Community Action Project

Current Project

The current project involves facilitating civil conversations regarding climate change.  Given the frequent polarization between “us” and “them” in many countries, the anthropological effort to communicate across differences is more vital than ever today.   Rather than trying to obliterate differences, anthropology, at its best, allows communities to flourish – not because everyone in the community thinks of behaves alike, but because they appreciate their differences with one another and have learned to work together on projects of shared interest despite their differences.

Students are challenged to apply this anthropological skill to the heated disputes currently surrounding climate change.  This involves:

  1. CONDUCTING FIELDWORK:  Just as you might do if you were an anthropologist studying a group half a world away living a different way of life, this project encourages you to understand the perspectives of those who disagree with you about climate change.  Can you understand why they disagree with you?  Can you find common ground with those who hold different views than you?
  2. UNDERSTANDING THE CULTURAL CONTEXTS THAT SHAPE PEOPLE’S BEHAVIOR:  The data on opinion formation (in the background data) suggest that people’s opinions are often formed within groups.  It is not necessarily a rational process. Try to understand why people, in a group possessing different views than you regarding climate change, hold the views they do? To what degree do these views reflect certain group values?
  3. AN IMPORTANT ANTHROPOLOGICAL AFFIRMATION EMPHASIZES HUMAN CONFLICT CAN OFTEN BE SOFTENED BY APPRECIATING THE CONTEXTS THAT SHAPE DIFFERING PERSPECTIVES: a. Frame your paper as a letter to a set of people who disagree with you on climate change in a way that will, hopefully, draw them toward a shared understanding on certain issues that will allow you to collectively work together on a shared project relating to change. b. It is critical to recognize that your letter cannot simply be a rational, intellectual argument defending your own position.  As the background readings make clear,  you need to consider the other group’s perspectives emotionally as well as intellectually in framing your letter.

INSTRUCTIONS AFTER STUDENTS HAVE REGISTERED

  1. READ the background material below.
  2. TAKE A POSITION on climate change. Which one is up to you.
  3. SELECT A POSITION HELD BY PEOPLE THAT SIGNIFICANTLY DISAGREE WITH YOUR POSITION
  4. WRITE A 400-800-WORD LETTER to these people:
  • At the top of your letter list two specific ways the people you are addressing differ from your own position on climate change.
  • Ask yourself:
  • How might you frame your letter to draw those who differ from you to move toward a position that you both might share?
  • Might you find a common goal to collaborate on in respect to climate change?

5. YOUR LETTER WILL BE GRADED ON THE FOLLOWING STANDARDS:

  1. How specific has the author been in listing at least two ways that the people she or he is addressing differ from the author’s own view on climate change? Are the differences real and substantial?
  2. The clarity of the author’s letter: Is it simple and easily understood.
  3. Does the author convey her or his message in an emotional as well as rational way – such as through telling a brief personal story or through a few anecdotes – that would likely draw the attention of the those who disagree with the author. Does the author make use of some of the ideas in the background readings that discuss how to talk effectively with people who disagree with you?
  4. Critically, how effective does the author’s letter seem? Do you think it will draw people with whom the author disagrees with on the topic to find common ground with the author  so that the author and those that disagree with her or him can collectively work together on a project relating to climate change that benefits the broader community?

Past Projects:

Relating to Research Ethics

2016: Based on the information presented in the five case studies, you are to voice your view on how Institutional Review Boards (in the U.S.) and/or Review Ethics Boards (in Canada) should enforce a set of common rules regarding research. How much freedom should researchers be allowed in conducting their research? What regulations should be enforced to prevent the abuse of research subjects and ensure, more generally, that the research strives to promote positive benefits for the larger society sponsoring it?

2007: Should the subjects of an anthropological study receive positive benefits for participating in the study or is it sufficient for researchers to simply avoid doing harm? And related to that question, should anthropologists be required to explain why they did (or did not) provide certain benefits to a community that, in applying for grants, they wrote were likely be benefit community as a result of their research?

2005: Should Penn State University return the Toototobi blood samples held in a Penn State laboratory to the relatives of the deceased individuals involved as formally requested by the Deputy Attorney General of Brazil? Select between the two choices below and then click on the related link to see the information supporting that position.  (It is recommended that you read the supporting information for both positions before making your decision.)