Exploring Gender and Sexuality Through Fictional Ethnography

All sexuality symbolThis fall, I am teaching Anthropology 320, Anthropology of Sexuality and Gender. In the past, I have struggled with this course because a central part of my pedagogical approach is to have some aspect of each course I teach connect to our local community and be applied. In the past, I tried connecting to Safe Futures, Southeastern Connecticut’s shelter and advocacy group working against intimate partner violence. One year, we had a tour of their facility in New London and a meaningful conversation with their employees, but it was clear that our class was taking time and resources away from their work. Our exchange was not equal, and I struggled with what to do instead.  Part of the problem was that it is hard to engage with community around issues of sexuality and gender without undergoing serious, time-intensive training that is difficult to schedule in a semester. I have been hesitant to have students work on a research project because of the ethical issues and privacy concerns surrounding gender and sexuality as culturally delicate topic areas. However, students in this class have always been well-prepared to thoroughly engage in timely topics that impact their daily lives, a fact that pushed me to seek a solution. Finally, in talking it over with previous Technology Fellows, I decided that a website and some creativity could be the answer.

I have tasked students with writing fictional ethnographies about a particular problem on campus or in a workplace related to gender and/or sexuality, like intimate partner violence, sexual harassment, transphobia, etc.. Students will share these fictional ethnographies on a website. Fictional ethnographies are becoming popular ways of exploring sensitive issues in anthropology; I was attracted to them because they do not come with the privacy and security concerns of traditional research. Instead, students use existing ethnographic research to write the experience of their identified problem from a particular point of view(s). Doing so allows a deeper exploration of the issue, and it allows students to highlight often marginalized perspectives. For that reason, sharing them on a website is a critical means of creating dialogue around important campus issues.  In the follow-up assignment that serves as the final for this course, students will propose a series of interventions to address their chosen topic.

Given the applied nature of the assignment, I asked to be part of the Career Informed Learning (CIL) initiative on campus that intentionally connects coursework to a potential application via a given assignment. I will describe more about our involvement in CIL and how we will use our website as part of this program in a subsequent blog post.

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