Radical Teacher has just published a very interesting auto-ethnographic piece by Jaime Madden, called “Instructor or Customer Service Representative?: Reflections on Teaching in a For-Profit College.” I wanted to pick out some important moments from it.
I don’t know of any new ethnographic research on Chilean student feminism, but the media is reporting on a significant feminist protest movement that has been going on for a month in Chilean universities and schools. The watchword seems to be “Against macho violence” (contra la violencia machista).
I’ve been teaching more South African ethnographic work lately, and I just came across a great paper about outsourced campus cleaning staff at the University of KwaZulu Natal. Maheshvari Naidu‘s 2009 Glaring invisibility: dressing the body of the female cleaner is a particularly rich feminist ethnography of how black African women cleaning staff relate to their mandatory work uniforms. The bottom line is easy to convey: They don’t like them. Yet they are required to wear them.
The Academography project began in late 2016 and now it’s almost March 2018, so it seems as good a time as any to take stock of our progress.
Globally speaking, as far as I can tell, higher education has not changed enormously in the past sixteen months. It continues to be a highly contested space whose history is inseparable from all the other major global processes. I’m thinking of things like the evolution of neoliberal governance, the progress of decolonizing projects such as Transformation in South Africa, the ongoing conflicts about immigration and racialization, the resurgence of ethnonationalisms notably under Donald Trump, antisexist projects like #metoo, and ongoing debates about precarious labor.
Gina Hunter is an anthropologist teaching at Illinois State University, in the Midwestern United States, and a longstanding participant in the Ethnography of the University Initiative (EUI). The EUI, which we’ve written about before, is an institutional initiative housed at the University of Illinois which aims to support reflexive student research projects about higher education. The project has been around since 2002, and Hunter was its co-director from 2006–2014. She generously took the time to answer a number of questions about the project, its politics and context. The interview, if I may say so, is particularly relevant for teachers thinking about the politics of students doing critical research on their own educational institutions.
Eli Thorkelson: Can we perhaps start by talking a bit more about the internal history of the project? I know the project was initiated by Nancy Abelmann (whose 2009 book about Korean American college students I really loved) and Bill Kelleher, but I’m wondering how you yourself came to the project? How has its organizational atmosphere changed over the years, as it has gone from novel experiment to a more durable part of the institution?
I’ve been interested lately in a stream of new work coming out on language politics in global higher education. Yesterday I came across a new paper on English language instruction in Ukraine: Bridget Goodman’s “Acts of Negotiation: Governmentality and Medium of Instruction in an Eastern Ukrainian University,” just published in Anthropology & Education Quarterly. It’s a fine-grained ethnographic analysis of what’s at stake in teaching in multilingual situations.
I was delighted to come across Joshua Sperber’s new research project about Rate My Professors. In Making the Grade – Rating Professors, published in CUNY’s New Labor Forum, Sperber studies what happens when students can “rate their professors” on the web. The project was based on an online survey of 41 students and 47 adjunct professors, which seems to have elicited a wealth of rich qualitative data. Continue reading Joshua Sperber, “Making the Grade – Rating Professors”
I’ve been reading some of the academic capitalism literature lately, since I’m writing about French images of capitalism in higher education. It turns out that, a few years ago, George Marcus offered an intriguing auto-ethnographic anecdote about the way that academic capitalism becomes standard even in seemingly very “critical” corners of the American humanities.
Last year, Morten Levin and Davydd Greenwood published a book whose title sufficiently indicates its broad scope and ambition: Creating a New Public University and Reviving Democracy. The subtitle, Action Research in Higher Education, indicates the authors’ preferred method for realizing their goals. The book is written in plain language and speaks at a general level to participants in American and European higher education. Berghahn Books is releasing it in paperback in 2018. It is neither an ethnographic case study, nor a global history, nor an abstract critique of higher education. Rather, it is a manifesto for what public universities might look like if they were thoroughly democratized; it is a practical guide to participatory research as a means of organizational change; and it is a general theory of why participatory democracy is inseparable from any education worth having.
Susan D. Blum has recently published an unusually personal contribution to social research on university culture, in her wide-reaching book I Love Learning, I Hate School: An Anthropology of College (2016). Blum is an anthropology professor at Notre Dame, and the book expresses a desire to make existential sense of her own confusing experience as a college teacher. As such, it struck a particular chord with me as I was trying to make sense of my own students last year at Whittier College, when I was doing my postdoc. Blum’s book speaks mainly to fellow college and university teachers; at one point, Blum addresses her readers as “dear fellow faculty” (20). As a book for teachers by a teacher, it has the counterintuitive mission of getting us to empathize with bad students, and of making sense of bad classroom atmospheres, which it considers inevitable rather than merely unfortunate. In this sense, it is a more critical and expansive alternative to the discourse of “teaching tips” and “rubrics for best practices” that circulate in a mock-cheerful — but always to my ear vaguely threatening and technocratic — fashion in numerous “Centers for Teaching and Learning.”