Black Lives Matter Syllabus Project

Introducing: The Anthropoliteia #BlackLivesMatterSyllabus Project

The editors of Anthropoliteia would like to welcome Dr. Sameena Mulla to introduce our newest project, The Black Lives Matter Syllabus Project, which will mobilize anthropological work as a pedagogical exercise addressing the confluence of race, policing and justice.

What is the project and what is its motivation?

KK: The idea for this project started, I think, like so many ideas, in the quasi-public social media backchannels.  Sharing and commenting on so many of the links and articles and syllabi circulating during the past weeks has exacerbated something of a mutual affect: a desire to join in on such work, and to do something more, but also to figure out what that might mean as the particular kinds of academics we are.

SM: A thought I had, for allies and would-be allies: On this day and every day after it, we should make sure to do whatever it is that we do like black lives matter. Write like black lives matter. Dance like black lives matter. Teach like black lives matter. Speak like black lives matter. Care like black lives matter. Grieve like black lives matter. Transform like black lives matter. Take those words, black lives matter, and ask of yourself how to commit to them, to make them more than a platitude. We are not free until we are all free. Black lives matter.

But, how do we do anthropology in a way that affirms that black lives matter? The stakes are high— they go beyond the classroom. This is about the hard work of transforming the world.

I also wanted something to give my students. And I thought a syllabus (another) syllabus, would be appealing. I have yet to see a syllabus that focuses on anthropology itself . I want our syllabus to be a BLM syllabus that doesn’t let anthropology side-step the conversation, which is what seems to be happening in many anthropological spaces (even if inadvertently, it’s unconscionable. Silence = violence). I asked Kevin if we could experiment with voice, or just write as ourselves to open up the space for a different rhetorical style. Because the form of knowledge making itself can reproduce racist ideologies.  

And our anthropology syllabus should start with readings but also will crowdsource  classroom activities, paper prompts, discussion questions, AV material, etc. Put more tools in the hands of the teachers so that there are fewer excuses for not using the material in class. Or just to make it easier for those of us who are feeling cautious, overwhelmed, or exhausted, always reminding ourselves that cautious, overwhelmed and exhausted aren’t equally distributed in these times. Privilege comes into play here, too.  

KK: I also think this is so important because, when anthropologist’s feet are held to that fire, they oftentimes have important things to say about race, policing, violence and so many of the other elements involved here; insights that don’t necessarily come from other disciplines.  So I offered up Anthropoliteia as a space where that might happen.  As a first step, to encourage people to share with us news articles, academic work, or other resources that they find helpful and then, ultimately, to turn these into a useful resource or edifice that might move us somewhere.  To that end, people can offer suggestions in the comments below, or by emailing directly.  We’ll be compiling many of these suggestions in our running Mendeley bibliography, which you can follow here, and strive to give them form some time in the near future.  In the next few weeks we also hope to run a series of posts from different authors presenting their “addition” to the syllabus.  We hope this combination will provoke a lively and helpful conversation.

What you can do

  • Circulate this call for resources and tools
  • Reflect on the matter and share your thoughts with us
  • Create and share any helpful resources
  • Speak openly and honestly with your students about current events
  • Support black students, staff, neighbors and colleagues

Other Resources

Blog Posts

Mulla, Sameena. 2014. “Gender-Based Violence TIG: On Ferguson, Racialized Victim-Blaming, and Gender-Based Violence”  Society for Applied Anthropology News, 25(3).

Williams, Bianca C. “#BlackLivesMatter: Anti-Black Racism, Police Violence, and Resistance.” Hot Spots,Cultural Anthropology website, June 29, 2015. (introduction to special forum).

Furmage, Sean and Rubin, Jonah S.“#BlackLivesMatter: Anthropologists on Protest, Policing and Race-Based Violence.” AnthroPod: The SCA Podcast, Cultural Anthropology website, November 18, 2015.

Smith, Christen A. “Slow death: Is the trauma of police violence killing black women?”  The Conversation, July 11, 2016.

On-going web series

#Ferguson & Elsewhere (series on Anthropoliteia)

“On the Ground” feature at Anthropology News, coordinated by Dana-Ain Davis and Bianca Williams

Williams, Bianca “Making Black Lives Matter: Reflections on the Declaration and the Movement (Introduction Part I)” Savage Minds Blog, November 11, 2015.

Associations and Organizations

Association of Black Anthropologists

Black Lives Matter AAA

Other Syllabus Projects

Beer, Todd. “Police Killing of Blacks: Data for 2015.”  The Society Pages, January 20, 2016

Sociologists for Justice, “Ferguson Syllabus”

Chatelain, Marcia “How to Teach Kids About What’s Happening in Ferguson
A crowdsourced syllabus about race, African American history, civil rights, and policing”  The Atlantic Monthly, August 25, 2014

“#FergusonSyllabus: Talking and Teaching About Police Violence”  Prison Culture, August 31, 2014

The Black Lives Matter Summer Syllabus


Sameena Mulla is Associate Professor in the Department of Social and Cultural Sciences at Marquette University, and co-chair of the Gender-Based Violence Topical Interest Group of the Society for Applied Anthropology. She is the author of The Violence of Care: Rape Victims, Forensic Nurses, and Sexual Assault Intervention (New York University Press, 2014), in which she explores the intersection of therapeutic and criminal justice regimes in U.S. post-rape care. The book was recognized for its contributions in research on gender and health with an honorable mention in the Eileen Basker Memorial Prize from the Society of Medical Anthropology. Her current research, funded by the National Science Foundation’s Law and Social Science Program, is a collaborative interdisciplinary ethnography on the use of professional expertise in sexual assault prosecutions. She has published numerous articles and book chapters on sexual assault and its relationship to visual technologies, kinship, and ethnographic insights into justice.

6 thoughts on “Introducing: The Anthropoliteia #BlackLivesMatterSyllabus Project

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