Occupy protestors may have left the quad at Montclair State University, but the spirit of the movement is alive and well in the Anthropology Department, which will be offering a course on Occupy Wall Street (OWS) next fall.
Dr. Julian Brash, assistant professor of anthropology at MSU and author of Bloomberg’s New York, will be teaching the class. He said the idea to teach the course initially came from a student in one of his classes who messaged him on Facebook and suggested that he teach a class on Occupy Wall Street.
Brash feels that OWS has anthropological significance because it deals with issues such as inequality, politics, public space and protest.
“One of the things that anthropologists study, particularly in the U.S., is how peoples’ ideas about themselves and society have shifted over time so that levels of inequality and the erosion of the social welfare state have been taken for granted and sort of naturalized,” said Brash. “So to see that disrupted was very interesting.”
Currently, about 11 or 12 students are registered for the 400-level anthropology seminar, which will consist of a lot of discussion and reading, according to Brash.
The course also relates to Brash’s own research interests on how urban development, public space and urban planning are related to class issues and politics in cities, as well as Mayor Bloomberg’s reaction to the occupation of Zuccotti Park.
“There’s this sort of anarchist strain in anthropologists,” said Brash. “And so the whole kind of horizontal decision making was really hooked into a certain strain, particularly in political anthropology, that I’ve always been interested in.”
MSU is not the only university to offer a course in OWS, nor is it the first. This past semester, New York University introduced a class called, “Culture and Economies: Why Occupy Wall Street?” Chicago Roosevelt University offers an “Occupy Everywhere” course. Additionally, Columbia University offers an anthropology course called, “Occupy the Field: Global Finance, Inequality, Social Movement.”
OWS reached out specifically to college students this past November when they launched the Occupy Student Debt Campaign, and asked students to participate in a nationwide default on student loans once one million supporters signed the pledge. MSU students cited the nationwide student debt, which has supassed $1 trillion, as one of the main reasons for their Occupy MSU protest.
“That’s what’s so impressive about it [OWS],” said Brash. “It provides a kind of model. Occupying is a really powerful form of protest, rather than just protesting, because it disrupts things on a more ongoing basis.”
Derek Teixeira, an undergraduate anthropology major, is enrolled in the course and thinks that it will clarify aspects of the OWS movement and allow him to educate others. “Not only will I be learning about the movement itself – the demands, styles of occupying, how it uses both space and time effectively – but also its origins and similar movements around the globe,” said Teixeira.
He feels the course is essential because there is still confusion over what the movement is and what has become of OWS since protestors were evicted from Zuccotti Park last November.
“Most of the people whom I have spoken to about the movement are still not sure what its about, what they are fighting for,” said Teixeira. “Many are in support but are not sure where to begin, as there is no real headquarters in which to ask questions.”