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ASS2/334, Anthropology and Ecological Order
(will need to be written in past tense if no funding to continue)

The Unit is one in which students learn about how people come to recognise and value their environments via their physical senses. As part of this training, students are given a lecture by University of Melbourne PhD candidate, Bob Swinburn. Bob lectures the students on his research with Geelong regional wine producers, emphasising the way in which wine comes to be appreciated by the senses and subsequently valued by those in the wine industry, through a combination of what people actually taste, and the stories and cultural props which are associated with a wine, wine-maker or winery. Bob's argument is that 'taste', and the value of particular tastes, are formulated via a set of social indicators aligned with class, context and experience. This perspective is one which mirrors the work of Pierre Bourdieu and his seminal text on the formulation of taste and class, Distinction (1984).

An excursion is then conducted to a Waurn Ponds winery, Pettavel, where students participate in a wine-appreciation class with six Pettavel waiting staff.

Before the excursion, the anthropology students receive class-room instruction on matters of participant observation and note-taking. Students are provided with notebooks and pencils for their fieldwork experience. During the wine-tasting class the anthropology Unit Chair, Dr Tanya King, walks around and quietly prompts the students towards anthropological observations, such as the organisation of the room, the way in which the workshop facilitator and the non-students interact, what they are wearing and how they engage with each other. These notes are compared after the class, taking notice of how the same event was recorded differently by the various anthropology students.

Throughout the tasting experiences, the students are encouraged to taste various wines and pass judgments on them in categories such as colour, taste and finish. Students are then required to make written remarks and oral observations to the rest of the class, with the workshop facilitator coaching on their reflections. Initially, most of the anthropology students, who are not familiar with wine tasting, do not know what to 'taste' in the wines and tend to liken the taste of the wine to things like 'burned rubber', 'cask wine' and 'dirt'. While the wine-tasting facilitators do not dismiss the students' perceptions outright, they do not applaud the descriptions. After observing the reflections of the non-students, and taking heed of what the wine-tasting facilitators validated as an excellent description, the anthropology students report 'tasting' in the wine flavours such as 'pineapple', 'grass', and 'smoky wood'. Dialogically, the students have their more 'refined' observations validated by the wine-tasting facilitator and the non-students. The anthropology students note that once they know "the kinds of flavours to taste for" they are able to perceive different qualities in the wine. As one student wrote afterwards, 'Students began to quickly pick up on the subtle prompting and as [the facilitator] suggested "pepper" in a red wine, the entire room began to "taste" "pepper" in their wines' (Harry 2009). Afterwards, the anthropology students reflect on how their sense of taste had to be guided by the non-students and the facilitators, and how if they had have been left to their own devices they would have 'tasted' the same wine in quite different ways, using different descriptors.

This experience significantly enhances student engagement with the theoretical anthropology material, connects them with a regional industry, and enhances their learning experience as anthropology students. Two key benefits are worth emphasising. First is that the students are able to appreciate, first hand, the way in which environmental perception can be directed and shaped by those in one's immediate surroundings, or how an initiate can become incorporated into an existing culture through subtle direction and carefully directed praise. Second, anthropology students encounter many tales of ethnographic fieldwork and the academic texts they learn from are the product of such fieldwork. However, they do not, as yet, have the opportunity to train in the fundamental ethnographic technique which involves engaging in a situation and taking notes. Through being given the opportunity to conduct fieldwork themselves, with the aid of expert guidance from the Unit Chair, the ASS2/334 students gain a much greater appreciation of how knowledge in the discipline is generated and the practical – physical, logistical, emotional – challenges of fieldwork. Rather than simply reading about fieldwork the students are compelled to engage with non-students, and those unfamiliar with anthropology, to explain the anthropological method and to negotiate the social context while taking notes. Some of the students find this easier than others but all of them come away from the experience with a greatly enhanced sense of how to be an anthropologist. Given that many of these students are about to graduate with a degree in anthropology this experience is crucial to their overall training.

Further information can be obtained from Dr Tanya King, Lecturer in Anthropology, on extension 72149 or email tanya.king@deakin.edu.au

Deakin University acknowledges the traditional land owners of present campus sites.

19th July 2010