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Plural Cities and Civic Ethnography

Plural Cities and Civic Ethnography: Teaching High School Anthropology
in Interactive Research Settings

In September, IISCE began working on a new project with financial support from the International Visegrad Fund. The project entitled, , is an experiment in teaching cultural anthropology to pre-university level students by using the city as a research laboratory for studying civil society and human diversity. It centers on a five-month class for senior-level students in two private high-schools: in Hradec Králové (Soukrome Jazykove Gymnazium) and Wrocław (Liceum Akademickie DSWE TWP) and is taught by Czech and Polish anthropologists-educators (Dr. Hana Cervinkova, Dr. Hana Novotna and mgr. Agnieszka Zembrzuszka) from the partner universities of DSWE TWP and the University of Hradec Králové . Each teacher coordinates with the others throughout the project period.

The class teaches students fundamental concepts of cultural anthropology as the science of human diversity and cultural and social inquiry. Instead of asking young adults to memorize facts about distant cultures, the class focuses on introducing to students the techniques of field-based qualitative research and shows them how these tools can be used to discover diversity in the immediate surroundings of the city in which they live. The class requires students to conduct first-hand research in non-governmental organizations (NGOs), religious and other community associations as well as informal cultural groupings in their home cities.

The goals of the project are three-fold:

  • to develop and test the possibilities of using qualitative research as a method of teaching social sciences to young adults at the high-school level;

  • to support civic involvement of young adults;

  • to establish a comparative framework for the students from the partner cities of Wroclaw and Hradec Kralove in order to exchange ideas and experiences and learn more about each others' cultures.

The project will encourage students to learn about their own city and collaborate on the analysis of their findings with their counterparts across the border. During the two meetings in Wrocław and Hradec Králové, the local students' families will host the visiting students, who will have the opportunity to deepen their knowledge of cross-border culture. The final presentations and posters will be prepared by joint Polish/Czech groups of students in both languages, further encouraging cross-border cooperation. The project is unique in supporting learner- and project-based approaches to the transmission of knowledge in the social sciences at the high-school level, which will maximize students' intellectual involvement and, consequently, their retention of knowledge gained. By strategically selecting civil society organizations and associations as research settings, this methodological approach can help students learn practical lessons about the struggles of active citizenship. This should help increase their immediate understanding of the democratic process and support their further active citizen participation. The academic teachers will develop and test a new method of using the city as a laboratory for teaching social sciences; the course will serve as a pilot project, which will lead to the application of the model in other cities and countries. The early and hands-on exposure of students to research practice should lead to their greater interest in pursuing social sciences as a field of study at the university level, thus contributing to the rejuvenation of social sciences in the post-socialist context.

Last but not least, the public presentation of the results of students' projects at the final exhibition will have a wide-ranging impact – people will learn about their own and neighboring city through a project that in concrete ways fulfills the spirit of international collaboration and understanding.