In this course we examine the concepts, methods, and theories that anthropologists use to study and interpret how notions of cultural, racial, ethnic, sexual, and national difference are generated, sustained, contested, and transformed. We use ethnographies and films to explore the shared meanings and varied ways of living that anthropologists refer to as “culture,” and to question commonsense and our own understandings of human nature. Students will use course materials and their experiences in the countries visited during the Semester at Sea voyage to practice ethnographic fieldwork methods, try out a variety of analytical approaches to understanding how people live in the world, and explore various styles of ethnographic writing and other forms of representation.
Field WorkCountry: Mauritius
Day: 1 - Wednesday, 9 March
The global flows and cultural mixings and mobilities that characterize much of contemporary experience are also processes with deep historical roots. Historically an important base in the European Indian Ocean trade, and contemporarily a premier international tourist destination, Mauritius is a multi-religious, multicultural nation, with all the complexities this implies. In this lab students will be introduced to the complexities of life in today’s Mauritius, guided by a local cultural expert. We begin with a trip to Ganga Talao, the sacred lake and temple that are the site of the large annual Maha Shivratri pilgrimage by Mauritians of Indian descent. Myth has it that some of the water in this man-made lake was transported from India, making it one of the most sacred Hindu sites in the world. In Ganga Talao we will visit the temple and have an opportunity to discuss Hindu diasporic identity with some of the temple’s ritual specialists. A meal at a restaurant serving creole cuisine, will enable us to experience first-hand the emphasis upon Mauritius as a “creole” nation. We conclude our day with walk through the old market that is in the center of historic Port Louis. This walk will give us the opportunity to reflect upon Mauritius’s historical and contemporary position in a world of global flows of people, cultures, and goods.
1. To understand the roots and experience of Indian diasporic identity in Mauritius, through a visit to an important pilgrimage site
2. To gain a sense of the historical and contemporary factors at play in constructions of Mauritius as a “creole” nation
3. To apply anthropological theories about diasporic and transnational identity to an understanding of contemporary Mauritian experiences.