Category: Adventures in Pedagogy

An Anthropologist Visits the Classroom: On teaching science (and religion)

Although I’ve never taught the book cover-to-cover, my copy of Latour and Woolgar’s (1986) Laboratory Life has been unpacked four times since I finished my Ph.D., six years ago during a final sweltry Florida summer. Their re-inscription of the Salk Institute has moved with me through the planned communities of D.C.’s suburbs, the tech-ifying Research Triangle of central North Carolina, and the cotton-cultivating arid flatland of west Texas. Now, Lab Life and I cohabitate—more peacefully than we used to—at one of New England’s dark-brick collegiate beauties. I’ve offered courses on the anthropology of science, in different iterations and incarnations, at George Mason University, North Carolina State University, Texas Tech University, and now Mount Holyoke College. As my nomadism gives way to more permanent settlement, I’m pausing to reflect on the modest successes (and felt frustrations) of sharing my passion for anthropology through attention to its liaison with science and technology studies. (read more...)

What Can Twitter Do to/for the Field?

By Andrea Ballestero, Baird Campbell, and Eliot Storer* Between June 15 and 22, 2015, a group of anthropologists and graduate students convened by the Ethnography Studio linked our fieldsites via Twitter. The experiment, entitled “Ethnography Studio in the Field: #ESIFRice,” was designed to open conversations about how being in the “field” might shape the ways in which we conceptualize our problems of inquiry. How are the problems that mobilize us imagined once we are “in situ”? So we set up a structure for a parallel co-inhabitation of different sites. Each participant tweeted from her own location and with her own research interests in mind. The idea was not to establish a single multisited space or a joint research project but to keep the separation between sites alive, while linking them as an attempt to think together. If there was any purpose to the experiment, we could say that it was to craft an experimental system (Rheinberger 1997), that is, to set up a “system of manipulation designed to give unknown answers to questions the experimenters themselves are not yet able clearly to ask” (28). The experiment was related tangentially to ongoing conversations in anthropology about the uses of social media in fieldwork (Juris 2012; Horst 2015; Kraemer 2015; Sanjek and Tratner 2015), or what Kozinets has called “netnography” (2009). Yet, the purpose was not to explicitly discuss social media, but to create a space of structured play where we could see what Twitter might do to shape our analytic fields in real time. And so it was that a group of us, in different stages of our training, enmeshed in different geographic sites, and from different professional locations, got together to think about the field. The experiment generated a set of familiar and unfamiliar impressions. This post is an initial reflection on the effects of the experiment, not a report on results. The Ethnography Studio wrote up #ESIFRice! Field / Experiments cc @aballes2 @ethosITU @BairdCampbell #fieldwork #yes — Rachel Douglas-Jones (@kaisirlin) September 22, 2015 (read more...)

Teaching the Anthropology of Outer Space

I think I’ve been most surprised by how effectively exploring anthropology in the context of space has educated me on anthropology in general. Having never taken a prior anthropology class, I think learning about it (and consequently, us) through a specific topic, such as space anthropology, has been a great way to learn. This is the kind of student endorsement that makes a professor’s heart sing. A few weeks ago, I asked students in my “Anthropology of Outer Space” class to provide me with some feedback on what “surprised” them most about this class. I did this to confirm a hunch that as much as the students were excited about outer space, they were becoming equally excited about anthropology. Sure enough, a third of the anthropology of outer space class said that what surprised them most was their interest in and the relevance of anthropology both for understanding human culture in general and science in specific. The class, I should note, is being taught at the University of Virginia, and cross-listed between the School of Engineering and the College of Arts and Sciences. With two exceptions, the students are majoring in STEM fields. For many of the engineering students, this is their first humanities/social science class in college; for most every other student, their first anthropology class. (read more...)

In Search of Convergence, In Search of Consensus: Design media in a university architecture studio

That’s not meant to be a comprehensive design drawing. That’s meant to say, ‘Scape is comprised of people, plants, hardscape materials,’ and that’s the language. So, we should squint at it, see the language, accept the language, the density, how it’s allocated over the site, and—boom—move on. But we get struck with confusion that says, ‘What’s that green thing? How does that fit into the scape?’ So we end up having a conversation about what it is we’ve done, or how we’ve done it, or communicated it, rather than the substance of the idea. We have to note that—we can’t build consensus on stuff we can’t communicate—because everyone’s trying to figure out what we’ve done. With these comments, the architecture professor tried to reclaim control over his students’ design review, which had been sidetracked by the jury’s questioning. The jury, composed of other faculty in the architecture and landscape architecture departments, was confused about a secondary element of a project to redesign the façade and site of an American university school of architecture building. I was there as an ethnographer of architecture pedagogy and design process for a comparative multi-institutional research project involving four Canadian and American schools of architecture. The discussion revolved around a series of digital drawings, and a student’s narration of those drawings, displayed on a large flat screen placed in front of the audience. The time spent trying to parse and probe the “meaning” of the drawings, mediated by both the visual and linguistic dimensions of the presentation, was diluting what the students and their professor had hoped would be the principal thrust of the presentation, and drawing attention to an area of the design that was less well-developed. As Luke, the professor, pointed out, the conversation was not only distracting from the “the substance of the idea” (i.e., the design); it was threatening to undermine consensus—in a sense, the approval of the audience—which would allow the project to move forward. (read more...)

Notes from Art of the Archive: Rethinking Archival Practices in a Digital Era

This post describes a workshop on archival practices in the digital era that took place on May 21, 2015, at the University of California, Davis. The essay is co-authored by Alessandro Delfanti, Allison Fish, and Alexandra Lippman. Delfanti, Fish, and Lippman are postdocs with UC Davis’ Innovating Communication in Scholarship (ICIS) project. On May 21, 2015, the Innovating Communication in Scholarship project at the University of California, Davis held a one-day workshop on Art of the Archive. Papers given by the fifteen invited speakers explored the changing nature of the archive given the emergence of new information and communication technologies. These presentations largely focused on how these new digital archives are not merely technical creations, but are also constructed through social processes, have social impacts, and are not seamlessly implemented in everyday life. Instead, these digital storehouses are vibrant spaces for curating, organizing and publishing cultural heritage and expressive culture in new ways. In taking up this discussion three primary topics emerged and are described below: questions about access, circulation, and research design. (read more...)

Shifting Fields of Academic Publishing

I’ve been thinking about academic publishing lately. Some of that is related to being in the middle of Michigan State University’s tenure process. It also has to do with having chaired an ad-hoc committee to revise my department’s annual review process. It also has a bit to do with Issue 30.1 of the journal Cultural Anthropology (CA) being released last week. Since graduate school, I have wandered the borderlands between Anthropology, Game Studies and Science and Technology Studies. I’ve been (somewhat oddly sometimes) employed by “communication” colleges of various sorts, in part due to Game Studies having found its most disciplinary home in such locations. But I think most importantly it has put me in conversation with a variety of approaches to and perspectives on what academic scholarly activity should/ought/might look like. Add to this my work as a game designer/developer and conversations within the institutions I inhabit how those materials should/ought to/might be evaluated. (read more...)

Doing Critique in K-12: Kim Fortun on Ethnography, Environment, and the EcoEd Research Group

By Beth Reddy and Kim Fortun Since 2012, the EcoEd Research Group ( has run over thirty workshops in New York. The group brings faculty and college students (mostly from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute) together with K-12 students in collaborative environmental education. EcoEd workshops have focused on green building, environmental photography, and county-level sustainability assessments, among other topics – engaging both the environment and education in new ways. Dr. Kim Fortun is an anthropologist and professor in the Department of Science and Technology Studies at RPI, and has been a key participant in the development of EcoEd. I sent her a few simple questions about what EcoEd is up to and how she’s thinking about this kind of work. Her responses, below, touch on issues that won’t be unfamiliar to many CASTAC readers: experiments in ethnography and in the classroom that engage with what Fortun calls “late industrialism” in creative and critical ways. Fortun: We think through what we have learned about environmental problems – how they play out, the conceptual and cultural challenges they pose – and then try to observe, read about and think through how environmental problems are out of synch with the education and thinking of U.S. kids – so that we can design and deliver K-12 curriculum that speaks to both. It is one way to make ethnographic knowledge “relevant;” it is one of many possible forms of activism. (read more...)

Speed-Bump, Meet Knee Defender

Bruno Latour’s Science in Action remains an unparalleled introduction to science studies because of its conversational style and clever use of the conventions of the “how-to” genre. And Latour has other shorter, more pedagogical, articles that show wonderfully how non-living objects are deeply embedded in complex social relations. But I sometimes wonder if his examples–the door-closer, the speed-bump, or sometimes, even the gun — are too simple. I worry about teaching these examples to savvy undergraduates in an introductory STS class. Will they just laugh it off dismissing it as obvious? Will they look at it as philosophy, as a conceptual case, rather than as anthropology? Could there be a more immediate example where the politics is not abstract, but more concrete? Where the students can use the immediacy of their own experience, but also where the stakes are higher? (read more...)