Teaching “Dying in Diaspora”: Feminist Pedagogies, Politics, and Ethics in the Classroom

Authors: Emily Mitchell-Eaton*, Williams College
Topics: Qualitative Methods
Keywords: diaspora, emotional geographies, feminist geographies, grief, trauma, pedagogy
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/9/2021
Start / End Time: 1:30 PM / 2:45 PM
Room: Virtual 39
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


This paper reflects upon my recent experience designing and teaching an undergraduate course entitled “Dying in Diaspora.” This class examined geographies of death, dying, and mourning as experienced by migrants living in diaspora or exile. The course mapped out the multiple mobilities of grief and death—the circulation of emotions, cadavers, toxins, and cancers, and mourning relatives gathering to grieve—and the political factors that co-produce death and mobility. Many students in the class—all but three of whom were international students or immigrant students—had recently experienced loss, longing, displacement on multiple scales, and they often brought these experiences into the classroom in highly personal and emotive ways.

Throughout the course, we considered Frantz Fanon’s writing on anticolonial melancholia and examined exile in the work of Mahmoud Darwish and James Baldwin. Repeatedly, we returned to Judith Butler’s question, “When is life grievable?” We engaged this question and others though methods like life-mapping, feminist GIS, archival readings, and ethnography, as well as through film, fiction, memoir, and poetry. The syllabus was informed by feminist geopolitical scholarship on intimacy-geopolitics as well as by indigenous scholarship on methods, trauma, and power.

In reflecting upon this course, I revisit key questions: What is an ethical, feminist pedagogy for teaching such emotionally loaded content? Which course materials require content warnings? What are humane ways of mapping and representing trauma? And, finally, how can we design and teach courses in ways that center the multiple positionalities and embodied histories of the students that take them?

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