At the heart of my teaching practice is a pedagogy of care and social justice. I seek to lead with compassion and rigor, helping students cultivate critical knowledge and acknowledging them as whole beings in the classroom (face-to-face or remote). As a first generation college graduate and scholar, I know the value of, and seek to make, careful choices that promote inclusive and accessible learning, and I make this a priority in all of my courses. I see my students as co-producers of knowledge, each with something unique to contribute to our learning community. My teaching is therefore student-centered: I use creative group work, reflexive writing, and interactive lectures to foster the kind of critical thinking necessary not just for higher education, but for engaging ethically in the world.
I currently teach interdisciplinary courses exploring gender and sexuality, the body, health care, popular culture, and more-than-human worlds in Latin America, primarily Brazil, with an emphasis on ethnographic texts and hands-on, creative assignments.
Gender, Sexuality, and Power in Brazil (Spring 2021, Latin American Studies Program, Washington University in St. Louis)
This course examines the nexus of gender, sexuality, and power in Brazil through an interdisciplinary lens. We will aim to understand how varying understandings of gender and sexuality have impacted the development of Brazilian society in history and continue to shape contemporary society and politics. We will pay special attention to the ways in which the intersections of race, gender, sexuality, class, ethnicity, etc. impact people’s lived experiences and how heteronormativity and homophobia shape current politics. We will take an intersectional feminist approach to analyze topics such as slavery in colonial Brazil, national aspirations to modernity, authoritarian repression and “moral panics,” domestic labor, motherhood, sex tourism, and Brazilian feminisms and LGBTQ+ activism. Scholarly work from various fields of study, with an emphasis on gender studies, history, and anthropology is supplemented by documentaries, film, podcasts, and other media.
Humans and Others in Latin America (Spring 2021, Latin American Studies Program, Washington University in St. Louis)
What does it mean to inhabit the world with other beings? How are we to cultivate life, human and nonhuman, in toxic environments? What does it mean to be human, and what would it mean to decenter humanity? This course addresses these questions through an exploration of “more-than-human” worlds in Latin America. Students will examine a variety of Latin American thought and practices through the interdisciplinary lens of environmental humanities and social sciences, unsettling presumed boundaries between human and nonhuman, real and imaginary, nature and culture. We will engage primarily with ethnographic and other scholarly texts, supplemented by short works of fiction, documentary film, podcasts, and works of art. In the first part of this course, students will be challenged to think about what defines the limits of the human and engage with the concept of “more-than-human” worlds. We will then examine the dark side of such worlds, namely, the ways in which extractive capitalism and environmental destruction demonstrate the permeability of bodies and comprise a kind of “slow violence” against the most vulnerable communities. In the next unit, students will consider Black and Indigenous ecological knowledge and these communities’ struggles to care for their lifeways and the environments that sustain them. In our final section, we will explore multispecies entanglements through Indigenous cosmologies and the nexus of science, history, and art. Students will complete several assignments throughout the semester designed to think imaginatively and critically about the course themes, including weekly reading responses and in-class discussion facilitation. The final assignment for this course is a creative independent research project where students will synthesize and extend what they learned over the course of the semester and extend it through independent research.
Cultures of Health in Latin America (Fall 2020, Latin American Studies Program, Washington University in St. Louis)
This course is a survey of the cultural and political-economic aspects of health, illness, and embodied difference in Latin America. We will approach these themes from an interdisciplinary perspective with an emphasis on anthropology and history, exploring how local, national, regional, and global factors affect health and healthcare and how people experience and respond to them. Topics include interactions between traditional healing practices and biomedicine; the lasting impacts of eugenic sciences on contemporary ideas about race and disability; the unequal impacts of epidemic disease; Indigenous cosmologies and healing systems; the politics of access to healthcare; the cultural and political dimensions of “intercultural” health; and the intersections of race, gender, ethnicity, class, and bodily capacities in the pursuit of wellbeing.
The Body in Brazil: Race, Representation, Ontologies (Spring 2020, Latin American Studies Program, Washington University in St. Louis)
This course is an introduction to various ways of understanding, representing, and “doing” the body in Brazil. Course materials will draw on insights from anthropology, Science and Technology Studies, and the medical humanities in order to approach “the body” not just as biological material but also in its social, cultural, and spiritual dimensions. We will cover topics such as the biopolitics of race from colonial times to the present, sexualized media representations of gendered bodies, how some bodies are cast as disposable or “out of place” in contexts of social inequality, indigenous ways of viewing the body in relation to the natural and spiritual world, the politics of disability and access, and constructions of the “body politic” in the formation of national identity. Throughout, we will pay particular attention to how race, gender, sexuality, and disability shape the lived experiences of Brazilians. Students will analyze visual materials, ethnographies, historical texts, and internet sources in dialogue with critical theories from the social sciences and humanities, assessing how the body “matters” in a variety of ways—reflecting Brazil’s cultural diversity while also starkly highlighting its persistent racialized and gendered social inequities.
Survey of Brazilian Cultures: Race, Nation, and Society (Fall 2019/2020, Latin American Studies Program, Washington University in St. Louis)
This course is an interdisciplinary introduction to the history, society, and culture of Brazil. Students will learn about Brazil’s history from colonial times up to the present and explore its unique cultural configurations through ethnographic texts, documentary film, music, and more. We will begin with several units on the main socio-historical developments that have shaped contemporary Brazil: the enduring legacies of European colonial expansion, the racial hierarchies undergirding the sugar economy, the role of arts and social sciences in the formation of national identity, and the country’s winding political trajectory through authoritarianism and democracy. The second half of the course will focus on key aspects of Brazilian society and culture in the contemporary, paying particular attention to how social inequalities based on race, gender, sexuality, and ethnicity shape everyday life and cultural expression. Topics include historical formations of race, class, and gender from colonization to re-democratization; blackness and racial politics; contemporary indigenous peoples; gender and sexuality; religious cultures and practices; popular festivities, music, and sport; and political culture. Students will critically analyze how Brazil’s unique historical trajectory compares to those of other Latin American countries, how the vicissitudes of its past live on in its present, and how cultural forms express, critique, and resist key features of Brazilian society.
Hello, Hello Brazil! Popular Culture, Media, and the Making of a Nation (Spring 2020, Latin American Studies Program, Washington University in St. Louis.
Our image of Brazil has been deeply shaped by its cultural production, from Tom Jobim and Vinicius de Moraes’ ever-popular “Girl from Ipanema” to the spectacular mega-production of Carnival in Rio, from the Afro-Brazilian martial art of capoeira to the international stardom of pop artists like Anitta. This course is an introduction to popular culture in contemporary Brazil. Drawing on definitions of popular culture as a hybrid form of expression that troubles the line between “traditional” and mass-produced and that is consumed and utilized in diverse and often unexpected ways, we examine how the circulation of sounds and images manifests and shapes Brazilian culture historically and in the contemporary. We will cover topics such as the Tropicália movement, Afro-centric Carnival blocos, street art in urban spaces, capoeira, baile funk, forró, favela protest theater, telenovelas (soap operas), the popularization of samba, soccer and the World Cup, and Carnival. Students will analyze music lyrics, TV and film, cultural performances, graphic novels, and critical bibliography.
Latin America: Nation, Ethnicity, and Social Conflict (co-taught with Ignácio Sánchez Prado, Fall 2019, Latin American Studies Program, Washington University in St. Louis.
This course introduces students to the study of Latin America. It addresses the political, economic, cultural, and social dimensions of the region through history, from colonization to the present. It is introductory level and required for all Latin American Studies majors and minors at WashU. This course is the creation of Dr. Ignacio Sánchez Prado. In Fall 2019 I was invited to teach several of the classes, including those on Brazil-focused topics, and to serve as the assistant instructor in charge of all grading.
If you would like to see sample syllabi, please get in touch by email: eliza [dot] williamson [at] gmail [dot] com.