Teaching Tools in Troubled Times

The year 2018 promises to bring turbulent times to higher education. Just over a year after the inauguration of President Donald Trump, we find ourselves reflecting on what has transpired and anxious over what might still come to pass. As U.S. colleges and universities face new financial, cultural, and political pressures—from protecting undocumented students and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients to navigating the line between free speech and hate speech against the backdrop of a 25 percent rise in campus hate crimes—never have pedagogical questions been more pressing, nor more difficult to answer. What does it mean to cultivate respectful and open classroom dialogue, when the broader climate is so divisive? While we are all familiar with vague institutional platitudes espousing the value of diversity and condemning harassment, how in pragmatic terms are we navigating competing expectations? How are we teaching anthropology as a critical sensibility and sensitivity toward our worlds, starting with our increasingly tumultuous colleges and universities? How can we convey the diversity and complexity of experience that anthropology describes, while helping students to prepare for the final exam?

The Teaching Tools section of the Cultural Anthropology website provides a space for working through these and other questions, both practically—with resources for instructors—and theoretically—with ongoing discussions about the practice, politics, and poetics of teaching anthropology.

As the new section editors for Teaching Tools, our goal is to provide a space for pedagogical reflection and refinement during a time of immense upheaval in higher education. We were both brought to this role by the feeling that Teaching Tools fills an important gap in our professional lives; despite the centrality of teaching to our day-to-day work as anthropologists, there are precious few opportunities for care, accountability, and mutual support for one another as educators. Teaching Tools offers such a space, and we plan to continue the work begun by our predecessor, Leah Zani, of establishing Teaching Tools as both a toolkit for instructors and a space to consider why anthropology matters to us as instructors—and how to make it matter to our students.

Looking ahead, we take inspiration from Paul Stoller’s call to “tell, write and post stories that demonstrate how care can sweeten our lives in troubled times.” In making a New Year’s resolution to hold up the power of anthropology as curative praxis, Stoller invites us to consider the ways in which stories create conditions for “existential convergence” that can, hopefully, transcend our differences. As anthropologists know, the stories with which we are entrusted constitute a relational nexus of both obligation and opportunity, a potential for shared vulnerability and empathy that underscores the often fraught dynamics of caring. We think of Teaching Tools as such a space for care, for receiving and telling stories about what it means to teach anthropology in ways that are informative, imaginative, and introspective.

This care and support is all the more critical in the current context of political upheaval in the United States and elsewhere. As graduate students in the University of California system, both of us have witnessed the impact of cultural, economic, and political turmoil on campus cultures. We were each independently inspired to initiate Teaching Tools series that get at the theory and praxis of teaching in tumultuous times: Kyle created “Teaching Uncertainty,” while Camille has explored “Teaching with Hope.” These series have offered complementary perspectives on the insecurities of teaching, teaching about insecurity, and what space for hope exists in the process.

Other ongoing series explore key pedagogical concepts and concerns, including:

  • Teaching Race, created by Laura LeVon, which was formed as a response to the surge of white nationalism during the 2016 campaign and which continues to feature timely reflections on how we teach race and ethnicity.
  • Pedagogical Soundings, which offers teaching strategies and reflections to accompany the short-form AnthroBites podcasts. Together, AnthroBites and Pedagogical Soundings offer approachable introductions to complex topics in anthropology, from scientific racism to sovereignty.
  • A forthcoming series on digital pedagogy, which will seek critically applied engagements with our ever-expanding ecosystem of communication platforms, apps, and tools. Our hope is that contributions to this series will explore these digital assemblages as objects that operate inside and outside the classroom, surfacing their opportunities (that is, how they can be effectively incorporated into anthropological pedagogy) as well as their challenges and unintended side effects.

Teaching Tools will also continue to feature posts in well-established formats, including:

  • Lesson plans and activities
  • Faculty interviews
  • Theoretical and pedagogical reflections
  • Annotated syllabi, which explore the process of building and/or refining a syllabus
  • Supplemental content for articles published in Cultural Anthropology
  • Collaborations with other sections of the Cultural Anthropology website

Over the course of our involvement with Teaching Tools, we have been continually inspired by the imaginative, creative, and generative scope of the posts produced by our colleagues in the section. As we take the helm, we will continue to amplify these efforts. Our goal is for Teaching Tools to continue to be a platform aligned with Kim Fortun’s (2014, 322) characterization of the teacher as

more agitator than peacemaker, more animator than activist, enabling articulations and movements that could not have happened before . . . in keeping with traditions of critical (feminist, labor, postcolonial-oriented) pedagogy that hold the teacher responsible for creating what can be called internal unrest, which unsettles the systems students inhabit and are in training to build and steward.

It is our hope that Teaching Tools will elicit such unsettling by offering a space of care and possibility in a toxic and troubled world.


Fortun, Kim. 2014. “From Latour to Late Industrialism.” HAU 4, no. 1: 309–329.