a brilliant class

At the end of this semester, i will take my qualifying exams. This will be a brutal 3 hour oral examination of all things that i know in conjunction with my dissertation proposal. ::gulp:: As a result, i was not going to take any classes this semester. But then i heard that Jean Lave was teaching an STS-minded ethnography course using 3 of the books that are on my qualifying exam. So i had to check it out.

There are ?25? people in the class, but all of the attention is on Jean – she has one of those auras where all respect flows her way. She explains that this is her 40th year teaching at University of California and she will be retiring at the end of the semester. When a dear friend (my advisor) asked her to teach an ethnography course for him, she agreed both because she loves my advisor and because she loves ethnography. She decided to teach her favorite books and to try something new. She was concerned that as graduate students, we’ve been taught to read critically – to always tear apart everything we saw. We never learned to appreciate the values of what we read, only find its flaws and how we could do better.

So, she decided that we are going to read five of her favorite ethnographies. And then we are going to read them again. And then again. We are going to watch as the books evolve through reading. We are going to learn to discuss not to destroy but to appreciate. We are going to learn to read.

Something about her presence, her way of saying all of this, her way of swearing and yet being so proper just warmed my heart. I can’t say no to this class… it’s just too good. And such good practice. And thus, i am off to read about how Intuit children learn social boundaries by being offered challenging moral questions….

Update: For those who are interested in the ethnographies, they are:

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9 thoughts on “a brilliant class

  1. john

    A great qualifying exam is NOT brutal: It is your opportunity to shine. Everyone wants it to be a display of your best, while, of course probing for your limits. That probing is a gift to you. To be sure, there is an aspect of ceremonial interpellation to all of this, but never mind.

    I took mine at a great department in its era of highest shine, and I have given them, and if it goes in the brutal direction, then there’s something wrong with the committee committee chairman. You may have to coach them a bit, too, if they have suggested that the exam is supposed to be brutal.

  2. zephoria

    John – don’t worry – my committee thinks that i’m neurotic and keeps trying to reassure me. But for me, it’s still hella daunting and nerve racking and omg omg omg. As much as i appreciate reassurance, i also know that getting myself into a tizzy will help me focus on it rather than take it as a low-key hurdle jumping exercise…

  3. arvind

    aw shucks. jean lave retiring? that’s way too soon… at which univ am i going to try to put together cognitive science, sts and ict4d now?

  4. museumfreak

    I haven’t read all of these, just Inuit Morality Play and Beamtimes and Lifetimes, but the Traweek is one that I actually personally go back to and read on a regular basis. It is an ethnography that’s worth reading, and every time I grow. I really like the concept of this class, the idea that you’re going to read ethnographies and not pick at them, because anthropologists don’t celebrate the ethnography as a narrative form and the sort sof meditative aspects of it.

  5. muddgirl

    Beamtimes and Lifetimes is one of my personal favorites (my Anthropology of Science teacher was married to a particle physicist at the time, so she really sold that book). As a scientist myself, I really admire your writing style – clear, informative, and entertaining.

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