Pedagogy and Politics: Gender Transgression in Madagascar
As part of an examination of U.S. history and culture, students at the University of Antananarivo, Madagascar recently read Louise Erdrich’s novel, The Last Report of Miracles from Little No Horse, in which the protagonist begins as a novitiate in a convent just after the turn of the twentieth century, later becomes the common-law wife of a farmer, and, finally, takes on the disguise of a Catholic priest, serving in that capacity on an Indian reservation for over fifty years. Erdrich’s creative irreverence towards both gender identity and religious integrity have made this richly-textured narrative especially challenging for my Malagasy students for whom religion is a central element of life in a country that sees traditional gender roles as fixed and stable. Moreover, my pedagogical approach to the text combined history, sociology, and psychology, fields to which students have had very little exposure.
Interdisciplinary research and teaching in higher education presents numerous challenges in developing countries where facilities for universities are inadequate and new discourses are slow to take hold, in part, because of limited university resources. In Madagascar, library holdings are small, containing precious few resources for conducting research in any field and most students must pay for computer usage at a cybercafé. When we examine these conditions and add to them a visiting, non-native professor, the pedagogical context itself becomes a site to be investigated for the ways in which it opens up the benefits and difficulties of interdisciplinary work, the complexities of gender construction, and the unstable relations between developed and developing worlds. This presentation will examine these issues as they continue to unfold at the University of Antananarivo, in a course I teach for senior-level students in American Studies, a field conceived in and dependent upon an interdisciplinary context.
Keywords: Pedagogy, Gender, Developing world
Dr. JoAnn Pavletich
Professor, Departement des Etudes Anglophones, University of Antananarivo