Self in Context essay

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Self in Context essay (6 pages, including photographs).
“To take stock of others is to call upon one’s self…This mix of the objective and subjective is a constant presence and, for many of us, a constant challenge.” Robert Coles, Doing Documentary Work
"Her first step is to take inventory . . . Just what did she inherit from her ancestors? This weight on her back . .. " Gloria Anzaldua, Borderlands
All of us start with our own experience, an experience shaped by the places and people among whom we have lived. When we’re exposed to new learning, it helps us step back from our experience and begin to understand our places, identity and the identity of others differently. Writing and photography can be tools for articulating and integrating new understandings of identity and experience.
Start by thinking about your own cultural landscape, the place(s) you grew up or call home, and how this has shaped your identity. What is the history of this landscape, and how are you positioned within it in terms of “power, privilege, and difference”-- or oppression. How is your relationship to this landscape affected by your race, class, culture, gender, sexuality, or relationship to immigration/citizenship?
A. Conduct library research on your personal cultural landscape. In the week 3 library workshop, search for historical research materials that pertain to “home” or the cultural landscape you’ve selected. Look for the following materials: newspaper articles (that capture an “historic” event related to your landscape), maps, photographs (possibly historic and contemporary), demographic information (population, race, ethnicity, etc.), political economic information (industry, labor, class distinctions, etc.). Consider what are the geographic or identity “partitions” of the place(s) you call home.
B. Write at least 4 descriptive vignettes (brief stories) that examine various aspects of your cultural landscape and identity. Below are some suggested exercises. Please cover #’s 1 & 2 below and pick at least two others to shape your essay.
C. Create photographs that “image” your cultural landscape. Give attention to overall design of your essay; that is, how your photographs and text work together and respond to one another.
Your final essay should apply some of the theories set forth in Johnson to your own life, incorporating specific reflections about yourself as well as the results of research on the place you call “home.” It should include some historical perspectives on power and privilege as they relate to this place.
You are encouraged to be creative and expressive. For instance, because images of your cultural landscape might not be available to you, you could make photographs that symbolize what you have learned about yourself, your social/cultural positioning in the world, and the place you call home. Consider photographic and textual strategies we’ve discussed that pertain to your own work.
Suggested exercises:
1. Describe the cultural landscape where you grew up.  How have the cultures occupying this place made their mark on it, and how, in turn, has the landscape shaped those cultures? What is the history of this place, and how are you situated within the power relations that define it?

2. Describe your racial/ethnic upbringing. What languages, foods, smells, family members, cultural or religious practices informed your daily life? Were there particular ancestors who shaped your sense of identity? Recreate this experience and tell how it shaped your sense of self.

3. Describe the place you think of as HOME, the physical dwelling(s) you grew up in. Size, building material, rented or owned, number of rooms, number of people, type of furnishing, neighborhood, etc. What does this tell you about your class, ethnic, regional or national location?
4. Describe the forms of labor that existed in your cultural landscape? How did labor serve as a “marker of difference”? Write an anecdote that shows how you learned of and/or experienced this?

  1. Describe a time when you were “out of place” and how your identity or sense of self was challenged by your encounter with “others.”

6. Describe your earliest or strongest memory of being aware of disadvantage or privilege (race/ethnicity, class, gender, sexuality, ability, etc.)

7. Describe a change in your cultural landscape and the impact of that change on the identities and experiences of people who are “like you.”
8. The person, book, and/or experience that has proved most helpful in understanding myself as a member of (which) nationality, race, ethnicity, class, gender, or sexuality, is . . . (explain why and how).
9. How do your family members and friends talk about nationality, sexuality, gender, class, or race? What code words can you identify, and what do they mean in relationship to your own identity?
10. How has your cultural landscape and identity transformed over time? What were your feelings as a child about working-class or poor people, immigrants, gays or lesbians, people of color or women? Do you know where the feelings originate? How have they changed?
Drafts due weeks 5 (Group 3) and 6 (Groups 1 & 2). Finals due weeks 6 & 7.

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