CLASS: Geography 420, Cultural Geography (Simon Fraser University)

From January to April 2016, I’m teaching a course at Simon Fraser University (SFU) called Geography 420: Cultural Geography. It’s a four-hour class that happens on Thursdays from 2:30 PM – 6:30 PM at SFU’s downtown campus at Harbour Centre. I have 21 exceptionally smart students who regularly challenge me, which is brilliant as a form of intellectual engagement as they give me many ideas for my own research and thinking about the discipline of cultural geography more generally.

You are free to view the syllabus. Here’s the course description:

In this course, we will attempt to practice cultural geography in a Vancouver setting. To do that, we will first have to figure out what we mean by ‘practice’ and who or what gets to ‘practice’ the making of spaces and places. Though we might end up having a productive disagreement as a class (unless we reach some consensus, which, given the state of human geography as a discipline, is not likely), I will propose in the second half of the class that we channel our possible tension into projects in cultural geography in Vancouver. Students will have an opportunity to choose case studies from Vancouver, including (but not limited to) geographies of affordable housing, the international property market, ethnic and migrant communities, intercultural initiatives, mediated publics, spaces of consumption, gendered spaces, simulacra, etc., and the final assignment will be a project to be submitted in some material form, either as a paper or in a creative medium discussed with the instructor.

Our key texts are Michel de Certeau’s The Practice of Everyday Life and David Ley’s Millionaire Migrants: Trans-Pacific Life Lines,  among other short articles I’ve selected to supplement these readings.

certeau_ley

The way that I’ve imagined the class is as an exercise in actually having students get experience in the practice of cultural geography. Instead of having traditional exams, the course is (like the course on ‘Trans-Pacific Christianities‘ I taught at the University of Washington) oriented toward a final project. The ground rules for the project are that it has to be in Vancouver and the methodology must be ethical. I’ve broken down the project in several stages: a proposal due early in the course, a literature review, a class conference from which students get feedback, and a final material form (usually a paper, but there is some variety, such as GIS mapping, a choose-your-own adventure book, video documentaries, and photo essays). The weekly reading reflections are also geared toward reflecting on the project, which allows me to give students constant feedback about the direction they are taking on this project.

With such a structure, I’m finding that most of my teaching tends to wax on the theoretical side, instructing students in the theories that have been used in the discipline so that they can make use of them in their practice of cultural geography. This is a novel form of teaching for me, and I am having fun with this experimentation and learning a lot. The students seem to be very invested in making their projects theoretically and practically sound, and this makes me a very happy instructor. In this sense, I feel that I am developing as a teacher and crystallizing a philosophy of education for my own purposes as an educator in geography, religious studies, and Asian and Asian American studies, hopefully empowering students to discover their own agency as they engage the world around them as active practitioners of thought and mapping.

NOTE: At present, I am teaching as a Sessional Lecturer at Simon Fraser University, while also simultaneously retaining my affiliation as an Affiliate Faculty Member at the University of Washington in Seattle.

Making a Cantonese-Christian Family: Quotidian Habits of Language and Background in a Transnational Hongkonger Church (Population, Space, and Place)

My first article is finally out in press.

It is entitled ‘Making a Cantonese-Christian family: quotidian habits of language and background in a transnational Hongkonger church.’ It is part of a special issue of Population, Space, and Place: A Journal of Population Geography on Migration and Everyday Matters: Materiality and Sociality.  Edited by Elaine Ho (Leeds) and Madeleine Hatfield (Royal Holloway, University of London), this issue represents an approach to geographies of migration from the ground up.  We investigate everyday lives and quotidian geographies: how is space materially and socially created by people who have moved from one place to another?

My contribution tackles geographies of everyday life in both the religious dimension and the Hong Kong-Vancouver migration network.  This is based on my MA research, which took place in a transnational Hongkonger church in Metro Vancouver I have anonymised as St. Matthew’s Church.

This paper looks at how St. Matthew’s Church became and is continually reinforced as a transnational Hongkonger church.  For the examination of everyday lives, I use the work of Michel de Certeau in The Practice of Everyday Life as an heuristic, differentiating between strategies in which ordinary citizens consciously plot political resistance and tactics in which people unconsciously and unreflectively use everyday habits to prop up their lifeworlds.  As I suggest in the paper, most of what goes into making a Cantonese-Christian family are everyday habits (de Certeau’s tactics) that are often subtle, unconscious, seemingly insignificant, and unreflected upon, but which turn out to be politically constructive at the end of the day. By advancing the geography of religion, I also am working within the boundaries of new cultural geography in which James Duncan famously showed in The City as Text that geographical landscapes, networks, and spaces don’t just exist superorganically in some abstract space above us, but are in fact constructed politically over time.

Here’s the abstract:

Studies of the Hong Kong-Vancouver transnational migration network seldom pay close attention to religion in the everyday lives of Hongkonger migrants. Based on 9 months of ethnographic fieldwork at St. Matthew’s Church, a Hong Kong church in Metro Vancouver, this paper examines the tacit assumptions and taken-for-granted quotidian practices through which a Hongkonger church is made. I argue that St. Matthew’s Church has been constructed as a Hong Kong Cantonese-Christian family space through the everyday use of language and invocations of a common educational background. This argument extends the literature on Hongkonger migration to Metro Vancouver by grounding it in a religious site whose intersections with Hong Kong migration to Vancouver consolidates the church as a religious mission with a specifically Hongkonger migration narrative. This consolidation is problematised as I show that contestations in church life by migrants from the People’s Republic of China over language and asymmetrical educational backgrounds both reinforce and challenge the church as a Hongkonger congregation. Through an examination of these everyday interactions at St. Matthew’s Church, this paper advances the geography of religion as I demonstrate that specific geographical narratives and networks shape quotidian practices in religious sites.

The paper is available on Wiley-Blackwell’s Early View.  Inquiries regarding the paper can be directed to: jkhtse@interchange.ubc.ca or tse.justo@gmail.com.