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More novel teaching methods, or anthropology lecture as spectacle?

30 March, 2012

Last year I posted about Latrobe Uni anthropologist Alberto Gomes and his use of a Bollywood flash mob in his first introduction to anthropology lecture. Given how much interest the last video generated, with over 400,000 hits on Youtube, I suppose it was inevitable that he would have another go at doing something out of the ordinary.

I really liked last year’s use of Bollywood to both introduce themes from the course and to engage students in that crucial first lecture. It was easy enough to see how it could be used to set up key issues to be dealt with throughout the course. This year’s effort is a little harder to parse. It brings together elements of different musical and performance traditions, a hip-hop anthem with a kind of feel-good, we-are-the-world sort of vibe. But it’s harder for me to see what the teaching points here are. Is it creating a spectacle for its own sake? Also, maybe it was the way the video was cut, but this time round all the students seemed to be in on the joke from the start, which spoils the “flash mob” dimension of the exercise.

Anyway, I don’t want to be too critical. I applaud the effort to play with the usual lecture mode of teaching and finding ways to make material more memorable. This year’s effort didn’t work so well for me. Maybe it would have helped to know how the performance was used to introduce themes for the course, and maybe these elements could have been included in, or with, the video to give it some context for us internet viewers.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Alberto Gomes permalink
    3 April, 2012 12:04 pm

    Thank you Jovan for your comments. I agree that the pedagogical aspects of the ‘performance’ this year are less obvious in the clip that the University has uploaded. You speculated that it could be because of how the video was cut and presented and you are absolutely right. Consequently, the video has come across to you as a spectacle. The surprise element (or shock treatment) was in the yelling by students ‘planted’ in the class. That was the ‘flash mob’ aspect. There were many more students (who belong to a group called ESP-Equality, Sustainability and Peace) who were not captured on film that participated in this yelling match. There was pandemonium and chaos for a moment until the soothing sounds by Dean Frenkel (Tibetan Throat Singer) who subsequently spoke about how anthropology inspired him to explore the diverse world of music, a journey into ethno-musicology. Then the violin and the drumming (‘West’ meets Africa). The class danced to Emmanuel Jal’s song ‘We want peace’ and I spoke about one of the key themes in the first year class—the culture of peace. How peace is the norm and violence an aberration in human society. The African students, Joseph and Samuel who ran up to the front of the class pleading for peace are refugees from Rwanda and Sierra Leone respectively. They talked about the importance of peace and later on, I will invite them back to narrate their painful stories of collective violence. Hence the narrative underlying the whole skid of ‘aggression’ and chaos which took the new students by surprise was one of the need for peace (We want peace). After the commotion (outbreak of aggressive behavior) things returned to normal ie peace. This narrative was expressed to students and one that I will elaborate in my lecture on the anthropology of peace. This explanatory narrative was however cut out of the YouTube clip. But your comments hint as to why we may need to include a truncated version of the underlying themes and narratives. Thank you for your interest.

  2. 3 April, 2012 6:30 pm

    Hi Alberto. Thanks, I appreciate your response. This is precisely the sort of contextualisation that I felt was missing from the YouTube video. Even your simple statement in your other comment that the theme was “We want peace” went a lot of the way towards helping me to understand what the pedagogical point behind the exercise was. I think it’s also important to be able to credit the performers, as you’ve done in this comment.

    What is the best way to do this? Of course, YouTube provides some scope for a description, though it is pretty limited. Still, you’d be able to conver the basics, mention the people involved and that sort of thing, and maybe link to another site with more explanatory material. Does Latrobe maybe have some capability to embed the videos on their own site and give you space to write about the event?

  3. Alberto Gomes permalink
    3 April, 2012 9:31 pm

    Jovan, many thanks for your suggestions. I shall explore the possibility of including a statement explaining the YouTube clip. Now back to our pleasurable task of imparting to the masses the epistemological and political value of anthropological projects.

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