Teaching sociology, but with a difference…

dsc02927Sociology is often taught and learnt in the traditional way, with the same old set of concerns and same old set of problems. In India, teaching sociology often means teaching students the stuff of 50+ years ago without engaging with current contemporary issues and experiences. Of course we face many of the problems of the past, caste, poverty, gender and other forms of marginalization, colonialism in new forms, new forms of imperialism and neoliberalism. But the contexts have changed so much, what we see and experience now may well have their roots in the past, but cannot be studied using old sets of lens. Clearly there is a need for fresh perspectives and new analysis, that may draw from old traditions but is dynamic and progressive as well.

When I relocated to India 2 years back I remember complaining to an old colleague, that I was fed up with the way in which sociology was taught in the University I graduated from, the University of Lausanne. The syllabus was often biased, with a good amount of material from the west and slim pickings when it came to theory from the so called ‘margins’. In India I have discovered, that teaching is tilted the other way around, issues specific to India are privileged over the global. Students often get one or the other perspective. Apart from this, what also concerned me was the way in which we seemed to privilege events from the past, over concerns of today. Often the past is rarely woven into the present. Today we find ourselves in an age of technology, consumption and market state. And yet these new experiences find little place in the reading material that standard courses often use.  How does one balance all of this and one way in which I have been able to do it is to tap into the interests of my students. I have found that often my class becomes richer than it would have been had I stuck to what I thought they should learn. In the tradition of Friere and Boal, I would really like to be able to continue such a democratic engagement, one in which the class becomes a space in which I learn along with the students I am meant to teach.

For example this semester I am teaching a course in economic anthropology and one of my concerns was to make the standard fare of economic anthropology interesting to the students. The only way to do this is to really engage with the class and see where (spatially and mentally) the students come from, their diverse experiences and their hopes, and tune into these experiences both in the choice of reading material but also in the everyday act of teaching. I know that this is possible only because MCPH is still a small community, and that with the increasing number of application and admissions this is bound to become more and difficult. But I also know that we live in a new world in which technology seems to bring us all closer. I recently watched a video of Ananya Roy where she spoke of using live Twitter in her class of 500+ students. Until that happens (which I fear will not be very far off), I am happy to exchange personally, one on one with each student in my class. Teaching thus becomes an experience that is satisfying on both fronts in terms of enabling their learning as well as mine.

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