Black Lives Matter Syllabus Project, Uncategorized

The Anthropoliteia #BlackLivesMatter Syllabus Project, Looking Back and Looking Ahead

The editors of Anthropoliteia are happy to present the latest entry in on ongoing series The Anthropoliteia #BlackLivesMatterSyllabus Project, which will mobilize anthropological work as a pedagogical exercise addressing the confluence of race, policing and justice. You can see a growing bibliography of resources via our Mendeley feed.


It is a truism, and not a particularly insightful one, that when we begin things we don’t always know where (and when) they will end. As we tinker with syllabi, and plan research agendas in the days before the Spring 2017 term starts for many of us, this moment is as good as any to think about the ground this syllabus project has covered over the course of the past semester, and where we plan to go next.  When we announced the project back in August, we had some bloggers lined up and a commitment to holding open space for anthropologists to experiment with pedagogy and critical scholarship around #BlackLivesMatters. The blog is open for various styles, choices, and voices since we are all too aware of the way that academia polices its own to the point of exclusion. Our only firm investment is in breaking silences where possible, but with some sense that despite our best intentions, we may well produce other silences.

Entries have been variously focused, some taking on single texts, like my first on Shapeshifters, Bianca Williams on “The Uses of Anger,” Lee D. Baker on “The Case for Reparations,” and Dana-Ain Davis and Graham Denyer Willis, in separate columns, on From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation. Indeed, seeing two anthropologists engage the text in different scholarly conversations and pedagogical settings demonstrates the many possibilities each entry offers us.

Other contributions brought numerous texts into conversation around a particular insight, such as Elizabeth Chin‘s thoughtfully orchestrated lessons around sugar, the black body, and labor, or Faye Harrison‘s expansive philosophy of the pedagogy of #BlackLivesMatter within and outside the classroom.Discussing the emergence of #BlackLivesMatter in powerful South African artwork and activist networks, Noah Tamarkin shows how even as the movement is still happening, its iconography resonates in a multitude of contexts and mediums. Continuing the theme of globalized discourses and pedagogies, Jaime Alves demonstrates how racialized police brutality and the movement politics of #BlackLivesMatter are woven into his Cultural Anthropology class often through research and teaching on Brazil.

Film was an important medium to think with throughout the course of the semester; it is one of the main tools Jaime Alves outlines in his approach to teaching. Amrita Ibrahim brought attention to a recently recirculated documentary film, “The People and the Police,” about a community policing experiment in Washington, D.C. from 1968-1971. Gina Ulysse reminded us of the three-part series “Race: The Power of an Illusion.” Many of these entries have been honest about how particular moments, lessons or interlocutors resonate with different student groups.

Direct reflection on questions of racialized policing have been the focus of some of the columns. Meg Stalcup and Charles Hahn take on the vexed question of police-wielded body cameras and surveillance, offering us an overview of a special journal issue that complicates the conversation on the promise and pitfalls of such proposed “solutions” to police violence. Thinking about the critical potential of an anthropology of policing, Kevin Karpiak works through the operations of social movements and choreopolicing as they shape campus politics at his home institution. Many of us can likely relate to the unsettling landscape Karpiak describes as our own campuses are experiencing similar upheavals. Poignantly, Karpiak asks why campus policing and disciplinary systems are so effective at depriving students of their political efficacy when they organize against racism and police violence, but so ineffective at abating the impact of racism and police violence on our campuses.

These are some of the pedagogical possibilities set out in the syllabus this semester. At the AAAs in Minneapolis this past November, many colleagues approached us with the question, “Are you going to keep it going?” quickly following by telling us they had something to add. It was obvious that the syllabus needs to continue, and as such, we will commit to maintaining the syllabus for another semester. We will relaunch the week of January 16th with a column from Ashanté Reese. Other anthropologists who will be contributing entries in the Spring semester are Thurka Sangaramurthy, Riché Barnes, Victor Kumar, Beatrice Jaregui, Maurice Magaña, Christen Smith, April DJ Petillo and Savannah Shange. There will be many others– we hope one every week until May 1st. 

The Mendeley feed where the syllabus resides will get some updating and attention this semester. We fell behind, and have a plan for catching up in 2017 so that the syllabus texts are all included in the bibliography. We hope you’ll stick with us, that you’ll try something new, encourage colleagues to experiment, share your thoughts with us, and think about anthropology and its potential to foster transformative pedagogy and scholarship. Happy new year; we’ve got work to do.

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. 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.


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