not only this balanced approach which makes his argument convincing, in the opinion of this (JL) author, but also his attempt to describe what that measured response might look like (the so-called 'calling out', that is, rebuking, reprimanding, reaction by the faculty on under-performers). In his short piece he worries about the (mis)use of such evaluations and actions by so-called 'fiscal conservatives' on campus and has misgivings about incorporating neoliberal policies and practices into university business; however, to do nothing, writes Walton, is even worse.

This description of 'X issue' which will 'get worse' 'through 'inaction' seems to be a rather ubiquitous refrain spoken around the world in response to political leaders, rising global temperatures, and disasters around the world. Walton's article is one of the few I've read on this topic and its place in the most recent issue of University Affairs perhaps signals the first, baby step, toward action.

19 January 2017

What does knitting sweaters for kittens or filming fetish porn in your basement have in common? An Activity for second semester student introductions

What are you we doing in the classroom besides trying to make one another think about things? Or think about things in a new way or create new ways of thinking? As teachers in the classroom, we'd like this 'thinking' thing to happen for all 3 hours per week that we have students but breaking through barriers of distraction, boredom, and perhaps hunger is sometimes really, really difficult to do.

That's why I like pieces like Mark Manson's 7 Strange Questions that Help You Find your Life Purpose. Perhaps the subject matter doesn't appeal to you but at the very least, his no bullshit-cut-to-the-chase writing style does appeal to me and I'm sure, many of my students. 

As an instructor teaching the second semester of what is essentially a full-year course, I'm not looking for ways in which my students can be introduced to one another for the first time. Instead, I want them to discover more and go deeper. So for a next-level introductory activity to the group work that I've assigned this semester, I'm going to have them answer Manson's insightful questions that I've paraphrased below as a way to get to know one another better (and perhaps again):

1. What struggle or sacrifice are you willing to put up with?
2. What is true about yourself today that would make your 8-year-old-self cry?
3. What makes you forget to eat and poop, i.e. what kind of activities enthrall you and what are the cognitive principles behind them?
4. What unconventional and unique thing are you avoiding right now due to its potential embarrassment?
5. How are you going to save the world?
6. If you were absolutely forced to leave the house everyday, all day, where would you go?
7. If you were going to die in one year from today, what would you do and how would you like to be remembered? 

Getting those wheels turning in the classroom can open up avenues to one's content, to the larger life questions/purposes of a discipline), among many others. 

Manson began this post with a discussion about the difficulty in defining one's life purpose (whether knitting for kittens or filming in one's basement...); He argues that this question is daunting and almost impossible to answer. Instead, asking these questions of oneself and others might help students reflect on where they are and where they want to be - importantly, in a no-bullshit-cut-to-the-chase kind of way.

16 January 2017

More maps!

Maps are a useful tool for helping us make sense of our world. For anthropologists, they are also useful tools for critically thinking about the kinds global-local social phenomena and relationships that we study. In addition to our previous posts on mapping and map resources for the classroom, here are "40 more maps that explain the world" (2014, Washington Post).

Many of these 40 maps would be useful tools for sparking student discussion. For instance, pairing this map (above) of English, Dutch, and Spanish Colonial Trade Routes... 
with this map of the Nutella global value chain highlights the historical political and economic connections required to put that jar of chocolate-hazelnut spread on your local grocer's shelf. It also speaks to the cultivation of culturally specific tastes (a la Mintz' Sweetness and Power) over time, and contemporary processes of globalization that now compress time and space.

Other interesting maps divide the globe up into alternative communities based on shared languages, or trace non-European political dynasties, or highlight the prevalence of certain technologies. 

Related content from anthro everywhere!:

    12 January 2017

    Anthropologizing Software and Design

    Charles Pearson is an anthropologist working in tech who has written a few great articles for Medium on his experiences.

    In his recent piece, "Why Every Software Team Needs an Anthropologist" (2016, Medium), Pearson answers the question by weaving together the example of "everybody’s favorite start-up right now — Pied Piper" from HBO's Silicon Valley with his own experiences working in the tech industry. In the show, the start-up's amazing new technology flops at the end of Season 3, quite clearly because as Pearson notes, "the Pied Piper team didn’t step out of their echo chamber, and ultimately failed completely to understand the values and expectations of their potential userss. They didn’t design with them in mind. Consequently, the team’s enginneer’y values and assumptions, explicit in the platform, were completely irrelevant to everybody else." This is where having a researcher on the design team, like an anthropologist, can help. Because anthropologists know that "technology is cultural and all software is baked with certain values and premises."

    Pearson argues that anthropologists' unique approach, with our "toolbox of cultural theory and ethnographic methods" can offer the tech industry the kinds of insights into design for users that is necessary for success.

    If you want to read more about anthropologists working in the tech industry, check out Pearson's other pieces at Medium or our page on Applying an anthropological perspective outside of university.

    Quick links & further reading:

    09 January 2017

    Blogging for research

    There are many reasons why anthropologists and other social scientists choose to blog. For instance, anthro everywhere! began as a way to share resources with instructors, students, and others who were interested in an anthropological perspective. Blogging is also an interesting tool to use during research and for sharing research results, as sociologist Mark Carrigan writes in a post from The Sociological Imagination: 7 ways to use a blog as a research journal.

    Carrigan argues that writing a blog can be useful for:
    1. Recording particularly powerful extracts of texts to which I might wish to refer later
    2. Capturing ideas and insights which occur, usually when engaging with the ideas of others
    3. Brainstorming sessions in response to particular ideas or around particular themes
    4. Longer form reflections on particular topics
    5. Sharing ‘homeless’ bits of academic work that have been cut from papers
    6. Developing conference presentations
    7. Planning forthcoming writing projects
    As the authors of anthro everywhere! can attest from writing their own research blogs while in the field, you might also use blogging to:
    • give potential participants a point of reference about your research
    • recruit participants to your study
    • keep in the habit of writing and work through some of the themes that you see emerging from your research as it unfolds
    • disseminate your research in an open-access format (as was the case for a project Jennifer worked on during her post-doc: Cultural Diversity and the Workplace)
    • build your digital identity as a researcher (see also: Advice for Grad Students)

    05 January 2017

    Free Online Tools for Instructors

    This list of free online tools for instructors began from thinking about the kinds of tools that we use in our own teaching and researching -- but also how the ways in which we design assignments, organize, analyse, and present out research might change if we were more familiar with other kinds of tools. For instance, if you were more familiar with audio editing tools, would you consider podcasting your research or making a podcast part of a class research assignment like Dr. Lindsay Bell?

    If readers have suggestions to add to this preliminary list, we would love to add to them! Email (anthrolens at gmail.com) or tweet us (@anthrolens) with your suggestions.

    GROUP PROJECT TOOLS - There are now lots of apps available for free to help groups work together, apart. Here are a couple that might be useful for committee or student-group work.
    AUDIO/VISUAL EDITING TOOLS - Dr. Laurie Baker (agencyanthropologist.ca) has shared a wonderful and extensive list of free/ opensource graphic and video editing tools. How might you use these to change how you or your students present your research, give group presentations, or practice public anthropology?

    Graphic creation
    Graphic/photo editing Video editing/3D rendering
    Free stock imagery

    GRAPHICS TOOLS - Basic tools and resources for adding graphics to presentations, etc.
    • Word clouds are a fun way to visualize information for a conference or lecture slide. This site gives you different options for shapes and fonts, and has a handy wizard for first-time users.
    • We have made a few posts already about Maps/ Mapping but here are some of those links again: 
    • Anthropology Major Fox
    • Sociological Images is a community Pinterest page that has collected together and categorized many different images, especially related to gender, sexuality, race, and media. 
    • A bit silly, but Anthropology Major Fox meme-generator can help you to create simple text images for slides. You can also check through their gallery to find gems like this one.