Society for the Anthropology of Work




Teaching Working-Class Students and Working Class Advocacy


When conducting research in working-class communities or teaching working-class students, scholarship may be one goal of many.  This column offers a “hats off” to caring teachers and engaged scholars. 


Teaching Working-Class Students


By Josiah Heyman, (U of Texas, El Paso)


Teaching non-traditional students should change how we approach our courses.  We should avoid the “see if they can swim” approach, typified by long periods between tests or papers with only unsupported readings and desultory classes.  Changing this will benefit all students, but especially students with incomplete skills and habits for decoding course material on their own.  We should remember that it is not just that students learn, but they must learn to learn.  This is not the same as “dumbing down” grading expectations. My teaching has actually become more intellectual and harder, but in different ways.  Allow me to explain.

I prefer short readings of high intellectual quality and similar hands-on assignments.  I provide a set of 3-5 response questions for each reading, building from concrete content, through abstract concepts and critical reasoning questions about how concepts apply to students’ lives or whether and how they might agree or disagree with them.  I require short responses of some kind, whether on an electronic discussion board or as a short paper.  Thus, I have 1-2 assignments per week, plus periodic longer papers and tests.  I force the students to keep up, to interact steadily with the material, to learn to learn, and not to procrastinate or get lost in the sea of information.  I work hard, and so do they.  Some students give up, but most appreciate the engagement and attention.

I also seek ways that students can use ideas in critical thinking about their own lives—family, work, communities, military, the university.  I do not distort anthropology to make everything relevant, and it is patronizing to assume that a working-class, Mexican-origin student won’t be interested in China or Peru, but I do seek to reduce alienation from esoteric subject matters that students sometimes feel in college.  The touchstone of such teaching is Ira Shor’s book, Critical Teaching and Everyday Life.



Heritage Archaeology in a Former Textile Mill Town


By David Gadsby (American U)


Archaeologists at the Center for Heritage Resource Studies at the University of Maryland conduct research in solidarity with residents of the working-class community of Hampden, a former textile mill town in central Baltimore.  One overall goal of the project has been to use archaeology to promote a meaningful heritage dialogue in this gentrifying neighborhood.  An important component of the Hampden Community Archaeology Project (HCAP) has been its youth initiative.  Partnering with community organizations such as the Hampden Community Council, and paying students with funds provided by the Mayor’s Office of Employment development, HCAP conducted a six-week archaeological field session in the summer of 2005.  In a setting where students and parents alike are skeptical of the value of formal public education, and where the high school dropout rate is quite high, archaeological fieldwork becomes not only a source of summer income, but also an excellent, hands-on forum for instructors to teach elements of science, math, and history informally. 


Boycotting Coca Cola


By Robert O’Brien (Temple U)


As a member of the AAA Labor Relations Commission (LRC), I can report that we have worked to address labor issues related to the conference hotels in which we meet. As a graduate student from a working-class family, I see a good deal more that the AAA and anthropologists can do to support the right to form unions and to bargain collectively.

First among these is a decision to join a growing anti-Coca-Cola campaign. Having examined a pattern of abuses of Colombian Coca-Cola workers including the assassination, harassment, and intimidation of trade unionists (and their relatives) at Coca-Cola plants in Colombia, SAW and the boards of five other AAA sections (AFA, A&E, SANA, SLAA, SOLGA, and SUNTA) have resolved that no professional organization of social scientists concerned with labor and human rights should offer its credibility to the Coca-Cola Company by distributing its products.  In doing so we join a number of unions and high school, college and university campuses in North America and Europe, in supporting the rights of Colombian workers to organize and bargain collectively. 

The LRC has joined AAA sections in passing a resolution to boycott Coca-Cola products at our annual and section meetings. We have recommended that the EB adopt the resolution (which they will discuss at their May board meeting). To view the resolution, learn more about the campaign, and follow its progress, visit:


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