Pam Frese

Pam Frese co-edits recent book exploring ethnographic performances in the classroom

Experiential and Performative Anthropology in the Classroom includes quotes from Wooster students

September 1, 2020   /  

Pam Frese, professor of anthropology, co-edited and contributed to the book Experiential and Performative Anthropology in the Classroom: Engaging the Legacy of Edith and Victor Turner, published by Palgrave Macmillan in July, which explores how ethnographic performances in the classroom can encourage students to become aware of different perspectives on the world and even of their positionality in their own culture.

Experiential and Performative Anthropology in the Classroom engages the work of anthropologists Edith and Victor Turner, under whom both Frese and her co-editor Susan Brownell studied, and extends the Turners’ germinal ideas about using ethnographic performances as a form of pedagogy in today’s world. “Victor and Edith Turner, the people to whom this book is dedicated, impacted many disciplines” Frese explained. “But a book that re-engages with the way that the Turners introduced ethnographic performances into the classroom continues their work into this crucial time in which awareness of and respect for the cultural diversity in our country is essential.”

Frese has held all of the performances that she writes about in the book in her own anthropology classes at Wooster, including mock bachelor parties and bridal showers that reflect the gendered binary in Anglo American culture. Frese has also organized an annual altar for Day of the Dead on campus for nearly 20 years, with help from students in her classes and Latinx students; most recently with assistance from OLAS, the Organization of Latin American Students. Frese explained that these performances allow students to gain insight into cultures and experiences that may be different from their own in an interactive way. “It is not just learning something from a book. As my students have shared, it is also experiencing it in a way that makes it relatable, makes it memorable, and connects it to the information that they’re learning,” she said. Frese includes quotes from Wooster students about their experiences participating in these performances in her chapters in the book.

Frese said that not only do her students benefit from these ethnographic performances, but she does as well. “Every time I put on one of these performances in my class my students teach me something about their perspectives on the world,” she said. Frese is encouraged by requests from other professors who participated in a workshop and ethnographic performance of a bridal shower and bachelor party at the 2019 American Anthropological Association’s meetings for guidance in recreating that performance in their classrooms. Comments from these participants are also included in the book. “There are multiple suggestions in the book for how to encourage empathy and respect for diversity and inclusion that are essential in today’s world,” said Frese.