John Eric Stewart
Explores theory, practice, and dilemmas relating to cultural advocacy, understood as object, site, instrument, or basis of social action. Offered: AWSpS.
This course explores theory, practice and dilemmas relating to culture—in both the aesthetic and the anthropological senses—as object, site, instrument, and/or basis of social action or social protection/support. Attention will be given to tensions and intersections between activism and advocacy (around matters of legitimation and normalization, for instance), and between (culture as) aesthetics/criticism and (culture as) collective, embodied ways of life. We will first examine what or who might be the “enemies” of culture, with particular attention to neoliberalism and what might still be called identity politics. We will also consider illustrative examples or sites of contestation and strategies/models of activism/advocacy, some provided by me, more provided by your own research. The class will also give extended and role-related consideration to cultural knowledges and practices as determining, for better or worse, “the formation and governance of subjects,” and some means and implications of advancing or disrupting those knowledges and practices. Following on that aim, the course also directs attention to the relationships involved (or not) in such advancements and disruptions, for examples, as advocate versus “co-activist,” as subject versus object of cultural appraisal, or in rejection, reform, or enhancement of institutional arrangements.
Student learning goals
To provide a theoretical/ideological and practice/role-conscious understanding of forms of change-focused cultural work.
To familiarize you with key current and historical “turning points” or moments in cultural activism/advocacy, and at least some slice of a “canon” in this domain.
To identify key current and recurrent problems and challenges in cultural action (e.g. representation, participation, economics).
To help you apply cultural analysis to a particular, student-identified domain (e.g., education, health, community identity) and to then apply that analysis/research to a specific, situated site, organization, problem, or community.
To think about and enact ways to make the results of this work useful outside of academia, that is to create “products” that can be taken up and deployed (or contested) by people, organizations, communities.
General method of instruction
Over the course of the quarter, students will look for and in some form document a compelling (in whatever way), “living” example of cultural advocacy/activism; the process of identification and documentation will, I trust, help drive our conversations over the quarter, and the “result” of your research will be presented by and to your colleagues at the end of the quarter.
Class assignments and grading
Participation (100 points, 25%) This refers to being a present member of the group, but also to how you enrich the process for your colleagues. I am not an accountant or a policeman, but I will be attending to how members of the class assist their fellows and the progress of the class. Reading will be a key part of this, and bringing your particular construals of the readings to class discussions and analyses. Later, it will be important that you bring the findings and dilemmas of your independent research to discussions of your and your colleagues’ work.
Research/Documentation Project (75%, or 300 points, broken down by component parts) Although the project will be appraoched and evaluated in terms of process, with thought and class time given to the many component “parts” and relationships involved, the broad goal of the course is for you to complete a brilliant and relevant documentation of actual cultural activism or advocacy. I prefer that you identify a “living” example from this geographical area, one with which you can establish relationship and engage in conversations (e.g., some variety of ethnography). However, you may have strong interests in choosing a historical or distant example or in tracing conceptual relationships across a range of specific examples (or sites) that employ a kind of strategy or address a shared problem or goal. You will need you to make that case, though, because in any event you will have to ground any analyses in the particulars of people and place.
The form and strategy of this documentation are fairly open, and will depend on the talents and interests of students, as well as the particulars of the problem, setting and people being documented (e.g., video ethnography or video activism, performance, the classic written ethnography, or the kind of document that would inform traditional policy advocacy).