Socect’s Weblog

Unsettled Thoughts/Works in Progress

Anthropology Wiki Favorites 2010

Our semester is wrapping up here – it’s all over but the final exams.
Once again, I was very pleased with how things went using the Course Wiki for SC2218:Anthropology and the Human Condition.
The following page lists some of the favorites selected by me and my teaching assistant Dina:

Although it is hard to pick out a single favorite from all of these, I would have to say it is the following video, which absolutely nails the concept of “Commodity Fetish”:

I had a bit of a scare mid-term as the host Wetpaint had some serious technical difficulties. But fortunately, they sorted it out. I’m still a bit concerned about using Wetpaint going forward, as it isn’t clear how stable their business is? If anyone has thoughts on Wetpaint or alternatives, I’d love to hear them in the comments (or email). Overall, the integrated Wiki and social networking functions on Wetpaint work very well, though the interface for editing could do with some fixes (for example, it must be possible to maintain formatting of paragraphs and such if cut-and-pasting from MSWord, no?).

November 20, 2010 Posted by | Teaching | , , | 2 Comments

The Brief Life of “Squeezy”

I squelched the brief life of an emergent signifier today.
I feel a bit bad about doing so, which perhaps inspires me to blog about it… and thus at the very least create an archival record of the brief life and death of the very evocative word: “squeezy”.

This word is one that I have noticed my son using for some time (not sure when it first entered into his vocabulary). In fact, I was not entirely clear what he meant when I first heard him use it (which in part is what brought it to the attention of my consciousness).

Today may be the beginning of the end for “squeezy”, however, as I authoritatively stepped in and eliminated it from his vocabulary by suggesting a “correct” alternative. Here is an account of the events:

The animals (of which there were about 18… in plastic toy form) were fighting the dinosaurs (who were bigger and stronger, but out numbered about 2-to-1). This was happening on the floor, in the middle of our family room (I was sitting to the side, marking exams, trying to keep out of the battle). The fight, according to my son, was taking place in the middle of the road, making the road “squeezy” and nearly impassible to some of his larger (toy) busses and cars. He proceeded to demonstrate (“look daddy, look daddy”) how the road became more and more squeezy as the animals and dinosaurs closed in on one another in close combat.

A Very Squeezy Situation

A Very Squeezy Situation

At this point, I stepped in to explain that the word he wanted was “narrow”… the road was “narrow” not “squeezy”. He took a few moments, contemplating this, then smiled, moving the dinosaurs and animals yet closer together. “Look daddy, it’s more narrower!”

Children are a wonderful agents in the production of linguistic (and more broadly cultural) diversity. It is a bit sad that we have to constantly reign in their creative energies – in order that linguistic complexity not devolve in to sheer chaos.

April 29, 2009 Posted by | Random Walks | , , | 2 Comments

Collaborating, Competing and Grades

“Pamanthropolgist” (another blogger) raised the question of how to assign grades for a collaborative project (like the Wiki). The problem is that on the one hand we want to encourage students to learn how to work cooperatively on projects. But the entire structure of the university (schools in general) is based on individual competition, expressed in terms of individual grades. So how to deal with this? (I was going to just reply to the comment, but this deserves a post of its own.)

This is always a difficult question – how to assign grades (credit) for a collaborative project. In the past, I’ve always had the students submit an evaluation of their own contributions and those of group members. They hate this. I’ve even been accused of being “unethical” (believe it or not) by one student who said that it was my job as instructor to give grades and unfair (unethical, in her words) to make students do it. Since then I’ve always been clear that I am the one assigning grades and that their evaluation forms are for me to get feedback on what goes on in the group. (In fact this has always been true, I’ve never assigned grades simply on student self-evaluations; rather they provide important inputs in the process.) I obviously can’t be present to see what every group is doing all the time (who is contributing and who is not). Mike Wesch has noted that he tried to use a group ‘self-grading’ system, but had to abandon (or change it) because students weren’t willing to grade down a popular but under-performing group member. (This is mentioned either in his blog or one of his online lectures… forget which).

In theory, the Wiki should make assigning grades easier. The contributions of every member of the wiki can be viewed by clicking on their profile. I did a fair amount of research on the web, trolling through education and course related Wiki’s before deciding to go ahead with a Wiki for SC2218. There seemed something of a consensus that the transparency of the Wiki (knowing exactly who contributed what) made assigning credit easier (compared to older formats for group projects). The downside (complaint) of some students is that the architecture of the Wiki seems to favor quantity over quality – specifically, the built in Wetpaint feature (the platform I’m using), which highlights those members who contribute the most (their picture appears in the “top contributors” sidebar; with the size weighted to the number of page edits). In my syllabus, I make clear that quality and cooperation will be given greater weight than quantity (though, quantity still counts to some degree – one really excellent post alone will unlikely be enough to get an exceptionally high grade for participating on the Wiki). On a member’s profile, one can see exactly what that person contributed and read through those contributions – this of course takes more time than just looking at the number of contributions. But with just a bit more effort one can see the quality of contributions not just their quantity.

The very simple answer to how we (I and my two teaching assistants) will be grading the Wiki is that 10% of the over all grade for the course will be based on participation on the Wiki. Students are assigned to contribute to certain parts of the Wiki (NUS has an internal “IVLE”… Integrated Virtual Learning Environment… system through which students will be automatically assigned to one of five “Wiki Groups”). So first, we will be looking to see that they have contributed to those pages and that the pages for their group are of good quality (in that sense there still is a “group” component). Next, we will be looking at their overall contributions beyond the pages assigned to their group. The 10% Wiki component of their grad will be based on that.

There is also a group project that they will be doing (won’t go into the details here). That will also be Wiki-mediated. Again this should make it somewhat more transparent who is contributing what. This helps to solve the problem of “slackers” getting lots of credit for other people’s work. But at the same time, this is still a group project and collaboration will be important. We are not going to look favorably on group members who appear to be trying to monopolize all the credit for their group project by trying to do everything themselves without collaborating with their peers (we don’t want to reward ‘kiasu’ behavior… Singaporeans know what I mean!).

All that said, I’m not going to hide the fact that this is the first time I am running the class with a Wiki platform. So although I’ve read enough and looked at enough examples to have some idea of what to expect, I’m sure some things will need to be worked out as this project proceeds.

August 13, 2008 Posted by | Teaching | , , | 4 Comments

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