Identity and
Jon Wagner
• Office: GDH 309F
• Phone: 7433
• E-mail: [email protected]
• Office hours: MWF Periods 3 & 5
And by appointment
Why Study Other Cultures?
Diverse human possibilities
Shared humanity
Historical patterns
“Decoding” other outlooks
Communicating across differences
Dealing with “otherness”…
More than just good intentions
Serious encounters with difference
Coming to grips with our unacknowledged
Two stories from Star Trek
• Original Series: “The Paradise Syndrome”
• Star Trek Voyager: “Tattoo”
Though the later one is more “politically
correct,” both share the same assumptions
about “native” peoples
“Native” cultures presumed to be:
Cultural Essentialism:
Treating a culture as if it had an inherently
static, pristine, and eternal character or
We set ourselves apart--the only ones who can be…
• Progressive
• Dynamic
• Engaged in history
• Rational
• Objectively informed
• Critically self-reflective
• Universal
• Able to define ourselves creatively
But what if we’re wrong?
What if…
• …all peoples have complex and sophisticated thought
• …all people live in culturally constructed worlds, and no one is
any more “natural” than anyone else?
• …all peoples are, and have always been, actively involved in
• …all cultures reflect complex and ever-changing ecological
• …all cultures are internally dynamic and capable of critical selfreflection?
• …the meaning of every tradition is subject to active
interpretation, and is sometimes openly contested?
• …people within every society have diverse outlooks and
• …cultures are not closed bubbles, but are actively involved in
the exchange of ideas with others?
• …every culture, including ours, struggles with the task of
understanding human differences?
• …all identity--whether personal, cultural, or human--is a creative
quest, not a matter of passive inheritance?
To explore the dynamics of Native American
cultures, emphasizing historical processes
of adaptation, the creative quest for
personal and cultural identity, and the
enterprise of understanding and
representing cultural difference
Two Key Concepts
• Adaptation: The use of human moral, social, artistic
and technological imagination to pursue valued ends
within the context of fluid ecological and historical
• Identity: A process of personal or collective selfdefinition involving the negotiation of diverse agendas
within open-ended and potentially contested
traditions, and often relying on motivated portrayals
of the “self” and the “other.”
Selected examples:
Diversity of:
• Time
• Geography
• Social organization & world views
• Course themes
• Book of the Eskimos, by Peter Freuchen
• The Sun, He Dies, by Jamake Highwater
• Sun Chief, by Leo Simmons
• The Death and Rebirth of the Seneca,
by Anthony F. C. Wallace
• Black Elk Speaks, by John Neihardt
• Ceremony, by Leslie Marmon Silko
Requirements and Grading
Quizzes: 35%
Prehistory Web Assignment: 5%
Final Paper: 20%
Attendance and Participation: 10%
Short writing assignments (including written
Responses to Readings): 30%