When Colorado College Professor of Anthropology Sarah Hautzinger started preparing her spring courses at the beginning of this year, she was not planning on teaching a Block 8 course in which the major project would be in direct response to “COVID-19” and “social distancing.” Indeed, those words would not have appeared on her syllabus in January, February, or even mid-March. But into Block 7, when her vision for the upcoming 200-level anthropology course began taking shape, those concepts were foremost in her mind.
Such is the flexibility of Colorado College’s Block Plan. Rather than being locked into a traditional 16-week semester course, Hautzinger was able to quickly adapt a course so its focus was immediately relevant to what was taking place across the country — and the world.
The course, The Body — Anthropological Perspectives, included a project called “Social Bodies While Distanced” that looked at the many social effects while distancing. The class explored everyday, slice-of-life accounts of how “social distancing” was being played out, says Hautzinger.
“However widely used that phrase has come to refer to the historical moment, we also questioned it, asking, ‘does physical spacing necessarily create social distance?’” says Hautzinger.
Her class was unique in this moment of time, something that the CC anthropologist loves about the Block Plan. “Every block is its own story,” says Hautzinger. “The Block Plan moves away from cookie-cutter courses. Each block is like a bead added to a string; the color and tone are idiosyncratic to that moment. The whole month is tied to that experience, to a single course and not multiple courses.”
The course included team fieldwork that examined social relations amid physical distancing. CC held a convergence class (via Zoom) with a class led by Hautzinger’s longtime collaborator, Research Associate Professor Jean Scandlyn in the Departments of Anthropology and Health and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Colorado—Denver. Student panels from both classes presented their fieldwork, as related to themes such as changing intimacy, emotional responses, emergent and creative sociality through technology, inequality and social determinants of health and safety, and varied understandings and transgressions, around spacing.
The class, which was conducted remotely, carried the project across four time zones and six North American states and provinces, studied what “novel” experiences of embodiment the novel Coronavirus COVID-19 has brought, says Hautzinger.
“We attend to social layers disrupted and emergent, distressing and comforting, protesting and complying. Even as we send higher education students away from campuses, cease visiting our elders in nursing homes, and many stay-at-home and quarantine almost completely alone, new layers of interaction also emerge, through taking work, education and socializing to virtual platforms; through acts of mutual aid in neighborhoods and community circles; through reworking organizations, schedules, practices, rituals, foodways, identity presentation, and on and on,” says Hautzinger.
The course, which ran April 27-May 15, provided ethnographic engagement that helps grasp the seismic enormity of the changes rendered, still early, in the course of this pandemic, she says.