ANTHROPOLOGY 490
THE AMHERST COMMUNITY
A Community Service Learning Course
(Spring 1997)

 

Professor Art Keene
Office: 207 Machmer
Phone: 545-0214
Email: Keene@anthro.umass.edu
Office Hours: T, 10:45-12:00, WED 2:30-3:30 and by appointment

 

Praxis: the dialectic in which action and reflection feed on each other.
PauloFreire
 
In community you must do the work of learning who other people are and how they see things differently and honoring that so you in turn will have your views honored.
Laird Sandhill
 
Community evokes in the individual the feeling that "here is where I belong, these are my people, I care for them, they care for me, I am part of them. I know what they expect from me and I from them, they share my concerns. I know this place, I am on familiar ground, I am at home". (Daniel Yankelovitch, New Rules.)
 
Community exits when people who are interdependent struggle with the traditions that bind them and the interests that separate them in order to realize a future that is an improvement upon the present. (Carl Moore)
 
The more a community's culture supports individual destiny and creativity the more likely it is to be able to hold a healthy tension between its collective mission and personal freedom and therefore the more likely it is to actually enable the individual's work for social change.
Paige Cousineau
INTRODUCTION:

There is a good deal of social commentary being generated these days about the state of community. Pundits from both the left and the right (and everywhere in between) lament the erosion of community in the contemporary USA and elsewhere. Conservatives often speak of the erosion of community values and community standards. This lament often marks the frustration of the cultural majority over (perceived and real) concessions and compromises that have been made to non-dominant (or subaltern) interests. For these conservative thinkers as well as for many moderate "new communitarians" successful community is threatened by heterogeneity - by many voices expressing diverse interests and needs. These conservative voices often nostalgically long for the "good old days" when things were less conflictual and when people were united around community institutions such as church and school and civic holidays. Progressive observers on the other hand see community as purposeful association based on connection, commitment and mutual responsibility. That is, meaningful community is seen as collection of people who recognize their common cause and who contribute in some way to the common well being. Progressive commentators have lamented that the emergence of a culture of selfishness during the era of Reagan/Thatcher, now hegemonic in the 90's, has undermined the ability of people to see their common interests and their willingness to work together.

This course endeavors to follow up on theoretical issues raised in the course Anthropology 397b - Community (which was offered in the Fall of 1996) by exploring them on the ground in a real, complex community. Because there is such an aggressive celebration of greed and competition about, combined with a cynicism that ridicules idealism, altruism, and movements for social justice (most notably evident in the gloating triumphalism over the collapse of socialism around the world) we began that course with a most basic question:

Is it possible for people to live together?

The emergence in the West of a hegemonic discourse centered on individualism and a culture of selfishness would suggest that the answer is no, that the ideas of tolerance, cooperation, mutual understanding, mutual assistance and social justice are anachronistic idealisms that must inevitably give way, indeed have already given way, to the forces of individualism, materialism and competition. The eruption of myriad ethnic conflicts around the world in concert with the energetic pursuit of capitalism in the formerly socialist world would seem to support the aforementioned conclusion. We undertook an investigation of the fate of different kinds of communities around the globe in order to ascertain what is required to build meaningful and effective communities to meet the challenges that current global events are throwing at us.

Since membership in any community necessitates mediation of the needs and desires of individuals with those of a larger group the issue of cooperation was central to our inquiry. This raises a number of theoretical and practical questions. For example: when and why do we cooperate with others? Why do we chose to pool our efforts and under what circumstances do we prefer to go it alone? If I help a friend write a paper, am I hurting myself by taking potential time away from endeavors that would have enhanced my own well being? Does the advancement of the well being of others, necessarily diminish mine? Why is the University reluctant to accept co-written dissertations, co-written papers, or collectively graded projects? When does it pay to cheat? Do I (as a member of a western capitalist society) calculate the costs and benefits of cooperation? Do members of other societies also calculate costs and benefits and if so, do they do it in the same way? If I can count on others to assist me, does this diminish my own motivation to work hard? Are motivations the same (or equally effective) in cooperative and individualistic environments? Does the compromise necessary to cooperate with others stifle my individuality? If I wish to engage in collective endeavors but I also wish to preserve my freedom of action and creativity as an individual, how can I do this?

Back to Amherst:

Many of the above issues arise either explicitly or implicitly within Amherst as its residents struggle with issues like funding for schools, ethnic diversity, declining standards of civility , conflict over resources among the University, the colleges and the town, and the democratic character of town government (to name just of few sites of contestation). Amherst has often defined itself as a special place which if not utopian is at least somewhat isolated from the vicissitudes that affect other communities. Amherst is sometimes referred to (both affectionately and disparagingly depending on the politics of the speaker) as the center of the Happy Valley, the capital of "PC", or as not being part of the "real world". Many long-time Amherst residents boast of Amherst being a solid community in which people care about each other and where racial, cultural and class harmony predominate. This is certainly part of the ideology of Amherst. However, if we understand ideology to be those ideas that mask social contradictions, then understanding the nature of community in Amherst necessitates breaking down the ideology of Amherst. So, we want to ask, what is it that makes Amherst a community? Are the trends of intolerance and incivility that are apparent throughout the USA, evident in Amherst as well? What forces bind this community together and what forces tear it apart? How can we use this information to confront some of the real problems that face Amherst and other communities?

This seminar will explore these questions through the construction and execution of ethnographic research projects in the town of Amherst. Students will learn about basic anthropological field methods and then apply them in conducting weekly data collection exercises. In the first fe weeks we will attempt to develop a basic profile of the town and its citizens. Based on this information students will design and carry out a major research project which will be presented to the seminar and to the anthropology department at the end of the term.

COURSE FORMAT: There are two components to this course - the seminar component which covers preparation for the field and the writing-up of research and the service component which involves doing meaningful work within the Amherst community. The seminar operates for the firs 7 weeks plus the final week. Each meeting during that component will focus on a set of readings and/or a data collection assignment. Members of the seminar are expected to vigorously prepare for and attend each class meeting and to actively participate in discussions. Seminars are team efforts and the quality of the course depends on the thoughtful participation of EVERY member. If you come to class unprepared, you shortchange not just yourself but every other member of the seminar. You will be undertaking modest, but hopefully significant research projects that have the potential to impact on the lives of the citizens in Amherst as well as the future of community based research in Amherst. Hence you will be held to the same professional and ethical standards as practicing anthropologists. In service learning courses a substantial portion of your education comes from doing service to the community. While service comes in different shapes, sizes and flavors you can expect to spend a minimum of 3-5 hours/week engaged in service at your field site. Your will undertake your service/research in teams of 3-5 and you will be responsible for preparing a substantial written report on your efforts. You will also prepare an oral report to be presented to the Anthropology department and/or representatives from the town of Amherst at the end of the term.

GRADES:

Grades will be based according to the following breakdown.

25% attendance and participation, homework and field journal,

25% oral presentation of class project

50% final project (Note: every member of project team will receive the same grade regardless of individual contributions.)

 

REQUIRED TEXTS:

1) Madeline Blaise In these girls hope is a muscle. 1995. Available at Food For Thought Books, Amherst.

2) Elizabeth Chiseri-Strater and Bonnie Stone Sunstein. Field working: reading and writing research.. 1997 . Available at Food For Thought Books.

2) The Amherst Bulletin : available at Hastings (on the common), The Amherst Bulletin Office (next to Cutty's on University Drive) and at many other outlets downtown. The Bulletin usually appears on newsstands late Thursday and is free.

3) short readings to be handed out during the term including:

Arthur Keene, The retreat from Community and the Language of Disengagement. Paper presented at the 1995 Conference of the International Communal Studies Association.

Selections from James Spradley, The ethnographic interview. Holt. 1979

 

WEEKLY ASSIGNMENTS

1) Data collection exercise (First 5 weeks only) usually handed out on Thursday and due the following Thursday. In addition each seminar participant has the following weekly responsibilities:

a) read the Amherst Bulletin noting issues relevant to the course

b) weekly readings as assigned

c) make weekly, if not daily, entries in your personal journals. You will use your journal in a different way than you have in previous anthropology courses. Later in the term this journal will become your field journal in which you will record all of the data necessary to do your project. In order to do this project you must develop a basic understanding of the town of Amherst. In the early weeks you will use the journal to record observations and impressions about the town and about the key issues affecting it. You can think of it as a conceptual sketch book for your major study. Your entries can take any form you want, but I expect your journal to show a continuous engagement with the course subject matter. I will ask to see your journals several times during the semester so please keep them up to date and bring them with you to each class.

 

LATE HOMEWORK POLICY: If you must miss class for any reason, it is your responsibility to make sure that your homework still arrives on time. Just as professional researchers working on a research contract are expected to deliver reports on time - regardless of their other responsibilities - so too are you expected to fulfill the responsibilities of the seminar in a timely manner. Since most of the assignments contribute to our composite picture of Amherst, a late assignment, which arrives after our discussion, does little to help our research group. MAKE SURE YOUR HOMEWORK GETS TO CLASS ON TIME! LATE ASSIGNMENTS WILL BE SIGNIFICANTLY DOWNGRADED.

SCHEDULE OF EVENTS

NOTE: all assigned readings for the weeks below are to be completed by our Tuesday meeting unless otherwise noted.

Week 1

Jan 28 Introduction - Review of available projects for Spring 1997.

Jan 30 What is a community? Issues in the construction of community.

Read: Keene (1995) plus handouts

 

Week 2 Feb 4 Where is the Amherst community and what makes it so special?

READ: Blais - ALL

[FW] Chapter 3

Feb 6 Discussion and selection of research topics/service project

 

Week 3

Feb 11-13 Doing ethnography. Thinking about methods and community studies.

Entering the Field and the Ethnographic Interview.

Read: [FW] Chapter 1 and 5

Week 4 Feb 25-27 Ethics of Field Work

Group Discussion of Research Design

Making Contacts

Read [FW] Chapter 2

Week 5 Mar 4-6 EVERYONE SHOULD BE IN THE FIELD BY THIS DATE

Field Notes - review Chapter 2

 

Week 6 Mar 11 Participant Observation and Problem solving

BEGINNING WITH WEEK 6 (MAR 11) WE WILL MEET FORMALLY ONLY ONCE /WEEK (ON TUESDAYS) TO REPORT ON OUR PROGRESS, TO SOLVE PROBLEMS THAT MAY COME UP AND TO BE GENERALLY HELPFUL AND SUPPORTIVE TO EACH OTHER. TEAMS WILL BE REQUIRED TO FILE WRITTEN BI-WEEKLY PROGRESS REPORTS WITH PROFESSOR KEENE. KEENE WILL BE AVAILABLE FOR CONSULTATIONS IN HIS OFFICE ON THURSDAYS DURING OUR REGULARLY SCHEDULED CLASS TIME AS WELL AS DURING OFFICE HOURS. EACH GROUP SHOULD MAKE ARRANGEMENTS TO HAVE KEENE VISIT THEM AT THEIR FIELD SITE AT LEAST ONCE DURING THE PROJECT. IT IS THE RESPONSIBILITY OF EACH GROUP TO ARRANGE THIS SITE VISIT.

Week 7 Mar 18 Writing Research

READ [FW] CHAPTER 6

Week 8-13 Ongoing Research and problem solving.

Week 14 May 6 Executive summary and draft of public presentation due.

EXAM PERIOD: Public Presentations

 

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