21A.801J | Fall 2012 | Undergraduate, Graduate

Cross-Cultural Investigations: Technology and Development


Course Meeting Times

Seminars: 2 sessions / week, 1.5 hours / session

Course Description

Cross-cultural research and collaboration is increasingly common, from engineering initiatives and development projects to disaster relief. But working across cultural, economic, and political divides is not easy. This course investigates how everyday cultural beliefs and practices, as well as institutional power dynamics, form the basis of international collaborations and inform the adoption of new technologies. We will review case studies in development and technology transfer and draft plans for improved practice. Students will also discover the excitement and dilemmas of designing and carrying out fieldwork by venturing off campus to practice doing interviews, conducting participant-observation research, and honing techniques of cross-cultural communication.

Course Requirements


You must attend class and participate in discussions; this part of the course, including Reader Responses (see below), will account for 20% of the final grade. Class will be run as a seminar. We will discuss the readings, discuss your fieldwork assignments, and engage in problem-solving, collaborative discussion of research methods and hypothetical technology transfer schemes (identified below as in-class practical). You may be asked to present in-class summaries of and critical commentaries on select readings.

Reader Responses

Reader Responses consist of a couple paragraphs describing your reaction to one or more readings for a particular session. Do not summarize; give your response to the reading. These should take no more than 30 minutes to write. While reader responses are not individually graded, they will be factored into the overall evaluation of your performance. You will write 4 over the term. You will be encouraged to post these on the course site before class to share your thoughts with your classmates.


Graded assignments include 2 fieldwork projects each entailing 5–7 page written reports, as well as a final group project, which we will discuss in class. Readings and assignments are to be completed on the date indicated in the syllabus. If you anticipate problems handing in work on time, contact me in advance; late written work is reduced by half a grade each day unless an extension has been granted 24 hours prior to the due date.

Students taking the course for graduate credit will work together on a team and may be asked to do additional reading/writing.


Participation/reader responses 20%
Genealogy fieldwork assignment 25%
Participant-observation fieldwork assignment 25%
Final project 30%


1 Introduction to course and history of the culture concept  
Part 1: Understanding Culture: Method
2 Ethnography and the problem of kinship Reading response due 
Handout genealogy assignment
3 How to take and interpret a genealogy  
4 Culture and change View in class: Joe Leahey’s Neighbors
5 Cross-cultural communication: interviewing technique Discuss genealogy assignment, including self-critique of interviewing technique
6 Cross-cultural communication: translators and culture brokers Genealogy assignment due
7 Participant-observation and ethical dilemmas in fieldwork Handout and discuss participant-observation assignment
8 Interpreting qualitative data  
9 The importance of popular knowledge  
10 Accessing popular knowledge  
11 Case study: agriculture in the wake of the Green Revolution  
12 Case study: delivering public health

View in class: “Delivering the Goods,” selections from RX For Survival: A Global Health Challenge

Reading response due: Bring to class a page of reflections on the reading, in which you reach back to our previous discussions of accessing local knowledge; in class, after watching the video, add a paragraph making connections between the what you’ve watched and what you read for today.

Part 2: Taking Culture into Account: Planning
13 What does it mean to value labor? Participant-observation assignment due
14 Microfinance vs. fair trade  
15 Workshop on Gender, Technology and Development  
16 What is transferred in technology transfer?  
17 Case studies in technology transfer: treatment intervention v. health promotion Reading response due
18 In-class practicum on public health promotion: how to design a (flexible) safe sex campaign, for a variety of potential users?  
19 Visit to D-Lab to learn about possible final project topics  
20 What is the appropriateness of appropriate—or appropriated—technology?

Reading response due 

Discuss final projects

21 In-class time to plan final projects  
22 Interviewing versus surveys: benefits and limitations In-class practicum: survey design and testing
Part 3: Where do we go from here?
23 Culture in/of development  

Mobile and digital technologies: new solutions and new challenges

Guest speaker: Mitali Thakor

25 Participant-observation and ethical dilemmas in fieldwork, redux  
26 Discussion / presentation of final projects  
27 Presentation of final projects Final projects due in class

Course Info

Learning Resource Types
Activity Assignments
Written Assignments