Just in case anyone thinks it's all fun and games down here in Bolivia, let me assure you that we are also hard at work. Not only throwing rocks around and shoveling in the dirt, as the previous posts suggested, but also engaging our brains in academic work. Of course, being Bolivia, we have class outdoors in a lovely garden, our chairs in a circle under an awning, interrupting our studies with traditional pastries and Coca Cola, the national beverage.
This is all part of the service-learning philosophy: To be truly meaningful, community service has to be combined with study and scholarly understanding. Through our readings and discussions, our students learn about the larger historical and political-economic context in which Bolivia is situated, and how a variety of forces have conspired to produce the conditions of extreme poverty and social inequality in which Bolivians today find themselves.
Our students also study the techniques and practices of cultural anthropology, learning, in effect, how to learn about the world around them. Each week, the students have to complete an ethnographic research project, using a particular technique of anthropological data gathering. This week is it kin diagrams: Students have to interview field "consultants" who will share with them the details of their familial backgrounds, which the students will diagram using formal techniques of genealogical mapping. In this way, they learn not only about the histories of their consultants, but also about family patterns in Bolivia, migration trajectories, naming practices, and so on. We will share the results of our work at our next class meeting.