COOL CLASSES: “Place, People, and Collaborative Research in the Urban Environment”

This transdisciplinary course focuses on the ethics and practice of community collaboration and community-based research in environmental work in urban settings and requires its students to spend significant time working with a community group in Philadelphia.

Class Name: “Place, People, and Collaborative Research in the Urban Environment”

Taught by: Assistant Professor of Anthropology Joshua Moses


Here’s what Moses had to say about his class:

The class is about creating ethical partnerships with community organizations addressing urban environmental issues. These include food justice, youth environmental education, participatory mapping, and a community-based video project on elder gardeners.

We begin by acknowledging the current political challenges we are facing: What is the role of research in this political situation? We look briefly at some of the precursors of collaborative/action research. Also, we explore the role of higher education in responding to needs of communities who don’t have access to the research resources we have.

We examine various attempts and traditions of collaborative research, community-based research, and action research, and other modes of inquiry that share general principles around action and knowledge synthesis. We will also look at some of the ethical dilemmas and critiques.

We use readings as way to reflect on and push ourselves to think and act in more thoughtful, theoretically informed ways. We move from particular instances of urban environmental issues, broadly conceived, to theories and practices of social inquiry, and structural dynamics that produce inequality, and environmental challenges.

As Aime Cesaire wrote, “most of all beware, even in thought, of assuming the sterile attitude of the spectator, for life is not a spectacle, a sea of grief is not a proscenium, a man who wails is not a dancing bear …”

Here the emphasis is on not assuming the sterile attitude of the spectator. I hope students will develop a general approach to work (and life) that helps them to respond thoughtfully and ethically by emphasizing a dialogue among different groups who may have very different kinds of knowledge and backgrounds, as well as a stance that helps them to hear, to listen and see people in ways they may not yet be aware of. That it is in fact an imperative to respond in such ways, whether you are scientist, engineer, teacher, or anthropologist.

Given the current political context, I also believe it is important for them to think about how they will position themselves as emerging professionals in relationship to a historical moment that may not be as friendly to what they are learning. As with preparing students for disruptive climate futures, I hope to provide contexts where they can learn to learn in situations where they may feel uncomfortable, and provide them space to reflect on this discomfort, while developing the intellectual, imaginative, ethical and psychological resource they may require to creatively engage futures we have not yet imagined.

See what other courses the Anthropology Department is offering this semester. 

Photo of Moses’ class at Philadelphia’s Peace Park by Pili X.

Cool Classes is a series that highlights interesting, unusual, and unique courses that enrich the Haverford experience.