Syllabus Archive: Diverse Approaches to Transnationalism

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Transnationalism is broadly understood as the interconnection and movement of humans, objects, ideas, ideologies, and processes that “transcend” nation-state borders. The rise of transnationalism within anthropology followed closely the shift from seeing societies as discrete, isolated polities to ones that are globally entangled and constantly being (re)worked. Despite the ongoing debates, transnationalism has and continues to be a significant phenomenon within people’s experiences of everyday life. By the 1990s, anthropologists began to yield new perspectives in the literature on transnationalism and take seriously the global transformations occurring. Contemporary scholarship on transnationalism covers globalization, (im)migration, citizenship, identity politics, diaspora, colonialism, global capitalism, and much more as the syllabi below reveal. The first two syllabi in this archive, The Anthropology of Transnationalism (Girish Daswani) and Transnational Ethnography (Kamari Maxine Clarke), capture many of these themes. However, transnationalism’s capacity as a concept makes the possibilities near-endless.

As we reached out to academics and gathered syllabi, asking for ones broadly relevant to transnationalism, we were intrigued to see that half were directly related to migration: Transnational Migration (Kristin Yarris), Transnational Migrants (Erin Gould), Humane Migration (James Loucky), and Migration and the Global City (Andrew Gardner). Though the exact reasons for this centricity when thinking about transnationalism is outside the scope of this archive, we offer a few thoughts. First is the visibility, the palpable physicality, of bodies in motion that concepts or ideologies might not have. In his Genocide Today syllabus, Magnus Fiskesjö cues us into some of these less visible transnational flows by showing how genocidal regimes, specifically Burma and China, have worked together to carry out and cover up atrocities. However, another important point that helps explain the centrality of migration in this archive is the times we find ourselves in and that most scholars represented here teach in the United States, where (im)migration has become politically salient in recent years. Migration has long occurred, but it has taken on new meanings and triggered new responses in recent decades.

As you navigate this syllabus archive, we encourage our readers to reflect on not only the simultaneous interconnectivity and fragmentation transnationalism fosters, but also how these syllabi, your course, and your students fit into these processes. In this post, we showcase some of the diverse pedagogical approaches to transnationalism in the classroom, whether including deeper reflections on what “home” is for students or public platforms to share research findings. It is critical for students to learn the tangible and intangible characteristics of transnationalism by engaging in its nuances, and we hope this archive brings you one step closer to doing just that. We have ordered these syllabi based on their general theme, starting with survey-level approaches to transnationalism, then moving to migration, humanitarianism, and lastly genocide. The syllabi titles, author names, and year that these courses were taught are included. We also asked contributors to share their comments about teaching the course, what went well in the classroom, what they might have done differently, and any other reflections. This post is part of our larger Syllabus Archive project, where we compile syllabi on a range of topics. We hope this can serve as a tool for instructors designing their courses, so please feel free to visit the other posts on the Teaching Tools page.

The Anthropology of Transnationalism, Girish Daswani (University of Toronto, Scarborough, 2020)

I have taught this course for more than a decade, and it has continued to develop as I incorporate more themes and pedagogical tools. I found that I could not teach about an Anthropology of Transnationalism without first reckoning with settler/colonialism, racial capitalism, enslaved populations, indentured bondage, and other forms of unfree labor. To teach about transnationalism, I had to talk about how the Nation became an assumed form of historical and affective knowledge, about the ongoing presence of colonialism – its institutional Whiteness and the continued violence of settler/post-colonial states and their policies – as well as its occlusion. My approach to such a difficult and historically expansive question was to start with the personal – with the problem-space of Home (what is home, where is home, what does home mean?) – what Home represents and means for myself and my students. In this way, and during seminars, we slowly unpacked our different trajectories of movement and their various dis/connections, the different strategies for dispossessing and re-possessing identity, and the different tactics of home making among diasporic groups. In the classroom, we engaged with popular culture (images and sounds in movies, music, videos) and used artistic methods – such as spoken word, poetry, painting, and music – to better express our multiple and sometimes fractured sense of belonging. Also, through unpacking familiar spaces such as the University, the museum, and our neighborhoods, we were able to make connections between colonial structures, their post/colonial embodiments and the (non)performances that were aimed at not changing anything. One thing I want to do with this course, in the future, or in building a different course around similar themes, is to further connect the dots between different transnational (justice-seeking) movements – including Afro-Asian solidarity, anti-colonial movements, the Civil Rights Movement and Pan-Africanism, Occupy, Black Lives Matter, Free Palestine, and several others.

Download Girish Daswani’s syllabus

Transnational Ethnography, Kamari Maxine Clarke (University of Toronto, 2021)

In this course, I had hoped to introduce students to theories of transnationalism in the discipline by examining where anthropology was, what the conceptual dilemmas were, and where we are. The latter involved reading contemporary transnational ethnographies to show the successes and weaknesses of various approaches. In terms of things that went well, teaching the shifts over time in anthropology's changing scale and questions and frameworks were wonderful. The transnational case studies were also excellent for examining the successes and methodological/conceptual difficulties with transnational work. However, I would like to update my readings on the anthropology of populism and right-winged exclusions. I would like to also continue to think about changes in theoretical frameworks as models for teaching this matter. Finally, I would like to introduce a unit on Indigeneity and Anthropology and use it to disrupt the transnational-locality binaries. I hope to think more intentionally about land and locality and ongoing settler coloniality. This has a place in this class, and I would like to think about how to teach it and in what way. Lastly, I still have not found broadly representative teaching materials for this course. I would like to continue to update the examples of transnational ethnographies that I teach and do a better job of connecting theory with concepts with transnational methods. In the future, I would also like to assign a week’s worth of newly published readings (and include supplemental readings) on the COVID-19 pandemic: individual freedom, the obligation to protect, and the biopolitics of care.

Download Kamari Maxine Clarke’s syllabus

Transnational Migration, Kristin Yarris (University of Oregon, 2016)

My aims in this course were primarily to draw on recent anthropological and ethnographic work with transnational migration and transmigrants and to have students engage in critical thinking about: the root causes of migration; the complex interrelated dynamics of violence and care that shape migratory experiences; the methodological approaches anthropologists employ - centered on ethnography - and have students become aware of the insights that these approaches reveal. I was fortunate during this particular rendition of the class to have several of the author-anthropologists join the class to give talks, which was a great asset (students always love having the opportunity to talk with scholars/authors about their work!). The book review assignment, I think, is a useful way to have students practice critical, academic writing, but also to think (especially for graduate students, and this was a combined UG/grad seminar) of themselves as creators of knowledge. Since many of my students now are on Medium and other platforms, when I repeat this assignment now, I encourage students to share their reviews or reflective essays for class in those public spaces. One final note (as I happened to be teaching this course during the fall of 2016): after the November United States Presidential elections, we spent quite a bit of class time processing the ways in which (anti)immigrant narratives had shaped the rise of Trump to power —for some students, especially those from (im)migrant and international backgrounds, those class sessions were quite emotional, and I think we all appreciated having the space to process world-historic events related to our class together.

Download Kristin Yarris’ syllabus

Transnational Migrants, Erin Gould (Johnson County Community College, 2020)

As a class which only required an introductory course into Cultural Anthropology, I wanted to make sure that students would get a chance to explore the word transnationalism through first learning about nationalism and other abstract concepts that they may not have fully understood but had heard used in discussions. During each week, I structured the Tuesday sessions as asynchronous—time for students to read over the class materials, complete any weekly assignments, email me with questions, or to do any other tasks to get prepared for our Thursday synchronous discussion via Zoom. As detailed in the syllabus, I asked students to come up with original discussion questions and develop an answer to someone else's discussion question before each class. When I went through the discussion questions for that week, I chose a handful and used those in our Thursday class meetings to structure the discussion around topics that students found most interesting. The class was structured around two texts, Lauren Heidbrink's Migranthood: Youth in a New Era of Deportation (2020) and Shahram Khosravi's 'Illegal' Traveler: An Ethnography of Borders (2010)—both texts were accessible to students of all levels (both the undergraduate and graduate students in class), and they allowed us (students and me alike!) to explore different perspectives of migration. Also, due to the course being held completely online, I wanted to incorporate multiple forms of media, including videos, songs, online articles, and an interactive "game," in addition to the academic readings—I hoped the variety of media would give students an opportunity to explore different ways to begin understanding a very complex topic.

Download Erin Gould’s syllabus

Humane Migration, James Loucky (Western Washington University, 2020)

For about 15 years, I have been teaching this course. First as "Global Migration" and more recently as "Humane Migration." The main challenges include what to cover, especially since Western Washington University (WWU) is on the quarter system. The scope is vast, both of places where migration occurs (answer: mostly everywhere) and with respect to issues. Anthropology is an invaluable perspective insofar as human displacement and movement, as well as resettlement and integration, involve matters that are not just economic, political, psychological, social, legal, or environmental, but nearly always involve all or most of these dimensions. Another challenge is the huge knowledge base, much of it from beyond anthropological research and authors. I typically include with my syllabus a sizable list of relevant books, along with an invitation to borrow any that I have. Finally, lived experiences often include hardships, even atrocities, so providing examples of determination, contributions, and intergenerational wellbeing help provide a holistic sense that migration is more than only a survival saga.

Successes include having students make personal connections. Nearly every group has a historical experience of disruption or movement, and assignments that focus on researching family migration narratives (including through interviews) or experiences of particular communities (such as those with which students identify) frequently become those most cited as invaluable activities of their college learning. Directing research toward current and contentious issues regularly provokes debate along with deeper understanding (e.g., regarding rights to move, climate displacement, racism, varieties of, and critiques of, multicultural education). Also, drawing on literature and artistic expressions (autobiographical accounts, novels, films, music), and emphasizing connections to local as well as regional and world levels, are powerful ways to ensure that this is not simply “another course.” Monitoring media accounts helps ensure this. Above all, primary aims (reflected in content and learning activities) must be applied if they, like anthropology in general, are ultimately going to be valuable and effective.

Download James Loucky’s syllabus

Migration and the Global City, Andrew Gardner (University of Puget Sound, 2019)

I have only been able to teach this course a single time. The course is designed to be co-taught, and at our university, typically co-taught with a faculty member from another disciplinary background. This course included a variety of readings and lectures, half of which were selected by me, but also included two field-trips: a mid-semester trip to Doha, Qatar, and then a semester-concluding trip to Amsterdam, Netherlands. Students were tasked with developing independent investigative projects that they might continue over both trips, and which concerned migrants, urbanism, and urban space. Two unforeseen challenges for me with the first iteration of this class: first, I found it extraordinarily challenging to teach with a non-anthropologist, and second, it is mostly unworkable to ask students to complete substantial research projects that require energy and work past the conclusion of the semester. Nonetheless, I am excited about the possibility of teaching this course again, and look forward to including other city destinations.

Download Andrew Gardner’s syllabus

Download Andrew Gardner's accompanying course project assignment

Genocide Today, Magnus Fiskesjö (Cornell University, 2020)

This course has three components: Background on genocide, and on the Genocide Convention of 1948, the Rohingya genocide in Burma which was started in 2017, and the genocide against the Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and other native people of western China (Xinjiang), also from 2017. The course objective is to have students learn about the concept of genocide as the intentional annihilation of an ethnic group or nation, and to understand and compare the origins, development, and criticism of the current ongoing genocides in Burma and in China. The comparative aspect also includes transnational issues, such as how genocidal regimes borrow strategies from each other, as Burma and China have done in terms of mutually supporting each other's attempts to cover up the atrocities, and escape international condemnation and prosecution.

Download Magnus Fiskesjö’s syllabus


Thank you to all the contributors of this post for sharing their materials for the benefit of our larger anthropology community and beyond. We genuinely appreciate your contributions and see these as steps towards addressing some of the rugged individualism that often hinders academia. If any readers are interested in contributing content for a different theme or topic, please reach out to the Teaching Tools Section Editor(s) to begin collaborating. Thank you in advance to all that feel compelled to reach out with resources and suggestions.