Oral Presentation Session
Reviewed by: Council on Anthropology and Education
Of interest to: Practicing and Applied Anthropologists, Teachers of Anthropology in Community Colleges, Students
Primary Theme: Teaching
Secondary Theme: Labor
Formal education has long been posited as the institutional solution to either uphold or challenge cultural environments and daily life. In early education, schools have been shown to reinforce social values and often serve as a socialization context for learners to develop a range of skills that will equip them throughout the life course. These norms do not always go uncontested though, as scholars of education have shown that educational institutions may also reproduce social conditions, some of which may sustain inequality, rather than critique or alter them. Universities and colleges are especially implicated in the tension between processes of social change and social reproduction: they are increasingly seen around the world as gateways by which individuals access the tools for economic and democratic participation. Beyond their role in the lives of individual students, institutions of higher education are especially involved in other kinds of change as well, such as the gentrification of their host cities and the precaritization of academic labor. Anthropologists who are interested in ameliorating conditions of inequality should attend to universities and colleges as key locations for adaptation and resistance to a world of inequality and power imbalances. How do individual behaviors of participants in higher education (administrators, instructors, students) reflect, refract, and challenge neoliberal ideologies about economic participation, personal responsibility, and the meaning of learning itself? How might we rethink the work of college preparation, universities, and adult education in light of the many contradictions the university and its constituents embody?
This panel brings together a wide array of ethnographic research in formal educational settings from different viewpoints within its structures and a variety of geographical perspectives. Two papers explore the experiences and identities of university instructors: one paper probes the links between Colombian university instructors’ conceptions of their identity and their assessment practices, while another discusses the attempts of Chicago-based adjunct faculty to innovate anthropological pedagogy while competing with each other for increasingly scarce employment. Two more papers address the student experience, examining student challenges to the “hidden transcripts” of success in a college preparatory program in southern California as well as the attempts of Nigerian students to design their own learning experiences in response to the perceived lack of learning opportunities provided by their university. A fifth paper examines the transposability of higher education learning structures addressing diversity and inclusion to three workplace settings in California. Taken together, these papers deepen anthropological conceptions of learning in its institutional forms and add texture to our sense of how and when higher education produces the possibility for individual and social change.