Reading the classics: Ideology, tautology, and memory

In a 1986 New York Review of Books essay that would become the opening section of his 1991 book, Italo Calvino asks “Why read the classics?” He organizes his answer as a list of definitions. The items in the list blend into each other, deepening a case for reading books that “learned” people claim to have read,... Continue Reading →


Blurred lines: development, human rights, humanitarianism

Last week, we read Bornstein and Redfield's introductory chapter to Forces of Compassion. In it, the authors outline a distinction among development, human rights, and humanitarianism. The temporal orientation, disciplinary foci, and the professions associated with each of these forms of social action seem to distinguish them from each other. The authors state, for example,... Continue Reading →

On bureaucracy

Last week in my anthropology and global social problems class, students learned about bureaucracy and how anthropologists engage with the concept. We read the introduction to Hummel's famous book on The Bureaucratic Experience, which is a pretty good primer on how bureaucracy transforms social action, human relations, and bureaucrats themselves. We started class with this... Continue Reading →


Using short-form writing and audio to build critical skills

This semester, I've been testing out several new kinds of assignments. Reading themes, podcasts, blogs. All are to get the students thinking about how to be observant, critical thinkers and how to communicate their analyses. Each of the exercises builds into one big final project: a This American Life style podcast. (Yes, I know. High... Continue Reading →


Blog at

Up ↑