Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Where has my stuff been? Mapping consumption with beginning Cultural Anthro students

Being an anthropologist who works primarily in digital, urban, and North American and European contexts, one thing I like to emphasize in my classes is that one doesn't necessarily have to go to the other side of the world to do anthropology - culture can be found anywhere there are people. I also like doing interactive activities; it's great seeing students learn through their own experience! In my Introduction to Cultural Anthropology class, during the week we go over world-systems theory, I like to illustrate this by starting with some of our most familiar objects - the clothes, school supplies, and electronics we have with us on a daily basis. When I've done this activity in the past, I've just had students look up the relevant information online and present it to the class. This time - partly due to the fact that I have become somewhat obsessed with mapping over the course of my fieldwork and data analysis, and partly inspired by the amazing Digital Humanities SoCal meeting I attended a few weeks ago - I decided to make it a little more interactive and a little more visual. I projected the map with a few examples on the screen, and the students were given the following instructions: 1. Find an object you have with you. 2. Answer the following (using the Internet on your laptop or smartphone, or one of your classmates', for parts 1 and 2) to find out the following: - Where was it made? - Where was it designed, or where is the company headquarters? - Where did you buy it? 3. Put these on the map, using a red marker for the first, a yellow marker for the second, and a blue marker for the third. Here's what we came up with (for interactive version, see the link above):
It helped spark an interesting discussion - through a very relatable medium - about where our things come from, the places we are indirectly related to through our things, and the relations among core, periphery, and semi-periphery. Has anyone done anything similar? Has it worked/not worked? Let me know!