Learning anthropology in transitory spaces

uncertain knowledge in Higher Education

  • Elena Burgos-Martinez Durham University


This paper seeks to explore the pedagogical nuances of student self-reflective feedback,1 as it highlights the importance of acknowledging 1st year students’ uncertainty when approaching anthropological terminology for the first time. I attempt to explore the conceptual impact of the broad discipline of anthropology's conceptual terminology on 1st year students. In later sections of this paper, the notions of “experimental knowledge” and “knowledge appropriation” will be developed further and illustrated with examples extracted from focus groups and observations conducted as part of this research. The outcomes of this research suggest that current unproblematised uses of speculative concepts, such as “culture” and “indigenous” negatively impact the discipline’s image inside and outside the class. However, these concepts pose numerous opportunities for highlighting their frictions and uncertain natures as thresholds where knowledge is produced and re-produced. Unfortunately, curricula are often designed with standardised assessments in mind; this predisposes students towards a certain body of knowledge required to meet the demands of these assessments. Yet, how do students conceptualise such disconnections between curricula and daily experiences? This paper seeks to combine the fields of education theory, critical pedagogy and linguistic anthropological analysis to approach Higher Education learning from a student-based perspective, where students reflectively navigate their own learning processes and voice their uncertain experiences and knowledge. This will help situate the disconnections between curricula, student experience and outcomes in the context of the very transitory spaces that students occupy. Students’ semantic adventures, including all its frictions, can contribute to contemporary ways of understanding student agency and liminal knowledges as conceptual devices that challenge the assumedly immutable aspects of anthropological curricula.