Jennifer Meta Robinson
Mack Center Award, Trustees Teaching Awards
Interpersonal Communication: A Cultural Approach
(ANTH-A122; general education, Diversity US, S&H credit)
Interpersonal Communication (C122) is an introduction to the study of communication, culture, identity, and power. We particularly study how people use everyday conversation to create the world they live in. The course takes a cross-cultural approach, looking at communicative practices ranging from North Africa to North America, from 17th-century Quakers to contemporary text messaging, and from grade school students to college undergraduates. Within this broad perspective, we examine the language used every day by Indiana University students, including slang, verbal play, gendered language, and the academic language of business and law schools. Past students have said that this course changed the way they view the world, allowing them to see patterns in their conversations and lives that they had never before considered.
Interpersonal Communication classes are a lively mixture of discussion, small group activities, informal student presentations, lecture, and multimedia examples. In small classes of 24, students read excerpts from scholarly texts and learn to use communication and performance theory not only to analyze others' interpersonal interactions but also to become more aware of how their own interactions with friends, family, teammates, and others are connected to broader questions of power and social identity. Each student does original ethnographic research that describes and analyzes interpersonal communication in everyday life and practice. To do this research, students participate in and observe the “real life” interactions of a social group of their choice, such as friends hanging out in a residence hall, a bible study group, a sorority meeting, a pre-game meeting with a sports coach, or a dinner with family. Students make informal presentations of what they learn from their research to the class. The ethnography project provides one of the few opportunities for original primary research at the introductory level. Throughout the course, students learn concepts that allow them to understand better how communication practices impact their lives while at the same time they practice critical thinking, reading, research, writing, and presentation skills that prepare them for more advanced coursework in many disciplines.
Food and Culture
(E421: S&H and Sustainability Credit)
(Giuseppe Arcimboldo, “Summer,” 1573)
This course investigates food as a medium of cultural performance and communication. Now is an especially apt moment to develop more nuanced understandings of how food functions in language, icons, values, and power systems, as the global food industry begins to meet responses from local and traditional populations. The course examines how people use food, as well as language and symbols about food, in contemporary performances of everyday life; in such events as rituals, spectacles, festivals, or fairs; and in the social and economic dimensions of environmental sustainability movements. We will address question about how people use food and language about food to communicate their social values, how they use them to advance social ends, and how food intersects with issues of race, class, and gender. The course is discussion based and requires original fieldwork at local food vending sites. Readings include such authors as Barthes, Levi-Strauss, Certeau and Giard, Bauman, Asa Briggs, Goode, Schlosser, and Pollan. The subjects include the political implications of taboo foods, religious foods, fast foods, health foods, obesity, and ethnic and punk cuisines. Major projects will include one exam and a critical account of the cultural and political significance of one food.
"I just wanted to say how impressed I was with the way the class ended with the group presentations and your final lecture. I've never had a class where everything came together and wrapped up so beautifully. It was like a symphony!"
Food Performance and Communication
(E434: S&H and IPE Sustainability Credit)
Food (its production, commodification, preparation, and consumption) is and has long been a site of cultural formation, tension, and negotiation. Mediated representations of food across time and space consequently offer a lens through which to view the ever-shifting cultural politics of the food experience, along with the racial, ethnic, class, gendered, and transnational fissures that have characterized it.
Our study this semester concerns the relationship between food and all aspects of the human experience, including culture and biology, individuals and society, global pathways and local contexts. We will read foundational theory and case studies that help us engage in discussions about power, empire, globalization, inequality, social difference, and representation. This grounding will allow us to discuss examples we find of how food as used in contemporary media (print, film, radio, television, the Internet), everyday practice, and other expressive genres. While we may touch on such food-related fields as nutrition, agricultural science, gastronomy, and culinary arts, our intellectual home will remain in social/cultural anthropology, with its emphasis on understanding the nuanced diversity of lived experience. Although we will study food through images, film, and photography, our anthropological approach will focus us less on aesthetic dimensions and more on the political and cultural ones.
Our overall goal will be to develop a rich understanding of how food communicates and instantiates integral human experiences through discourse, networks, and ideology. Or said more succinctly: how does food function in and as communication and culture?
Sense of Place in Narrative and Ethnography
In this course, we examine how people shape the places they live and how those places in turn influence the ways people live. This is a course in “sense of place,” one component of environmental sustainability, which is itself one of the most complex and important challenges of the 21st century. While sciences courses might approach environmental sustainability by teaching about how natural systems like air, soil, and water underwrite all human endeavors, allowing us to carry out the essential behaviors of breathing, eating, and drinking without which we would simply die, our course is based in the humanities. With our humanities perspective, then, we will ask essential questions about life and meaning that underwrite all human choices, values, and social creations. Specifically, in this course we will take up questions about how who we are relates to where we are. We will discover and map the invisible landscapes through which we move every day and reflect on how they shape and are shaped by our assumptions about who we are as individuals and as members of groups. We will rely on ethnographic, philosophic, critical, and personal essays as models for our own description and analysis of who we are. Public, institutional, virtual, and sustainable spaces, in particular, will help us identify how sense of place is informed by power, gender, belonging, social structures, palimpsestic pasts, and imagined futures. We will pay special attention to how people alter and reinterpret space through language, performance, and other symbolic construction so as to transform what is possible there. We will explore international, historical, and gender variations. Student ethnographies from past semesters have examined such sites as a church sanctuary, summer camp, theater green room, holocaust memorial, Kelley School meeting area, and sorority house living room. This course builds on ethnographic skills, such as observation, triangulation, interview, network and site diagramming, thick description, and critical analysis.
(E220/C220; A&H and sustainability credit)
This course introduces critical perspectives on how people construct and communicate their relationships to the natural world and asks students to apply ethnographic methods to understand how individuals structure their lives accordingly. We uncover tacit definitions of terms such as human, nature, environment, wilderness, society, progress, and civilization in a variety of cultural artifacts in order to understand better the lived experience of people in diverse environmental circumstances. We ask questions about the cultural constructs and ideologies that inform the ways people frame nature, including in movements that intentionally redefine human/nature, such as Luddism, back-to-the-land, and sustainability. The course continues the work of CMCL C122, defamiliarizing one aspect of culture for analysis, strengthening ethnographic skills (observation, interview, transcription, inductive analysis), and providing a foundation for more advanced courses on environment, sustainability, and performance in communication and culture.
"The human/nature course really was a wonderful turning point. The course was my first semester of college, and I was desperate to find something I was passionate about. I was a business school direct admit, but that didn’t sit right. Your course allowed me to explore my interest and find a great education.Thank you."