An Exciting New Intellectual Opportunity

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A few days ago the History Department emailed about a new class, “Occupy the Field.” That’s “a field-based course about Occupy Wall Street and the Occupy Movement more broadly,” which, you will recall, began last semester. The Anthropology Department is responsible.

Apparently, the class will be split between seminar and field work at OWS. Accordingly, the reading is admittedly “lighter than many other classes.” Score! Attendance is also a big part of the grade.

For their field work, students can “get involved in one of the many working groups that run day to day operations in the Occupy Movement.” Doubters of the movement need not worry, however—Occupy the Field is nonetheless “about rigorous and creative intellectual inquiry, not movement-building.” Pinkie-promise.

Our favorite instructor quote from the syllabus (though in that respect, our cup runneth over):

As a regular participant in the Occupy movement, however, I can say with absolute certainty that there is no foreseeable risk in teaching this as a field-based class. On the contrary, the risks of disengaged scholarship seem more profound.

Here’s the syllabus. If anybody ends up taking this, please, for the love of God, send us overheards.

Dear History Student,

Please see below and attached for information regarding a new Anthropology course to be offered in the Spring 2012 term:

ANTH V3897 “Occupy the Field” which will take place Spring 2012:

Please direct questions to the instructor, Hannah Appel,

Course Description:

“Occupy the Field is a field-based course about Occupy Wall Street and the Occupy Movement more broadly. The course offers training in ethnographic research methods alongside a critical exploration of the conjunctural issues in the Occupy movement: Wall Street, finance capital, and inequality; political strategies, property and public space, and the question of anarchy; and genealogies of the contemporary moment in global social movements. Class requirements will be divided between seminar at Columbia and fieldwork in and around the Occupy movement. In addition to scheduled seminar, this class will meet off-campus several times, and students will be expected to be involved in ongoing OWS projects outside of class, to be developed in close conversation with the instructor. While the syllabus draws extensively on ethnographic and anthropological work, it is also broadly interdisciplinary, incorporating texts and approaches from sociology, political theory, economics, history, and primary source material from OWS and beyond. The class will also incorporate guest lecturers from Columbia and the wider intellectual and activist community. Dissenting voices of all kinds are encouraged in this class, and one need not have a particular orientation toward OWS to participate. The class is about rigorous and creative intellectual inquiry, not movement-building or political conversion.”

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  1. FYI  

    The Rare Book and Manuscript Library is beginning a collection of OWS-related comics and cartoon art, such as Occupy Comix, OWS Illustrated, and The Occupied Wall Street Journal. It's not yet cataloged but, when it is, it will be cataloged as a single collection.

    -- Karen the Librarian.

  2. Anonymous

    we pay $200,000 for this?

  3. Actually

    you pay closer to $240,000 for this

  4. Math major

    That's a LIGHT amount of reading? Jesus. Glad I'm not in the humanities.

  5. Anonymous

    i'm troubled by the contradictions in the syllabus. on one hand it promises to be an apolitical examination of the movement; however, the readings seem to only present a one-sided argument. furthermore, the course promises to look at the "financialization" of the US; however, given the complexity of the financial system, it seems disingenuous for the course to omit a primer on derivatives, structured financial products and the capital markets as a whole.

    I was interested at first, but after reading the syllabus, it's pretty clear that professor appel is just going to preach to her little choir without a balanced discussion and examination of the issues surrounding the movement.

    • Anonymous

      I can see where you're coming from, but you're still assuming an awful lot.

    • Disagree  

      It's not an economics class or a political science class intended to examine the Occupy movement. It's an anthropology class intended to study the people in the movement. The point of anthropology is to understand why people do what they do, not to figure out if what they're doing is right. Anthropologists don't have to agree with their subjects' beliefs, but they can't just go around attacking them or else they won't learn anything. They have to be sympathetic. This is true whether they're studying evangelicals in the American mid-West, militants in the West Bank, business leaders on Wall Street, or protesters in Zuccotti Park.

      The class doesn't ask if Occupy Wall Street's beliefs are correct, but what the people involved in the movement believe and how they are working to advance the movement. Does that make any sense?

    • Am I alone

      in thinking that it's unrealistic to expect professors to be unbiased? Much of the material taught in the humanities is subjective and up for interpretation, and in my humble opinion Columbia students are intelligent enough to recognize and critically examine a professor's views. This course may be strongly biased in favor of the OWS protesters, but I fail to see how that's any different from an English professor espousing their particular interpretation of Shakespeare or a Middle Eastern history professor expressing pro-Palestinian sympathies.

  6. alumnus

    Courses like this make Columbia a laughingstock. This has to be a joke, right?

  7. this looks like

    the definition of terrible.

  8. Anonymous

    thumbs up if you're taking this

  9. Anonymous

    there was a time when i used to associate ivy leagues and elite colleges with rigorous education and serious intellectual standards. then i got here, saw the kind of vacuous courses being offered like this and have since lost much respect for 'prestigious' education.

  10. Anonymous

    The OWS movement was a joke. It was an inflamed, abscessed pimple that, for a while wouldn't go away. The "inhabitants" were greasy, oily, decaying debris. We got impatient. Our medicine, though harsh, was willed. We popped that damn pimple, and it shan't return.

  11. Anonymous

    This is just scary. Columbia is allowing a forum for a professor to preach her personal opinions about this current event, and disguising it as an unbiased course. I fear for the brainwashing of the students of this course, and I wonder if it will be conducted in a "mic check" format. This class sounded interesting at first, but in all honesty it is just another forum teaching blatant disrespect of the law. No one talks about the businesses that had to close down because the occupy wall street movement blocked their entrances for 12 weeks. Why doesn't this class discuss the effects on the area and businesses independent of wall street located there? I am so appalled by this course.

  12. Anonymous

    This is just scary. Columbia is allowing a forum for a professor to preach her personal opinions about this current event, and disguising it as an unbiased course. I fear for the brainwashing of the students of this course, and I wonder if it will be conducted in a "mic check" format. This class sounded interesting at first, but in all honesty it is just another forum teaching blatant disrespect of the law. No one talks about the businesses that had to close down because the occupy wall street movement blocked their entrances for 12 weeks. Why doesn't this class discuss the effects on the area and businesses independent of wall street located there? I am so appalled by this course. Ugh.

  13. inb4

    everyone takes a huge dump on the humanities.

  14. Anonymous

    that syllabus is legit dawg. Debt: the first 5000 years was mind-blowing stuff.

  15. Just to clarify:

    this class will be taking place on the benches at Butler's entrance, right?

  16. Anonymous

    This is an anthropology course that offers an opportunity to engage in a real fieldwork site. If any of you knew ANYTHING about the discipline, I think you'd see the merits of a course that gets you out of the fucking classroom and into the real world to actively engage with it.

    My anthropology course will be in Schermerhorn classroom twice a week. I will be surrounded by four walls and lots of hipsters, sitting comfortably on my ass, listening to my professor discuss dense theoretical texts and rich ethnographies while I pen some notes and ask some questions. Although I'll try to construct a coherent understanding of the cultural politics in [insert place here], mostly I'll be wondering how I can make this classroom experience relevant when I actually go to the fieldwork site, where I'll be interacting with real people who don't give two shits about what Malinowski did on the Trobriand Islands but do, on the other hand, have to negotiate their claims, interests, or livelihood through the logics of a culturally-mediated political system in order to 'occupy' a space of being that is recognized and rendered legitimate within the limits of the social.

    I apologize if that's unintelligible but there is much political clout at stake (for real 'lived' lives!) in the discipline of anthropology if its students do not take the time to engage in 'rigorous and creative intellectual inquiry' on the field (in contrast to, oh I don't know, the US military's Human Terrain System?). Obviously this is not a community college 3-credit anthro course that you take to cover your gen ed requirements; it's a Columbia seminar that prepares its students for intellectual fieldwork experience.

    Now as for understanding Occupy Wall Street as the chosen fieldwork site, you will also have to get your head out of your econ major ass and see how OWS is an incredibly dynamic development in our times that is challenging the very heart of our political, social, and economic reality at the limits of its centralized power. I cringed at the comment that this class is "a forum for a professor to preach her personal opinions about this current event and disguise it as an unbiased course." If the discipline critically explores how people actively engage in social life, how could anthropologists simply deny the significance of an international movement like OWS? The Wall Street that we know today has only been around for less than a hundred years, so why should it be perceived as a permanent structural reality that should not be challenged by the very PEOPLE it affects? HUMANS built Wall Street, not robots or machines, and we can un-build it, too. Anthropologists study humans and, therefore, the systems that humans create to come together (i.e. nation-states, religious sects, racial divided communities, or large-scale movements such as Occupy Wall Street).

    I could have filled this comment with more intellectual verbage (which will probably be required by the course), but it's a pretty basic idea kids. Have fun doing your problem sets if that's your thing, but there's also different ways to engage your ideas with the world and you should check out those possibilities instead of just following the money trail.

  17. Anonymous

    what can i do my dear to catch your ear
    i love you madly, madly, madame librarian

  18. Anonymous

    Biggest bullshit of a course that Columbia could offer. The Occupy Wall Street movement is founded on entirely Immoral ideologies and this class is simply a hunk of liberal brainwashing being spewed by a Columbia professor. It's a disgrace that the Columbia professor even participated in such an anti-American uprising. Why don't we just redistribute everyone's money so that the undeserving lazy poor can take the money earned by those who legitimately keep the US and capitalism thriving.

    • Anonymous  

      anti-American uprising? This can't be a Columbia student, can it? Are you posting from Utah?

      • sane senior

        actually this sounds just like some crazy pentacostal right-wing nutty GS iranian student i met here on campus. his "voice" exactly... but i think he graduated and is now doing work for tea party candidates that he can't vote for because he is not a citizen. hmmm, maybe that's a good thing.

    • Anonymous

      actually, the professor would consider "liberal spewing" an insult. "liberal" is an epithet from the perspective of those who criticize capitalism. liberalism is built on individual responsibility and free market economics. maybe you should have taken more advantage of your education in order to make these distinctions. obviously, you didnt. and so you wrote an ignorant, biased comment. columbia teaches its students how to make nuanced arguments, not how to spew bullshit. be intelligent and know what you're talking about or keep your ignorance to yourself.

  19. Anonymous

    I would love to see someone anti-OWS take this course and make their opinions heard in their projects and discussions.

    Their final grade will tell us just how "unbiased" the class is. From my experiences at Columbia, a majority of the time, grades correlate directly to whether or not you agree with the professor's opinions.

    But then again, anti-OWS students are as likely to take an anthro course as anthro students are to take an econ course. Maybe that should be the next class offered? Anthro students do a field study by pretending to be an econ student?

  20. Jesus, Bwog

    Tried to submit a comment twice now, from two different computers, and no success. The fuck. This happens far more often than it should.

  21. all these

    stupidass one percent tune comments made me think how full of shit kids from prep schools are

  22. Anonymous

    This just reminds me a whole lot of those two anthro students and their terrible beat poetry at an ROTC townhall last year.

  23. Yess

    Anthro ftw. Always offering some of the most rigorous and ground-breaking material at Columbia. This is clearly a very purposeful, thoughtful syllabus filled with anthro classics. How many anthro undergrads have the privilege of doing closely supervised field work with something as dynamic as OWS? And then have that fieldwork balanced with in-class discussion of fascinating readings? If you know anthro, you know this class is not about the prof's personal opinions or humanities bullshit. Seriously, if you don't like the class, just don't take it.

  24. Columbia Liberal

    My question is this: why can't they do that with the Tea Party? That's a much more national phenomenon, the effects of which will be felt for years. AND it's something that many (if not most) Columbia students don't understand.
    Believe me, I would love nothing more than to coop myself up with other liberals for the rest of my academic career, but that seems like an intellectual circle jerk... A real education would stretch our limits, and challenge us to think differently about our world at large. Something tells me that this class is just patting us on the head for what we already know.

    • Even better idea

      It would be even better if they went to participate in both movements and then wrote papers of a comparative nature. I could almost guarantee that they would learn a great deal about why Americans in very similar financial positions, who are facing many of the same problems, often end up having wildly different political views.

  25. Anonymous

    Some of us study both Anthro and Econ... it does happen.

  26. Anonymous

    Columbia should offer an anthropology class studying Bwog comments.

  27. Ross Wolfe

    Hey Hannah! It's Ross from Platypus and Think Tank. Good for you offering this course. A nice set of readings, too. Maybe I'll stop by and check it out!

  28. Anonymous

    so now we can finally protest like true 99ers.

  29. Van Owen

    This sounds gay.

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