Team of Anthropologists organizes international ‘Teaching the City’ workshop

On April 8th, 2022, over 220 international scholars and professors came together online to engage with pedagogical questions and practical case studies for a day-long virtual workshop on “Teaching the City”. The workshop designed around two core questions: “How do we teach about the city? What sits at the core of our educational and pedagogical explorations of urban spaces and socialities within Anthropology and its sibling disciplines? The organizing team was composed of MSU Department of Anthropology assistant professor, Dr. Lucero Radonic, Dr. Suzanne Scheld from California State University Northridge, Dr. Angela Storey from University of Louisville, Dr. Megan Sheehan from the College of St Benedict/St John’s University, and Dr. Claire Panetta from Pace University of New York. The organizing team also included three graduate students: Marwa Bakabas and Cara Jacob from MSU, and Hanadi Alhalabi from California State University Northridge. The event was sponsored by the Critical Urban Anthropology Association (CUAA).

The workshop began with a roundtable discussion on “The Challenges and Opportunities of Urban Teaching: Thinking Across Pedagogies and Practices” that featured Hiba Bou Akar (Columbia University), Najib Hourani (Michigan State University), Martha Radice (Dalhousie University), and Maria Vesperi (New College of Florida). Scholars discussed how to work with diverse student bodies to interrogate and learn from both the banal and extraordinary aspects of cities across the globe.

In the afternoon, the conference hosted two concurrent lightning talk sessions for which panelists prepared five-minute presentations to set up the floor for group conversations on pedagogical practices and approaches to teaching about and in the city. Panelists offered in depth discussions of syllabi and readings, writing exercises, and fieldwork projects.

The first session was titled “Teaching Tools: Methods, Outcomes, and Engagement”. Drawing on teaching experiences from cities in Scotland, Canada, United States, Philippines, and Indonesia, presenters discussed the use of different techniques –including digital maps, participatory mapping, and photo-elicitation— to engage students in interrogating the urban experience that surrounds them.

The second session was titled “Experiential Teaching and Big Concepts”. Panelists drew on course-based activities that took place on and off campus, virtually and in person, to discuss how they approached teaching core and complex concepts including inequality, infrastructure, affect and emotion. Presentations also highlighted how in teaching the city students (and faculty) are offered the opportunity to query the relationship between their institutions and the surrounding urban environment(s).

The event closed with a keynote address by John L. Jackson Jr. who is the Richard Perry University Professor at the University of Pennsylvania. This talk was titled “What Anthroman Might Still Teach Us about Urban Ethnography” and it discussed the many demands and expectations of ethnographic research and how to mitigate some of the methodological (and even psychological) challenges of qualitative urban research.

Reflecting on the workshop, Dr. Radonic highlighted how “the online format allowed us to create a learning community across borders and across disciplines to exchange insights on pedagogy and the potential intersections between teaching and research in and about the city. It was inspiring to see how the zoom chat was always active as participants exchanged recommendations for exercises, readings, and engaged in discussions about accessibility, inclusion, and ethics.” MSU Ph.D. student and co-organizer Marwa Bakabas echoed Dr. Radonic, saying that the conference was an excellent opportunity to engage with a “wide variety of research centered on urban anthropology being conducted globally”, and that she enjoyed taking part in planning the workshop, reviewing proposals, handling logistics, and networking.

As a next step the organizing team is planning to create a repository for syllabus and teaching materials to be hosted on the website for the Critical Urban Anthropology Association (https://cuaa.americananthro.org). Recording from the panel and lightening talks will also be made available there. Dr. Radonic remarks that “the fact that people are already sending materials to us speaks to the generosity and collegiality that can be fostered in academia.”

04.15.22