Students in the College of Liberal Arts at the University of Mississippi benefited from the creation of four new multidisciplinary courses in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology this year, each of which provides a platform for active, experiential learning. These courses, about Korean culture, paleontologist Louise Leakey, gender and genocide, and a field course taught in Bolivia, gave students opportunities for in depth study of specific subject matter, while also addressing how knowledge is gathered, quantified, qualified and reported, helping to bring the art and science of research to life.
Kirsten Dellinger, associate professor of sociology and chair of the department, said the interdisciplinary approach to sociological and anthropological study is a natural outgrowth of the disciplines themselves, and it is recognized as a progressive academic trend because of the multifaceted perspective it provides.
“Sociology/anthropology is an interdisciplinary department at heart, as we are already home to two disciplines,” said Dellinger. “Six of our 23 permanent faculty members are jointly appointed with programs ranging from the Croft Institute for International Studies, the Center for the Study of Southern Culture, African American Studies. Several faculty members are affiliated with Gender Studies.
“Interdisciplinary approaches are on the cutting edge of most academic fields, including sociology and anthropology. We find that students who take interdisciplinary courses are able to broaden their theoretical and methodological understanding of how knowledge is produced and to more clearly examine social phenomena cross culturally.”
The Korean Culture course, taught in the Croft Institute for International Studies by Minjoo Oh, Associate Professor of Sociology, is designed to provide a broad understanding of modern South Korean society through multiple perspectives on the phenomenon called “the Korean Wave,” which refers to the popularity of Korean popular culture outside Korea.
“Exploring the Korean Wave offers the opportunity to trace the rapid changes in the lifestyle, politics, economy, international relations and national identity of South Korea in global context,” said Oh. “We started with basic information about the geography and language of Korea, and then the course moved on to delve into the exceedingly rapid socioeconomic changes from 1945 through the present. Throughout the semester, we touched on a variety of topics, including traditional aesthetics, the division of the Korean peninsula into North and South Korea, the turbulent contemporary political environment, the rise of consumerism, violence, as well as the reinvention of Korean tradition and national identity in a rapidly globalizing world. By contextualizing the Korean Wave, we gave special attention to characters on the margin of the society. We also examined the tensions between the prevailing power structure and the ingenious power of ordinary people in coping with the odds in life.”
In order to help students better understand the modern history and society of South Korea, the course introduced important theoretical and conceptual issues, such as modernization, Euro-centrism, post-colonialism, nationalism, cultural appropriation, globalization, regionalism, affective mobilization and transnational culture flow.
The course entitled Gender and Genocide, which is cross-listed with Gender Studies and taught by Willa Johnson, Assistant Professor of Sociology, provides students with a social scientific framework and background for analyzing humanity’s role in genocides during the 20th and 21st centuries.
“The course began by building a significant theoretical foundation about the nature and emergence of prejudice; the social construction of race, gender and ethnicities and an understanding of how social institutions and structures even if unwittingly, play a role in establishing or perpetuating conditions favorable to genocide,” said Johnson. “We then wrestled with the human toll exacted in the Armenian genocide, the annihilation of millions of Jews and others during the Holocaust in Europe, the Bosnia-Herzegovina genocide, the Rwandan genocide and the genocide in Darfur. We paid special attention to issues such as the rape of both sexes as a tool of genocide and the roles of perpetrators, especially female perpetrators of genocide. An underlying theme that has emerged this semester is the political role of national interests in genocides.”
The Louise Leakey course, which was taught in the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College by Robbie Ethridge, Professor of Anthropology, was designed around a planned lecture by noted paleontologist Louise Leakey this spring. In order for students to understand the significance of Leakey’s contributions to the field, and those of other members of her family, it was important to have a basic understanding of human development over the ages. Initially, the class gave an overview of the biological beginnings of man and explored the early beginnings of ancestral humans from about 5 million years ago to modern humans by examining in detail the fossil evidence for human evolution. Of particular importance to this entire area of study is the role of the Leakey family (Louis, Mary, Richard, Mauve and Louise) in the fossil discoveries and the history of their efforts to piece together what we know about the evolution the human species. The course also examined the history of the science of human paleontology.
“This class provided an outline of human evolution and how personalities, conflicts and disputes over the subject have affected the way we view the body of knowledge that exists today,” said Ethridge. “We looked at the major finds, deconstructed how ‘we know
what we know,’ and explored how personality effects outcomes. We addressed the process of collecting and interpreting data, and how professional rivalries, particularly in the field of paleontology, can push discovery forward and how they can hold it back.”
A particular highlight of the course was the visit by Louise Leakey. Students of the class had the opportunity to meet with her in an intimate setting to ask questions about her life, her work and her family’s substantial legacy.
The Field Course in Bolivia is instructed by the teaching team of Kate Centellas, Croft Assistant Professor of Anthropology and Miguel Centellas, Instructional Assistant Professor of Political Science. It is a combination of two courses: Politics and Culture of the Andes and Multidisciplinary Social Science Methods. The first course is an interdisciplinary study of the Andes emphasizing the continuing encounter between European and indigenous civilizations. While covering the broader Andes, the course uses Bolivia as a case study, looking closely at the country’s history, culture, and politics in comparative perspective. Topics include theories of social change and identity formation, religious and cultural syncretism, social and political movements, and socioeconomic development. The second course is an introduction to qualitative and quantitative research methods commonly used in the social sciences, especially history, anthropology and political science. The course includes methodology for designing a research question, conducting a literature review and differentiating primary and secondary sources. It addresses the idea of “the field” and fieldwork, research ethics and the IRB (Institutional Review Board) approval process, participant observation and ethnography, as well as touching on semi-structured interviews, basic survey design, archival research and content analysis, and basic descriptive and inferential statistics.
“The greatest benefit of this hands-on approach to study is that we get to assign the students research projects that contain actual elements of how research is done, instead of their learning in the abstract, as in the classroom,” said Miguel Centellas. “In the field, we can teach research methods, while we teach the subject. Ultimately, it helps the student understand how history is written.”
“There is a global trend academically toward multidisciplinary study,” said Kate Centellas. “It gives a more nuanced way to apply research methods and encourages students to be creative in how they think and how they approach the gathering of information.”
The UM and Bolivian student group posted some pictures and reflections from their trip in a collaborative group blog: http://olemiss-bolivia.tumblr.com.