Tag Archives: American Anthropological Association

What Students Deserve in a Textbook

With the recent release of Through the Lens of Cultural Anthropology, we asked author Laura Tubelle de González to talk about her new textbook, and her hopes for its use in the classroom. Here, González discusses what inspired her, why she includes her own personal experiences, and how her strategic use of language and graphics will allow students to easily place themselves within the book.


Excerpt from Chapter 8: Gender and Sexuality in Through the Lens of Cultural Anthropology.

When my daughter, Maya, was very little, I made sure to provide her with all kinds of toys, including those “meant” for boys, like cars, excavation kits, robots, and other toys from the blue aisle. I didn’t want to confine her imagination to those things that North American society deemed appropriate only for girls. One day, I came into her room, and she was playing with a set of little Hot Wheels cars. I gave myself an imaginary pat on the back, feeling smug that she had chosen the cars over her dolls for playtime. Wanting to know more, I asked, “I see you’re playing with your cars. What are you playing?” Expecting to hear something typical for car play, like “car chase” or “car crash,” I was flabbergasted when she replied, “well, this is the daddy car, this is the mama car, and these are the baby cars.” I realized then that there are aspects of gender that are unquestionably intrinsic to each individual. Maya was who she was, no matter what toys I offered her.

My lower division cultural anthropology courses are full of personal examples, like this one about Maya’s Hot Wheels cars and expectations of gender. I can’t resist telling stories about my first night of fieldwork in Oaxaca when I was served fried grasshoppers, or how deliberating whether or not to buy the most popular (pooping!) baby doll as a holiday gift illustrates the market economy. There are so many ways in which life as a teacher, family member, community member, and citizen highlights anthropological ideas. I believe that the classroom community is made richer when we share our own life examples. My new textbook from UTP, Through the Lens of Cultural Anthropology, seeks to create the kind of reading environment that connects author and students in the same way we connect in the classroom.

The textbook is an adaptation of a four-field general anthropology textbook that I co-authored with my Canadian colleague, Bob Muckle, called Through the Lens of Anthropology, Second Edition. As we wrote, we made an effort to create a text that was engaging and geared toward lower-division students. The book has a special focus on food, sustainability, and language throughout, with pop culture references that students will recognize. We also tried to write a true North American text, that felt relevant to students from both the US and Canada. Through the Lens of Cultural Anthropology develops the cultural and linguistic sections into a full semester’s course text with 12 chapters and additional chapter topics, retaining an emphasis on those areas mentioned above.

When writing Through the Lens of Cultural Anthropology, I thought of my own students, and what they deserve in a textbook. First, it’s essential that all students see themselves reflected in the book. For this reason, I put special emphasis on the use of gender-neutral pronouns and inclusion of transgender and non-binary issues throughout, not just confined to the gender and sexuality chapter. My research among gender expansive students in community colleges underscores the importance of inclusion of all genders and sexualities in the classroom and in course material.

Credit: Karen Rubins/Alpa Shah.

Secondly, the book makes a special effort to include narratives that are not always emphasized, such as the contributions of Black anthropologists, issues of White privilege, the voices of Canadian First Nations peoples, and others. It is important to me as a teacher and textbook author to enable students to connect to course material in not only logical but also emotional ways. I believe that transformative learning comes from compassion, not only intellectual understanding. Therefore, the book attempts to make these kinds of connections. I deeply appreciate the comment made by my friend and fellow UTP author, Tad McIlwraith, when he said the book “reads like a provocative argument in favour of cultural diversity.”

Finally, following the lead of editor Anne Brackenbury (who has recently left her position at UTP), the textbook uses comics and graphic panels to help tell the story of anthropology in a visual way. The cover has a preview of that focus, with a wonderful set of images of diverse people from the text by artist Charlotte Hollands, who regularly creates graphic panels for the American Anthropological Association. My students enjoy the way that a graphic story can draw them into a set of ideas in ways that text alone often can’t. For instance, reading about praxis may not be as successful as engaging with a graphic panel on praxis in the context of collaborating with the mermaid community (drawn by Karen Rubins, illustrating the article by Alpa Shah).

When I mention to people that I teach anthropology, I often hear “that was my favorite class in college!” The way cultural anthropology connects students’ lives to others around the world makes it a potentially transformative course, especially for students thinking about ethnocentrism or cultural relativism for the first time. Engaging in the act of deconstructing our own behavior – questioning our beliefs and behaviors – is a way to make course material real, both in the classroom and in our texts.


If you want to find out more about Through the Lens of Cultural Anthropology, click here to view the table of contents and read an exclusive excerpt from the book.

Laura Tubelle de González is a professor of Anthropology at San Diego Miramar College in Southern California.

Language, Capitalism, Colonialism: Toward a Critical History

As this year’s annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association begins, we would like to recognize the publication of an important new anthropology text, published by our Higher Education Division. Language, Capitalism, Colonialism: Toward a Critical History by Monica Heller and Bonnie McElhinny is an original introduction to linguistic anthropology that is situated in the political and economic contexts of colonialism and capitalism. To mark the publication of the book, the authors provide some background on how the project was initially conceived, how the book is structured, and how they hope to offer up new ways of thinking about language. If you’re currently attending the AAA annual meeting (#AmAnth17) in Washington, DC, pick up your copy at UTP’s book display. Or, order your copy online!

This book began perhaps a bit oddly. Anne Brackenbury, Executive Editor at University of Toronto Press, approached Monica with the idea that perhaps it was time for a new textbook in linguistic anthropology. She approached Bonnie with the idea of doing an accompanying reader. Both of us (Bonnie and Monica) agreed that it was time for a reboot, but neither was enthusiastic about the format. Our feeling about the field certainly was that the existing canon wasn’t allowing us to readily talk about the things we wanted to talk about. These were things like how language is bound up in the making of social difference and social inequality, but in different ways under different circumstances. Things like how and why (and when) it acts as a terrain for crucial political struggles. Things like why thinking about language in different ways matters—and what, precisely, have been the consequences of thinking about language the way we have: as an autonomous system, as a cognitive faculty, as one property of social groups.

And of course these are not just the ideas specialists have. One thing about working on language is that you find out quickly that everyone has an opinion, usually fervently clung to as irrefutable fact. They can’t be refuted on the basis of empirical data. They include such beliefs as: some languages are harder to learn than others; the language you speak shapes the thoughts you can have; some languages just sound beautiful, or ugly; there is a difference between real languages and dialects, patois, jargon, and slang, and the latter don’t really count for anything. Many of these ideas are deeply consequential for speakers whose competence and worth are judged on the basis of them, and which shape the language policies on which we spend lots of money. Indigenous and minority languages get repressed; speakers of creoles get judged as incompetent speakers of metropolitan, imperial standards; working class and racialized minority students are placed in special education classes on the basis of how they speak.

So we wanted a way to speak both to what has counted as knowledge about (and of) language in academic disciplines, but also in social institutions and in everyday life, since all of that matters, and matters deeply. But we had no counter-canon to propose, nor, frankly, did we want to produce one. That would have been exactly counter to our concerns. How could we worry about what has been and is now at stake in thinking about language in these specific ways and then turn around and impose one of our own?

Nonetheless, Anne had started something, something that made us attentive not only to issues specifically connected to “language” but also to the role of language in broader struggles over what counts as knowledge and who gets to decide. These include movements that are in the news today and which are part of our personal and professional lives—Indigenous and Black decolonization and anti-racism movements, environmentalist struggles around climate change, exposures of endemic sexual harassment, minority nationalisms (think Catalonia, Quebec, Scotland), the rise of the alt-right… And as these struggles gain prominence, so does the backlash. What does linguistic anthropology have to say about this?

So we did a kind of bait-and-switch: ok Anne, we’ll propose a book, but a different one. The book we proposed suggests we take a step back. We take the position that linguistic anthropology can be most helpful if it understands the conditions that make language matter, and matter in specific ways. Those conditions are political, economic, and social; in particular, they concern the intertwining of capitalism and colonialism. Ideas about, and practices of, language facilitate the relations of power that they involve, and the making of social difference that legitimize them.

For us, these conditions revolve centrally around the intertwining of capitalism and colonialism as the major processes driving the linkage between symbolic and material domination and relations of difference and inequality. Having been trained in the rather presentist approach of North American linguistic anthropology, we had already been attending for some time to the importance of history; the approach we wanted to take here required a deep dive. Building largely on secondary sources, with some forays into archival and ethnographic work, we structured the book in a loosely chronological manner around three moments: mercantile, industrial, and contemporary “late” or neoliberal capitalism.

Each moment has a pair of chapters devoted first to the dominant approaches to language found there, and then to responses to those dominant discourses. We look first at how missionaries co-constructed the languages of colonizer and colonized in efforts to use Christian conversion to extend and strengthen the hard power of the imperial state. We then examine how these efforts were taken over by secular colonial administrators who borrowed biblical images of genealogy and descent to construct language “families” in complex processes of rendering colonizer and colonized both intimate and distant. These efforts were reinforced by the application of theories of evolution to linguistic difference, racializing language in the construction of “civilizational” hierarchies. They were also resisted, notably by dialectologists and creolists attentive to the difficulty of drawing neat boundaries, and by Americanist anthropologists led by Franz Boas who in arguing for the systematicity and significance of all cultures and languages, nonetheless re-inscribed hierarchical differences among the languages of Indigenous groups, descendants of slaves, and settlers in North American society (he understood the first to be on the verge of disappearance and requiring salvage in the form of material traces; he understood the second as needing access to assimilation).

The second set of chapters examines the work done in the making of the modernist, bounded, uniformized, and standardized industrial capitalist and liberal democratic nation-state, and three distinct responses to the inequalities that process created: internationalist movements constructed around international auxiliary languages like Esperanto; fascism, with its extreme version of evolutionary ideas about race and language and its attention to the importance of propaganda in the construction of fascist structures of feeling (what did it mean to act appropriately “fanatical”, say?); and communism, which struggled to make a Marxist idea of language in contradistinction to bourgeois European philology, but ended up converging with the west in Cold War turns to nation-states as centres of empire, and technology as the main technique of competition.

The third pair of chapters takes up the Cold War and the focus on technique, skill, technology, and the repression of overtly political forms of political engagement among linguists and anthropologists, with a focus on the United States; and then on the ways in which the Cold War soft power front of international development served as a foundation for the institutionalization of what we now call “sociolinguistics.” This part of the book also examines how the emancipatory movements of the 1960s led to critiques of mainstream sociolinguistics as masculine, white, and neo-colonial.

We end with an examination of neoliberalism and late capitalism, with a focus both on the role of language in work on the globalized new economy, and resistance to the forms of inequality we experience now. These include radical rethinking of the idea of language as uniquely human, and other attempts to reverse the extraction of language from social process we argue operated from the end of the nineteenth through to the beginning of the twenty-first centuries. They include questions like how we might recognize “consent” or “redress” and what a “refusal” or an “apology” or “reclamation” might look like.

Throughout, we attend to how hegemony happens, that is, how and why certain ideas about language help advance ideologies that legitimate specific political economic arrangements, and which themselves become hegemonic. Who is deemed worthy to speak, and how? We have tried therefore to also be attentive to the silenced and the marginalized, as well as to the more explicit struggles that have emerged from time to time (and for empirically discoverable reasons).

Our hope (because that too is a thread throughout the book) is that this book will offer not a new canon, but a new way of thinking about language, one that opens up new questions to be asked, and new ways of asking them.

Monica Heller is Professor of Anthropology and Education at the University of Toronto, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, and a past president of the American Anthropological Association.

Bonnie McElhinny is Principal of New College, Associate Professor of Anthropology and Women and Gender Studies at the University of Toronto, and former Director of the Women and Gender Studies Institute.

Teaching a Four-Field Introductory Anthropology Course: Q&A with Kristina Killgrove

Through the Lens of AnthropologyAt this year’s meeting of the American Anthropological Association in Denver, Colorado, November 18-22, we will launch our first ever four-field anthropology textbook. In the process of producing Through the Lens of Anthropology: An Introduction to Human Evolution and Culture by Robert J. Muckle and Laura Tubelle de González, we have had many interesting conversations with instructors across North America about how they approach their four-field courses. Not surprisingly, their approaches vary, as do the particular challenges they face in their courses. To keep this discussion going, we offer a few short Q&As with instructors from different subfields of anthropology. Last week, we posted a Q&A with cultural anthropologist Jason Antrosio. This week, we pitched the same questions to biological anthropologist Kristina Killgrove.

Q: How long have you been teaching an introductory general anthropology course? Is the course team-taught at your institution? Do you have a few large classes or many small sections of the class offered by many different instructors?

A: We usually offer one large-ish class (up to 70 students), two small sections (c. 20 students), and one online section each semester. I’ve taught it once at this institution and a few times at a former institution. Our intro courses are sometimes taught by tenure-track faculty and sometimes by adjuncts. At this university, we are required to have the same Student Learning Outcomes across all sections in a given semester, so there is some coordination of syllabi and course goals involved.

Q: What is your goal for the course? That is, do you have a particular vision of anthropology that you want to pass on to students or are you content to introduce some of the more interesting elements of the discipline with the hope that you can recruit more students to take more anthropology courses?

A: Most of the students who take our four-field intro class are not majors but rather students fulfilling a university area requirement. So we teach a broad overview and include all four fields, with tangible examples of each (e.g., bringing in artifacts for archaeology, hominin casts for bio anthropology, etc.). Our goal is for students to gain a broader perspective on what it means to be human and how we got to the complex cultures we have today.

Q: How do you structure your course to realize that goal?

A: As above, several weeks are spent on each of the four fields, and we include experiential aspects as much as we can (easier in small classes than in the large ones).

Q: What do your students usually find to be the most interesting part of the course?

A: Mine always seem to like conversations about linguistics—differences in speech patterns, accents, etc., across the US. I pull examples from English to illustrate linguistic anthropology because students can easily relate to them. We can, for example, poll the class about pop vs. soda or other regionalisms, and talk about ethnocentrism in language (e.g., a server at a Chinese restaurant brings chopsticks and you ask for “real utensils” instead).

Q: What do you see as the greatest challenge in teaching a four-field introductory anthropology course?

A: Covering all four fields effectively. While it’s relatively easy for me to cover bio and archaeo, since that’s what I do best, tackling the heady issues in cultural anthropology (especially in an age of trigger warnings and other sensitivities) is more difficult for me. Obviously, these issues are salient to the field and to college students’ lives, so having a text with clear-cut examples of the importance of cultural anthropology (and an instructor’s manual with helpful hints about ways to lead discussion and introduce topics in an appropriate way) would be helpful.

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Kristina Killgrove is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of West Florida. She regularly teaches introductory courses in biological and general anthropology, as well as specialty courses in biological anthropology at the undergraduate and master’s levels. Her research focuses on the bioarchaeology of ancient Rome, and she is a contributing writer at Forbes focusing on anthropology in the news.

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If you would like to request a copy of Through the Lens of Anthropology to consider for course use, please email requests@utphighereducation.com and be sure to include your course name, the semester in which the course is being offered, and the estimated enrollment.

Excerpt: The Transition to Food Production

Through the Lens of AnthropologyIn the second of a series of four excerpts, all leading up to the publication of Through the Lens of Anthropology: An Introduction to Human Evolution and Culture by Robert J. Muckle and Laura Tubelle de González, we would like to share a few educational yet entertaining pages on the domestication of plants and animals—as well as the place of alcohol in human evolution.

Through the Lens of Anthropology is an introductory four-field textbook with a fresh perspective, a lively narrative, and plenty of popular topics that are sure to engage students. The following excerpt is taken from Chapter 6: Cultural Evolution from 20,000 to 5,000 Years Ago. Both of the feature boxes included in this excerpt (Box 6.2: Why Did People Domesticate Plants and Animals? and Box 6.3: Was Alcohol a Driving Force of Human Evolution?) ask very good questions, and of course they are visually supported by the cartoon of an early human keg party (Figure 6.1).

If you have ever wondered about the history of human subsistence, or when humans began consuming alcohol, this excerpt is worth a read.

Download the excerpt here.

Invitation: Help us to launch Through the Lens of Anthropology at this year’s annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association in Denver, Colorado, November 19, 4-5 pm, University of Toronto Press, Booth #205. We will be serving Fat Tire Amber Ale!

Note: If you are scheduled to teach an introductory anthropology course, please email requests@utphighereducation.com to request an examination copy of Through the Lens of Anthropology. This is a textbook that is interesting to read, manageable to teach, and that succeeds at igniting interest in anthropology as a discipline. We would be more than happy to give you the opportunity to review it for yourself!