University

My teaching philosophy aims to inspire life-long learners who are critical, independent, and creative in their thinking. To achieve this, I combine inquiry-based education with participatory pedagogy to build reflexive, equitable, and collaborative learning environments. Through dialogical and co-creative methods like audiovisual storytelling and ethnographic poetry, my undergraduate and graduate students engage with anthropological research, knowledge, and theories in dynamic ways. For example, in my audiovisual methods course, Co-Creative Documentary: Introduction to Digital Storytelling, each student creates a first-person audiovisual narrative and learns about the affordances and challenges of audiovisual methods through practice. Over the duration of the semester, students write critical response papers to engage with key texts, develop central questions for their audiovisual essay, write a monologue that addresses the essential themes, develop an accompanying storyboard, and edit their video for screening in class. The production process begins with theoretical foundations in storytelling from thinkers like Walter Benjamin, Michael Jackson, and Claudia Rankine. From there, we discuss Hannah Arendt’s concept of “political listening” and David MacDougall’s argument for the “corporeal image.” Students employ these ideas to analyze how artists like Tatiana Huezo and John Akomfrah evoke politically complex ideas through image and sound. For their final video essays, students have pursued subjects such as religious identity, family portraits of migration, climate justice activism, and mental health, among others. This course is among the highest-evaluated at the University of Bern. In particular, students appreciate the course design of exploring theory through audiovisual practice.

I first gained expertise in teaching as a community educator with the Salvadoran Center for Appropriate Technology in El Salvador and later as an educator and teacher trainer at Pima County Community College (1998-2004) in Tucson, Arizona working with Mexican-American, Mexican, and Central American women and children. As an MA and Ph.D. student at the University of Arizona (2004-2008) and as a doctoral researcher at the Dublin Institute of Technology (2008-2014), I developed my first college seminars for undergraduate students and adult learners.

Since joining the Institute of Social Anthropology as a researcher and visiting lecturer in 2016, my courses are consistently among the top 5% of excellence in student evaluations at the University of Bern. I am convinced that my long-term experience teaching in community-based and governmental contexts has set a firm foundation for excellence in teaching at the university level. Engaging with dialogical methods like co-creative audiovisual production, I aim for students to leave my courses with greater confidence in their abilities to theorize and shape their place in the world.

In 2020, the Humanities Faculty of the University of Bern awarded me their excellence in teaching award for my course, “Imagining Otherwise: Social Movements for Livable Futures in the Sonoran Borderlands.”

In the wake of climate change, anthropologists increasingly position the future as a generative object of study (Appadurai 2013; Ortner 2016; Salazar et al. 2017). Circumventing hegemonic notions of an apocalyptic Game Over climate scenario, scholars argue for nuanced consideration of the borders where people and other living beings are co-constructing visions of futurity beyond the boundaries of extractive capital (see, for example, Gómez-Barris 2017; Haraway 2016; Ingold 2013; Shotwell 2016; Tsing 2015). Drawing from political, economic, and audiovisual anthropology, critical Indigenous scholarship, and feminist theory, this course will focus on the Sonoran Desert region along the U.S. Mexico border to consider key questions regarding migration and surveillance, climate vulnerability, and social movements for livable futures.

In the midst of widespread ecological destruction, extractive capitalism, economic precarity, and persistent social inequalities, theorist Donna Haraway argues that our challenge is “to make trouble, to stir up potent response to devastating events, (and) to settle troubled waters and rebuild quiet places” (2016: 1). In this course, we will look for these engagements. We will read ethnographies conducted in urban landscapes (Stoetzer 2018), extractive zones (Gómez-Barris 2017), among the Runa in Ecuador’s Upper Amazon (Kohn 2013), and among forests in Italy (Mathews 2018) and forests in Japan and the Pacific Northwest (Tsing 2017). These texts will help us think through how anthropologists are re-conceptualizing our relationship to earth and its multi-species inhabitants. Employing a “radical curiosity” (Haraway 2016), we will question notions of “purity” and “contamination,” and examine how “nature” is audio-visually framed. Following the lines of experimental filmmakers like Michif media artist Amanda Spotted Fawn Strong (Dowell 2018), Métis/Dine artist Marie Clements (Ginsburg 2018), and Mapuche artist Francisco Huichaqueo (Gomez-Barris 2017), we will consider how Indigenous counter-publics are creating diverse conceptualizations of futurity. Students will have the opportunity to explore experimental audio-visual and multimedia ethnographic practices as we consider key arguments and questions that help students to create a dialogue about the possibilities for “living ethically in compromised times” (Shotwell 2016).

Chilean filmmaker Patricio Guzmán has said that a country without documentary film is like a family without a photo album. Building on Guzmán’s idea, we will consider how contemporary Latin American cinema reveals nuanced thinking about memory, power and violence, place and home, race, gender, and class through the representation of present-day political and sociocultural subjectivities. How might these films constitute a collective photo album? Which inherited pasts do they represent and contest? What futures do they imagine? Making connections between ethnographic, documentary, and fiction film we will study how directors from across the Americas have made cinema political by making the extraordinary familial and the intimate social. Each week we will discuss one film from the following filmmakers: Jayro Bustamante, Eduardo Coutinho, Alfonso Cuarón, Sandra Gómez, Sara Gómez, Patricio Guzmán, Heddy Honigman, Tatiana Huezo, Lisette Orozco, Marta Rodríguez, Marianne Rondón, and Damián Syifron.

Whether studying Indigenous resistance to oil and gas pipelines in North America, the humanitarian crisis in Syria, or the ascendancy to office of polarizing political figures, the urgency and complexity of contemporary global affairs underscore the continued need for in-depth ethnography built from nuanced analysis. Developed by critical race theorist and civil rights advocate Kimberle Crenshaw, intersectionality (1991) is one key concept we will consider within this context. An intersectional analysis interrogates the complexities of conflict and inequality by engaging with multiple theories of power. This intersectional perspective can provide a dynamic understanding of the ways in which everyday socioeconomic, environmental, and political realities impact heterogeneous bodies (and vice versa). It alludes to multiple registers of voice and listening – as a means for narrating and recognizing identity claims and transforming both intimate and public spheres. In dialogue with concepts from the anthropology of voice and listening, this course will introduce some of the foundational theories of gender, race, class, and sexuality that frame an intersectional analysis. We will address central arguments and debates, and consider how feminist and queer scholars, and anthropologists working in the fields of law, migration, education, and healthcare have built upon, changed, and adapted Crenshaw’s concept to reflect changing circumstances and new questions. We will consider how anthropologists construct their analysis through the study of language practices, diverse forms of media, and in settings such as schools, social movements, and state and community organizations. By developing a close, critical reading of theoretical and ethnographic texts, we will explore the ways in which anthropologists think with and through theoretical concepts, and embed analytical categories and questions into their ethnographic analysis.

Anthropologists are travelers and narrators. Whether we travel within our own localities, communities and cultures or venture long distances, we face the task of narrating what we encounter and whom we meet along the path of inquiry. This course is concerned with how to become more critical, reflexive and exacting narrators. Through the lens of ‘digital storytelling’ (Alexandra, 2015; Burgess, 2006; Dreher, 2010; Gubrium & Turner, 2010; Otáñez & Guerrero, 2015)–a participatory media practice and relative newcomer to anthropological inquiry–we will ask a series of questions. How can audiovisual storytelling enliven, as anthropologist Michael Jackson (2008) calls it, the ‘narrative imperative?’ In what ways is audiovisual production a form of inquiry? What are the affordances and challenges unique to digital storytelling as a co-creative documentary practice? We will analyze documentary and ethnographic artifacts (literary and academic texts, on-line media, film and video) that address a dynamic array of contemporary issues including refugee immigration and asylum, race and ethnicity, and gender and sexuality. From this foundation, students will engage in short exercises that culminate in the production of a 2-3 minute audio-visual composition based on lived experiences, research interests and ethnographic questions. By interrogating key sources and producing the assets to create and edit one digital story, students will have the opportunity to consider answers and develop new questions.