Opening up the Echo Chamber

Teaching Cultural Competence in Contentious Times

  • Charles Howard Klein Portland State University


In recent years, political discussion and social life are increasingly concentrating in face-to-face and online echo chambers composed of individuals with similar world views. This segmentation of civil society has stymied in-depth and respectful communication across ideological difference and in the process contributed to the divisiveness that characterizes political discourse across the globe. In this article, I examine how anthropological learning and teaching can help open up these echo chambers and promote cultural empathy and cross-ideological communication. My discussion focuses on three methodologies I use in my undergraduate-level Culture, Health and Healing course – weekly critical analyses on contemporary health issues, an in-class illness narrative exercise, and a term-long public service announcement project. For each, I describe the pedagogy, present examples of how the assignment or activity plays out in the classroom, and consider how these pedagogies work toward increasing cross-cultural/ideological understanding and communication. I argue that through unsettling students’ default frameworks for thinking, reflexive and emotionally engaged anthropological teaching and learning can play important roles in laying the epistemological, affective, and ethical foundations for future professionals and engaged community members in today’s contentious times.

Developing Teaching: Reports and Reflections