MLA Proseminar: Cultural Diversity and Global Connections
This course considers the intensification of global connections and what anthropologist Anna Tsing has referred to as the "zones of awkward engagement" that emerge within the contemporary global capitalist order. Social problems, such as environmental change, the welfare of refugees, human rights abuses, or poverty in the Global South, have increasingly come to be seen as global issues best solved through multinational or international cooperation. Efforts to address these problems bring together diverse stakeholders, international experts, policy makers, politicians, civil servants, activists, international and local volunteers as well as local people, each interpreting "the problem" from different cultural perspectives and possessing varying degrees of power to affect change. Ethnographic analysis is particularly well suited to examining the diverse and conflicting social interactions, misunderstandings and multiple perspectives, cultural politics, and power dynamics that arise locally within these zones of awkward engagement and that ultimately shape the outcomes of social change efforts. The course will emphasize the close and critical reading of ethnographic accounts of a range of social improvement efforts -- environmentalist, human rights, refugee relief, and fair trade economic efforts -- across different regions of the world to gain a better understanding of how cultural diversity and power relations shape social interaction within these globalizes zones of awkward engagement. Students will gain a deeper understanding of the nature and practice of ethnographic research and of the challenges faced in engaging globally.