Tag Archives: Teaching Culture

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.

Deeply Rooted in the Present: Heritage, Memory, and Identity in Brazilian Quilombos

Guest post by Mary Lorena Kenny

Mary Lorena Kenny is Professor of Anthropology at Eastern Connecticut State University. She is the author of Hidden Heads of Households: Child Labor in Urban Northeast Brazil (2007) and Deeply Rooted in the Present: Heritage, Memory, and Identity in Brazilian Quilombos 

Over the course of three hundred years, Brazil imported over five million slaves, more than any country in the Americas. One hundred years after abolition, the 1988 constitution included a clause guaranteeing quilombolas (federally recognized descendants of self-ascribed, traditional Black settlements) collective land titles as a type of reparation. Thanks to an international collective of scholars and activists, reparation policies and projects are gaining momentum.

There are an estimated four thousand quilombo communities in Brazil. The quilombola heritage policy (ideally) offers a legal instrument for enhancing social and economic inclusion, as the daily life for quilombolas is marked by a troubling history shaped long ago by slavery and colonialism. It is manifested today by some of the worst indicators in terms of access to healthcare, schooling, and basic infrastructure. Three quarters of the families living in quilombos are categorized as living in extreme poverty and receive public assistance. Deeply Rooted in the Present: Heritage, Memory, and Identity in Brazilian Quilombos maps some of the ways these communities address the still unresolved legacies of slavery through empowering narratives of resistance, land rights, material practices (heritage), and activism. I felt it was important to highlight how past practices are linked to contemporary conditions of exploitative, slave-like labor practices, violent conflict over access to land, and police violence targeting people of color. Woven throughout the book are discussions of how quilombola heritage policies are tied to these social, economic, political, and racial realities of the country.

The book is for general readers rather than specialists in anthropology or Brazilian studies.

The chapters focus on the history of slavery in Brazil, the quilombola movement, and a case study to examine some of the issues and challenges for these “maroons” (communities formed by persons fleeing slavery). Since their inception, the quilombo heritage policies have been stalled by bureaucratic obstacles, violent conflict over land rights, and shifts in the definition of quilombola. One of the first chapters discusses some of the trials and tribulations of field work, which in my experience garners many questions from students. At the end of the book, there is a section of further readings for those who would like to explore more deeply some of the issues raised.

Overall, the material can be useful for generating discussions on how people give meaning to where they have been, who they are now, and (ideally) where they can go in a shifting political, economic, and social context. Re-conceptualizing “who we are” has disrupted some core historical and cultural beliefs. How quilombolas see themselves does not always coincide with how others view them. Opponents claim that the land grant program is unconstitutional and illegal. They argue that slavery ended 130 years ago in Brazil, and that quilombolas are irrelevant in the twenty-first century. They assert that acknowledging a quilombola ethno-racial claim to land as a land reform strategy is corrupt because it provides free land to undeserving recipients, is exclusionary because it encourages groups to invent an identity that did not exist before, and excludes poor, non-quilombolas. This policy, they argue, encourages racial polarity, which is seen as un-Brazilian and imported from a US model that does not correspond to the Brazilian reality of race relations. They contend that it is misguided and does little to help the quality of life for residents in traditional Black settlements. Strong, vocal objection to the reparations program is made by powerful people: agro-industrial oligarchs, logging and mining companies, the military, real estate developers, and, most recently, those responsible for preparing roads and stadiums for the FIFA World Cup and the Olympics, during which time quilombolas were threatened with expulsion and activists have been murdered.

Students will recognize the generational differences in how groups articulate their reality, with some younger members questioning the usefulness (politically, economically, and socially) of “taking on” this identity. The material is framed by key questions in anthropology about identity, heritage, and culture. It includes an appendix that lists ways students can explore their own heritage and identity, including virtual, online communities, and contemporary issues such as gun control, gender, and BlackLivesMatter. In-class or field projects can explore how heritage is expressed in material objects or physical and oral forms. Since so much of the history of enslaved and marginalized groups has been muted, invisible, outlawed, or excluded, students can explore places, monuments, or rituals that have significant religious, political, or social value for different groups, noting which ones have a louder voice or bigger “footprint.” They can tie their own family histories to changes in their community (e.g., the closing of car or textile factories, urban renewal, extreme weather conditions, forced relocation, or resettlement) and note how this larger context has shaped the lives of the members of the community. Students can identify cultural practices in their own community that have continued, disappeared, or reemerged in a new way (e.g., death and burial practices, dance, music, language, food). Which ones have led to a revalorization of social identity, or new source of income? Can they identify development projects that have led to impoverishment, social dislocation, and the erosion of heritage (e.g., oil pipelines and dams built on Indigenous sacred territory)? They can also investigate how development projects have led to clashes over cultural heritage, e.g., construction of a building that unearthed a graveyard, or a heritage building scheduled to be demolished for modern development.

Overall, the book shows how social action can lead to change, how groups give meaning to who they are, and in the process, disrupt historical narratives, re-articulate social relations, and foment political agency.

The Launch of the Teaching Culture Blog

The Higher Education Division of UTP would like to announce the launch of its new Teaching Culture blog, which first hit the World Wide Web during the annual meeting of the American Anthropology Association (AAA) in San Francisco (#AAA2012).

The site is now live at www.utpteachingculture.com.

Our hope is that this space will become an active online forum for anthropologists and those interested in the social sciences and in pedagogy to discuss teaching and learning strategies, as well as the kinds of supports they require in today’s undergraduate anthropology classroom. The site is named after our popular series, Teaching Culture: UTP Ethnographies for the Classroom, which has pedagogy at the core of its mandate.

While the Teaching Culture series currently focuses on publishing ethnographies designed specifically for the undergraduate classroom, we hope the blog can provide an opportunity for academics to rant, share, proselytize, or criticize anything and everything to do with teaching as well as textbooks. We anticipate discussions that will touch on many different strategies and we understand that many of them will have nothing to do with books. We are excited about the possibilities!

Ultimately, our hope is that in building a community of anthropologists interested in pedagogy and in understanding some of the challenges faced in the classroom, we can develop a fresh, relevant, and creative anthropology publishing program to support instructors and their students. Please visit the site to learn more, or follow us on Twitter (@TeachingCulture) as we grow in the coming weeks and months!