ANTHROPOLOGY AND WRITING PEDAGOGY

WHY ANTHROPOLOGISTS SHOULD TEACH WRITING SEMINARS

  • Durba Chattaraj Ashoka University

Abstract

In an increasingly interconnected world, learning how to think anthropologically — learning how to think with difference — should be an essential part of the process of higher education. Yet many students may never take an anthropology course during their undergraduate career. In such a milieu, it is important for anthropologists to both teach and actively participate in the curriculum design of the first-year writing seminars that are part of the core curriculum of many universities and colleges globally. While first-year writing programs predominate in the United States and the United Kingdom, they are growing internationally as well, particularly in liberal arts institutions. In this article I argue that anthropologists should teach first-year writing seminars at their educational institutions for three reasons: first, anthropology as a discipline is ecumenical about evidence; thus it introduces students to a wide range of evidentiary practices early on. This broad-based understanding of evidence facilitates transfer across disciplines. Second, encountering anthropology in a writing seminar attracts students towards pursuing majors, minors and elective classes in the discipline. Finally, through the discipline’s core methodology of participant observation, lived experience, rather than a synthesis of pre-existing texts, is the core source from which arguments and conclusions about the social world are derived. In an increasingly unequal world where representation in, and access to, written text is concomitantly unequal, it is important that students are introduced to multiple ways to understand and think about human experience. The methodology of participant observation destabilises slightly for undergraduate students the authority of written text as the main, and, often singular, source of knowledge.

Author Biography

Durba Chattaraj, Ashoka University
Durba Chattaraj is Assistant Professor of Anthropology and Director of Writing at Ashoka University
Published
2020-01-28