A note from an Australian colleague just reminded me that we still need to flesh out our collection of teaching materials in Critical University Studies and critical ethnography of higher education. I do have a few things I can contribute from my own teaching practice. I’ll start here with a reading list that I wrote in 2013 for a class on the politics of universities in the Global North. It is mainly about the United States, with a bit of comparative work from other places, particularly France.
For our continuing collection of syllabi, here is the syllabus for an undergraduate seminar that I taught in 2016 during my postdoc at Whittier College (a small liberal arts college in Southern California). Its mission was to put critical ethnography of higher education into dialogue with critical philosophies of education (from Plato to Freire, essentially).
This is the second post in a series of critical engagements with Hugh Gusterson’s paper, Homework: Toward a Critical Ethnography of the University. I won’t repeat the framing of this series here, but you may want to read the introduction before continuing, or see the whole list of posts.
I was saying in the last post that Gusterson smuggles in his own preferred theoretical approach beneath a set of ostensibly neutral epistemic criteria, such as “systematicity” and “self-awareness.” His preferred approach is, in substance, a contemporary version of political economy. So let us take time here to see what Gusterson’s political economy looks like.
This is the first substantive post in a series of critical engagements with Hugh Gusterson’s paper, Homework: Toward a Critical Ethnography of the University. I won’t repeat the framing of this series here, but you may want to read the introduction before continuing, or see the whole list of posts.
As I mentioned in the introduction to this series, Gusterson’s paper calls for what he pictures as a more “systematic” anthropology of the university. It is worth revisiting his initial formulation in detail:
Some good ethnographic studies of aspects of university life have been written, but it must be said that, after three decades of “repatriated” anthropology (Marcus and Fischer 1986), the anthropological literature on universities is, taken as an ensemble, underdeveloped, scattered, and riddled with blind spots. And in this literature universities tend to be treated as spaces where particular phenomena, such as ethnic or gender relations, can be studied, but not as institutions to be theorized in and of themselves. (435)
Last year, the anthropologist Hugh Gusterson, known for his book on nuclear rituals at the U.S. government’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, published a sort of manifesto in American Ethnologist entitled “Homework: Toward a critical ethnography of the university.” It is the most prominent statement on anthropology of universities to emerge from U.S. cultural anthropology in recent years. I wanted to write up some thoughts about its argument, which I think deserves to be considered carefully.