My first quarter in UW

作者:Luo juan 发布时间:2014-12-28 00:00:00 原出处:《彝博通讯》 彝族人网

                (Luo juan   University of Washington (UW))bAe彝族人网(彝人网)- 彝族文化网络博物馆

 
  Quarter system is used by few American colleges and universities like University of Washington (UW) where I am studying in sociocultural anthropology program now. The quarter system divides the calendar year into three quarters and each quarter lasts 10 weeks plus finals week. Normally the fall quarter starts from late September to mid-December, the winter quarter starts from early January to mid-March, and the spring quarter starts from late March or early April to mid-June. Besides the nine-month academic year, there is an optional summer session for those looking to graduate early. This fall is my first quarter in UW and time has flown by so quickly that I haven’t had enough time to process and reflect back on everything that has happened. In this quarter, I took two courses of anthropology, one introductory spoken Burmese course, one teaching assistant (TA) and research assistant (RA) preparation course, and one reading group on conflict zones. This intensive class schedule is overwhelming that I spent most of my time reading and doing the assignment. However, it is also a good start to integrate what I have learned into my own doctoral research.
 
Ethnographic field methods
 
  I am glad to take this methodology course by Professor Stevan Harrell as my first anthropology class after my 6-year break from academics. I have 4-year work experience and to some extent as some people suggested on my PhD admission application that it is an advantage to study a border crossing issue in a local area within NGO programmes. My particular situation to study ethnographic methods first instead of anthropological theory and history like other first year students is in coincidence with my personal experience that I have kind of ethnographic fieldwork first and then come to school to learn the theory. I am surprised to see the design of this course is so comprehensive and complementary. Before I thought ethnographic methods were just literature review, observation and interview. In fact, it includes so many aspects and intersections among history of canonical classic, narrative and writing, positionality and relationship, ethics and responsibility, emotions and personality. We seldom have such a method course in China which consists of historical readings and exercises. 
 
  I like the readings not only because I can access to original English works of pioneering anthropologists and improve my capacity of reading and writing in English under a demanding requirement, but also because the readings help me establish a panoramic view of ethnographic filed methods through historical and theoretical discussion. Each week we need to complete an exercise of ethnographic methods like observation, interview, survey, photo, video, digital, and so on. It is useful to do these exercises from which I don’t just know how to do but I really do it. This is what Chinese called “practice is the best teacher”, and I have fun as well. When I am contemplating for my own research design, I will apply some methods from this course such as to put my experience and emotions in the narrative instead of objectivist analysis because I don’t want to detach myself from my work, and I will use photo as a method to investigate but will carefully define the intention of showing some photo and its connection with the text. If I become a teacher in future, I will probably teach a method course like this but will include some Chinese works.
 
Categorization and agency
 
  The other course of medical anthropology I take this quarter is Social Difference and Medical Knowledge. This course explores the ways how social and medical classifications mutually constitute each other and how processes of intersections between race, gender, ethnicity, age, class and health come out. A number of themes and topics are covered and discussed in this course such as experimental differences, how social differences come to be medicalized, how physical abilities are made into disabilities, technological advancements and the proliferation of differences, and stigmatization and social action. Through this course I have learned to critically think about the implicit category of “normal people” and consider what strategies or actions have people deployed to fight against or respond to this category. 
 
  Another weekly reading group is about ethnographic methods in conflict zones and politically unstable environments. Reading group is an informal learning session for students who are interested in reading and discussing on this topic. They don’t register and take exams like a course and usually don’t get credits. I used to work in Kachin state and Shan state in Myanmar border with Yunnan where the local ethnic armed authorities have political and military conflict with Myanmar government over half a century. This is a small group with five persons including the instructor. Once a week we will pick one ethnography or a few articles from the reading list to discuss about 1.5 hours on how the research for the project was done, and how that research led to the finished text. I push myself to read as much as possible and join in the discussion even I couldn’t finish the readings.
 
  Meanwhile, there is another biweekly China group proposed by Prof. Harrell that visiting scholars from China, faculty and graduate students who are interested in China studies will present their own work or interests and learn from each other. Topics and discussion are fantastic this quarter including Prof. Skinner’s first fieldwork in Sichuan during 1949-50, intangible cultural heritage preservation of ink stone in Guangdong, Uighur migrant workers from South Xinjiang, impact of global English in Xinjiang, and representation of ethnic minorities in Chinese elementary textbooks. Participants feel relaxed speaking Chinese and discussing something they are familiar with. In addition, I start to learn Burmese as a foreign language and prepare for TA/RA experience out of the graduate program requirements. The two courses are enjoying and helpful, not only the instructors are very talented and amiable, but also I learn a lot from other graduate students from various disciplines.
 
Inspiration on my own research
 
  My three courses and reading group are quite interrelated and contribute to my thoughts of doctoral research at China-Myanmar border. Two of them are about ethnographic methods and part of the content are overlapped such as working in dangerous situations, the use of photography like photo essay, and the relationship between ethnographer and assistant. I will probably use these methods in my fieldwork and carefully consider the ways how to use them and how to make them connect the narrative. There is one common ground between the course of medical anthropology and the reading group. Both of them are dealing with what the situation is considered abnormal and how people act their agency of making a change. For example, an American action in 1990s fought against the Center for Disease Control (CDC) to change the AIDS definition that not only gay white men but also women, poor people and jobless people who are suffering from AIDS are included and paid medication. People live in chaos, uncertainty and separation at war time, but some women are trying to retain a normal life that they form a community organization to support daily activities like school, market, church and entertainment. These examples largely inspire me to think about how the government and NGO justify their health aid and development intervention via definition of poverty and marginalization of local people. Glad to see my first quarter in UW ends up with a tentative plan for my doctor research.
 
  (海外通讯组   供稿)

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