Teaching Early Societies (as a prelude to environmental anthropology)

Teaching Early Societies (as a prelude to environmental anthropology)

Arial view of winding road ocean.

In introductions to cultural anthropology, teaching hunter-gatherer societies might seem like a necessary (although boring) pitstop on the way to the exciting, recent ethnographic studies. For me, the “early societies” week in the syllabus is one of my favorites. While students might be reading about the Azande or the Trobrianders, I use this activity to remind them how these seemingly outdated perspectives are pertinent to their own relations with the environments around them.

I like to teach this week as if it were a prelude to environmental anthropology, encouraging my students to think about the ways they engage with their immediate environments, in this case, the college campus. I find that this activity is also an opportunity for some of my quieter students and kinetic learners to shine among their peers. My objective for this lesson is to have students understand that the way society is structured shapes their environmental engagements and imaginaries.

This activity can be conducted in several ways depending on how much time you have or your objectives for the class. The first iteration is fairly simple, teaching the hunter-gatherer perspective with a competitive spin. The second is to teach hunter-gatherer, pastoral, and agricultural societies in comparison to one another. This iteration is more complicated and takes more time, but it makes for better discussions and a more holistic perspective.

First Iteration: Hunter-gatherers

I separate my students into small groups, usually four or five students depending on the class size. Each group is a hunter-gatherer society, and as a team they have two tasks. First, they must research what local edible foods they may forage for, and what animals they may hunt. I generally give them fifteen minutes for this part of the activity. All of their potential food sources must be native and local to the area – no invasive or introduced species. With ten minutes left to the activity, each group elects one person to leave the classroom, tasked with finding something edible on campus (no, they may not buy or find processed food) and bringing it back to share. Groups not able to bring back anything edible fail as a society.

I had a student once bring back a poisonous plant. Her society died. In another class, one of my quietest students rolled off with his skateboard, coming back within eight minutes, and with nine oranges! His knowledge of the campus environment earned him applause from his society.

Second Iteration: Comparative early societies

In the more complex iteration of this activity, I separate my students into small groups (4-5 each), but groups are separated into either hunter-gatherer, pastoral, or agricultural societies.

  1. Hunter-gatherers have the same tasks I detailed above.
  2. Pastoral societies must research where on campus they would be able to raise animals, and how long this would take. The group must provide data on where and what they would raise, and why. In the first ten minutes of this activity, the group elects one person to scout the nearby campus, taking photographs of the animals they see and bringing them back to the group for analysis.
  3. Agricultural societies must plan where they would plant crops, what crops they would plant, and how many people these crops could feed. This society must research local weather and soil conditions in order to make these decisions. This group may elect one member to scout possible growing areas, this person has ten minutes to take photos of places and plants that the group could use to plan their society.

The group research and scouting part of this exercise takes about 15-20 minutes. I always bring students back together after this activity in a group discussion, asking them to reflect on how their perspective of the campus environment changed as a result of their tasks. I usually give them three-five minutes to do this in their small groups before we discuss as a class. Below are some possible questions for the class discussion.

Discussion questions:

  • What are some of the challenges you faced when planning your society?
  • What kind of political or legal conflicts would you have encountered based on your society’s plan?
  • What kind of social conflicts might you have encountered?
  • How far in the future did you have to think when you were planning your society?
  • How did you see the campus environment as you were planning your society, and how is this different than how you see it on a daily basis?
  • Which type of society do you think would best flourish here (on this campus, in this city, in this state)? And why?
  • What type of society do you – as a college student today – live in?
  • How does this shape the way you understand your environment (on campus)?

Kyrstin Mallon Andrews is a cultural anthropologist of environments, borders, and health on the northern coast of the Dominican Republic. Her research examines how diver fishermen navigate changing ocean environments amidst emerging politics of conservation. She is currently finishing her dissertation as at UC Irvine, where she prefers to be outdoors or in the ocean, activities that are tertiary resource, of course.

Teaching Personal Narratives of Youth, Gender, and Activism in the Middle East

Teaching Personal Narratives of Youth, Gender, and Activism in the Middle East

Mural exploring gender relationships in downtown Amman, Jordan.

I use this resource in three classes: my introduction to sociocultural anthropology (when talking about the social construction of gender), a class on everyday subjectivity in the contemporary Middle East, and a class on Arab activism after the Arab Spring. I will outline the lesson plan from my intro course here, but I use it similarly in the other courses.

Sample Lesson Plan: Introduction to Anthropology, Topic: Gendered Subjects

The goal of this lesson is to get students to think about the ways that gender is constructed in everyday practice, as gendered subjects encounter social boundaries and policing mechanisms. In preparation, the students are assigned a reading, “Gendering the City, Gendering the Nation: Contesting Urban Space in Fes, Morocco,” by Rachel Newcomb (2006). This article examines the ways that women in Fes, Morocco negotiate social spaces where gender roles are not clearly defined, including cafes, internet cafes, and gyms. I open the class with a debrief of the reading, asking first, generally, how social space connects to gender in the article, and then how gender roles are enforced. After laying out the basic concepts, we discuss the specific spaces analyzed in the article: cafes, internet cafes, and gyms, asking why gender roles are ambiguous in these spaces, and how the subjects of the article negotiate these ambiguities.

We then turn to the videos. I break students into groups of four or five and assign them a “jigsaw” exercise where they view and then discuss videos from the website. Students are instructed to visit the website, pick a video, and watch it. Each student in their group should watch a different video. As they watch, they should pay special attention to the following questions: What happens in the video? What social situations make the narrator especially aware of gender? How do they negotiate and/or challenge gender roles? (For example, one young woman becomes aware of gender while riding a bicycle. One young man describes being criticized for playing with dolls).

Then, students should discuss the videos with other students in their group. Each student should share with their group mates, describing the video they saw and how it addressed gendered experience. Students should compare their observations with one another. In what ways were the experiences described in the different videos similar? What differences could be observed? How does this build on (or challenge) themes raised by the reading?

Optionally, as needed, we can take 5 minutes of class time for students to read the attached publicity article. This can be useful in two ways: first, the article draws explicit connections between the different gendered experiences discussed in the videos (helpful if students are having trouble drawing these connections themselves), and second, it provides additional context, including commentary from the video makers (useful for students who are ready for a more in-depth conversation). Once students have had a chance to discuss, we’ll reconvene as a large group and work together to draw out some general observations.

Finally, I challenge the students themselves with the prompt that the activists in these videos were addressing. I ask the students to describe a social situation where they became aware of gendered difference and their own gender role, preferably the earliest such situation they can remember. “What is an ordinary social situation where you became intensely aware of your gender?” Depending on the available time, students can either write a short response or they can storyboard an imaginary video similar to those created by these activists. Sharing is optional, but there should be time for discussion.

Important note: It is important for the instructor to be prepared to help relativize the experiences described in these videos. The aim is for students to understand how subjectivity is constructed through everyday encounters that help define gendered selves. This exercise connects the student’s own experience with the experiences described in the reading and the videos. It would be a mistake for students to take these as evidence of exceptional Arab difference.

Accompanying Ancillary Materials:

https://www.challengemystory.com/7iber  (The video collection)

https://doi.org/10.1525/city.2006.18.2.288 (Recommended preliminary reading: Gendering the City, Gendering the Nation: Contesting Urban Space in Fes, Morocco,” by Rachel Newcomb)

https://www.dapp.dk/ligestilling/challenge-my-story-unges-egne-fortaellinger-koen/ (Optional: A short publicity piece I wrote about the video workshop as part of my participant observation. It needs to be read through a translator app, but it scans pretty cleanly in English. Students can use this for additional context on the videos or as a discussion prompt).

Teaching Resource Contributed by: Colin McLaughlin-Alcock, Scripps College

Colin McLaughlin-Alcock is a visiting lecturer at Scripps College. His research examines the community building practices of artists in Amman, Jordan, and the political impacts of artistic community. He received his PhD from University of California, Irvine.

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

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.

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

Visualizing Disability: Wheelchair Caravan Across Bolivia

Wheelchair Caravan of Integration Across Bolivia


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 

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


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 Endangered Language Preservation using “The Linguists” Film

Teaching Endangered Language Preservation using “The Linguists” Film

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.