Literature Review of Open Educational Resources in Cultural Anthropology
by Claudia Crowie and Miryam Nacimento, Anthropology
This review identifies and locates Open Access (OA) and Open Educational Resources (OER) within the field of cultural anthropology and highlights the benefits and challenges that each presents. In particular, we examine journals, ethnographies, and teaching sources (including textbooks, syllabi, course materials, and videos). In doing this review, we have found that there are well-established prominent cultural anthropology journals that are Open Access and motivated by the commitment to making ethnographic analyses and theory widely available, although they are aimed at slightly different readerships, and are subject to publication rules that elevate certain voices over others within the discipline, as we point out.
While the OA ethnographies that we found tend to be mostly classical, a recent introductory textbook publication pushes the OER movement in the discipline in a productive direction through a current and concise engagement with contemporary anthropological debates, concepts, and ethnographic works. While there are a range of teaching materials available as OER, they tend to be difficult to locate, fragmented and partial in their availability. There is scope for educators to collaborate on creating and providing OER syllabi, lecture notes/videos and student activities and assessments. As far as affordability and accessibility are concerned, teaching and learning in the discipline could benefit from more contemporary OER ethnographies, and a sensitivity to language and ability challenges that student users may face.
Definition of terms
Even though both are closely related, it is important to define what we mean by Open Educational Resources (OER) and distinguish it from similar concepts like Open Access (OA). Open Educational Resources are any kind of electronic materials (including textbooks, videos, wikis, guides, lesson plans, and syllabi) accessible via the internet that can be shared under an intellectual property license and that are available for Reuse, Rework, Remix, Redistribute. OERs are commonly released under licenses like Creative Commons, which define how the content should be used. Most commonly this license enables the user to share the material (copy and redistribute it in any medium or format), and to adapt the material (remix, transform and build upon it). This sharing and adaptation is usually subject to conditions that include non-commercial usage, giving appropriate credit to the original authors, and indicating if any changes were made to the material by the user. The main purpose of OERs is to make materials available for teaching and learning in an accessible and affordable way.
Open Access allows materials to be downloaded freely via an open license as long as the author is properly cited. Open Access thus primarily allows access and not necessarily remixing and repurposing like OERs. The reuse of Open Access materials therefore remains limited to scholarly referencing practice. For the purposes of this literature review, we are considering both OER and OA materials.
Review of OER/OA in the field of Cultural Anthropology
For a better grasp of the diversity of the existing OER/OA materials, we have divided this review into three sections: journals, ethnographies, and teaching sources (including textbooks, syllabi, course materials, and videos).
Cultural anthropology journals that we are considering in this literature review are generally restricted to be Open Access and therefore they are not available for reworking or repurposing (they are not OER). Many of the best known peer-reviewed journals within the discipline joined the open access movement long ago. The Journal of Political Ecology http://jpe.library.arizona.edu/ became open access in 1994, and Anthropology Matters https://www.anthropologymatters.com/index.php/anth_matters, began publishing articles of PhD students from the United Kingdom in 1999.
Currently, HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory https://www.haujournal.org/index.php/hau/ and Cultural Anthropology https://culanth.org/ are two of the most well-known OA peer-reviewed journals as they have generated a lot of interest within different academic circles for their contributors’ affiliation to prestigious institutions. Founded in 2011 by the Society for Ethnographic Theory, HAU is a peer-reviewed journal focusing on the relationship between ethnography and anthropological theory. Cultural Anthropology was established in 1986 and went Open Access in 2014. Another relevant journal is the Museum Anthropology Review (MAR) https://scholarworks.iu.edu/journals/index.php/mar, which discusses concerns related with the role of museums from an anthropological (an interdisciplinary) perspective. The journal was founded in 2007 and its objective is the dissemination of open access articles and reviews on material culture.
We consider that these initiatives accurately represent current intellectual trends within cultural anthropology. Indeed, one of the primary objectives of HAU is to position itself at the forefront of engaging cutting-edge and innovative theoretical debates in the discipline. Cultural Anthropology is particularly valuable as an educational resource, as it publishes ethnographic writing that is informed by a wide array of theoretical and methodological perspectives. Its articles are written in an accessible style that is suitable for a broad public readership. While Cultural Anthropology is mostly focused on disciplinary developments in the United States, HAU is more international in its contributor and readership base. Although the writing style and conceptual focus of these journals’ contributors may render them less accessible to introductory classes, more advanced students of anthropology will appreciate their often complex engagement with emergent and critical theoretical positions within cultural anthropology.
The Teaching and Learning Anthropology Journal launched in Fall 2018 (https://escholarship.org/uc/teachinglearninganthro). It is an Open Access publication from the University of California, sponsored by the General Anthropology Division of the American Anthropological Association, and the Society for Anthropology in Community Colleges. Its publications include articles on teaching and learning anthropology, as well as undergraduate and graduate anthropological research and writing.
As seen, these journals show a wide range of topical emphasis (anthropological theory, methodology, political ecology, and teaching) and are directed to different readerships. The broad range of topics they cover make of these journals useful materials for teaching introductory classes of cultural anthropology. Moreover, the benefit of open access to peer-reviewed journals is that students are granted free access to high quality academic work and to current discussions within the discipline. The downside is that through the process of deciding whose work is considered worthy of publication, reviewers may re-inscribe asymmetries of power in the discipline by elevating certain intellectual voices over others: scholars from the most privileged educational institutions and anthropology departments tend to be overrepresented. Moreover, despite their strengths in representing contemporary theoretical moves in the discipline, the bias toward English in these journals will present a language barrier to non-English speaking students and teachers.
Cultural anthropology cannot be taught without direct engagement with ethnographic work. Most classical ethnographies that professors tend to include in their syllabus are Open Access in the form of e-books. Here we recommend four monographs that we consider any introductory class to cultural anthropology should include in the syllabus for illustrating basic theoretical debates and methodologies that gave rise to the discipline. These monographs are: The Argonauts of the Western Pacific, The Gift, Coming to Age in Samoa, and The Nuer. All of them are easily downloadable from different open library repositories.
We consider it important to mention the valuable open access initiative carried out by Hau Books, the book publishing section of the Society for Ethnographic Theory. Hau Books implements an Open Access book program responding to their commitment for making anthropological findings easily accessible to the communities that anthropologist study. For this reason, the most important titles in classic anthropological theory (and in some cases more contemporary contributions) are released digitally in the website https://haubooks.org/.
A clear limitation is that most of these ethnographies do not necessarily reflect current theoretical and methodological debates taking place within the discipline.
There are a few introductory anthropology textbooks that are OER, the most recent and engaging of those available is Perspectives: An Open Invitation to Cultural Anthropology (2017) http://perspectives.americananthro.org. It is published by the Society for Anthropology in Community College, and its parent organization, the American Anthropological Association. The creators were motivated by a long-standing commitment to make educational tools accessible to a diversity of students, including first-generation students, and those from low-income households. OER textbooks make knowledge available even if students are not formally enrolled in an anthropology course. Under its flexible Creative Commons license, instructors are able to remix, change and add to the content of this textbook, provided it is for teaching purposes, and they also grant appropriate credit to the original authors. This makes it a valuable and versatile teaching resource. All content within Perspectives is written in accessible language, peer-reviewed, and many of the conceptual discussions explicitly draw on foundational and current ethnographic works. The chapters cover a broad array of topics, and highlight contemporary thematic specializations and anthropological methods. These include a discussion of new sites for ethnographic work, a focus on deductive research, activist-oriented anthropology, and mixed and quantitative techniques. The text benefits from of the contribution of diverse group of authors with varying experiences and scholarly foci. Yet, it adheres to the formula adopted by most introductory cultural anthropology texts through a traditional focus on topics such as language, subsistence, economics, political anthropology, family and marriage, race and ethnicity. There is no inclusion of more recent theoretical trends (such as the intersection of science and technology with culture) and its focus remains within the bounds of the discipline rather than exploring productive overlaps between anthropology and other fields. The website also provides links to video lecture series and interviews with prominent anthropologists, that provide interactive and engaging teaching and learning resources, but are subject to restrictions on adaptation and distribution as they are not Creative Commons licensed.
Cultural Anthropology https://courses.candelalearning.com/anthropologyx15x1/ is another introductory anthropology textbook that is OER through a Creative Commons license. Tracy Evans, the author, is an instructor at of an introductory cultural anthropology course at Santa Ana College in California and developed this text for that course. It covers traditional topics in cultural anthropology, but since it is not a collaboration, it does not reflect diverse perspectives.
An OER wikibook on cultural anthropology https://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/Cultural_Anthropology is available through a Creative Commons license, but it not peer reviewed, and its content is continually being updated and changed.
In addition to these general textbooks, some OER texts are available that are more specific in content and scope. For example, Bryant C. Freeman’s book entitled, Third-World Folk Beliefs and Practices: Haitian Medical Anthropology (1998), focuses on the beliefs of rural Haitian patients https://kuscholarworks.ku.edu/handle/1808/10894. Unlike the texts described above, users cannot distribute any remixed, transformed or built upon materials related to the book. This text was originally created under a traditional copyright license, and later became available as an OER resource through the open access movement of the University of Kansas.
Susan Stebbins published Native Peoples of North America as an OER introductory text about the Native peoples of North America (primarily the United States and Canada) in 2013 (https://textbooks.opensuny.org/native-peoples-of-north-america). This text is organized around anthropological concepts such as language, kinship, marriage and family life, political and economic organization etc. It includes suggested readings, videos, and classroom activities.
Syllabi and course materials
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Open Courseware provides course syllabi, materials and teaching resources across a wide range of disciplines, including cultural anthropology and ethnography https://ocw.mit.edu/courses/. There are a broad range of interesting thematic courses under these disciplines that include Gender (2017), Globalization (2016), For Love and Money: Rethinking the Family (2016), Technology and Culture (2014), What is Capitalism? (2013), and How Culture Works (2012). Each topic links to a course page, where instructors have provided detailed syllabi (some with links to course materials, PDFs of articles, and Amazon or Google links to purchase the assigned text). In addition, some courses helpfully include sample assignment questions, and exemplary student responses, as well as downloadable course materials, lecture videos, assignments, and exams. There is a rich and diverse offering of available materials on this site, but where books are assigned, those need to be acquired by teachers and learners. Not all courses have the course materials provided, some just offer a syllabus.
There are a useful set of online cultural anthropology tutorials created by Dr. Dennis O’Neal of Palomar College in California https://www2.palomar.edu/anthro/change/default.htm , but these are open access rather than OER, and they are restricted to educational and teaching purposes, and may not be adapted or modified. The tutorials include a range of multimedia resources, including audio, video and illustration, but was last updated in 2008.
OER Commons is a useful site for OER syllabi and classroom quizzes, but does not include comprehensive teaching materials. There are resources available for a cultural anthropology course under https://www.oercommons.org/courses/cultural-anthropology, provided by a professor at Utah State University. There are also more specific courses available, with similar materials provided, for example, the Anthropology of Religion.
There are no central repositories to search for ethnographic or anthropological films, although there is a list of freely available (but not necessarily OER) mini lectures and videos explaining concepts and classic ethnographic films published on http://www.oercommons.org/courses/free-online-anthropology-videos-and-video-clips/view. Other options to locate videos licensed under Creative Commons is through popular websites that have a feature to search for Creative Commons licensed materials. For example, Flickr.com (https://www.flickr.com/creativecommons/) and Vimeo.com (https://vimeo.com/creativecommons) have webpages dedicated to videos licensed under Creative Commons, and users are able to browse available content, and to use a search function to narrow the results by topic, title, author etc. After doing a search on Youtube.com, the user can select the “filter” option on the right-hand side of the webpage, and then click on “Creative Commons” under the “Features” option. This narrows search results to include Creative Commons licensed videos only. Although Archive.org has a collection of Creative Commons licensed material, the search for them is more complicated, as the user has to search by license type. Although this is a useful site, the inefficient search function may provide a challenge for users unless they know the license type of the video, or are willing to browse through vast amounts of content.
As we have seen in this review, there is a wide variety of OER and OA sources available for developing zero-cost courses on cultural anthropology. Across all of the materials that we have reviewed, there is a bias toward English language. Access to students with sight or hearing impairments would also be challenge to accessing these sources. The availability of all of the materials require digital access by teachers and learners, and this will be a barrier in learning environments where such access is impossible or limited.
While cultural anthropology journals as well as ethnographies are Open Access and not available for reworking or repurposing, we decided to cover these materials in this literature review since they are indispensable components of any introductory course in the discipline. Courses on cultural anthropology cannot be taught without direct reference neither to classical monographs that laid the foundation of the discipline nor to contemporary anthropological discussions, most of which take place in peer-reviewed journals like the ones mentioned. Given that the fundamental purpose of the discipline is to account for cultural difference and diversity, a challenge to be considered in the practice of teaching anthropology is to reflect intellectual diversity in the texts and discussions that are being taught. To address this challenge, when constructing zero cost courses based on OA journals and ethnographies faculty might consider searching for additional OA materials that have been produced in different cultural and educational settings.
Based on our review, of the teaching and learning materials presently available as OER, Perspectives: An Open Invitation to Cultural Anthropology (2017) is the most comprehensive, up-to-date, and accessible. It marks a significant and refreshing scholarly intervention in the creation of OER textbooks in the field. It effectively conveys the ideas of the authors in their respective areas of expertise and draws widely from engaging ethnographic studies. This text is likely to be highly useful to both teachers and learners of an introductory course. Other options available as OER textbooks are more idiosyncratic in their foci, and do not have the benefit of collaborative, current peer-reviewed publication when compared with Perspectives. Since the availability of OER teaching resources such as syllabi, course materials, and assignment suggestions is subject to the discretion of the authors, it tends to be partial and fragmented. MIT Open Courseware represents the broadest range of available teaching sources and innovative ideas for course development, yet their authors are all MIT-based. There is a limited availability of teaching resources from diverse authors from different institutions. In some cases, the materials are not comprehensive, and require the purchase of further texts. This may present a barrier for students without the means to do so, especially since contemporary ethnographies are not widely available as OER. Video media appear to be the most difficult OER teaching and learning resources to locate as there is no single repository to search for them, and a search requires the user to know how to search accurately using a several websites, to be searching for a particular video, or to browse a range of Creative Commons licensed videos across disciplines.