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Novel teaching methods: The Bollywood flashmob

10 June, 2011

Here’s a fun way to get students interested in anthropology. Earlier this year, Alberto Gomes of Melbourne’s La Trobe University (who, as coincidence would have it, also came here to Max Planck to give a lecture last year) embedded a flashmob of Bollywood-style dancers in his introductory anthropology lecture. It’s worth watching to the end, when the entire lecture hall gets up to perform the dance moves.

From a pedagogical point of view I think this is fantastic. Not only is this going to be an experience that those anthro students carry with them through the rest of their lives, it’s a great way to bring home all sorts of points about anthropology: e.g. that it doesn’t only deal with theoretical knowledge but involves embodied practices, that participation is a necessary part of learning and so on. Also, the strangeness the students must have experienced when the dancers first stood up, the sense of surprise and perhaps uncertainty about what was going on, would have provided the perfect entry point to discussing the assumptions we make about space and its meanings, and to point out the value of moments of uncertainty, when we don’t know what is going on, for developing ethnographic insights.

Thanks to Paul Mason for sharing this link!

7 Comments leave one →
  1. 16 June, 2011 10:32 pm

    Thank you Jovan for this insightful take on the Bollywood flash mob in my class. The initial three minutes of the first lecture in big introductory class are of critical importance. I believe that one has to present something that will grab and hold the interest of the students, something that will be entertaining, engaging, and memorable. This was my purpose of organising and staging the Bollywood flash mob in my first anthropology class (enrolment of about 600 students). It was designed not just as a performance but as a means to stimulate student participation and in the process help students cope with the anxieties of being in a large class which undoubtedly can be daunting for the uninitiated. A bit of frivolity, fun, music, dancing, laughter helps immeasurably in this regard. The other pedagogical objectives which I clarified to the students later in the semester include: First, as Jovan rightly indicates, the Flash mob re-enacts the anthropological project which involves cultural learning and appreciation through participation, as in participant observation. Second, like sushi and reggae, Bollywood dancing nicely illustrates that global cultural flow, as discussed in Inda and Rosaldo’s Anthropology of Globalisation among others, is not always and entirely from the west to the rest of the world (epitomised by macdonalisation or coca-colonisation). Just as sushi as gone global (see Bestor’s fine study), so has Bollywood dancing. Third, I consider Bollywood dancing as a form (or genre) of cultural hybridity or syncreticism which serves well as an antidote to ethnocentrism and essentialism.

  2. 29 June, 2011 6:25 pm

    Many thanks for your comments Alberto. And sorry it has taken me some time to reply. I just wanted to say that you’ve got me thinking about the practice of teaching anthropology again and what it means to convey what acquiring anthropological knowledge is like — based in experience, interpersonal, based in encounters with the unfamiliar, and so on. Also, it’s the multifaceted nature of something like Bollywood, the fact that it can be approached from so many different angles, that helps to convey the holistic aspect of anthropological enquiry. Although the notion of whole bounded cultures is generally challenged by anthropologists these days, I think that anthropology is still holistic in the sense that it tends to resist the sort of circumscribing of a “proper” object of study into different spheres. I.e. dividing the social world into political, economic, religious, scientific and other spheres that supposedly work according to their own logic. Thus while we can’t really claim to deal with whole societies, I think one of the positive inheritances of earlier anthropological interest in small-scale societies is that we tend to be much more interested in connecting, rather than separating, various “spheres” of life.

  3. 2 July, 2011 10:23 am

    Jovan, I totally agree with your views about the value of a holistic approach. In fact, many of the global issues, be it climate change or collective violence, require a holistic epistemology and methodology to achieve reasonable appreciation and anthropology as a discipline predicated on what I refer to as the ‘blessed trinity’—comparative, hoslistic and relativistic (prefer the term ‘relational’ or even dialectic)—is well placed to handle them. I try to get this across to my students in my classes. It appears to me that it is anthropology’s relational logic that is most appealing to students as it brings anthropology home into their everyday lives. For example. in one of my lectures I narrate the exotic bits, with all the gore and blood, in relation to headhunting (Dayak and Illongot) and discuss the range of anthropological expanations and at the end invite students to ‘relate’ headhunting to ‘modern’ warfare (focusing on the ‘war on terror’ and Iraq). In my lecture on gift-giving, I ask students at the end ‘which of following best represents development aid? (1) danadhama (where embodied in the gift are the sins of the donor) (2) on giri (Japanese idea related to gift giving that best fits Marcel Mauss’ dictum that the gift is ‘first and foremost a means of controlling others’) (3) potlatch. Ultimately, I think anthropology serves well as a cultural critique and students will appreciate our discipline more if they are made to see its relevance, not just ‘out there’ but ‘here’ and the future.

  4. MKR permalink
    4 July, 2011 3:35 am

    Wow, this is great! I wonder where I can find a Bollywood dance class in my city to stage this in my first lecture???!

  5. 4 July, 2011 10:37 pm

    Thanks Alberto. It’s interesting to hear how you relate the “exotic” subject matter back to the concerns of students. This is one of the primary issues with teaching anthropology in my opinion. A lot of students come into anthropology because the idea of learning about “other cultures” seems interesting, but often in a very vague, detached sort of way. It’s important then to show that anthropology is not only interesting, but also directly relevant to our own lives.

  6. Alberto Gomes permalink
    2 April, 2012 8:50 pm

    Hi all,
    Here’s the link to the YouTube of what we did this year:
    Look forward to your views. The theme was ‘We want peace’, inspired by Emmanuel Jal who incidentally thanked us for supporting his music.


  1. More novel teaching methods, or anthropology lecture as spectacle? « Culture Matters

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