Faculty Spotlight: Michal Osterweil
The opportunity to teach “Social Change in Times of Crisis: Knowledge, Action and Ontology” with my colleague and mentor Arturo Escobar (Anthropology) has been a unique and inspiring experience. Having designed it in 2011, this is actually the second time we are teaching the course, with some major changes. The idea for the course originally came from our shared research and commitment to understanding social movements, and the emergence of what we began to term “a politics and theory of relationality”—that is, the emergence of a new language and practice of politics emerging from a variety of disciplines and non-academic sites—ranging from social movements, to the natural sciences, to business and management—that emphasize non-dual, often non-modernist understandings of both reality and social change. For us teaching collectively and collaboratively is in itself an important relational practice that, while taking more preparation than solo teaching, has incredible benefits for students and instructors alike. It is actually quite difficult to put into words why it is so special, but like some of the literatures we have been reading suggest, the whole is often greater than the sum of its parts!
As with the first time we taught it in 2011, we have been blown away by the caliber of the students, and their willingness to bring their whole selves to the class. The readings we assign are very challenging (graduate level) and we assign a lot, and have weekly writing, but it results in some of the best discussions I have ever had, in particular discussions that get beyond the technical and theoretical readings to what this means for our lives. (We feel that we are learning as much—if not more—from the students and the class as they may be from us.) Interestingly, to get into the class, students had to agree that they were ready for a heavy reading load at a grad-student level. This time, we also required students to have some kind of background in the topics we were going to cover so that we could continue and get farther in conversations. Many students had taken one or more courses with either or both of us in the past. The idea was not to be exclusive, but to be able to build on past conversations and themes. I am so grateful to Arturo and the students for this amazing experience!