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Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Assignments (5)—Bridges to Theory

One year ago on Round and Square (20 March 2012)—Displays of Authenticity: Prairie Journalist
Click here for the introduction to the Round and Square series "Assignments"
[a] Upper-Middle RF
The midterm assignment in all of my classes (usually scheduled for the week after spring break) is pivotal in several senses of the term. Of course, the first thing students realize is that it is important—pivotal.  A solid chunk of the great turns (pivots) on it. The next sense is even more significant, though. The midterm assignment is designed to encourage students to consider all of the work they have done in the first half of the course and to put it together in a midterm assignment that helps them to pivot to the second half of the course. The results of this assignment are especially enjoyable for me to read, since students have engaged the fascinating and surprisingly complex novels Mrs. Bridge (1959) and Mr. Bridge (1969). These were written by the extraordinarily versatile writer Evan S. Connell, and told in a "polished fieldnote" sort of vignette style that works beautifully in a social and cultural theory course.

Social and Cultural Theory
Anthropology 206
Midterm Assignment“Bridges to Theory” 

The Basics 
Review Mrs. Bridge and Mr. Bridge, then watch the film in class on March 12. Write an essay of at least 3,000 words (about ten pages) commenting upon some of the many themes found in Evan Connell’s vignettes on the Bridges (noting the assignment title above) and showing their connections to the materials we have studied up to this point in the course. “All of ‘em.”*

*Within reason. 
[b] Pivotal RF

Although this assignment is deliberately open-ended (allowing you to use any number of interpretive strategies), do not forget its role as a “pivot” in our course.  Your work should engage, on some level, the full range of our materials from the first seven weeks of the course (your class notes, reading notes, abstracts, and even quizzes will be useful as you proceed).  If you take the assignment seriously, it will give you a solid foundation—and significant momentum—for the second half of the course. 

Review Essay 
A good way to approach the assignment is to write a “review essay.” You have been reading good review essays from the New York Review of Books for several weeks. Now is the time to write one that has a distinctly “theoretical” focus. The basic idea, though, is as follows. A good review essay has a two-pronged approach. It is, on the one hand, a “review” of the books. By this, I mean that you need to engage examples from the life of the Bridges. This should not be at all difficult, given the immediacy of much of the material. In the “rest” of the essay you should show how the themes in the ethnographies can be seen in the wider perspective of social and cultural theory. In other words, how might the essays and lectures we have read in Anthropology and Theory and Social Theory connect to the specific issues in the novels you have read (or, from another perspective, the pile of “fieldnotes” you have been studying)? To be sure, you will blend these approaches, but how you do so will be part of your writing strategy. We’ll discuss this in class. 
[c] Bridgegift RF

Additional Notes 
This assignment asks you to engage your two novels and to review all of the work you have done thus far in the course.  It does not require you to do “research,” and substantial outside work will almost certainly be counter-productive.  For example, spending two or three pages on the history of 1930s Kansas City will be far less productive than spending those pages examining the world of the Bridges.  Background information is occasionally useful (and you may possibly have some from previous reading or coursework), but do not make the mistake of providing so much “background” that you don’t deal fully with the assignment itself. Again, with novels as “up front” as these, this should not be a problem.

The greater challenge is to “use” our theoretical materials well. Plot out some of the themes (or scenes) in the novels and take notes to make sure you have dealt with the full range of possibilities in the theoretical materials.  Your skills in spotting themes in the Moore, Bourdieu, and Moberg books will pay off a great deal in this assignment, as will the general contextual and theoretical knowledge you have gained in our discussions.  You have all of Week IX to pursue this project, and you should use it to review all of the readings and class discussions (not to mention themes) that we have studied thus far in the semester. 

1.   This assignment is meant to “tie together” much of the work you have done this semester.  Just as on weekly quizzes, be sure to use the full range of your “sources” in your interpretations—classroom analyses, Moore, Bourdieu, and Moberg (not to mention Kipnis).  As you know, the theoretical essays in Moore and the close reading of Bourdieu are the heart of the class, and I would like to see connections to them in your essays. 
[d] Bridgestuck RF

2.   Don’t forget that I will be evaluating this assignment with the assumption that you are trying to explain these matters to “intelligent non-specialists.”  That means that I do not want you to “skip” those portions that you know I know.  I want you to explain them.  I want you to be the expert who is explaining these matters to someone who does not know much about cultural anthropology, but is certainly able to follow a complex argument.  Imagine, for example, that you are writing for your FYI professor and those you have in other classes this term, with moi looking over her shoulder. Keep your letter reader in mind, too. It will serve you well.

3.   Follow standard Chicago Manual of Style citation form, and use the style sheet as you proceed.  This is a “formal” paper, and the style sheet’s guidelines should be followed closely.  

4.   There should be a short bibliography of sources (class books and any outside materials that you have consulted) at the end of your document.

5.   Be sure that you fill out a “paper checklist” and attach it to your essay. It will be sent as an attachment.

6.  Good luck.  There is more than enough material to write any number of essays.  Choose several good points, scenes, or themes.  Then write one. 

Due by 10:00 p.m. on Sunday, March 24th.  (Put a hard copy outside my door).

Use the word count feature of your software and put the word total at the bottom of the essay, e.g. “3,062 words.”
[e] Bridges to Theory RF

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