Fall 2011

  • The AIDS Epidemic

Like a pebble dropped in a pool, HIV sends ripples to the edges of society, affecting first the family, then the community, then the nation as a whole. ‐UNAIDS
In some countries entire demographic structures are being altered, decades of gains in womens rights face reversal, and the devastation of orphaned childrensʹ lives threatens to continue playing out for generations. The slow, diffuse and partly invisible nature of the epidemic makes it all the more difficult to fight, and poses many challenges for those seeking to create policies and mitigate the effects of the epidemic. How is the epidemic best understood, beginning with the experiences of the afflicted and affected in families and communities, or with epidemiology models and policy makers? What are the implications of the mutual construction of those two approaches? What kind of impact is experienced in high prevalence communities and countries? How can the differential susceptibility of some communities over others be understood? What tools can be used, or need to be developed, to enable the best decision making about where to allocate resources to prevent devastation? And how can we understand and build the institutions that will produce the best balance between corporate incentives and access to life‐saving treatment; between market and state; between the interests of rich countries and those of the poor ones, with respect to treatment? Our geographic focus will be on the African continent, and throughout the term, we will focus both on the grounded experiences of ethnographic realities and on the role of grassroots activism in the battle against HIV.

  • People and Cultures of Africa

Why is there so much famine? Why so many civil wars? Why so much misunderstanding? To place current events in Africa in a meaningful framework, this course explores indigenous African cultures, drawing on ethnographic examples from selected ethnic groups representing major subsistence strategies, geographical and ecological zones, and patterns of culture. We will explore how cultural practices and the ecology influence each other and affect the lives of Africaʹs farmers, herders, and workers. We will also examine the new social and cultural practices that influence the survival of societies. Consequently, we will locate indigenous coping strategies within their historical context, in order to understand their role in contemporary society, and to answer another question: What are the social strengths of African societies?

  • Anthropology of Art

This course is an exploration of art as defined and practiced in different cultures. We will look at how peoples of diverse world cultures create, use, manipulate, conceptualize, exchange, and evaluate objects of material culture. We will look at how material items are considered to be artistic or aesthetic in some fashion, and think of how and if we can translate those values across cultural boundaries.

  • AIDS Activism in Africa (Field Work Term 2012)

This course will introduce students to the work of non‐governmental and grassroots health and social change organizations in Uganda. In addition to gaining an understanding of the breadth, purpose and genesis of social activism in Africa, students will learn of the mixed effects of Western commerce, tourism, and foreign aid on the country. NGOs, both those run by indigenous people and by foreigners, grapple with the legacy of colonial structures and the present‐day reality of market capitalism in an impoverished country. Part of the work of our group will be to understand the challenges and practical impediments these NGOs face against a background of pervasive North‐South power dynamics and inequality. We will engage with grassroots activists by training them in video skills, using digital video as a powerful medium for social change.

The winter study will begin with one week in Bennington, reading, training in video production and editing, and preparing background for the experience. After a day of traveling, we will arrive in Kampala, the capital of Uganda, where we will all be based together in the house of a Ugandan family for our first two weeks. Students will learn to navigate the city, have basic language classes and discussions of Ugandaʹs fight against HIV and poverty, and visit NGOs and other sites. Then we will do our first round of video trainings, working with local activists and/or students. After our Kampala stay we will move out to a rural area, where we will work with local residents and AIDS activists to identify key issues, challenges, and resources in the community, then train them to make videos to use as tools in their work. We will leave groups with the capacity to continue making their own videos to strengthen their work. We will finish by returning to Kampala to process our experiences. The FWT requirement will be waived for participating students.

Spring 2012

  • Many Peoples, One World

Why are cultures and societies so different, and simultaneously, so similar? We explore these questions by reading various ethnographic studies, meanwhile developing an anthropological perspective on economy and politics, social organization, kinship and family life, ideology and ritual, ecology and adaptation. We also focus on the sources and dynamics of inequality. Against this background, we examine some of the theoretical and methodological approaches used by anthropologists in their explorations into human culture and society. 

  • Global Capitalism

We are all familiar with a culture and society dedicated to the idea of consumption as the ultimate source of well‐being. Its technology, wealth, and power are monuments to its success. But its spread around the globe has been accompanied by growing social and economic inequality, environmental destruction, mass starvation, andsocial unrest. Though most members of this society and culture perceive these problems as distant, it may well be that they are intrinsic to the culture itself. This course explores global problems such as the population explosion, famine and hunger, environmental destruction, the emergence and spread of new diseases, ethnic conflict and genocides, terrorism and social protest. It examines the links between these problems and the broad emergence of the culture of consumption. It also explores how the emergence of this culture has led, not to a single concept of ʺmodernityʺ shared by everyone, but to many different ʺmodernitiesʺ produced when capitalism is filtered through the ʺtraditionalʺ ways of looking at the world in other societies.

  • Learning from People

Participant observation and interviewing are the hallmark methods anthropologists utilize in studying people, culture and society. In this workshop course we will learn the techniques and nuances of these methods, and use them to explore a particular issue or event. Further, we will assess their limitations, and ways in which those can be overcome. This two‐credit course will meet over the entire term, for four hours every other week in order to permit adequate time for completion of hands on exercises and projects between class meetings.