ANTH 208 A: The Culture Concept

Summer Term: 
Meeting Time: 
MTWThF 1:10pm - 3:20pm
CLK 316
Jean M. Dennison
Jean M. Dennison

Syllabus Description:

ANTH 208 A: The Culture Concept

“If you have come to help me you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”
Lee, Sungkyu, Choi, Sunha, Prouix, Laurel & Cornwell, Jennifer. (2015)


  • Course: ANTH 208: The Culture Concept

    • Classroom: Clark 316
    • Days/Hours: M-F 1:10-3:20
  • Professor: Jean Dennison

    • Office: Denny 137
    • E-mail:
    • Office Hours: 3:30 - 4 pm M-Th (or by appointment)


    Culture, anthropology's calling card, originated as the unexplainable force that other disciplines had yet to parse. Culture's meaning has changed greatly over the years but it is understood by most anthropologists today as shared, yet contested, norms within all aspects of life, from music to governance. The purpose of this class is to interrogate cultural assumptions and how to shift culture to create spaces of greater social justice. Instead of focusing on an exoticized other, however, we will turn a cultural lens on our own society. In particular, the goal of this condensed summer class is to understand where racial stereotypes come from and what purpose they serve, the role of dichotomies in forming these stereotypes, and the possibilities for cultural change that allows more people to thrive. Rather than learning facts, the class will engage lived experiences and facilitate critical conversation about the world around us. By contextualizing culture within racial tensions in American society, this class will encourage students to better understand the world around them through key concepts such as colonialism, white privilege, intersectionality, cultural appropriation, micro-aggressions and racism.


    Instead of reading ethnography, anthropology's traditional medium, this class will pull from a wide range of primary sources, including news articles, blogs, documentaries, and experimental works. Students will be asked to critically assess the claims of writers, artists, and film–makers and work toward a better understanding of how existing U.S. culture can be shifted to allow for greater social justice. In addition to the weekly readings and discussions, students will be required to create their own visual or written response about a social justice project.



    Upon completion of this course, students should be able to: 1) critically explore issues of cultural anthropological concerns, including colonialism, race, and power; 2) use their critical reading/viewing skills to investigate lived experience through cultural expression; 3) use strategies learned in class to create their own cultural expression on a local social justice project seeking to make cultural change.


    Course Requirements

    Participation (400 points)

    During each class, students should be able to reflect on, critique, research in more depth, present and discuss the class materials. To participate you must attend class and engage in small group and full class discussions and exercises, thus non-participation and unexcused absences will impact your grade. Following each full week of class, students will be offered their weekly participation grade based on in-class participation, with each unexcused absence resulting in the loss of 20 points. If you can’t avoid missing class, please contact the professor ahead of class to receive some short answer questions to complete. Non-partipation in class will lead to the loss of up to 10 points per class, but alternative participation options are available upon request.


    Culture Change Project (600 points)

    Utilizing some of the strategies presented within the readings/films from class, students will create a short expressive culture project. The goal of this assignment is to create your own cultural expression that explores a local social justice project seeking to make cultural change. In order to do this, students will ideally work from their own experiences or the experiences of someone close to them, being careful not to reinforce stereotypes. Students must connect their discussions to their own interviews, other pieces of expressive culture, and systems of power. As will be discussed further in class, systems of power are systematic oppressions that put certain groups of people at a disadvantage. They most often have historical origins in white privilege, colonialism, and slavery. Projects should connect with key terms and discussions from class, but can explore any social justice project of cultural change. Students are encouraged, but not required, to work in groups of up to 3 students. 


    Format Requirements

    Each project must include at least three in-person interviews, using the interview strategies discussed in class. Some part of the content of the interviews must be directly incorporated into the project and should include citations. All interviews require gaining informed consent and projects must follow the ethical code discussed in class.

    Students should choose the format of their response based on their previous experience and what they are trying to communicate. All material, except where noted below, must be created by you specifically for this class assignment.

    • Story - Write a 5 page (double-spaced) fictional or non-fictional story using the tools of narrative, suspense, and/or humor. 
    • Blog/News Story - Write a 5 page (double-spaced) news story or blog post that takes up a topic currently in the news and explores it locally. Include quotes from sources and details from actual observation. Tell the story in a unique and in-depth way that will expand the understandings of a general audience.
    • Spoken Word - Write a 5-7 page (double-spaced) poem, song lyrics, spoken word that illustrates a creative use of language. 
    • Video - Create a 4-7 minute video. Avoid unsteady camera movement, especially during interviews (ideally on a tripod), pay close attention to the framing (get close to your subject and avoid distracting backgrounds that don't add content), and find/create locations with good lighting (avoid florescent lights). Make sure all audio is high-quality with no distracting background noise. Also include non-interview-based footage, which you can take yourself and/or can be downloaded/recorded from the internet.
    • Audio - Create a 4-7 minute high quality audio compilation with no distracting background noise. Include both interview material and other non-interview-based or found footage material. 
    • Political Cartoon - Either through your own sketches or an online software, create a political cartoon with at least 10 sequenced images. Use irony, humor, symbolism, exaggeration, labeling and/or analogy. Use text either under the individual images or in a separate paragraph to incorporate interviews and class concepts where necessary.
    • Photography - Sequence at least 10 images you have taken specifically for this assignment. Pay close attention to framing, lighting, angle, distance from the subject, and movement when taking the images. Make sure images vary in composition, so as to not feel repetitive. Use the order of the images to tell a story. Use text either under the individual images or in a separate paragraph to incorporate interviews and class concepts where necessary.


    The Odegaard Learning Commons, with hundreds of workstations, provides access to learning technologies in the heart of the undergraduate library. Assistance with software available in the Learning Commons is available at the Technology Help Desk. Supported applications include:  Adobe Photoshop and Apple Final Cut Pro, among many others.

    mediArcade is a space where UW students, faculty, and staff can view and create videos, listen to and edit music, watch TV shows, play and critique video games, as well as digitize and preserve vintage media. This summer they have drop-in hours from 12:00-6:50 for help with Adobe CC, Final Cut Pro, After Effects, Audacity.

    Students also have access to various audio/visual equipment through the STF Equipment Loan Program. 

    Of course, students are also welcome to edit/design their projects with their own or free equipment and software.

    Technology problems are very common, so please do not wait until the last minute to attempt this assignment. Problems with technology will not be accepted as an excuse for late projects.



    The grade for this project will be divided into the following areas:

    • Project Proposal (50 points)

      • Description of social justice culture change effort (10)
      • Format and project description (10)
      • Systems of power at work (systematic oppression that puts certain groups of people at a disadvantage) (10)
      • People to interview (10)
      • Other expressive culture you will include (10)
    • Oral Consent (75 points): Modifying this form, describe your project in a way your participants can understand. 
    • Three Interviews (75 points):
      • Transcribe or upload the key parts of your interviews or interview notes, including your questions.
    • Rough Draft (100 points) 

      • Same as below, but divided by 3. 
    • Final (300 points)
      • Format requirements (100 points):

        • Format guidelines (50)
        • Including your interviews (50)
      • Connection to class concepts (75 points):
        • Interrogate a social justice culture change project (25)
        • Connect project with larger systems of power (systematic oppression that puts certain groups of people at a disadvantage) (25)
        • Challenge stereotypes rather than reinforce them (25)
      • Expressive qualities (125 points):
        • Visual/sound/writing quality good and not distracting (25)
        • Bring in materials beyond the interviews (50)
        • Use humor, plot, narrative, or other creative tactics discussed above to effectively maintain the interest of your audience (50)


    1000-980 4.0
    979-960 3.9 
    959-940 3.8 
    939-920 3.7 
    919-900 3.6 
    899-890 3.5 
    889-870 3.4 
    869-860 3.3 
    859-850 3.2 
    849-840 3.1 
    839-830 3.0 
    829-820 2.9 
    819-810 2.8
    809-800 2.7
    799-790 2.6
    780s 2.5
    770s 2.4
    760s 2.3
    750s 2.2
    740s 2.1
    730s 2.0
    720s 1.9
    710s 1.8
    700s 1.7
    690s 1.6
    680s 1.5
    670s 1.4
    650s 1.2
    640s 1.1
    630s 1.0
    620s 0.9
    610s 0.8
    600s 0.7 
    590 - 0 0.0


    Policies on Conduct

    The University of Washington is committed to fostering an environment where the free exchange of ideas is an integral part of the academic learning environment. Disruption or domination of classroom discussions can prohibit other students from fully engaging and participating. Any student causing disruption may be asked to leave any class session, and, depending on the severity and frequency of that behavior, an incident report may be filed with Community Standards and Student Conduct. As a condition of enrollment, all students assume responsibility to observe standards of conduct that will contribute to the pursuit of academic goals and to the welfare of the academic community. For more detailed information on these standards, please visit this page.

    Plagiarism/Academic Dishonesty

    Plagiarism and cheating constitute academic misconduct and will not be tolerated. Plagiarism is the use of other people's words, thoughts, and/or ideas without properly citing their source. Plagiarism may involve any of the following: 1) blatant copying of others' words, including your classmates; 2) paraphrasing the words, or ideas of another without acknowledging the source; 3) using other peoples' theories or ideas without acknowledging the source; 4) utilizing any fact that is not already common knowledge; 5) turning in another persons' work as your own.

    While I encourage students to work and study together, all of the work you submit for this class must be in your own words or properly acknowledged. Plagiarized work will result in a “0” for the assignment. If you have any questions concerning this issue, please see me immediately and/or see the Statement of Academic Responsibility in the UW Bachelor's Degree Handbook.


    Personal Technology

    Due to their distracting nature, use of personal technology is not allowed in this class except as required by the class. 



    Odegaard Writing and Research Center (OWRC)

    The Odegaard Writing and Research Center (OWRC) offers students, staff, and faculty at UW free, one-to-one, 45-minute tutoring sessions for any writing or research projects, as well as for personal projects such as applications or cover letters and resumes. Our tutors and librarians are trained to collaborate at any stage of the writing and research process, from brainstorming and identifying sources to making final revisions and tying up loose ends. For more information, or to schedule an appointment (more than 500 available per week!), please see our website ( or come visit us in person on the first floor of Odegaard Undergraduate Library!


    Course Schedule

    Do not print the syllabus, as content will be added/changed throughout the term. All reading and viewings are due before each class. Students must purchase a copy of So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo, NY: Seal Press (2018), but all other texts will be available here on Canvas. 


    Week 1 - Intro

    Week 2 - Civilized/Savage

    Week 3 - White/Black

    Week 4 - Model Minority/Illegal Alien

    Week 5 - Freedom/Terrorism

    Catalog Description: 
    History of the culture concept and its use in the field of cultural anthropology. History of its emergence in European colonial expansion and contemporary debates about its place as the central concept defining the field of anthropology.
    GE Requirements: 
    Individuals and Societies (I&S)
    Last updated: 
    January 17, 2019 - 9:01pm