Multiculturalism: Theory and Practice – Anthro 290

Anthropology 290. Fall 2008
Multiculturalism: Theory and Practice

Instructor: Prof. Peggy Reeves Sanday

Public institutions, including government agencies, schools, and liberal arts colleges and universities, have come under severe criticism these days for failing to recognize or respect the particular cultural identities of citizens. In the United States, the controversy most often focuses upon the needs of African-Americans, Asian-Americans, Native-Americans, and women. Other groups could easily be added to this list, and the list would change as we moved around the world. Yet it is hard to find a democratic or democratizing society these days that is not the site of some significant controversy over whether and how its public institutions should better recognize the identities of cultural and disadvantaged minorities. What does it mean for citizens with different cultural identities, often based on ethnicity, race, gender, or religion, to recognize ourselves as equals in the way we are treated in politics? In the way our children are educated in public schools? In the curricula and social policy of liberal arts colleges and universities?

Goals of Course
This course introduces students to anthropology as a public interest social science, which means to join knowledge with action in the public interest..
The course is predicated on the assumption that in the modern world diversity is a fact of life, characteristic not only of the US national culture but of the global culture as well. The course introduces anthropological theories of culture and multiculturalism and the method of ethnography. After learning the basic concepts through reading key texts and writing response papers, students will apply the concepts by (1)writing an ethnic auto-biography; (2) critiquing a film or novel with a multicultural theme; and (3) conducting a mini-ethnography of a multicultural site of their choice. These projects are designed to encourage students to reflect on the meaning of multiculturalism from three different angles: personal experience of diversity; media representation of diversity; and participant observation of diversity in a multicultural site (which could be Penn.) The goal is to learn about the role and the impacts of diversity in the US vis-à-vis constitutionally guaranteed rights to liberty, equality, and democratic justice.

Each week students will be asked to prepare a 3-5 page written response to some aspect of the readings for the week. These short pieces must show comprehension of the reading and the ability to question the reading based on autobiographical and ethnographic experience.
In addition students will write 3 papers. Two of the papers are 5 pages; the third is a 15-20 page paper based on participant-observation of a multicultural site. This site can be their home community, Penn, South Street, Reading Terminal, the Italian Market, or some other local site of their choice.
The grade for the course will be based on the written work, class attendance, and discussion in class. The reading assignments will be graded for composition, critical understanding of the readings, application to experience, and ability to frame an argument. Students may rewrite these weekly papers as often as they wish in consultation with the instructor. Students are encouraged to hand in drafts of the three final papers.


Articles: (on Blackboard)
1.“Ethnicity and the Post-Modern Arts of Memory,” by Michael J. Fischer. In WRITING CULTURE, p. 194. Ed. By James Clifford and George E. Marcus. University of California Press, l986. [B]
2.”Cultural and Structural Pluralism in the U.S.,” by Peggy Reeves Sanday. In ANTHROPOLOGY AND THE PUBLIC INTEREST. Ed by Peggy Reeves Sanday, Academic Press, l976. [B]
3. “From the Native’s Point of View,” In LOCAL KNOWLEDGE by Clifford Geertz. (B)
4.Public Interest Anthropology: Download from (B)

BOOKS: House of Our Own Bookstore or
1.Multiculturalism: A Critical Reader by David Theo Goldberg
2. Dreams From My Father. By Barack Obama
3. Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali
4. Angel’s Town: Chero Ways, Gang Life, and the Rhetorics of Everyday by Ralph Cintron

1.Reading notes each week: 3-5 pages
2. Ethnic Autobiography. Based on your experience and that of your family.
To be completed after reading and discussing the article by Michael J.
Fischer. (5 pages)
3. Final paper:
Choose a multicultural site in Philadelphia or at home. Write an ethnography, prepare a video, or a photographic essay
a. describe the site
b. explain nature of its diversity
c. comment on the symbols, practices, history, and meshing or clashing webs of significance at the site
d. discuss the way people express mutual respect in their interactions.
To be turned in by December 5.


Grading will be based 1/4 on class participation; ¼ for each of three major assignments. Students are welcome to rewrite any reading assignment. The instructor takes development of a student’s understanding over the course of the class into consideration. This makes it possible for students to be judged relative to their different backgrounds and educational levels upon entering class. Students are encouraged to use the Writing Center if their written assignments call for doing so.


Students should be familiar with and respect the Academic Code of Integrity of the University of Pennsylvania. Any cheating or plagiarism in this course will be dealt with severely. Please see the Penn websites below for definitions of what constitutes plagiarism and cheating and how to avoid them:

Academic Code of Integrity:
Plagiarism – What it is and how to avoid it: