Teaching the revolutions

The number of blog posts that turn into requests for help in teaching are more than I had anticipated, but when you’ve got the blogosphere at your fingertips, you might as well take advantage of that, I suppose.

Since the term has started, revolutions have erupted in so many countries, and the responses are all so different.  I want to incorporate this into my Introductory Anthropology course – this seems like the ideal time to show students how anthropology is applicable to current events.  The trouble is, this isn’t my area of expertise in the slightest, so I’m not sure where to start.  Here are some of my thoughts thusfar:

Cultural Change: I can talk about the different ways that culture is transformed – diffusion of ideas, revolution and uprising.  This is nice, but it doesn’t help to explain the current situations, it just uses these to help students understand concepts from their book.  I want to flip that on its head.

Political organization – How do individuals and organizations create and maintain power? What are the different forms of political organization? How do groups use power and how does power exchange hands?  This is better.  However it makes me want to start discussing Foucault and the Panopticon, and we’ll only be discussing cultural anthropology for 3 weeks, so that seems a bit too heavy.

The relationship between culture and political systems: I think this is where I really want to go, but I am not sure I know enough about the region to do this effectively.  The media are talking about how democracy is moving into this region.  However, few people are yet discussing the fact that democracy in these countries is likely to look very different than what we Americans think of as democracy.  We associated democracy and the republic with our own historical and cultural development, and there are aspects of democracy that we see as ‘natural’ to the concept.  This is easy enough to see by comparing law and politics in the USA and mainland Europe.  Individual rights to own guns, public health care, the amount of money it is reasonable for the government to take from our paychecks, these are some very easy examples to share with students.  Religion and the right to practice religion publicly is another good example.  So how might the cultures of Tunisia, Egypt, Libia, Bahrain, etc… affect the way they develop beyond this moment, assuming they actually attempt to become democracies.

It would also be useful to try to help students understand how individuals raised in a dictatorship might not understand or embrace democracy as we conceive of it.  This is where I get WAY over my head – I do not have a good understanding of the culture of an individual raised in a dictatorship. How does that individual think government works? Does that individual expect that bribes and nepotism will (and should) still control who gets powerful jobs? Do they have a naive expectation that anyone will be able to run for a position in government? Are they right? Do I have a cynical view of how democracy will play out, based on the US system, whereas the people of these other countries will find a way to create a system that DOES allow anyone, regardless of their financial ability, to run for elected office?

What do you think? Are there other topics I should discuss? Can you give me some guidance on any of the above ideas?  Do you think this makes any sense whatsoever, or should I avoid this and stick with the textbook because I only have 3 weeks?

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