ASA15: Symbiotic anthropologies: theoretical commensalities and methodological mutualisms

Teaching anthropology?
Location Room 7
Date and Start Time 15 April, 2015 at 11:15
Sessions 2


  • Luci Attala (University of Wales, Trinity St David) email

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Short Abstract

As a result of the numerous recent methodological and theoretical shifts in anthropological knowledge production and practice, this panel explores how, and if, the teaching of anthropology reflects these changes.

Long Abstract

Extending the overall theme of this conference, this panel explores what it means to teach anthropology today. Making the assumption that teaching anthropology emerges or projects out from the 'doing' of anthropologists, this panel hopes to circulate, nudge at, contemplate and demonstrate how current changes in both practice and the subjects of anthropology are affecting not only what is included in classes but also how those classes are formed, flavoured and articulated. Thus, in the light of Ingold's apparent exasperation regarding ethnography (2014), the 'bringing in' of other species' and substances' voices that confront human exceptionalism (for example - Bennett, 2010; Chen et al., 2013) and the many other existing contemporary epistemological challenges that could be considered to be chipping away at the previously established boundaries of this thing we all call anthropology, this panel explores what teaching anthropology now means - or should mean.

This panel accepts papers that are excited, troubled, perplexed and determined to include, establish and impart these new anthropological flavours in curricula.

Bennett, J. 2010 Vibrant Matter Duke Press

Chen, C., Macleod, J., and Neimanis, A. (eds.) 2013 Thinking with Water London: McGill-Queen's University Press

Ingold, T. 2014 'That's enough about ethnography!' Hau: Journal of Ethnography Theory 4 (1): 383-395

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


Engaging anthropology: the importance of 'doing' for teaching anthropology

Author: Luci Attala (University of Wales, Trinity St David)  email

Short Abstract

This paper shares experiences of alternative learning methods. specifically details a module recently offered to level 4 anthropology students It evaluates the worth of rejecting lectures in favour of experiential learning that enables students to discover what it means to be human through doing.

Long Abstract

This paper details the experiences of teaching an anthropology class that supported students to be influenced and led by the materials they were engaging with. Entitled 'Interactions with the Environment', the class was grounded in the growing literature that can loosely be called 'materialities' theories - ideas that call to give materials a voice in a bid to dethrone the human. Taking an approach that assumes being human, at root, emerges as a result of interacting substances, the students were given time in the Lab to engage with a series of substances. Students were asked to 'hear' the substances and were afforded time to become-with water, clay, paint, soap, light, wind, plastic and so on in a bid to experience what it means to be human specifically through interacting with these substances.

Many events were student-led and all were interactive. Student evaluation and performance in other classes indicated that moving away from the classroom and into spontaneous 'life-experiments' may hold great value for anthropology.

Vital material engagements: interactions, participation and the 'ticker-tape' art installation

Author: Eloise Govier (University of Wales Trinity St David)  email

Short Abstract

This paper explores the role of 'Artist' as 'Anthropologist' and considers the types of learning outcomes available when the artist offers co-authoship of their work to their students.

Long Abstract

'Ticker-Tape' is an art installation created by Eloise Govier to spotlight and generate discussion on areas of contention in the public domain. Ticker-Tape was launched in April 2013 and has been executed in various sites across Europe, ranging from a large-scale public art installation in the water spaces of Bristol's Millennium Square to a UNESCO-protected modernist housing estate in what was formerly East Berlin. The artwork involves the moving of fluorescent bricks around a socially significant space, and the interaction between bodies and bricks creates a spectacle that beckons bystanders to bear witness. The evolving biography of the artwork has lead to different types of interactions and participation from members of the public. Recently, the artist has offered co-authorship of the piece to a group of Level 4 anthropology students partaking in the 'Interactions with the Environment' course at the Lampeter School, University of Wales Trinity Saint David. This paper discusses the process of 'making', in relation to Tim Ingold's bold claim "Know for yourself!" (2013), to examine the potential of generating a type of Anthropology that focuses on Creative Practice in the form of Vital Material Engagements.

Experiential learning: exploring the body

Author: Louise Steel (UWTSD)  email

Short Abstract

This paper reflects on experiential learning interrogating intellectual discourse on the body and explores how these embodied learning experiences have served to breakdown boundaries between teaching and research and between archaeology and anthropology.

Long Abstract

This paper reflects on an experiential workshop developed for first year archaeology and anthropology students which explores the body and embodied practices from both archaeological and anthropological perspectives. Practice and debate centered primarily on inscribing the body in both contemporary and ancient culture.

Using various media (polystyrene heads, plastic skulls, clay and our own bodies, henna, charcoal, ochre, hydraulic lime, cowrie shells etc) we explored how the body might be variously marked, inscribed, shaped, represented, transformed. Themes considered were personal biographies, style, identity, belonging, humanizing, the physical tactile sensations generated through embodied action. Particularly informative was our exploration of Neolithic skull cults - through embodied practice the students arrived at new and original observations of this phenomenon. Physical engagement, observation and discussion allowed us also to explore (and deconstruct the boundaries of our disciplines - and opened up new teaching-led research insights.

Pedagogy of the future? The perils, pitfalls and pleasures of teaching ethnography

Authors: Sarah Buckler (Robert Gordon University)  email
Natascha Mueller-HIrth (Robert Gordon University)  email

Short Abstract

Understanding that teaching anthropology and ethnography is central to the discipline, the panel discusses teaching anthropology and ethnography to students whose backgrounds and needs have transformed over the years and from within teams geared towards the expectations of business, government etc.

Long Abstract

Increasingly anthropologists teach in cross disciplinary teams, in settings outside the disciplinary purity of anthropology departments and focused on teaching students whose needs are geared towards those of business and government. Moreover our students often come from developing countries with their own needs, expectations and demands for whom ethnography is a means to an end, and a means that can be squashed to fit the time and circumstances available.

We teach anthropological ideas and techniques without necessarily labelling them as such and share our teaching with colleagues from different disciplinary backgrounds. Are we trying to train future anthropologists or are we trying to teach people an approach to the world which takes something from anthropology but which has moved on to follow different career paths and new routes through the world? Are we losing something by teaching ethnography as a technique in this way, where ethnography emerging from long term, engaged contact with people and situations is replaced by the fast moving requirements of business and government? How does it feel to teach ethnography in such contexts - either as an anthropologist taught the benefits of long term participant observation or as someone who comes to ethnography from a different perspective? What do we learn from one another and what do our students learn from us?

Are we in fact staying true to the ethical underpinnings of anthropology by changing what and how we teach to suit the needs of students who hope to manage the machinations of business and government?

Malinowski, Annette Weiner, and the Trobriand Code: on changing Trobriand paradigms

Author: Patrick Glass  email

Short Abstract

Ethnography makes the most personal public. It’s history, biography, and anthropology. Here, Trobriand ethnographies are examined as ‘anthropolography: the study of the anthropologist, his or her assumptions, theories and works as a whole and not as fragmented parts’(Glass 1978).

Long Abstract

Malinowski regretted that he wrote up his work piece-meal: he never presented an overview of Trobriand culture, or really told us the society had changed immeasurably through contact. How are things related, and what does it all mean, are questions left unanswered. In 1931, Malinowski conceded that he had misinterpreted Trobriand paternity beliefs in 'an evolutionist's recantation'. He struggled to understand the decorated war shield designs, but accepted the indigenous interpretation at face value.

Annette Weiner was in thrall to the significance of Tobriand women's role in important feasts - an area neglected by Malinowski. She had intended to investigate many aspects of the material culture, but failed to do so. Vital Trobriand beliefs are also absent from her ethnographies. What is paramount for Weiner in today's Trobriands is female exchange.

Malinowski's ethnography is probably unparalleled in its detail, and for the questions it raises. I maintain that the decorated war shield is coded, and it holds the key to traditional Trobriand culture. This finding was only possible as I took a strong view on ethnography itself as 'anthropolography'. This enabling methodology led to a paradigm shift. I believe this has much wider implications for anthropology as practised.

Glass, Patrick 1978. 'A Case for Anthropolography'. In, MSc Thesis, pp. 3-25.

____1986. The Trobriand Code: An Interpretation of Trobriand War Shield Designs. Anthropos 81: 47-63.

____1988. Trobriand Symbolic Geography. Man (N.S) 23: 56-76.

____1996. Oedipal or Tudavan? The Trobriand Nuclear Complex Revisited. Canberra Anthropology 19 (1) 52-104.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.