ReSET Building Anthropology in Eurasia, first summer session, 2007

Regional Seminar in Excellence of Teaching (ReSET) Building Anthropology in Eurasia
Higher Education Support Program, Open Society Institute

First summer session The Growth of Anthropological Knowledge

Place:         Royal Beach Hotel, Chocktal, the Issyk-Kol, Kyrgyzstan
Dates:        July 15 – August 5, 2007.
Language: English

The purpose of the project Building Anthropology in Eurasia is to provide an opportunity for participants to integrate anthropological understandings and methodologies into their own research and teaching, as well as to develop teaching strategies and methods, which are in use in anthropological teaching institutions internationally, as applicable for their own contexts.  We expect this experience will provide participants with concrete experience on which they can build their own pedagogy, as well as help them to orient themselves in international anthropology and anthropologically-influenced scholarship.

This first year’s summer session aimed to lay the groundwork for the ReSET’s three-year sequence.  First, it established the group, including participants and faculty, as working in a common, three-year undertaking — to build the field of anthropology in the region.

Second, it initiated the work of the project, including a variety of assigned tasks which in many cases were be undertakings for which the participants have limited preparation, despite the fact that they are advanced along the career path of university educators.  The Anthro_ReSET itself employs educational strategies which it seeks to enable participants to pursue, such as empowering the learner to learn actively, and adopting an experimental approach of which all participants are expected to assume ownership.  As the tasks and strategies become familiar, the participants will increasingly assume the leadership.

Third, the first year is devoted in part to providing a solid orientation in the field of anthropology, and the ways that anthropological approaches can be employed in a variety of fields.  The participants background for this is varied, thereby allowing for a multi-directional exchange of knowledge and perspectives. At the end of the first summer session, participants was not necessarily have the knowledge of anthropology that one usually is expected to have before embarking on teaching or original research in the field (i.e., the knowledge of, say, a doctoral student at the end of the first year), but they understood what the field consists of, where to look to gain a deeper and broader understanding, and what is entailed in becoming a part of anthropological scholarship.

Fourth, the participants gained practice in building close links between the processes of research and teaching/learning.  All practical activities, including especially research projects, are oriented toward providing inputs for the process of teaching.  The Anthro_ReSET fosters a model of teaching — characteristic of anthropology in general — which is based on the conviction that anthropological knowledge is a process.  Learning anthropology entails discovering the relevance of the concepts which make up anthropological thought in their discovery and application, and thus must inherently be an active process on the part of the student.  The attitude to the authoritative text, thus, must be one where it is not assumed to have absolute significance, but rather its significance must be discovered in each reading.  Furthermore, the teacher’s own relation to knowledge must also be one of discovery, and thus teaching is most effective when it is in the context of an active relationship to knowledge; involving students in the teacher’s own process of discovery is one of the most effective ways to nurture the qualities of a good learner and a good teacher.

Finally, the end of the contact session was be a natural transition from a structured learning context and agenda to a context where the individual has to seek out inputs from others — which can then be from specific resource faculty, from other participants, from the literature, etc.  On the basis of electronic exchanges, the participants should create their own network which can sustain them collectively with sources of inspiration, shared knowledge, feedback on their work, etc.  While the resource faculty will remain available for consultations, the richer reservoir of support can be found in the group.

The first year’s theme, The Growth of Anthropological Knowledge, explored:

  • the ways that anthropology came to be formulated as a field (history of anthropology),
  • the way that anthropology is acquired by its practitioners and how they come to formulate their anthropological projects (a survey of training, research and writing in anthropology),
  • the ways that the work of thinkers and schools in anthropology constitute the basis for introducing our students to the field (pedagogy and the development of anthropological ideas and approaches),
  • the ways that a set of key issues (representation, authority, ethics, etc.) constitutes the basis for both anthropological scholarship and teaching in anthropology,
  • the ways that the ReSET participants can build their own involvement in anthropological teaching and research, and
  • the ways that the field of Eurasian anthropology can grow in its various dimensions of institutional development, and the growth of knowledge, as it furthers a deeper understanding of the region and provides themes that can impact the broader field of anthropology.

Participants:
The participants in the ReSET are a group of 27 representatives of the young generation of scholarship who are actively involved in teaching in fields related to anthropology or who intends to develop/involve anthropology in their current teaching.  We hope to draw a wide range of different scholars, from those who are seeking to build careers in anthropology to those who can use anthropological approaches in their related fields of scholarship.  Our participants are from “Central Eurasia” — Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Armenia, Georgia, Mongolia, Russia, Western China, and Estonia. Also there are a few participants from abroad of the region: Denmark and the United Kingdom.

Faculty:

  • Gulnara Aitpaeva, Doktor filologicheskikh nauk, Director of Aigine Research Center.
  • Aida A. Alymbaeva, Instructor, Dept. of Anthropology, AUCA; Researcher, Aigine Research Center.
  • Theodore C. Bestor, PhD in Anthropology (Stanford); Professor of Anthropology, Chair of Social Anthropology, Dept. of Anthropology, Harvard University.
  • Arienne Dwyer, PhD in Altaic and Chinese Linguistics (U. of Washington); Asst. Professor, Dept. of Anthropology, Univ. of Kansas, USA.
  • Michael Herzfeld, PhD in Anthropology (Harvard), Professor of Anthropology, Dept. of Anthropology, Harvard University.
  • John Schoeberlein, PhD in Anthropology (Harvard), Director, Program on Central Asia and the Caucasus, and Lecturer on Anthropology, Harvard University.
  • Mukaram Toktogulova, Kandidat filologicheskikh nauk, Acting Associate Professor, Dept. of Anthropology,  AUCA.
  • Nathan Light, PhD in Folklore and Anthropology (Indiana Univ.); Postdoctoral Fellow, Havighurst Center, Miami University of Ohio, USA.