Decolonizing the Canon Pt. 2 : Resources

A couple of years ago, I read Lynn Bolles article Telling the Story Straight: Black Feminist Intellectual Thought in AnthropologyMy main take away from Bolles’ article is that not only are minority scholars being faced with structural barriers in academia, but we also are less likely to be cited and referenced by other scholars—even more so for women of color. So for my introductory course with a decolonized reading list, I made an effort to seek out literature written by women, people of color, and from underrepresented minorities.

I stumbled on some really interesting readings (both in the traditional sense and in the new mediatic sense), and I’m sharing them here. The list includes articles, book chapters, Ted Talks, YouTube Videos, podcasts, and online resources like The Sociological Cinema (which actually was started in my graduate alma mater, The University of Maryland, College Park, and to which several colleagues and friends of mine contributed).

Here are some readings that I used for my class based on the thematic components of the discussion:

Readings:

  • Understanding the Contemporary World (Augé and Colleyn 2006:7-20)
  • The Behavioral Inheritance Systems (Jablonka and Lam b 2005:155-180)
  • Anthropologists and Other Friends (Deloria Jr. 1969)
  • The Puzzle (Handwerker 2009:15-35)
  • Body Ritual Among the Nacirema (Miner 1956)
  • Introduction: Partial Truths (Clifford 1986:1-26)
  • Why Indians Aren’t Celebrating The Bicentennial (Deloria Jr. 1999:199-205)
  • Another Look at Centuries-Long Hegemonic Practices (Williams 2010)
  • Brackette Williams, professor at the University of Arizona
  • Introduction: Out of Exile (Behar 1995:1- 29)
  • Ethnography as Politics (Harrison 1997:88-109)
    • Faye V. Harrison is a Professor of African American Studies and Anthropology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
  • Seeing Kali’s City As “Insiders”: Religious Diversity, Gender, Class, And Culture As “Textured” Learning For American Students (Samanta 2014)
  • The Centrality of Ethnography in the Study of Transnational Migration: Seeing the Wetland Instead of Swamp (Schiller 2003)
  • Living and Working in a War Zone: An Applied Anthropologist in Afghanistan (Omidian 2009)
  • The Circle and the Field (Agar 1994a:49-60)
  • Culture Blends (Agar 1994b:15-30)
  • Slippery Semantics (Godreau 2008)
    • Isar Godreau, Puerto Rican Anthropologist at the University of Puerto Rico
  • Migration, Return, and Development: an Institutional Perspective (Olesen 2002)
  • Gender Roles in Sociocultural and Historical Context (Schweitzer 2006:41-56)
  • Linguistic Anthropology in 2008: An Election-Cycle Guide (Faudree 2009)
  • Mass Media and Transnational Subjectivity in Shanghai: Notes on (Re)Cosmopolitanism in a Chinese Metropolis (Yang 2007:325-349)
    • Mayfair Yang 楊美惠教授 is an Anthropologist by training and professor at University of California Berkeley’s  Department of Religious Studies and Department of East Asian Languages & Cultural Studies.
  •  1-4 (Sontag 2001:5-37)
    • Susan Sontag was a writer, filmmaker, teacher and political activist.

Videos and Other Media

References

Adichie, Chimamanda Ngozi
2013 We Should All Be Feminists – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie at Tedxeuston. http://tedxtalks.ted.com/video/We-should-all-be-feminists-Chim, Accessed: August 8, 2014.

Agar, Michael
1994a Culture Blends. In Language Shock: Understanding the Culture of Conversation. Pp. 15-30: HarperCollins.—

1994b The Circle and the Field. In Language Shock: Understanding the Culture of Conversation. Pp. 49-60: HarperCollins.

Augé, Marc, and Colleyn, Jean-Paul
2006 The World of an Anthropologist. Howe, John, transl. Oxford, UK; New York, USA: Berg, Oxford International Publishers Ltd.

Behar, Ruth

1995 Introduction: Out of Exile. In Women Writing Culture. Behar, Ruth and Gordon, Deborah A., eds. Pp. 1-29: University of California Press.

Case, Amber
2010 We Are All Cyborgs Now. Ted.Com. http://www.ted.com/talks/amber_case_we_are_all_cyborgs_now?language=en, accessed October 1, 2014.

Clifford, J.
1986Introduction: Partial Truths. In Writing Culture: The Poetics and Politics of  Ethnography. Clifford, J. and Marcus, G.E., eds. Pp. 1-26: University of California Press.

Climate Reality
2012 Doubt. Video, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YhDacrl1aSA, Accessed: 8/30/2014.

Brooks, Iris and Davis, Jon H.,
2011 Languages Lost and Found: Speaking & Whistling the Mamma Tongue. http://search.alexanderstreet.com/view/work/1785489, Accessed: 9/1/2014.

Deloria Jr., Vine
1969 Anthropologists and Other Friends. In Custer Died for Your Sins: An Indian Manifesto. University of Oklahoma Press.
1999 A Flock of Anthros. In Spirit & Reason: The Vine Deloria, Jr., Reader. Deloria Jr., Vine, Deloria, B., Foehner, K., and Scinta, S., eds. Pp. 123-126: Fulcrum Pub.—
1999 Why Indians Aren’t Celebrating the Bicentennial. In Spirit & Reason: The Vine Deloria, Jr., Reader. Deloria Jr., Vine, Deloria, B., Foehner, K., and Scinta, S., eds. Pp. 199-205: Fulcrum Pub.

Faudree, Paja
2009 Linguistic Anthropology in 2008: An Election-Cycle Guide. American Anthropologist 111(2):153-161.

Glass, Ira
2004 Fake Science: Stories of People Trying to Drag Science Where It Doesn’t Belong. http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/265/fake-science, Accessed: 8/30/2014.

Godreau, Isar

2008 Slippery Semantics: Race Talk and Everyday Uses of Racial Terminology in Puerto Rico. Centro Journal XX(2):5-33.

Han, Sang-Ho
2005 The Birth of Writing. http://search.alexanderstreet.com/anthropology/view/work/1779548, Accessed: 9/01/2014.

Handwerker, W. Penn
2009 The Puzzle. In The Origin of Cultures: How Individual Choices Make Cultures Change. Pp. 15-35. Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press, Inc.

Harrison, Faye Venetia
1997 Ethnography as Politics. In Decolonizing Anthropology: Moving Further Toward an Anthropology of Liberation. Harrison, Faye Venetia, ed. Pp. 88-109: Association of Black Anthropologists, American Anthropological Association.

Jablonka, Eva, and Lamb, Marion J.

2005 The Behavioral Inheritance Systems. In Evolution in Four Dimensions: Genetic, Epigenetic, Behavioral, and Symbolic Variation in the History of Life. Pp. 155-191. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press.

Lan, Yang
2011 The Generation That’s Remaking China. http://www.ted.com/talks/yang_lan, Accessed: 8/14/14.

Lysicott, Jamila
2014 3 Ways to Speak English. http://www.ted.com/talks/jamila_lyiscott_3_ways_to_speak_english, Accessed: 9/2/2014.

Miner, Horace
1956 Body Ritual among the Nacirema. American Anthropologist 58(3):503-507.

National Congress of American Indians
2014 Proud to Be. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mR-tbOxlhvE, Accessed: 08/26/2014.

Omidian, Patricia
2009 Living and Working in a War Zone: An Aplied Anthropologist in Afghanistan. Practicing Anthropology: Spring 2009, Vol. 31, No. 2, pp. 4-11.

Pagel, Mark

2011 Mark Pagel: How Language Transformed Humanity. http://www.ted.com/talks/mark_pagel_how_language_transformed_humanity#t-536675, Accessed: 8/31/2014.

Richards, Sam
2014 A Radical Experiment In Empathy. Ted.Com. http://www.ted.com/talks/ sam_richards_a_radical_experiment_in_empathy, accessed September 7 , 2014.

Samanta, Suchitra
2014 Seeing Kali’s City As “Insiders”: Religious Diversity, Gender, Class, And Culture As “Textured” Learning For American Students. Practicing Anthropology 35(3): 23-27.

Schweitzer, Marjorie M.
2006 Gender Roles in Sociocultural and Historical Context. In Women in Anthropology: Autobiographical Narratives and Social History. Cattell, Maria G. and Scheweitzer, Marjorie M., eds. Pp. 41-56. Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press, Inc.

Wesch, Michael
2007 A Vision of Students Today. Online Video, http://mediatedcultures.net/videos/a-vision-of-students-today/, Accessed: July 30, 2014.

Williams, Brackette F.
2010 Forty Years Ago: Another Look at Centuries‐Long Hegemonic Practices. Transforming Anthropology 18(2):111-113.

Yang, Mayfair Mei-Hui
2007 Mass Media and Transnational Subjectivity in Shanghai: Notes on (Re)Cosmopolitanism in a Chinese Metropolis. In The Anthropology of Globalization: A Reader. Inda, Jonathan Xavier and Rosaldo, Renato, eds. Pp. 325-349: Wiley.

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Decolonizing the Canon

These past couple of weeks there have been a lot of great articles regarding decolonizing anthropology. Just this week, Savage Minds published their last post on the Decolonizing Anthropology series in which Paige West discussed Teaching Decolonizing Methodologies. 

When I had the opportunity to teach my own class and coordinate the syllabus myself, I sought to teach an introduction to sociocultural anthropology that reflected my experiences engaging in an effort to decolonize anthropology. I compared syllabi, and rather than taking a safer (easier?) route, I looked for resources that reflected the diversity of anthropology and related disciplines. I actively sought readings that would provide the necessary fundamentals to students, while exposing them to the anthropology I wish I had been taught at the introductory level: a decolonized anthropology. Similar to the one I received back home in Puerto Rico.

Research led me to Women Writing Culture, edited by Ruth Behar. In the introduction she says (p. 11):

Anthropologists have belatedly begun to realize that we, too, have a canon, a set of “great books” that we continue to teach to our students, as dutifully as they were once taught to us in graduate school. That these books just happen to be the writings of white men is an idea that can never be brought up. It seems somehow impolite, given anthropology’s virtue as the first academic discipline even to give a damn about all those remote and often vanquished cultures. So we habitually assign the writing of Evans-Pritchard because his work on the Azande and the Nuer has been enshrined as part of our “core” reading list. Yet we rarely ask students to engage with the writing of Alice Walker, even though, as Faye Harrison persuasively shows in her essay for this volume, she has long seen herself as an active interlocutor with anthropology.

This made me realize that the reading list I put together would become the canon in my introductory anthropology course for these students. Whoever is teaching, reinforces the canon. I didn’t have the power to change the curriculum, but I had a chance to steer them towards a decolonized introduction to anthropology.

I did this by dividing each class into two parts. During the first part I lectured. This allowed me to discuss the assigned textbook material (although the textbook was not required for the students) and filter it through my perspective: a cisgender brown queer Puerto Rican anthropologist. This lecture component mainly consisted of discussing the traditional topics and terms that an introductory course touches on: What is culture? Who studies culture? Why do we study culture? What methods do we use? In the second part of the class, we discussed the assigned weekly readings. These readings would be traditional text readings, media readings, or both. In this latter part of the class, we took to task the materials from my own lecture by discussing the readings. I will write a second post detailing the readings and resources I used (post here), but broadly I drew from YouTube videos, Ted Talks, podcasts, and music videos. For text readings I drew material from poets, activists, and academics, giving particular importance to women, people of color, queer people, and Black, Latinx, Asian, and Native academics. I am still learning; if given the chance again, I would seek to include more resources from fields and perspectives that I didn’t include this time.

I received good responses from the students– informally and through the student evaluations. Students enjoyed most of the readings–in the methods classes, they particularly enjoyed reading about Faye Harrison’s fieldwork in Jamaica, from the Decolonizing Anthropology volume she edited. Furthermore, some of my students who identified as people of color were particularly fascinated by the concept of multiple consciousness she discusses. We learned together, and I saw the engagement and energy that the students brought. We even discussed (then) current topics such as the unrest in Baltimore.

Though I had the opportunity and relative power to decolonize part of their learning process, and there are others doing the same, there are criticisms. For example, I read this article recently that I found confronting. The article, aptly titled The Canon Is Sexist, Racist, Colonialist, and Totally Gross. Yes, You Have to Read It Anyway is a response to Yale students asking for their English Literature curriculum to be decolonized:

Here’s the thing, though. If you want to become well-versed in English literature, you’re going to have to hold your nose and read a lot of white male poets. Like, a lot. More than eight….

But you cannot profess to be a student of English literature if you have not lingered in the slipstreams of certain foundational figures, who also happen to be (alas) both white and male…

The canon of English literature is sexist. It is racist. It is colonialist, ableist, transphobic, and totally gross. You must read it anyway.

I disagree completely, mainly because of the author’s dismissive attitude towards the call for decolonizing the curriculum. The article can be discussed at length, but my point is that many of us still crave for this decolonization. We enjoy the richness of anthropology, however we don’t want to relive and reinforce the violence imposed to some of us in the name of anthropology.

IMG_1222
Even here in Melbourne Uni!

In the end, my students were exposed to a different anthropology course. If they wanted to learn more about the traditional canon, those that are anthropology majors can do so. These students had exposure to a decolonized canon; one that is not considered irrefutable, and has not been strictly filtered through an outdated colonized mindset. For those students that went through my course, their introduction to anthropology was intersectional, and somewhat decolonized.


I’ll follow up this post with a list of the readings and resources I used for my courses. Follow up post: Decolonizing the Canon Pt.2

Colonized mind

Yesterday, I saw a conversation happen in front of me at the metro, and all I could do was cringe. I tried to speak up, but my voice failed me; I failed to call them out. Maybe it’s because I’m exhausted of brown and minority folk tearing each other down.

White supremacy, the patriarchy, capitalism; the systems and ideologies in which we operate, were not designed to allow a bunch of us attain success through whiteness, maleness, and the 1%. We obtain some and unfortunately tear each other down when we have the illusion that success in these systems is just slipping through our fingers. As if we “just tried harder we could _________”.

Unfortunately these circumstances beget structural violence and inequality; we then reproduce that ethos of supremacy, patriarchy, and whiteness within our own groups, and as we interact with other minority/oppressed groups we discount others’ experiences to prop our own.

I want to keep learning how a decolonized anthropology can aid with issues of solidarity and intersectionality.

I conclude this short post with this Fanon quote:

“I, the man of color, want only this: That the tool never possess the man. That the enslavement of man by man cease forever. That is, of one by another. That it be possible for me to discover and to love man, wherever he may be.”
― Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks

Teaching about #Baltimore and #BlackLivesMatter

Minneapolis rally and march to support the people of Baltimore

I teach an introduction to social cultural anthropology and linguistics course, and I have made sure that this course presents current societal issues that anthropology can best contribute to. As such, this past Tuesday, instead of talking about globalization (which was the topic of the day) we talked about what was happening in Baltimore. The reading for the day was Monster, Terrorist, Fag: The War on Terrorism and the Production of Docile Patriots, and even though we didn’t get a chance to discuss it, it was very appropriate for the discussion that we had.

The ground rules for the discussion were based on the concept of safe space. We were going to talk about sensitive issues, and I emphasized that opinions should be respected:  “let’s argue, but do so respectfully for the purpose of learning”. I also emphasized that if someone became uncomfortable and wanted to voice those feelings, they should bring them up; if that happened we would move on.

So we started the discussion by talking about the role of the media and how protesters are being characterized. We talked about coded language with racist undertones to describe Black protesters who were engaging in peaceful demonstrations.

We talked about systemic issues of poverty at the intersection of race given the socio-historical context of the city of Baltimore.

We talked about the difference between #BlackLivesMatter and #Alllivesmatter, and how the latter deviates the conversation and does not address systemic inequality.

We talked about the Stanford prison experiment and the psychological implications of people who hold positions of power. We also discussed empathy in the context of a research project that showed that White people thought Black people felt less pain.

We talked about Power (with capital p) and Institutions (with capital i). We talked about the role of the police as a representative of the government. In this case we have noticed that the government has been responding violently (to the point of murdering Black people for seemingly innocuous offenses or qualitatively different reasons than White individuals committing said offenses) when a particular group of people is perceived to challenge the superiority of its law enforcement.

We talked about how the Police should protect its citizens. The current contradiction is that the individuals who are supposed to protect us, are seemingly not doing so. We discussed the rationale of brown and Black folk not trusting the police (given the high profile cases of white policemen killing Black people being aprehended); similarly how women are enculturated to fear the night (given the grim statistics on sexual assault).

We talked about how if this were happening in another country, we would be concerned that the government was disproportionally silencing (killing) an ethnic group inside its borders. Think of civil war scenarios in Syria for comparison’s sake… or Rwanda…or…

As I hold a position of power, I felt the need to engage in this conversation. Anthropology students should be in a position to analyze what is happening 20 something miles away from us. Some students need to hear that their fears and concerns are real, and that there are some of us in temporary positions of power that can ackowledge that. Other students need to hear what their peers say and how their thoughts differ. The rest need to be challenged, so that they don’t stay silent and reproduce the racial discourses that sparked the current situation and continue to maintain inequality in Baltimore…in Chicago…in Long Island… In Ferguson…

identities

One of the few things I didn’t problematize in my fieldwork was the concept of Hispanic and Latino. As a Puerto Rican born and raised in the island, I have always been more comfortable with the noun/adjective of Latin American (if needed) after Puerto Rican.

I guess I could consider myself Latino, now that I have been living here in the US for almost 8 years. In contrast to queer, gay, or bisexual (labels which I don’t dwell too much on), I do think often of what it means to be Latino. Is it growing up here? Is it that I am originally from a Latin American country? I still don’t know. I know for certain that I am not Hispanic, since I don’t feel comfortable with that label.

I did notice that while we as researchers sometimes worry about labels like this (and we should when power laden language has real life repercussions) people are using them interchangeably for multiple purposes. Sometime in 2012 I found myself at this festival called Langley Park Day. Among the health fairs and the food, there were dances like this picture shows.  

Langley Park Day 2012

The Panamanians in this picture are dancing a traditional (folk?) dance from Panamá. Aside from noting similarities in their clothing with Puerto Rican folk dances, I concluded that all of these people were there for fun and were likely not inclined to be bothered by my thoughts on pan-american blanket identities that seem to erase individual and indigenous heritages.

So I kept enjoying the dances. Just me, a regular neighbor for now, eating my pupusa, and taking pictures of the cool dances and posting them on Instagram. I don’t think that anyone that day cared about the problems of these identities, since everyone was showing off a little bit of their own heritage. They get it. I guess I (eventually) got it too.

Just some thoughts…

[Originally presented at Anthroplus 2015]

Fieldwork and Privilege Part 1

P.S. I realized that I haven’t talked much about my research, so I will do so in a future post. In the meantime here is a link to my profile in the University of Maryland, College Park Anthropology department website which has some info about my research.

Time to travel to the near past…

I remember a particular conversation I had in a bar with a friend (intemperate indian) who’s a fellow anthropologist. We were chatting after some sort of department event we attended, and our conversation shifted to privilege and its discomfort.

We had a moment (as we often do, since we don’t think very differently )in which we talked about how if you don’t feel discomfort as an anthropologist in the field, then there is something wrong. And it’s probably you, and probably there might be some privilege that needs to be checked. Mainly because when I go to the field I’m going to study a lot of things that are outside my experience—because I’m educated, because I’m not one of the people under study, because I’m not a woman, because I’m a US citizen, because I’m studying reproductive health, because it’s just awkward to ask these women questions that they weren’t even thinking of answering when they came to the clinic…etc

Within this fieldwork, there is a level of advocacy that is implicit. Yet, when trying to carry out the advocacy efforts through research, I encountered problems in the field, with the topics of my questions. When I was carrying out interviews in the clinic, I was trying to do so as to get their perspective on the topic of male circumcision and decision making; at no point I was trying to make the clinic look bad by pointing out that they rarely discuss male circumcision. This was in fact a rich point of the research itself! Without going too much into what I found in these interviews (which is what I’m currently working on now) I quickly noticed that the perception was that circumcision was not talked about much. But more telling is that before beginning my interview process, those troublesome encounters have been brought to my attention by white people who to their defense said they were trying to defend their clients. I actually believe this to be true, since they were worried how my questions will bias the women in the clinics and then perceive that the information they are not receiving can be harmful to their children. Put another way, they wanted me to reframe my questions as to not frame the clinic as the sole responsible entity for giving the patients’ information about circumcision, so that the women seeking services did not feel they were missing out on something. I’m not trying to jump to conclusions about what this actually means for my research, yet I found it very interesting. The fact that the rest of the Latino staff apparently feel comfortable enough with my presence and trusted my intentions and the goals of representing a particular perspective with this research. The fact that some of the staff actually mentioned how happy they were about my visits—and mentioned how glad they are that a Latino student is doing a PhD—is a stark contrast to the comments and criticism-not necessarily negative, but still criticism- I received from the white staff.

Discomfort and fieldwork are evidently related in my experience, especially when I am an anthropologist whose background has been impacted by colonialism. Yet I’ve never made the connection before as to what that meant in terms of my own privilege. It’s an interesting position within the us/them dialectic, since my entrance to the field has definitely been helped by the fact that I somewhat look (and to some extent talk) like the majority of the staff in the clinics. But I still need to be vigilant and to not take for granted in the ways that I pass, and the times I need to get checked.