Oral Presentation Session
Reviewed by: Society for Linguistic Anthropology
Of interest to: Teachers of Anthropology in Community Colleges, Students, Those Involved in Mentoring Activities
Primary Theme: Teaching
Secondary Theme: Inclusivity
This panel uses linguistic anthropological theories and methods to critically evaluate and facilitate particular classroom practices. Recently, there has been a wave of pedagogical initiatives promoted in higher education aimed at achieving cultural sensitivity and open discourse within the classroom. This has included efforts to develop classroom practices such as “civil discourse” and “intercultural communication.” Many of these initiatives are being developed by administrative bodies without critical discussion of their situatedness within culturally specific histories and ideologies. For instance, they tend to rest on essentialist ideas about culture and ethnicity, ignoring variation within groups and among everyday practices of their members (Heath 1997). Such a perspective can actually undermine the very goals these initiatives aim to achieve. In addition, attempts to promote “civil discourse” often approach it as an abstract, universal concept, rather than one that has roots in particular, privileged trajectories (Vora 2015). Administrative movements such as these, moreover, seem to lack insight into what specific interactional strategies can be used to facilitate the practices they encourage.
A linguistic anthropological perspective is particularly relevant to these issues for three reasons: (1) It has a long tradition of examining how specific types of sociolinguistic practices operate in the classroom in relation to other culturally specific practices and discourses (e.g., Heath 1982, Philips 1972). (2) It has shown how linguistic and discursive practices in educational contexts often serve as proxies for other dimensions of difference (Baquedano-López 2001; García-Sánchez 2016). Such practices can therefore be central to community members’ understandings of what makes a civil person. This perspective jibes well with, and helps illuminate, similar concerns in the Anthropology of Education about the discursive construction of the “educated person” and who counts as a respectful, civil student (Anderson-Levitt 2003 and Levinson, Foley, and Holland 1996; Foley, 1990). (3) It has examined how civility in communicative exchanges has been deployed as a deceptively neutral value that makes it difficult to interrogate the logic of everyday white racism (Hill 2008).
Despite these contributions from linguistic anthropology, much of this knowledge does not seem to be reaching those in higher education who are spearheading pedagogical movements, even those geared towards cultural understanding and communication. This panel uses linguistic anthropology as a critical lens both to problematize some of these initiatives, as well as understand how they could be implemented in socially and culturally responsible ways. Ethnographic perspectives and detailed attention to interactional detail can provide us with nuanced understandings of how cultural difference is constructed through particular practices in and outside the classroom, rather than using it and related concepts as universal guideposts for pedagogical intervention.