“It’s important to appreciate that social reality can be transformed; that it is made by [human beings] and can be changed by [human beings]; that it is not something untouchable, a fate or destiny that offers only one choice: accommodation. It’s essential that the naive view of reality give way to a view that is capable of perceiving itself… that a critical optimism… can move individuals toward an increasingly critical commitment to radical change in society” – Paolo Freire, 1985

“No specific social reform is as important as creating the climate in which authentic grassroots leadership can blossom” – Marian Wright Edelman, c. 2005

The UCD Performance Class Players (within the epistemological community, described below) rehearse at Karen's house, for their 12-min improv at the American Anthropological Association Meetings, San Francisco, 2008. Daniela Torres-Torretti, Luis Ramírez, Kay Holmes, (Karen), Angel Raya, and Sumer Seiki. Photo by Mong Thi Nguyen.

My aim as a teacher and adviser is to be an active catalyst and guide for students’ experiencing their own intellectual and personal transformation. My goal is to demonstrate the interdependence of theory and practice in building a just and humane social world that values all forms of diversity, and emphasizes the pursuit of social justice.  And I seek to support students in their learning to become not just knowledge consumers, but knowledge producers and activists for social change. I identify with a criticalist positioning that integrates the perspectives of third-wave feminist theory, critical theory, some forms of post modernism, poststructuralism and postcolonial work.

An epistemological and activist community

We – the graduate students who are my advisees and I – form an ongoing epistemological community of the mind and heart that is collaborative and in process.  Over the past 15 years, we have evolved a discourse or language of values and shared understandings. That discourse includes how we think about our relationships with each other, and our goals for community. We share a vision of making the university not only a better place for scholarship, but also for the human beings who work and study there. We try to embody that vision in the relationships, goals, and activities that we carry out together.

On the human and interactional side, some of the understandings we have evolved include: 1) participation in the form of participatory democracy; 2) dialogue and multilogue with and among everyone; 3) respect for each other as persons and for each other’s perspectives; 4) compassion and caring; 5) attentiveness to each other’s ideas; 6) the embracing of diversity on many levels and of many kinds; 7) the free expression of experience; and 8) mutual trust and trustworthiness in behavior.

On the intellectual side, our understandings include: 1) seeking out the best, creative, and most challenging ideas and research for discussion together as part of our epistemological process; 2) transgression of conventional paradigms through critical praxis and critical analysis; 3) the shared goal of transforming education and society toward a more just, equitable, less racialized and less gendered society; and 4) the shared goal of creating high quality, cutting-edge research, theory, and practice in our work.

Part of the evolution of our thinking and experiences as students and faculty member is told in “Teaching to Transform and the Dark Side of ‘Being Professional’.”

A holistic understanding of each other and ourselves requires that we abandon the Western assumption of mind-body dualism. Even as we engage in research and theory, we engage in art as an important way to “see,” to create knowledge and transform practice.  Our current group focus is on performance theory and improvisational theater as taught by Jacques LeCoq.

You can download Teaching to Transform PDF here

Teaching and mentoring awards

Regents’ Medal for Teaching Excellence, University of Hawai‘i, Honolulu, 1988.

Distinguished Graduate Mentoring Award, University of California, Davis, 2004.

Courses - Graduate and undergraduate

All the courses that I teach at UC Davis reflect the above guidelines and positionings. I teach both graduate and undergraduate courses.

Graduate Courses

My undergraduate seminars in critical ethnographic research methods and discourse analysis that are open to Master’s and Ph.D. degree students in any program.  Most students in these classes use the research projects they carry out as a qualifying exam paper, or as a pilot study for a Master’s thesis or doctoral dissertation.  A brief description of these courses:

EDU 205A,BEthnographic Research in Schools and Communities – A two-quarter graduate course in critical ethnographic research methods in education and allied fields, open to Master’s and Ph.D. students. This intensive course guides participants as they undertake research in field settings of their own choosing. Student projects typically result in a pilot study or Master’s thesis draft, or a preliminary study toward the Ph.D. dissertation.  Students who take the two-quarter sequence come from Education, Linguistics, Cultural Studies, Community Development, International Agricultural Development, Child Development, Human Development, language departments (French, Spanish, etc.), and other fields and disciplines.  The disciplinary and cultural/ethnic diversity in the class make for an exciting experience.  A sample syllabus is available.

EDU 249Introduction to Discourse Analysis – This class examines the main theoretical and methodological frameworks in discourse analysis, from a critical discourse analysis perspective.  Participants are often concurrently enrolled in EDU 205B, but that is not a requirement.  Those who are in EDU 205B use discourse data from their ethnography project for the final paper in this class, or if not concurrently enrolled in 205B, collect original data.  The class offers experience in recording, transcribing, and analyzing discourse data, focusing on oral discourse (interactions, interviews) more than on written discourse (text).  Participants in the class come from a variety of disciplines and fields (similar to EDU 205A,B).  A sample syllabus is available.

Undergraduate Courses

EDU 122 – Children’s Learning and Material Culture - This course is designed to help students develop a critical understanding of the complex relationships among children’s lives, their socialization, and material culture, viewed cross-culturally.  We explore the nature of children’s hidden worlds, how they construct them, and how they create meaning in their everyday lives. Material culture includes toys, food, clothes, animals, technology, games, books, and utilitarian objects.  It also includes the imagined spaces children inhabit and friends with whom they interact.  The structure of the class varies from year to year, but uses a variety of teaching methods, including lectures, discussions, films, and workshop sessions. Occasional guest speakers – including one or more children – offer alternative perspectives on children’s lives and learning. Assignments may include a short bi-weekly commentary (for a total of 4 during the quarter) on one of the readings assigned for a given week; and a 1500 word research paper on one of the quarter’s weekly themes.  Other assignments may be made from time to time.  The main project is a quarter-long small group project to make a 5-minute film on an aspect of children’s lives (with step-by-step guidance and support during in-class workshops).  The instructors will also do a film project together.  The resulting short films created by the class and instructors will be shown as the final examination in class.

For further information, contact:  kawatsongegeo@ucdavis.edu