Socect’s Weblog

Unsettled Thoughts/Works in Progress

Teaching… Review and Preview

The term is wrapping up at NUS. Its all over but the fat lady singing… also known as final exams.

I am going over the past semester, thinking about what worked, what didn’t, what can be done to make it better next time. In the next year I’m assigned the same slate of courses as last year, which allows the opportunity to build something better rather than try to scrabble together something from scratch.

Here are my thoughts so far on what might be done next time. I would especially welcome comments from any students in the courses…

I am teaching the following:
SC2218 Anthropology and the Human Condition (last: Sem 2 2007/2008; next: Sem 1 2008/2009)
SC2220 Gender Studies (last: Sem 1 2007/2008; next: Sem 2 2008/2009)
SC6214 Gender, Culture and Society (last: Sem 2 2007/2008; next: Sem 1 2008/2009)

Some changes I’m considering:

SC2218: Anthropology and the Human Condition

I use a lot of films in this course. At least one film per lecture, shown at the beginning of lecture. To be honest, I originally adopted this format when I first taught the course and it was slotted at 8 am (Monday morning!!). Even with a better timing, I find it very distracting to try to lecture and have students wandering in over the first half-hour or more of class. So, scheduling the films as I did was intended to deal with this, especially 8 am on a Monday morning.

I will still use a lot of films. Ethnographic and documentary films are a great resource and allow for a mediated experience (of ‘fieldwork’) that one can’t get from texts alone. But, I will probably cut back on the films (at least in class) somewhat in the coming term (I did already a bit this semester).

Question is what to cut. The films used were:

“The Shackles of Tradition” (Boas) (CVC3348)

“The Journey of Man” (CDV 1144)

“Strange Beliefs” (Evans-Pritchard) (CVC 3349)

“Dadi’s Family” (CVC 2335)

“Gender Tango” (CVC 10387)

“Off the Veranda” (Malinowski) (CVC 3347)

“None of the Above” (CVC7758)

“Sight Unseen” (CVC11933)

“On Cannibalism” (CVC 11156)

“N!ai” (CVC 2332)

“Umm Kulthum: A Voice Like Egypt” (CVC 10136)

“A Man without Pigs” (CVC 7457)

All of them are useful in their own way. I would like to have a lot more control over them (be able to cut-and-paste; use clips more effectively). Most are on VHS which is not so easy to skip around in. If students from the class have suggestions on which to dump or which to absolutely keep, I’d be keen to hear.


I use a collection of articles and book chapters along with Lee’s classic teaching ethnography “Dobe Ju/hoansi”. I’ve always had an aversion to using textbooks, especially introductory textbooks. I feel too constrained by them. I feel that if I assign a textbook then I’m tied down to teaching the majority of the contents, whether I feel like it is the best material or not. I can’t ask students to buy an expensive book but then only assign tiny bits from it!

So again – any students who just took the course… did you feel a desparate need for a more basic introductory text? And if anyone out there has suggestion on a good intro text for what is basically an introduction to Cultrual Anthropology, I’d like to hear it. At the very least, if I have time, I’m going to review a few over the coming months (“if I have time!” being the operative phrase).

As for the current slate of readings. I’m generally happy with it (though I know or at least expect it is very challenging for a second-year undergraduate course). Here are the materials from my reading packet. In some cases, there are readings that I’m not thrilled with, but which I don’t know a better substitute for (that covers the same material):

Ibn Battúta [1325-1354] Travels in Asia and Africa. pp.272-281.

Ma Huan [1433] The Overall Survey of the Ocean’s Shores. pp.108-121.

Wells, Spencer (2002) The Importance of Culture. pp.146-183.

Thompson, Eric C. (2006) The Problem of “Race as a Social Construct”. pp.6-7

Handwerker, W. Penn (1989) The Origins and Evolution of Culture. pp.313-326

Cronk, Lee (1999) Righting Culture. pp. 1-15

Geertz, Clifford (1973) Thick Description. pp.3-30.

Miner, Horace (1956) Body Ritual among the Nacirema. pp.503-507

Gillis, John R. (1996) A World of Their Own. pp.61-80.

Ngarüiya and O’Brien (2004) Revisiting ‘Woman-Woman Marriage.’ pp.137-149.

Shostak, Marjorie (1981) Nisa: The Life and Words of a !Kung Woman. pp.105-270 (selections)

Weatherford, Jack (1997) The World Market pp.1-12

Hart, Keith (N.S.) Heads or Tails? Two Sides of the Coin. pp.637-656.

Anderson, Ben (1991) Census, Map, Museum. pp.163-185.

Jonsson, Hjorleifer (2005) Yao Origins.

Wilmsen, Edwin N. (1997) Land Filled with Flies: The Evolution of Illusion. pp.246-268.

Evans-Pritchard, E.E. (1950) Social Anthropology: Past and Present. pp.410-421

Abu-Lughod, Lila (1987) The Poetry of Personal Life. pp. 171-185.

Thompson, Eric C. (2002) Rocking East and West: The USA in Malaysian Music. pp.58-79.

Ghosh, Amitav (1986) The Imam and the Indian. pp.47-55.

Yamashita, Shinji, et al. (2004) Asian Anthropologies: Foreign, Native and Indigenous. pp.1-34.

Any students who were in the course and want to recommend dumping or keeping any of the above, let me know.


There is much more to consider, from assignments to discussion group set up and exercises. But for now, I’m going to dwell on this more rather than write about it…




April 30, 2008 - Posted by | Teaching | , ,

1 Comment »

  1. Hi Dr Thompson,

    I think the weightage for CA could be raised to at least 50%. 60% for the final paper seems a little too high, especially when there are a couple of assignments. Tutorial discussions could account for a higher percentage, I think, since they are quite important (re-enacting the Dobe Ju/’hoansi kinship and the Trobriand Kula and what not), and on top of that we also wrote in-class reflection pieces.

    As for the videos, I kinda found Dadi’s Family and Umm Kulthum a little boring (maybe it’s just me). The Strangers Abroad series was good though, excellent ethnographic videos.

    Now for the course readings, I found the article on Yao Origins too dense and too draggy (in fact I did not even finish reading it, but that is another point). Census, Map, Museum gave me the same feeling (but I at least read through that one). By the way, is Ghosh article really an ethnography? It felt more like a narrative – nevertheless it was quite refreshing and I think it was quite reflexive; studying other cultures, reflecting on how he reacted to those cultures, situated within a post-colonial historicity.

    Overall, fantastic course! I really learnt a lot! Thank you and have a good break! (If professors get one, that is)

    Comment by Alvin | May 16, 2008 | Reply

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