Cultural Anthropology Week 7: Halfway There

March 27th, 2015

This week brought by first attempt at having a discussion on some scientific articles. I think it was a rewarding activity, but definitely one in which I need more experience. Thinking back to my student days, I was the person who had little to say in class discussions. In fact, I was actively trying to blend in to my surroundings and/or drawing in my notes at a furious pace. Fast forward a bunch of years and here I am leading a discussion of articles that I chose. Cue this picture:


Since the discussion was originally planned for the prior class (did I subconsciously let it get delayed?), I decided to do it at the beginning of this class session. I originally wanted to do the “think-pair-share” type of escalating discussion, but with such a small class, I just had everyone form a circle with their wheelie desks. Did I mention that the student desks have wheels and cupholders?


The articles I had chosen for us to read and discuss were “Alternative kinship, marriage, and reproduction” (Levine, 2008) and “Troubling kinship: Sacred marriage and gender configuration in South India” (Ramberg, 2013). They relate to the previous lectures on kinship and gender, and have a lot of connections between them as well. The Levine article is a review, so there is a good recap of how anthropologists study kinship and how it has changed with different shifts in focus and methodology. Ramberg’s article is based on her own ethnography of a practice in which a child is dedicated to a goddess called Yellamma. The dedicated person, a devadasi, has a new gender role that is both male and female depending on the context. Ramberg brings this information back to how anthropology is conducted to point out how the traditional kinship diagram (with the triangles and circles) has the flawed assumption that gender is fixed when determining kinship. Together, these articles have a lot of different subtopics to discuss.

The actual discussion of these articles went pretty well. I can’t really say that we fully discussed the articles, but we did spend an hour and a half (!) talking about all things religion and gender. Most students had something to say at some point, and there was a lot of good back-and-forth among them. I definitely need to be in view of the clock next time since we went a half hour over the duration that I had planned. As a result, the lecture was cut short: the first time that has happened!

The lecture topic was religion, which as expected garnered a lot of discussion as I went through my slides. I managed to fit culture-bound syndromes in the lecture on the fly. I wanted to put it in some lecture but I had not found a place to place it. The slide on beliefs turned out to be a good place. The students were very interested in how what we call mental illness is expressed and treated in other cultures. I am debating whether to have an extra credit assignment based around an article on koro, or genital retraction syndrome (Mattelaer & Jilek, 2007). Is that weird? But it’s a topic that really got the attention so I want to roll with it.

As time ran out, I quickly wrapped up the slide on polytheism and let the students go. I kept telling the students that the next lecture is on race, but looking at the syllabus, it is on colonialism, which is what bridges religion and race in my roadmap through anthropology. The last part of the religion lecture is on the spread of Christianity anyway, so it all works together.

Spring break is this week, so we will not meet again for another week. The break signals the halfway mark in the course! The second week has a change of pace as each team gets to work on a poster presentation. During the break I drafted the assignment instructions, including coming up with a list of cultures to choose from and a way to split the poster into different roles for each team member. Some roles will be researching a part of the culture while other roles involve designing and printing the text. I hope the different types of roles allow the students to do what they want in this project.

Levine NE. 2008. Alternative Kinship, Marriage, and Reproduction. Annu. Rev. Anthropol.. 37:375-389.

Mattelaer JJ, Jilek W. 2007. Koro–the psychological disappearance of the penis. J Sex Med. 4:1509-15.

Ramberg L. 2013. Troubling kinship: Sacred marriage and gender configuration in South India. American Ethnologist. 40:661-675.

2 Responses to “Cultural Anthropology Week 7: Halfway There”

  1. Rebecca says:

    Oh, really? Desks with wheels AND cupholders? Oh, and spring break which actually occurs in the SPRING?

    Psh, you makin’ this up.

    I am excited to hear how your assignments go! Sounds like the discussion was awesome. I’d go with the Koro – anything that makes kids fascinated makes them care a bit more about the class as a whole. What new and weird thing is around next week’s corner?! They will also talk about it to people outside of class, which increases their excitement and makes the class a bit more popular. Win, win!

  2. admin says:

    That’s why I had photographic evidence!

    I am amused by the stuff I mention impromptu in class that the class is really into. Besides koro, I’ve casually mentioned things like how the government pays farmers to not farm and how guinea pigs were domesticated as food, and the planned lecture ground to a halt to talk about it. I thought those examples were semi-public knowledge!

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