Visualizando la discapacidad: Caravana en silla de ruedas a través de Bolivia

Caravana de integración sillas de ruedas del 2011-2012

Guía pedagógica

Este recurso educativo, también disponible en inglés, involucra a los estudiantes en cursos de antropología cultural de pregrado y posgrado para pensar críticamente sobre una amplia gama de temas como la discapacidad, la medicina, el cuerpo, los sentidos, la ciudadanía y América Latina utilizando fuentes primarias. Usando una narrativa original, videos y preguntas que hacen reflexionar, los estudiantes aprenderán y analizarán la “Caravana de integración en silla de ruedas”, una movilización masiva de bolivianos con discapacidad que se llevó a cabo en Bolivia entre el año 2011-2012. Primeramente, los estudiantes leen la narrativa, “Caravana de silla de ruedas en Bolivia”, en la que Mariaca detalla el profundo papel que jugó el apoyo colectivo cuando los activistas se esforzaron por realizar tareas complementarias y no jerárquicas que hicieron posible su arduo viaje a través de Bolivia. Luego, los estudiantes ven dos videos de dos minutos producidos por los medios que muestran un importante momento en la jornada de la Caravana que culminó en una plaza pública en Santa Cruz, donde los activistas expusieron sus cuerpos para ganar visibilidad para exigir y captar la atención sobre el sacrificio de la lucha por la igualdad de derechos que estaba invisible y a menudo no dan la importancia necesaria. El primer video de los medios, “Caravana entrevista activista”, creado por ATB Digital, proporciona comentarios de un periodista y una entrevista con una activista. En el segundo video de Viva, “Caravana entrevista pública”, las imágenes y las entrevistas muestran las reacciones del público. Finalmente, los estudiantes pueden escribir o discutir activamente sus respuestas a las preguntas proporcionadas por este recurso. En suma, esta actividad multimodal ofrece a los estudiantes una oportunidad única para analizar críticamente estas fuentes primarias a medida que los estudiantes exploran comparativamente cómo los activistas, los medios de comunicación y el público interpretan de manera diferente el significado de la Caravana de integración en silla de ruedas.

Caravana de silla de ruedas en Bolivia de Carlos Mariaca Álvarez

Por 100 días, desde el 15 de noviembre del 2011 al 26 de febrero del 2012, las Personas con Discapacidad (Pcd) en Bolivia realizaron una histórica movilización en silla de ruedas, recorrieron 1520 km. a través de 5 Departamentos de Bolivia, desde el Departamento del Tridad, Bení  hasta La Paz, ciudad sede de gobierno. “La Caravana de integración en silla de ruedas” liderizada por los dirigentes de la Confederación Boliviana de la Persona con Discapacidad (COBOPDI) junto a los dirigentes de las Federaciones departamentales (FEDEPDIS), tenían el objetivo de reivindicar los derechos de las Pcd, proponiendo el Proyecto de Ley “Trato preferente para las Pcd” que mejore la calidad de vida de este sector social y les otorgue un bono anual de 3600 bs.  Además se exigía la creación de albergues integrales comunitarios, para quienes no tienen familias y vagan huérfanos por la vida en condiciones de extrema pobreza.

La Caravana de la integración iba por la carretera, exponiéndose a las condiciones climáticas y a los peligros del tránsito vehicular, contando sólo con el apoyo de la ciudadanía Boliviana. Los acompañaban algunos de sus familiares y otros, que junto a sus hijos se sumaron voluntaria y solidariamente, para empujar las sillas de ruedas, preparar la comida, lavar la ropa y ayudarlos en la higiene personal. En un acuerdo mutuo con el Líder Carlos Mariaca Álvarez y los dirigentes, se tenía la responsabilidad de no hacerles faltar desayuno almuerzo y cena, proveerles de todas sus necesidades ya sea zapatos que se destrozaban en el camino y ropa que se recibía de donación. En dos movilidades se transportaba la cocina, utensilios, alimentos, víveres y algunos viejos colchones. La comida era preparada para todos, los niños tenían leche y  pañales que se compraban o eran la ayuda enviada de diferentes lugares del país.

La Caravana, al tener muy poca cobertura en los medios de comunicación y no ser atendidos por las autoridades del gobierno, se la denominó “La Marcha Invisible.” Para cambiar esta situación, al llegar a Santa Cruz una cuadra antes de ingresar a la plaza principal, las personas con discapacidad decidieron quitarse la ropa y bajarse de las sillas de ruedas al suelo. Ingresaron a la plaza el 24 de Septiembre arrastrándose por el suelo en un impactante y conmovedor esfuerzo por visibilizar su lucha. Quienes no podían movilizarse eran arrastrados por los voluntarios e incluso ayudo algún periodista y ciudadano de Santa Cruz . Esta impactante acción se hizo en homenaje a los hermanos y las hermanas con Discapacidad que al no tener condiciones adecuadas, se arrastran en sus casas, en las calles o donde viven, para salir de sus rincones, buscar comida o hacer sus necesidades biológicas. 

Era importante vizibilizar esta realidad y que la sociedad los vea como son y que vean que son esas las condiciones en que tienen que enfrentar la vida, por lo que exigen que haya en su país igualdad de derechos y oportunidades. Esta movilización no sólo fue sacrificada, sino muy emotiva porque expusieron realmente el dolor y la vida difícil y dura de aquellas personas con discapacidad, en una indefensión e indiferencia total del Estado y del actual gobierno Boliviano. La sociedad se conmovió, al igual que los medios de prensa y lloraron al verlos bajo esas condiciones y entendieron el mensaje, que los activistas los necesitaban para lograr sus objetivos. Los activistas expusieron su mensaje a los medios, que son seres humanos igual que todos, porque lloran, rien, aman, cantan y bailan e incluso sienten amor o rabia como cualquier persona que no tiene discapacidad. No son santos, ni angeles, ni demonios… Son seres humanos con una o múltiples discapacidades y que su lucha es por amor, amor a la vida, amor a su familia, amor a vivir aún a pesar de la adversidad y amor para no renunciar a la posibilidad de una mejor vida íntegra y digna en Bolivia.

Videos y Transcripciones

Cobertura digital ATB de la Caravana de sillas de ruedas de integración entrevista con la acticista
Viva Media Cobertura de la Caravana de sillas de ruedas de integración entrevista con el público

Preguntas para estudiantes

¿Cómo explicaron los activistas el significado de esta movilización? ¿Por qué dice Mariaca que era importante para los activistas lograr visibilidad?

¿Cómo usaron los activistas sus cuerpos para lograr visibilidad? ¿Por qué crees que usar sus cuerpos de esta manera funcionó?

¿Cómo movilizaron los activistas de la Caravana la acción colectiva en su viaje y en la plaza de Santa Cruz? ¿Por qué crees que querían hacer visible su acción colectiva?

Compare cómo los activistas, los medios de comunicación y el público interpretaron la movilización en Santa Cruz. Explica qué diferencias se destacan.

En Bolivia, las personas con discapacidades utilizan la terminología de la persona para enfrentar la deshumanización que experimentan en sus relaciones sociales cotidianas. ¿Cómo entendemos el impacto de la experiencia de este grupo con la deshumanización en la narrativa y los videos de Mariaca? ¿Por qué es importante para muchas personas con discapacidad combatir la deshumanización?

¿Cómo resaltan los miembros de la Caravana las limitaciones de la definición de discapacidad simplemente como un problema médico que requiere tratamiento? ¿Qué otras consideraciones sociales y culturales debemos hacer?

Notas sobre las traducciones

Al analizar estos recursos con los estudiantes, también es importante tener en cuenta que “persona discapacitada” es a menudo la terminología preferida en países occidentales como los Estados Unidos. Sin embargo, los bolivianos con discapacidad prefieren el término “persona con discapacidad” porque les permite desafiar mejor la deshumanización que experimentan habitualmente cuando la persona es primero. Estas diferencias matizadas resaltan la importancia de ser culturalmente sensibles a cómo se producen los diferentes significados de la discapacidad a través de las distintas relaciones sociopolíticas que las personas que viven en entornos locales tanto con la historia, la cultura y los modelos globales de discapacidad. Adicionalmente, en la narrativa de Mariaca lo vemos usar el término, “la movilización”, que se puede traducir aproximadamente a demonstration en inglés. Sin embargo, decidimos utilizar la traducción directa, mobilization, ya que subraya las afirmaciones de los activistas de la movilidad social, política y espacial en la Caravana.

Lecturas complementarias

Choquetarqui Merlo 2017; Lyda Perez, Fernandez Moreno y Sandra Katz 2013; Rodríguez Cely 2019; Rodríguez Lores 2012

Paternidad literaria

Este recurso fue creado en colaboración de Carlos Mariaca Álvarez y Megan Neal.

Carlos Mariaca Álvarez, quien ayudó a liderar la protesta de la Caravana, selecciono los videos y escribió la narrativa “Caravana en silla de ruedas en Bolivia”. Mariaca Álvarez, quien tiene una discapacidad física (Triplegia, 75%), se desempeñó como Líder Histórico Nacional de la Confederación Boliviana de Personas con Discapacidades (COBOPDI) de 2002 a 2012 además, fundó el Movimiento Social Inclusivo (MSI) y la Sociedad Emergente de Bolivia (SEMBOL). Marica también es profesor autodidacta y escritor de Filosofía Oriental y Psicología Esotérica.

Megan Neal, antropóloga y candidata al doctorado de la Universidad de California en Irvine que estudia la discapacidad en Bolivia, fue quien haciendo uso de preguntas de los estudiantes y transcripciones de videos escribió la guía pedagógica. Su investigación examina cómo los ciudadanos con discapacidades en La Paz, Bolivia, desafían la comprensión normativa del desarrollo, los sentidos y la participación política. También se desempeña como productora de contenido web para el sitio web de la revista Teaching and Learning Anthropology Journal.

Visualizing Disability: Wheelchair Caravan Across Bolivia

Wheelchair Caravan of Integration Across Bolivia

PEDAGOGICAL GUIDE

This educational resource, also available in Spanish, enables students in undergraduate and graduate cultural anthropology courses to analyze the “Wheelchair Caravan of Integration,” a mass mobilization by Bolivians with disabilities that took place across Bolivia from 2011 to 2012. As they progress through this activity, students will also learn how to think holistically and critically about a wide-range of topics like disability, medicine, the body, the senses, citizenship, and Latin America utilizing primary sources. First students read the original narrative, “Wheelchair Caravan in Bolivia,” in which Carlos Mariaca, a Bolivian activist with disability who led the march, details the profound role collective support played as the activists strove to perform the complementary, non-hierarchical duties that made their arduous journey across Bolivia possible. Next, students watch two-minute videos produced by the Bolivian media that show an important moment in the caravan journey when activists, frustrated that their mobilization was not receiving necessary public attention, got out of their wheelchairs at a public plaza in Santa Cruz and utilized their bodies to gain visibility for the sacrifices they made in their struggle for equal rights and to demand a financial benefit from the national government. The first media video, “Caravan Interview Activist,” created by ATB Digital, provides commentary by a journalist and an interview with an activist. In the second video by Viva, “Caravan Interview Public,” footage and interviews show the public’s reactions. Finally, students can write or actively discuss their responses to the questions offered in this resource. In sum, this multi-modal activity offers students a unique opportunity to critically analyze primary sources as they comparatively explore how the Bolivian activists, media, and public differentially interpret the Wheelchair Caravan of Integration’s significance.

Wheelchair Caravan in Bolivia by Carlos Mariaca

In 100 days, from November 15th, 2011 to February 26th, 2012, people with disabilities (PWD) in Bolivia achieved a historic mobilization in wheelchairs, traveling 1520 kilometers from Trinidad, Bení through five Departments of Bolivia to La Paz, the seat of government. “The Wheelchair Caravan of Integration,” led by the leaders of the Bolivian Confederation of Persons with Disabilities (COBOPDI), together with the leaders of the Departmental Federations (FEDEPDIS), had the objective of claiming rights for PWD by proposing a new law, “Preferential Treatment for PWD,” to improve the quality of life for this social sector and grant an annual benefit of 3600 Bolivianos or 521 U.S. dollars. They also demanded the creation of community shelters for people who do not have families and must wander as orphans through life in extreme poverty.

The Wheelchair Caravan of Integration was on the road, exposing itself to the climatic conditions and the dangers of vehicular traffic, counting only on the support of Bolivian citizens. They were accompanied by some of their relatives and other Trinitarians who, together with their children, joined the demonstration in solidarity, to push wheelchairs, prepare food, wash clothes and help them with personal hygiene tasks. In mutual agreement with the caravan’s leadership, it was their responsibility to ensure they did not miss breakfast, lunch, and dinner and provide for all of their needs, whether it was repairing and replacing shoes that fell apart on the road or distributing clothes that were received as donations. Two cars transported the portable kitchen, food, rations, sleeping bags, and old mattresses. The food that supporters prepared was for everyone. The children who accompanied them were supplied with milk and diapers that were either purchased or donated from different parts of the country. The caravan, which had received very little coverage in the media and was ignored by government authorities, became known as “The Invisible March.” A block before entering the main square, people with disabilities decided to change this situation so they took off their clothes, got out of their wheelchairs, and onto the ground. They entered the 24 de Septiembre Plaza, crawling on the ground in a shocking and moving effort to make their struggle visible. Those who could not mobilize were dragged by volunteers or supporters, even a journalist from Santa Cruz helped. This impressive action was made in homage to the brothers and sisters with disabilities who do not have adequate conditions, must crawl in their homes, in the streets or where they live, to leave their corners, look for food or perform their basic biological needs.

It was important to make this reality visible to the public so they see them as they are and witness the conditions in which they have to face life and hear their demand for equal rights in their country. Not only was this mobilization a sacrifice, it was very emotional because they exposed the painful and difficult lives of those with disabilities, who live in total defenselessness to indifference of the State and the current Bolivian government. The public as well as the media were moved, openly weeping at the sight of this outward display of true suffering. They understood the message, the activists needed them to achieve their goals. The activists exposed their message to the media, so people could learn to see that people with disabilities in Bolivia are just like everyone else. They laugh, cry, love, sing, dance, and get angry like any person who does not have a disability. They are not saints, or angels, or demons; they are human beings with one or multiple disabilities and that their struggle is for love, love for life, love for their family, love to live even in spite of adversity and love so as not to renounce the possibility of a better and dignified life in Bolivia.

Videos and Transcripts

ATB Digital Coverage of the Wheelchair Caravan of Integration: Interview with Activist
Viva Media Coverage of the Wheelchair Caravan of Integration: Interview with Public

Questions for Students
How did the activists explain the meaning of this mobilization? Why does Mariaca Alvarez say that it was important for the activists to achieve visibility?

How did the activists use their bodies to achieve visibility? Why do you think using their bodies in this way worked?

How did the caravan activists mobilize collective action in both their journey and at the plaza in Santa Cruz? Why do you think they wanted to make their collective action visible?

Compare how the activists, media, and public interpreted the mobilization in Santa Cruz. Explain what differences stand out to you.

In Bolivia, people with disabilities use person-first terminology to confront the dehumanization they experience in their everyday social relationships. How do we understand the impact of this group’s experience with dehumanization in Mariaca’s narrative and the videos? Why is it important for many people with disabilities to combat dehumanization?

How do members of the caravan highlight the limitations of defining disability simply as a medical problem that requires treatment? What other social and cultural considerations should we make?

Translation Notes

When analyzing these resources with students, it is important to note that while “disabled person” is often the preferred terminology for activists in Western countries like the United States, Bolivian activists with disabilities prefer the term “person with disability.” They assert that the person-first expression enables them to better challenge the dehumanization they routinely experience. Additionally, in Mariaca Alvarez’s narrative, we see him use the term, la movilización, which can be roughly translated into “demonstration” in English. However, we decided to use the direct translation, “mobilization,” as it underlines the claims to social, political, and spatial mobility activists in the caravan have been making. These nuanced differences highlight the importance of being culturally sensitive to how different meanings of disability are produced through the distinct sociopolitical relationships people living in local environments have with history, culture, and global disability models.

Supplementary Readings on Disability 

Ginsberg and Rapp 2013; Imrie 2001; Meekosha and Soldatic 2011; Shuttleworth and Kasnitz 2004

Authorship

Carlos Mariaca Alvarez, who helped lead the Caravan protest, curated the videos and authored the original narrative, “Wheelchair Caravan in Bolivia.” Mariaca, who has physical disability (Triplegia, 75%), served as the National Historic Leader of the Bolivian Confederation of People with Disabilities (COBOPDI) from 2002 to 2012, and founded the Inclusive Social Movement (MSI) and Emerging Society Bolivia (SEMBOL). Marica is also a self-taught lecturer and writer of Oriental Philosophy and Esoteric Psychology.

Megan Neal wrote the pedagogical guide, student questions, video transcripts, and translations. Neal is currently a PhD candidate at the University of California, Irvine. Her research examines how citizens with disabilities in La Paz, Bolivia challenge normative understandings of development, the senses, and political participation. She also serves as the Web Content Producer for the Teaching and Learning Anthropology Journal’s Website.

Enseñando Relativismo Cultural a través de la Educación Mediática

Como profesor en la era de la información, creo que es importante incluir Educación Mediática en mis cursos. El acceso que tienen los estudiantes de hoy a la información ilimitada por medio de Internet es tanto una bendición como una maldición. Es un hecho sin precedentes tener el cumulo del conocimiento humano al alcance de nuestras manos. Sin embargo, como hemos visto en los últimos años, el Internet también ha facilitado la difusión de información errónea y desinformación. Mi objetivo principal como catedrático es enseñar a los estudiantes a encontrar y evaluar información, pensar críticamente al respecto y sacar conclusiones correctas. Esto debe incluir enseñar a los estudiantes a navegar la información que encuentran en línea, especialmente con respecto a los acontecimientos actuales.

Durante mi tiempo enseñando una clase  de introducción  de estudios de género en Santa Ana Community College, estaba en las noticias para entonces la reciente prohibición de Francia del uso de burkinis. Aproveché la oportunidad para relacionar ese evento con una lección sobre relativismo cultural y diferencias de poder. Estábamos leyendo Half the Sky de Nicholas D. Kristoff y Sheryl WuDunn como parte del plan de estudios compartido por el departamento. El libro ofrece una amplia investigación de  las  circunstancias más terribles que viven las mujeres  alrededor del mundo, si bien   la información es importante, es  ocasionalmente  presentada paternalistamente y sin el relativismo cultural necesario. Además, algunas partes del libro discuten las formas específicas de opresión que enfrentan las mujeres en el mundo musulmán. Basada en  los datos demográficos de mi clase y en mis conversaciones con ellos, sabía que  la mayoría nunca había conocido a una persona musulmana, y me preocupaba que sin haber hablado de este problema, el libro pudiera materializar algunos estereotipos de mujeres musulmanas como víctimas desempoderadas.

Para la parte clave de la lección, elegí un video de CNN (desafortunadamente, ya no está disponible) en el que dos mujeres musulmanas fueron invitadas al programa para debatir si era apropiado o no, prohibir ciertas formas religiosas de vestir en una democracia occidental secular. Una mujer que usaba hiyab, argumentó que ordenar a las mujeres musulmanas que se descubran, era el mismo tipo de control sobre los cuerpos de las mujeres, eso es un síntoma de la cultura de violación. La otra mujer argumentó que las prácticas religiosas enraizadas en el patriarcado no deben ser bienvenidas en una sociedad secular que aspira a la igualdad.

Antes de compartir el video con mis alumnos les proporcioné contexto, sabía que lo necesitarían a fin de comprender el debate. Compartí un texto relacionado de El Corán y expliqué brevemente por qué mostrar modestia ante Dios es importante en el Islam. planteé algunas preguntas para que los estudiantes pensaran al respecto mientras miraban la película. En particular, les sugerí que pensaran acerca de cómo podría ser una conversación semejante sobre el vestido de las mujeres en occidente. Justo después del video, hice que los estudiantes se giraran y hablaran con un compañero sobre que les sorprendió del video y qué argumentos fueron más convincentes para ellos. Me parece que hacer que los estudiantes discutan un tema con un compañero justo antes de una discusión de toda la clase, prepara la bomba para contribuciones más reflexivas.

En la discusión en el salón de clases, permito que los resultados del aprendizaje del día guíen la conversación. Quería que los estudiantes pudieran aplicar la idea del relativismo cultural no solo al libro Half the Sky, sino también a los medios que consumen en su vida diaria fuera del aula. Ellos deben entender que este tipo de debates en las estaciones de noticias 24/7 a menudo establecen falsas equivalencias. Aparentemente, en un debate, dos lados de un argumento son presentados como iguales. Sin embargo, para ofrecer otro ejemplo, un debate sobre el cambio climático entre un científico del clima y un científico que está en la pequeña minoría de negadores del cambio climático no proporciona una representación equilibrada del problema como lo entienden los científicos. Este tipo de igualdad oscurece la equidad. Del mismo modo, presentar el conflicto de la prohibición del burkini como un debate entre mujeres musulmanas es deshonesto cuando el número de mujeres musulmanas que apoyan tales prohibiciones son una pequeña minoría.

Estos son el tipo de preguntas que guiaron nuestra discusión: ¿Quién tiene el poder de definir qué formas de vestimenta son adecuadas para las mujeres? ¿Qué mensaje CNN está enviando cuando ellos representan el tema de las prohibiciones del burka como un debate entre dos mujeres musulmanas? ¿las ideas de quien son ampliadas y de quién son depreciadas? Después de pasar un tiempo discutiendo el video de CNN, pedí a los estudiantes que relacionaran esas lecciones con su lectura.  Cuando lees Half the Sky, ¿quién tiene el poder de definir los problemas de las mujeres y ofrecer soluciones? ¿Cómo son representadas las voces de las mujeres en este libro? Finalmente, llegamos a la ultima pregunta, con la cual vínculo la lección de ese día con preguntas más amplias del curso. ¿Qué tipo de equilibrio piensas que es apropiado cuando se trata de aplicar el relativismo cultural y luchar por los derechos de las mujeres? ¿Quién debería decidir dónde está la línea?

Si bien esta lección particular surgió de una lectura especifica asignada para un curso de estudios de género y un evento actual especifico, este marco puede ser fácilmente adaptado a otros contextos. Esta lección podría ser usada en cualquier curso que cubra las formas en que las estructuras de poder determinan las narrativas públicas. Para los propósitos de la enseñanza de la antropología cultural, esta lección podría usarse en un curso introductorio para enseñar el relativismo cultural, o en cursos de nivel superior que traten la antropología del género o la antropología del islam. Con algunos ajustes, la estructura básica de la lección podría usarse también para enseñar otras áreas temáticas. Recomiendo buscar eventos de actualidad que enlazan con el tema en cuestión. Por ejemplo, si estuviera diseñando una lección basada en este marco para usar este otoño, me gustaría ver las noticias recientes sobre Colin Kaepernick siendo la nueva cara de la última campaña publicitaria de Nike y noticias sobre las protestas de brutalidad policial de la NFL en general. Yo compartiría el video mencionado anteriormente con la clase, en el que dos analistas deportivos debaten las protestas de la NFL y plantearía este tipo de preguntas: ¿Es este grupo realmente tan homogéneo como dice el primer orador? ¿Qué dinámicas de poder se ocultan al presentar este debate como “gente blanca y negra hablando juntos” sobre este tema? ¿De quién es el punto de vista que da la impresión de ser más fuerte y por qué?


Recurso de enseñanza contribuido por: Mindy Wynn Tauberg, estudiante de posgrado, Universidad de California, Irvine.  Mindy Wynn Tauberg es una estudiante de doctorado, estudia el activismo interreligioso entre Musulmanes y Judíos en Los Ángeles. Su investigación se centra en las formas en que los activistas utilizan la narrativa personal para establecer conexiones entre comunidades en conflicto. En 2016, Mindy participó en el Programa de pasantías de California Community College y el al año siguiente completó la beca pedagógica de la University of California, Irvine.  Mindy tiene una maestría en Educación Primaria Inclusiva de Teachers College, Columbia University.

Traducción por: Wendy Torres



Teaching the Sociopolitical Complexities of Endangered Language Preservation using “The Linguists”

Movie poster for The Linguists, from Ironbound Films

Ideal for introductory linguistic as well as cultural anthropology classes focused on the nation-state or childhood, this 104 minute documentary film helps students better understand the real-world complexities of conducting anthropological fieldwork with a focus on the documentation and preservation of endangered languages. In multiple arrival stories, we see how two linguists, David Harrison and Gregory Anderson, struggle to locate the ever-decreasing speakers of endangered languages in Siberia, India, and Bolivia. While preliminary research helps them select a region as well as connect with key informants, they also depend on snowball sampling as they rush to track down native speakers with whom they conduct exploratory interviews. This documentary highlights how the production of anthropological knowledge is shaped by the relationships between local indigenous communities around the world and nation-states. Documenting endangered languages, as the film illustrates, also necessitates studying the forms of oppression that endanger them.

The film stresses that the generational decline of people who speak endangered languages is often the result of forced assimilation projects like the state-driven separations of indigenous children from their communities. Places like boarding schools where teachers shame children for speaking indigenous languages decreases the likelihood these children will teach them to future generations.

The film could also complement anthropology of childhood classes because it calls attention to the agential roles children play in language acquisition and transmission. We see this in India where students from the Bonda tribe are required to learn English, which is perceived as a money-making language that promises children and their families a better future.

How languages become linked with the past, present, and the future is key to addressing the ways in which power-dynamics prioritize learning imperialist languages exclusively. The film underscores the point that language preservation efforts will not be successful if they are only driven by Western academics. Addressing the diminishment of linguistic diversity requires a much more systemic approach, such as the active participation of indigenous communities in language preservation projects, as well as widespread political reforms that, for instance, require national educational systems to bolster multi-language learning. The linguists emphasize that collective action is needed now because the world is losing indigenous languages at exponential rates. And the risks for losing humanity’s linguistic diversity are profound because when languages become endangered the diverse ways people understand and experience the world become endangered as well.

Check out the trailer for The Linguists on Youtube. To view the complete movie, see if you can access it through a library or purchase a copy directly from the Ironbound Films production company’s website here

PBS also has complementary resources for teaching the film on their website. They introduce the topic of language loss, give examples of how words can reflect unique worldviews, offer opportunities to hear them spoken, define key linguistic terms, and provide references for further reading on endangered languages. They also offer a teaching guide and unit focused on teaching students in high school or college about language loss.  

Resource contributed by: Megan Neal, University of California, Irvine

Megan Neal is a graduate student at the University of California, Irvine. Her research centers on how disabled citizens in La Paz, Bolivia challenge normative understandings of development, the senses, and political participation. She also serves as the Web Content Producer for the Teaching and Learning Anthropology Journal’s website.

Teaching Anthropological Analysis through Annotated Participant Observation Essay

Teaching Anthropological Analysis through Annotated Participant Observation Essay

By: Danica Loucks

Students just beginning their undergraduate education may not have a strong grasp of the distinction between description and analysis and what that looks like in anthropological work. If they’re just beginning to be introduced to anthropology and/or other social sciences, this may be especially so. In order to facilitate the growth of students’ abilities to conduct anthropological analysis, gain a better understanding of how description and analysis relate to each other, and see how anthropological concepts and theories can become useful tools, I have assigned Introduction to Sociocultural Anthropology students what I call an annotated essay.

With this assignment, students carry out participant observation in a public space. Afterwards, they use their field notes to compose an essay describing their experience. I ask students to write their essay in a formal organized style (i.e. aiming for strong macro, meso, and micro organization, clear topic sentences, etc.) but to focus on describing their experience/what they observed. After writing this essay, the students then must annotate their own writing. With each annotation they must identify a concept or theory introduced in the course that their observation relates to. They must explain how the concept relates or detail why their observation is an example of that concept, as well as provide a formal definition of the concept (you can also require citations if that is a desired learning outcome of your course/the assignment). Carrying out this conceptual work as annotations separates and makes distinct basic analytical skills–a distinction that can be pointed out to students to help them identify how analysis differs from description. This assignment can function well as a precursor to an assignment later in the term in which students will be expected to write into a way that integrates analysis into the main body of their compositions.

Skills and learning objectives: de/familiarization, semi-structured field observation, taking and organizing field notes, applying anthropological concepts and perspectives to data gathering in order to gain experience in how anthropologists “code” observational data.

Variations:

  • This could be done as an ongoing “observation journal” in which students write field notes numerous times throughout the academic term (e.g. weekly or biweekly) and annotate with concepts as they are introduced in the course.
  • If you are leading discussion sections and are not in a position to create/choose formal assignments for your students, you could modify this to be on a smaller scale or ask students to analytically annotate news articles, media, etc.

See the following text for an example of how this assignment has been presented to students:

  • First, spend 30-60 minutes in a publicly accessible location (a space that is available to you as a member of the public, student, or worker, not one that is private, proprietary, or requires special permissions to be in and report about). This space can be an everyday place, or a site where a particular event or gathering is taking place. Direct your attention to observing the space and the people, beings, and things around you. As you observe, take down notes of all you see and notice.While recording everything you observe, try to identify what things you might usually take for granted. If you’re in a familiar space, challenge yourself to make the familiar strange, in other words, to write about things you take for granted as something culturally produced and not necessarily “right” or”natural” or “common sense.”  If you’re in an unfamiliar setting,try to make sense of what is going on in terms of those who belong to it–that is, try to make the strange familiar. Write down descriptions that don’t assume you know what something is or why something is done a particular way.  Also, using our course concepts, feel free to include speculations in your notes.
  • Take into the field a notebook, writing instrument, and phone for pix or video if you want (not required). Take also a mental “checklist” of socio-cultural features that we know, from our work in class, that can be observed in human social spaces. This list includes but is not limited to:  language/gesture, sights and sound, ideologies, ways relations are structured or enacted, relational activities (human and non-human),how material cultural objects are part of or excluded from the space, rituals and performances, gendered signs and processes, racialized spatializations,social inclusions or exclusions, sexism, racism. Combine walking around and using defamiliarization and semi-structured observation (as we will discuss in class) to immerse in the space. Take detailed notes while you are doing this or wait until you are finished and write down your experience right away so you don’t forget. Write down everything you see, hear,feel, smell, taste, and or perceive in any other way.  We’ll talk about strategies in class!
  • The final product for this assignment should be 4-6 pages of typed (double spaced) field note-based description and footnoted annotations. Minimum 1500 words (including footnotes/endnotes). 
  • Here are instructions and requirements:
  • Write up your field notes into a clear, cogent description. Although this is not a formal essay with a thesis or argument, you must title your essay, use standard good writing skills, and organize description through logically flowing paragraphs.
  • Read over your description and use the colored highlighter function to highlight phrases or sentences that relate to concepts or processes we’ve studied in class.
  • Then annotate your highlighted parts, here’s how:  Use the footnote function to put a footnote after those highlighted phrases or sentences. In those footnotes,relate what you observed and highlighted to a concept or process we have discussed in class. Explain what that anthropological concept or process is,then offer your own analysis or speculation of what is going on. You do not have to do a bibliography referencing the concepts or lectures, because the purpose of this is to show how you can observe and identify examples of what we’ve been exploring. You can go ahead and speculate to – use educated guesses when you can. Some of your footnotes will point to things that require that you reference multiple concepts and processes, this is just fine and indicates how social life is anthropologically complex. You must provide a minimum of 10 annotations, but see how many anthropological concepts and processes you can discover and point out!
  • Skills and learning objectives: In this assignment you will practice de/familiarization, semi-structured field observation, taking and organizing field notes, applying anthropological concepts and perspectives to data gathering in order to gain experience in how anthropologists”code” observational data.

Resource Contributed by: Danica Loucks, University of California, Irvine

Danica Loucks is a PhD student at the University of California, Irvine. Her dissertation research examines how different stakeholders understand public lands in the U.S., considering how differing ways of knowing landscapes, contrasting ideologies about land and property, and competing historical narratives (as well as understandings of how history matters) shape contemporary public lands conflict. Danica is a Pedagogical Fellow through UCI’s Division of Teaching Excellence and Innovation and is currently conducting research regarding how students develop anthropological analytical skills.

First Day Activity: Ten Things You Believe to be True

First Day Activity: Ten Things You Believe to be True


This resource was originally published by Cultural Anthropology: Teaching Tools: https://culanth.org/fieldsights/851-first-day-activity-ten-things-you-believe-to-be-true

By Angela Jenks

The first day of class is often a challenge for new instructors. After addressing the inevitable logistical issues (e.g., enrollment, the syllabus, access to course materials), should you end early? Dive right into a lecture? Engage students in an ice-breaking activity?

Like other faculty (Lang 2008; Nilson 2003), I have several goals for the beginning of a class: 1) I want to introduce the course topic and ways of thinking about course materials; 2) I want to introduce myself as an instructor, setting the tone for the rest of the course and stimulating student interest; 3) I want to encourage students to talk to each other, both to learn about their colleagues and to make connections that may prove useful if they want to form study groups or share notes and resources later on; and 4) I want to learn more about who my students are and why they chose to enroll in the course.

Here at the University of California, Irvine, courses run on a quarter schedule, so we have just started spring classes. This has given me the chance, once again, to bring out one of my favorite beginning-of-class activities. I first participated in this activity when I was a student in a folklore course taught by Alexandra Griswold at the University of Pennsylvania. I remembered it years later when I began teaching on my own, and I have used it routinely in both introductory cultural anthropology and anthropology of religion courses. I often use it on the first day of class, and always during the first week. It is easily adaptable to both small and large courses.

The activity has 6 steps:

Step 1

Ask students to write a list of ten things they believe to be true.

In my experience, the activity works better if students do this before class, rather than writing the list during the class session, although I’ve done it both ways. I tell them that I will collect the lists, so all of the items should be things they are comfortable with me knowing, and at least three should be things they are willing to share with other students in the class.

I purposefully leave the interpretation of the term belief up to students, although I often say that they are not limited to listing religious beliefs. Students’ lists often do include statements about the supernatural: I believe that God exists; I believe in karma; I believe that I have seen a ghost; I believe witches are real. Others include statements they perceive to be explicitly anti-religious: I believe in evolution; I believe that science can answer all our questions; I believe that there is no life after death. Many will include statements about their everyday lives: I believe my boyfriend loves me; I believe I live in California. And there are always some whimsical responses: I believe that chocolate makes everything better.

Step 2

In class, students are instructed to find a partner who they do not know well. Each student should interview his or her partner, learning the partner’s name and other information (e.g., major, year in school, where they are from) and three things she or he believes to be true. Small groups of three are also fine if necessary. I often explicitly tell students that they should not simply trade lists to read, but should share their three beliefs in conversation. This step can usually be completed in 5–10 minutes.

Step 3

Ask students to introduce their partners to the entire class and to share one thing their partner believes to be true. At this stage, I have divided the board into three columns. I write short versions of these beliefs in the first column. In small classes, every student is introduced; in large classes, I ask for volunteers to introduce their partners.

Step 4

Ask students why, when they were being interviewed, they chose that set of three beliefs to share with their partner. I write these responses in the second column on the board. Common responses include: Those were the three I felt strongest about; the three I’m most certain of; the three I thought were least weird; the three I thought others would agree with and not judge; the three I thought would be most controversial; the three I thought were most unique to me.

Step 5

Ask students why, when they were introducing their partner to the class, they chose that one belief to share. Again, I write the responses on the board, this time in the third column. Common responses include: That was the one I agreed with; the one I thought everyone else could relate to; the one that was most different from my own beliefs; the one I remembered; the one nobody else had said yet.

Step 6

Depending on the course I am teaching, this activity provides a segue into future conversations about epistemology, the culture concept, anthropological representation, or ethnographic research. In introductory courses, I ask students to reflect on their understandings of the term belief, and I use their lists to help demonstrate multiple ways of knowing. Following this activity, we might talk about the problems of defining culture or religion in terms of easily articulated beliefs, and I emphasize the normalized, invisible aspects of cultural life that we would never think to write on a list or to state to a stranger.

This activity is also helpful as I encourage students to question common understandings of culture that presume bounded groups: the Azande believe X; the Trobriand Islanders believe Y; or Latinos believe Z. Would it be possible, I ask, to create a list of what college students believe?

The activity is also a simple way to introduce some of the complexities of ethnography and to encourage students to think critically about the way anthropological knowledge is produced. What factors, we discuss, might affect the ways in which people talk to an anthropologist or the ways anthropologists write about their data and craft ethnographic representations? Are any of those similar to the factors that affected what students in the class chose to share or report?

In upper-division classes, students and I engage in a deeper interrogation of the concept of belief in the history of anthropology, and this activity leads into a discussion of introductory readings by Malcolm Ruel (1997), Byron Good (1993), or Stanley Tambiah (1990).  

I have found this activity to be successful at a variety of institutions. In addition to introducing and encouraging critical reflection on course concepts and providing a reference point for future class discussions, the “ten things you believe to be true” activity gives students an opportunity to meet each other, encourages their active participation in the course, and allows me to learn more about my students and their understandings of anthropology.

References

Good, Byron J. 1994. “Medical Anthropology and the Problem of Belief.” In Medicine, Rationality, and Experience: An Anthropological Perspective, 1–24. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Lang, James M. 2008. On Course: A Week-by-Week Guide to Your First Semester of College Teaching. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press. 

Nilson, Linda B. 2003. Teaching at Its Best: A Research-Based Resource for College Instructors. 2nd edition. Bolton, Mass.: Anker.  

Ruel, Malcolm. 1997. “Christians as Believers.” In Belief, Ritual, and the Securing of Life: Reflexive Essays on a Bantu Religion, 36–59. Leiden: Brill.

Tambiah, Stanley Jeyaraja. 1990. Magic, Science, Religion, and the Scope of Rationality. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


Resource Contributed By: Angela Jenks, University of California, Irvine