A Sample Class Prep

I’m still thinking about ways to put some of my note-taking in my ordinary workflow into a disseminated or published form. More on that soon, as I’m seeking advice. But one other summer project has been to dig into my old files, figure out exactly what I’ve got there, and what if anything I want to keep.

For some reason, I kept a big pile of graded papers from my first semester working at Swarthmore and some class prep notes from a course I taught early on. One of the biggest misconceptions about teaching at any level, but often particularly in higher education, is that most faculty just teach “cold”, from what they know, or from old or static preparations. Maybe there’s someone who does it that way, but for me, every class session takes specific preparation that typically includes a review of the material and a sort of “game plan” outline of the issues and material I want to be sure to discuss or cover at some point.

Reading my old notes, I was a bit more detailed and extensive in the preparation then but my practices have remained substantially the same between 1998 and today. I was a little bit more anxious then to make sure that the entire content of readings was fully summarized and understood before moving on to more open discussions.

Here’s my notes for a class session in my Gender and Colonialism course, in a week where the students had read Chandra Talpade Mohanty and Edward Said.

Orientalism (Said)
critique of “discourse”

    what is “discourse”?
    what is “discourse” as described by Mohanty?
    “Western feminism”: where is it located, how has it been produced? Is Zed Books really an example of “Western feminism”?

how does discourse have power? what kind of power? what’s the theory of power behind the idea of hegemony?

    does “Western feminism” really have hegemony? (a “coherence of effects” p. 52)
    doesn’t this end up rendering “Western feminism” as a monolith?
    Woman with a capital-W vs. “women”

‘Third World woman’ as analytic category

    what is ‘powerlessness’ (relate to theories of ‘power’)?
    alterity and pathology (ref. Mohanty’s critique of the ‘Third World woman’ construction
    universalism and rights-talk
    victimization, victims and colonialism
    role of religion, family, economic development in ‘Third World woman’ construction
    ‘sisterhood is global’ vs. ‘patriarchy is global’


    how local do we go? Aren’t “African woman”, “South African woman”, “Zulu woman”, “educated Zulu woman in the 1930s” all constructions that typify or generalize too? Is there a point where we stop having the problems of “Third World woman” as construct? (Or vice-versa, do these constructions suggest that “Third World woman” isn’t a problem?) How do you know what the right level of generalization is? Are nations or regions or communities the unit of comparison, or is comparison itself the problem? Equally, aren’t “patriarchy”, “worker”, “domesticity” etc. terms with the same kinds of problems? Is this a ‘know it when I see it’ thing? Maybe it’s not the construction per se but particular cases of its use…

    maybe Western feminism doesn’t have ethnocentric goals? Maybe feminism or other ‘isms’ should be universal? (Humanism?) Is there a problem with just using ‘Western’ as epithet?

    maybe non-Western women don’t care about ‘Western feminism’ until they’re operating in cosmopolitan or ‘Western’ discursive or institutional contexts? Maybe non-Western women do “represent themselves”, just not where scholarly or cosmopolitan cultures can easily see or record them doing so?

    maybe colonialism and modernity actually created a ‘shared identity’ of “Third World women” that is now real for all that it’s also a construct? Crying over spilled milk?


From a subsequent class on silence, speech and representation, working from readings by Spivak, Susan Gal and Luise White:

Summary of Gal’s argument

    distinction between speech and speech acts

    What does Spivak mean by “subaltern”? by “subaltern speech”?

1. Speaking to themselves: is it possible to describe or reproduce what colonial subjects said to each other?
2. Speaking to colonial rulers: did colonialism listen to its subject? did it leave transcripts of what it ‘heard’?
3. Can 1st world scholars/audiences ‘hear’ what colonial and postcolonial subjects say ‘to’ us? Do they speak from within scholarship or description?
4. if not to all three, is this an accidental or instrumental ‘silence’? what does it mean?

Discuss ‘silence’ as idea

    silence as withholding/refusal
    silence as accidental or incidental absence of talk in a setting
    silence as forgetting or repression (in psychological sense)
    silence as the absence of power in speech (people speak but it doesn’t matter; they aren’t heard)
    silence as oppression, as the suppression of speech

Luise White on silence as an opportunity or invitation to the work of interpretation

Talk about pedagogy, classroom discussion, etc.
If something is a “male space” is that necessarily a criticism or is it just a description? Explore issue, see where students are at on this, try to get folks involved in discussion here


From the next class session on Dangarembga’s Nervous Conditions

Using novels as sources/documentation: dangers and possibilities

“Voice” as a problematic concept (and “audience”)

gender and aspiration (class): “I was not sorry my brother died”; Majuru and other women p. 138

gender and power (what would be ‘colonial’ here if anything?)

    missionaries and education
    division of labor
    memory and the past (pp. 18-19)

what if moving closer to colonial power has an emancipatory possibility for women? p. 18, Mr. Matimba’s intervention, p. 74 and “disrespect”. Is this an accident or is it a deliberate product of colonial authority?

    education and inequality
    bridewealth and commodification of women
    “another step in the direction of my freedom” p. 138

what is “freedom” in general? In terms of gender? In terms of gender in colonial and postcolonial situations? is freedom necessarily Western or universalizing? (“the things I could have done”, p. 102, p. 174)

“tradition” as problem category/construction

    washing pp. 40-41
    dancing p. 42
    “Nyamarira that I loved” p. 39
    other examples (food preparation, etc.

masculinity and hierarchy
“Babamukuru was God”, p. 70


I also was keeping notes on scenes from films that I thought depicted interesting examples of colonial masculinity for a possible “mix tape” (which back then, I did by bringing in a bunch of VHS tapes cued to particular scenes…) presentation. I remember that my main film was “The Man Who Would Be King”. I think I continued this list elsewhere, on another notepad. Perhaps that will turn up soon as I keep going through this material.

1. Harem scene in “Spy Who Loved Me”
2. Uncle Tom’s Cabin sequence in “King & I”
3. General Dyer court-martial in “Gandhi”
4. “Mountains of the Moon”, scenes that play up Burton/Speke homoeroticism but also enduring violence
5. Pissing scene in “Shogun”
6. Going native/fire dance in “Dances With Wolves”
7. Opening scene in “Robinscon Crusoe of Clipper Island”
8. “Shaka Zulu”: effeminate Englishmen v. masculine Shaka

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1 Response to A Sample Class Prep

  1. Dan says:

    I agree: class prep requires something more than last year’s outline.

    I don’t go into quite the detail that you did, but I do rehearse everything that I plan to cover before class — and sometimes write an outline on the board before class starts, so students can see what the agenda is.

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