Posts Currently viewing the tag: "Michel-Rolph Trouillot"

Reading Michel-Rolph Trouillot's final chapter in Global Transformations, "Making Sense: The Fields in which We Work" and reflecting on what I've been teaching in Cultural Anthropology. This time around the quote that rattles around in my head:
The time is gone when anthropologists could find solace in the claim that our main civic duty--and the justification for our public support--was the constant reaffirmation that the Bongobongo are “humans just like us.” Every single term of that phrase is now publicly contested terrain, caught between the politics of identity and the turbulence of global flows. Too many of the Bongobongo are now living next door, and a few of them may even be anthropologists presenting their own vision of their home societies, or studying their North Atlantic neighbors. The North Atlantic natives who reject them do so with a passion. Those who do accept them do not need anthropologists in the welcoming committee. The political field within which the discipline operates is fundamentally different from that of colonial eras and the world of the 1950s. Not enough dust has yet settled to point to a safe haven of unequivocal neutrality. Anthropology's substantive contributions in this modified context should be a matter of debate among anthropologists inside and outside of academe, but relevance will likely depend on the extent to which the discipline rids itself of some of its shyness and spells out its stakes for a wider audience. (2003:137)
I've written about this quote before in a guest post for Savage Minds on The Bongobongo and Open Access, but this time I pose the quote mostly as a number of questions. First, I'm wondering if I skipped too quickly over the part about making sure everyone agreed that the Bongobongo are indeed humans just like us. I've usually assumed that by the time of a 200-level anthropology course we all know that. But maybe we do need to have some anthropologists in the welcoming committee, or at least pointing out that there may need to be a welcoming committee. As Trouillot said, the people who reject them "do so with a passion," and perhaps that cannot be changed in an anthropology class, but I wonder if I need to at least better make the attempt. Second, and perhaps to a larger point, the insistence that in fact people deserve to be treated as human beings may in our times be a quite radical assertion. This is a lesson I take from Discuss White Privilege, and is one that applies within anthropology as well as outside it. Finally, and to return to the question of open access anthropology, I'm wondering if the emphasis on open access is doing much to rid the discipline of shyness and actually spell out the stakes for a wider audience. I say this at a time of transitioning to become a new co-editor of Open Anthropology, or what Rex (a consistent champion for open access) calls the "occasionally-not-disappointing semi-OA journal Open Anthropology." Open Anthropology

“humans just like us” (Michel-Rolph Trouillot 2003:137)

Fall 2014, teaching Cultural Anthropology. The Hartwick College Anthropology format for teaching cultural anthropology is to begin with a four-fields Introduction to Anthropology, followed by mid-level sub-field courses built on this prerequisite. It's a somewhat unusual approach for teaching cultural anthropology: many programs use cultural anthropology as an introductory course, but teaching a four-fields introductory course is what led to many of the teaching materials on Living Anthropologically. This semester I am repeating the insane idea from last fall of using Michel-Rolph Trouillot's Global Transformations: Anthropology and the Modern World as an overarching textbook. Last fall I tried assigning the highly-recommended Coding Freedom: The Ethics and Aesthetics of Hacking from Gabriella Coleman. However, I found Coleman's recourse to depicting a "hacker culture" somewhat at odds with the reasons for why Trouillot said we needed to bid Adieu, Culture. So this time I swapped that book for Tim Ingold's Making: Anthropology, Archaeology, Art and Architecture, which does certainly provide an inspiring quote for teaching anthropology:
Teaching cultural anthropologyMy teaching--all teaching--would be worthless were it not transformational in intent. And conversely, my studies--all study--would be worthless if it did not lead us to teach with this intent. To teach is to honour our commitments by repaying what we owe the world for our formation. In short, teaching (and not ethnographic writing) is the other side of participant observation: there cannot be one without the other, and both are indispensable to the practice of anthropology as an art of inquiry. To teach anthropology is to practise anthropology; to practise anthropology is to teach it. (2013:13; see also Dustin Wax's The Trouble with Teaching on Savage Minds)

Teaching Cultural Anthropology: Does it work?

For this fall's teaching cultural anthropology, I have retained a trio of books I've been using for several years: Ruth Benedict's Patterns of Culture, Laura Bohannan's Return to Laughter and Elizabeth Chin's Purchasing Power: Black Kids and American Consumer Culture. This time around I'm trying to see if teaching cultural anthropology "works" by juxtaposing those books against selections from three recent offerings. First, I'm including a chapter from Jared Diamond's Natural Experiments of History, as both Benedict and Diamond spend a lot of time talking about islands. In some ways--as I mentioned in Jared Diamond and Future Public Anthropology--I suspect this book is where Diamond gets much more historical and belatedly realizes one cannot do geography without history, especially colonial history. Second, I'll be juxtaposing Bohannan's Return to Laughter with a selection from Nicholas Wade's Troublesome Inheritance. Anthropologists have vigorously and correctly argued against Wade's Troublesome Ignorance when it comes to race and genetics (for a longer history of this critique see Boasian Critiques of Race in The Nation edited by Alex Golub and Angela Chen). However, by juxtaposing Bohannan with one of Wade's later speculative chapters, "The Rise of the West," I'll be interested to explore how some of the earlier anthropological tropes precisely reinforced the ideas of African "tribal" organization. The final juxtaposition is Chin's Purchasing Power against a selection from Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld on The Triple Package. Here, I hope the comparison is sharp--Chin provides an account of history, inequality, and power, of the kind anthropology should be delivering all the time (see editor Anne Brackenbury's recent post on Going Public. Still, the frames Chin is fighting against are powerful organizing ideas--as with all these juxtapositions, I'm not sure teaching cultural anthropology always works.

Teaching Cultural Anthropology and the Purpose of Anthropology

To kick off the class, I've taken a look back at September 2013 and the Trouillot quotes I extracted for reflecting on the purpose of anthropology. I'm hoping to be able to re-investigate those blog-posts, since participating in liberal arts college planning activities sidelined blogging. Hoping also to finally work on the stable pages for Cultural Anthropology and Living Anthropologically. Because if blogging might also be a form of teaching anthropology, then (to paraphrase Tim Ingold) blogging is also the other side of participant observation. Teaching Cultural Anthropology (via a quote from Tim Ingold, Making, 2013:13)