Descriptions of the classes I teach

Anthropology 102, Introduction to Sociocultural Anthropology

Introductory cultural anthropology is a course where you will learn about “exotic” peoples living around the world and about your own cultural assumptions. From hallucinogen snuffing South American Indians to Melanesian fisher people to impoverished Bangladeshi peasants to suburban San Diegans, this class will introduce you to different ways of life. It will familiarize you with other societies while also making aspects of our society seem strange. From this course you will be able to more fully understand and explain differences in the ways that various groups of people organize and give meaning to their experience of a common world. To understand human diversity we will go deeper and further than the superficial national geographic specials we see on cable TV by thoroughly comparing our own lives with others of the past and present. In the process you will come to see that our lives, and the epoch in which we live, maybe just as strange and exotic as the lives of people inhabiting the Bongobongolands of Africa, Asia, or the Pacific. Our way of life is just one among innumerable ways human beings have created a life-world. In fact we, along with face-painted inhabitants from far away places, are living an immense social “experiment” which we call the modern or post-modern world. Unfortunately one defining characteristic of our current epoch is unprecedented cultural and ecological destruction as more and more forests are destroyed, livelihoods undermined, and languages lost. The result being that the central interest of cultural anthropology—cultural diversity—is vanishing before our eyes. What, if anything at all, should be done about cultural loss is one of anthropology’s most intriguing and challenging puzzles. During our path of discovery in this course, you will gain an understanding of the issues addressed and methods employed by cultural anthropologists to comprehend human diversity, and in so doing it will encourage you to accept, embrace, and defend a culturally rich and diverse world.

Anthropology 353/Sustainability 353, Sustainability and Culture

Current global trends such as climate change, biodiversity loss, rising inequality, and increasing urbanization, raise critical questions about future environmental and social sustainability. As these pressing human-environmental problems have become more apparent there is increased realization that the 21st century will (and must) be the ‘century of the environment’. To achieve long-term social-ecological sustainability social and natural scientists are adopting new approaches to explore the interaction of ‘environment’ and ‘culture’. This push for a sustainable world, however, tends to be understood in a historical and cross-cultural vacuum. All human societies have had to organize around resource use, environmental impact, and human well-being. In this course we explore this historical and cultural diversity of human-environment interaction. We will analyze sustainability in a variety of scales and contexts: from local to global, in the past and present, in the US and among small-scale indigenous societies. Comparison across these different life worlds, past and present, will help us make more informed decisions about future sustainability. In our exploration of sustainability we ask: What can it mean to say that a culture is sustainable or not? What can sustainability be in the context of a globalization? How can communities develop and enhance human well-being in ways that sustain their ecosystems while maintaining equity and human livelihoods? What actions can we take as people in the United States, indeed as members of the SDSU community, to make our own lifeway more sustainable?

Anthropology 442, Cultures of South America

This course provides on overview of the peoples and societies of South America: their environments, histories, economies, political systems, and their views on the world. Much of the course will focus on the indigenous people of lowland Amazonia and their interaction with the natural environment. In popular understanding, Amazonian peoples are either admired as enlightened, rainforest-loving, and protectors of ancient wisdom or despised as backward, warlike savages who need to be modernized. An overarching aim of this course will be to deconstruct and analyze these superficial understandings of indigenous Amazonians and other assumptions about South America by comparing our own lives with those of South Americans. This comparative perspective will help us to understand our own society as well as that of South Americans. Ethnographic case studies will be used to illustrate the main points and bring the region to life. They will provide an opportunity to explore how the lives of indigenous South Americans have been affected by European contact, imperial domination and national independence, environmental destruction, formal education and religious conversion, and economic development and recession.

Anthropology 510, Ecological and Environmental Anthropology

Anthropologists have long sought to understand human-environment interaction and have approached the topic in various ways. In this course, we will examine the emergence and history of ecological thinking in anthropology and the various theoretical approaches within the discipline. In so doing, we will explore how various societies from past and present have different perspectives on human nature, the natural world, and human being. Throughout the course we explore case studies from around the world. This will allow students to gain insight into how environmental anthropology helps provide new perspectives and possible solutions to our contemporary socio-environmental dilemmas.

Anthropology 532, Anthropology of Development and Environmental Conservation

In the face of increasingly apparent global environment change and biodiversity loss, policy makers, academics, and the wider public are now recognizing that the 21st century will be the “century of the environment”. Meanwhile poverty continues to plague the majority of the world’s population. These issues are forcing the global community to address how the pursuit of economic progress, social welfare, and conservation of nature can be balanced. History has shown this to be a formidable challenge that calls to question the relationship between rich and poor countries, and between governments, ordinary people, and natural resource use. In this course we consider, from the perspective of anthropology, what “development” and “conservation” are about, how have they been organized in different countries, and to what effect. We examine the involvement of social scientists in the design, implementation and assessment of development projects and conservation initiatives from around the world with a focus on the developing world (Latin America, Africa, and the Pacific in particular). These case studies help reveal the technical, political, and moral dilemmas that arise from development initiatives and environmental conservation.

Anthropology 603, Principles of Sociocultural Anthropology

This course explores contemporary theory in sociocultural anthropology, concentrating primarily on key themes and developments since the 1970s. Considering the diverse array of theoretical sources that inform contemporary anthropological theory, it is futile to provide a general survey. Unlike early socio-cultural anthropology, there is no agreed upon canon of knowledge, no single book that could capture the dizzying array of influences and topics of study. Under the heading “contemporary social theory” we could study almost anything that relates to humans. As a result, a course like this inevitably will reflect the interests and fixations of the instructor.