I just applied for a job in New York that required me to send in descriptions of three courses I could teach. Since the position is calls for a scholar that addresses urban issues, I came up with a course that would use the subway as a way to cover urban anthropology. Here is the description:
The New York Subway: A Case Study in Urban AnthropologyGiven the recent spike in the prices of gas, there has been more discussion about the use of public transportation. Maybe that may create more interest in the course.
The subways in New York are the arteries that keep the city alive; people rely on them to live, work, and play. Consequently, not only does the subway system become a window into the cultural, social, and economic issues of the city, it also juxtaposes people of all walks of life. It is one of a few places where a successful banker can stand next to a crack-dealer for an extended period of time. Using the New York subway system as a case study, this course will present an anthropological perspective on life in cities. It will also provide students the necessary tools to think critically about the meaning of “urban life” and how this meaning is mapped out onto social space. Drawing on social histories, ethnographies, social theory, short stories, and films, we will question the social and cultural categories that exist within the urban environment. Specific issues will include, but will not be limited to, the spatial component of race and ethnicity; socioeconomic class and time; the marginalization and social invisibility of certain groups of people; and aesthetics and arts. Moreover, students will be required to undertake fieldwork on the subway during the semester to determine the relevance of the theoretical concepts of the course. As a result, students will reconcile the stereotypical images of the city and public transportation with the realities of million of urban lives that use the subways of New York. The course will conclude with comparison with other urban areas, both those with abundant public transportation and those that developed without it.
In any case, it is a class that I think would be a blast to teach. Yet another reason to hope I get that job.