Freshman writing seminar at Cornell
You will probably feel, more than once while at Cornell, like you are short on time. But what if that feeling only made sense within a particular sociocultural context? In this course, we will complicate the notion that time runs on a straightforward, linear trajectory. Drawing widely from anthropology, philosophy, history, fiction, film, and art – and reading works by authors from Sigmund Freud to Octavia Butler – we will travel beyond the 24-hour day and learn to think of time as multiple. Along the way, students will refine their skills in critical reading and practice both creative and analytic writing. Assignments include an exercise in representing non-linear time, short essays on topics like the role of nostalgia in American political life, and one longer research project. All of these assignments, as well as our course readings, use time travel as a springboard for thinking about how anthropologists approach social problems.
Introduction to Sociocultural Anthropology
1000-level course at Cornell
“Anthropology" is the study of human beings. “Sociocultural anthropology” narrows the scope to the practices, structures, and meanings that shape lived experience. But what does that mean? What do sociocultural anthropologists do, and how can their ways of knowing help us understand our world? This course offers an introduction to sociocultural anthropology—its methods, language, concepts, and characteristic ways of thinking. With an eye toward both commonality and difference, we will examine how people live their lives: how we move through time and space; how we bury our dead and care for our living; how we experience our bodies; how we suss out faith from reason; how we wield and acquiesce to power. Turning anthropology’s “spy-glass” (Hurston 1935, 1) out toward the wider world but also in, toward the United States, we will ask how anthropological tools can help address contemporary issues. Our anchor texts take on problems from opioid addiction to student debt to racial justice.
Anthropology of Climate Change
2000-level course at Cornell
What does it mean to study humanity at a time when it has become a geological force? What, in other words, is required of us as thinking subjects under the “Anthropocene”? In this course, we will argue that anthropologists have an important role to play at this historical juncture. But we will also consider how climate change troubles some of our discipline’s central categories. Time, space, nature, power, reason – even the boundaries of the human – climate change throws these concepts into question. It inflects our ways of knowing. It demands adaptive thinking. Over the course of the semester, we will take on this work in common, proceeding from the presumption that it is not enough to think of climate change as a simple ethnographic object. Climate change is the unavoidable context for contemporary anthropology.
It's the End of the World As We* Know It
4/7000-level course at Cornell
Living in the contemporary moment means living with reminders that the end of the world – at least as we know it – is looming. From the global ecological crisis to evangelical apocalyptic visions, and from nuclear threats to the changes wrought by automated work, people are brushing up against the limits of human knowledge and experience. In this course, we will consider how anthropologists have grappled with the end of the world, drawing the discipline's boundaries liberally. Working with ethnography, science fiction, film, and more, we will ask: What does it mean to adopt the uncertain future as an object of study? And might the end of the world as we know it also mean the start of a more speculative anthropology?
* Yes, we trouble the "we."
6000-level course at Cornell
This course is a practicum. Its purpose is to help students design a research project and pitch that project to potential funders. Note that these are two steps in a trajectory: a brilliant project does not simply beget a brilliant pitch. Pitching your work requires a different kind of labor, which we will study and then undertake in common. By the end of the semester, you will have produced a polished proposal for your dissertation research. It will bear your name and reflect your passion for the work, but it will emerge from the collaborative process of sharing ideas, experience, and knowledge. With luck, that process will seed future collaborations that carry you through your graduate study.
Self, Culture, and Society I
Part one of a three-quarter social science theory sequence at UChicago
The first quarter of Self, Culture, and Society explores the emergence and evolution of complex societies, divided through specialization and reconstituted in businesses, states, and increasingly in global markets. As we consider these features of “modern” life and the engines of industrialization, capitalism, and rationality that lie behind them, we will attempt to untangle the web of interdependence that structures our world. Our readings—which include foundational works by Ibn Khaldūn, Adam Smith, Karl Marx, and Max Weber, alongside a novel by Kurt Vonnegut and a handful of contemporary texts—offer competing perspectives on human nature, historical change, individual freedom, social conflict, and the possibilities and limits of human society. As we examine their arguments, we will consider what they have to say about relationship between the individual and larger collectives. We will also evaluate the broad social science traditions to which they gave rise. Along the way, we'll focus not simply on learning facts. Instead, we’ll work on building skills central to independent thinking, and on using those skills to assess issues of contemporary consequence.
Self, Culture, and Society II
Part two of a three-quarter social science theory sequence at UChicago
The second quarter of Self, Culture, and Society pivots around foundational works by Emile Durkheim, Sigmund Freud, Simone de Beauvoir, and Frantz Fanon—alongside a novel by J.M. Coetzee and a handful of contemporary texts. These works offer competing perspectives on symbolic representation, the strength of social forces, the unconscious, ritual, race, gender, and violence. As we examine their arguments, we will consider what they have to say about the relationship between the individual and larger collectives. We will also evaluate the broad social science traditions from which they emerged and to which they gave rise. Along the way, please keep in mind that this is not a lecture course. It is a seminar—a series of conversations—in which we will all take part. Our focus together over the next ten weeks will be on reading, comprehending, critiquing, and extending social theory through reasoned debate.We’ll try, in other words, to focus not simply on learning facts. Instead, we’ll work on building skills central to independent thinking, and on using those skills to assess issues of contemporary consequence.
Self, Culture, and Society III
Part three of a three-quarter social science theory sequence at UChicago
The third quarter of Self, Culture, and Society pivots around foundational works by Thomas Kuhn, Steven Shapin & Simon Schaffer, Michel Foucault, Benedict Anderson, and Hannah Arendt—alongside a novel by George Orwell and a handful of contemporary texts. These works offer a variety of perspectives on the social construction of scientific facts, notions of truth and objectivity, and the centrality of knowledge practices to the production and maintenance of power. They also throw several of the central premises of pre-war social science into question. As we examine their arguments, we will consider what they have to say about the relationship between the individual and larger collectives. We will also evaluate the broad social science traditions from which they emerged and to which they gave rise. Along the way, please keep in mind that this is not a lecture course. It is a seminar—a series of conversations—in which we will all take part. Our focus together over the next ten weeks will be on reading, comprehending, critiquing, and extending social theory through reasoned debate.We’ll try, in other words, to focus not simply on learning facts. Instead, we’ll work on building skills central to independent thinking, and on using those skills to assess issues of contemporary consequence.
Contemporary Anthropological Theory: Crisis and Chronicity
Capstone course for anthropology majors at George Washington University
This is a capstone research seminar in which students will produce original research papers that in one way or another investigate the concepts of crisis and/or the chronic. Anthropologists have long been concerned with the experience of crisis as a moment of heightened social action, set apart from the “imponderabilia of everyday life” (Malinowski 1922). But crisis is a privileged designation—a moment of rupture—that incites action and brings contradictions to light. In this class, we will not only examine contemporary scholarship on crises and the sociocultural mechanisms marking moments as significant events, but also those forms of insecurity, precarity, and disorder too “slow” to achieve recognition as disasters. Based on our shared conversations about time and event (roughly the first third of the course), each student will develop an original research project related to these topics, culminating in a 20-page capstone paper. Students may focus their research on any time period and use any methodology that is deemed appropriate, but all students will be expected to engage in primary-source research. For example, a student in archaeology might investigate the recovery of artifacts in crisis situations; bioanthropology students might examine the body’s response to trauma (crisis) or malnutrition (the chronic); budding linguists might look at the rhetoric attached to either of these conditions in today’s public media (the “crisis” in Flint, the diabetes “epidemic”); and socioculturalists could attend to the effects of conditions that fail to meet a “crisis” threshold. Students are welcome to write with this political moment [this course was taught during the first 100 days of the Trump presidency], exploring the “crisis of liberalism” invoked in the wake of the election, examining chronic conditions of disaffection motivating votes for the president-elect, thinking through the moment’s normalization, and so on. Crises of concept are also ripe for investigation.