MA Course Jan-Apr 2017

This is the third time I’m running this MA course called “Special Topics in Genre Studies”, one of those umbrella course titles which allow us to teach a variety of topics.

The class is subtitled “Writing, Photography and Blogging”. In it, we explore topics to do with autoethnography, street photography, as well as social media.

The course is basically an occasion for students to explore various Hong Kong micro cultures that intrigue them through the mediums of street photography, reflective writing and blogging.

I’ve blogged about how we have to work through a number of readings concerning thick description, autoethnography, etc, in an earlier run of the course here.

We’re currently into the second week of student presentations.

There’s still one more week to go but so far, things have been great. I’m actually learning so much.

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Group 1 is working on hongkongkidz. There was a comment made concerning kids’ behaviour on public transport, on how children basically tend to play little games with themselves, hence turning urban transport spaces into playgrounds of sorts. Thus for children, to be on public transport is to be on a journey of sorts, in contrast to adults, to whom public transport is about the daily commute. Another person from the group focused on education. A point was made concerning the rather Panoptic surveillance technology in the classroom – the teacher could actually see on his own screen what individual students were looking at on their monitors. Another person talked about the phenomenon of “Monster parents” and “Kong kids”, concerning how over-protective parents are creating a generation of emotionally dependent children.

Group 2 is working on the theme of leading a slow-paced life in fast-paced Hong Kong. A point has been made concerning how clocks are everywhere in public spaces, on how speed is a disease. Their photographs represent a search for spaces where time seems to slow down. They made connections with the slow food movement, pointing out how the practice of yumcha is actually a deliberate slowing down of the pace of life.

Group 3 focuses on the colour red. There is a degree of randomness here, in that they went about taking pictures of red objects in public spaces. A point has been made concerning how the arbitrary act of paying attention to the colour has enabled one of them to notice objects that posit various cultural narratives that she would otherwise miss. Another presenter made a point concerning how traditional Chinese products make use of red as a cultural marker of nostalgia.

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Group 4 is working on hkpsychogeography. A point has been made concerning how Hong Kong’s public spaces have an excessive tendency to make themselves legible through signboards. This in inevitable especially given Hong Kong’s population density. We simply cannot afford have large groups of people getting lost and wandering about. There’s irony involved when one sees bills on walls warning against posting bills on walls.  One of the presenters noted how makeshift political statements are often pasted on various signboards, hence making the political will of Hong Kong people legible.

Group 5 indulged their curiosity concerning horseracing in Hong Kong. They made a point concerning social stratification at the horse races, about how the social elites are in the booths whereas the general public are in the bleachers. This in turn led to a comment concerning how the same thing happened at the theater in Shakespeare’s time. A point has been made concerning how a vice becomes civilized via ticketing procedures and protocols. The presentation got me thinking about the possible analogies to be made concerning picking horses vs picking stocks. Perhaps the various life choices we make, such as picking a course of study, our careers, etc, are subject to the same sort of rational calculations in a world that is sometimes arbitrary/random.

There are still 2 more groups who will present next week. One project concerns transportation culture while the other has to do with boundaries in urban spaces.



Student Blogs from my MA Course “Writing, Photography, Blogging”

This is becoming more obvious to me now.

A creative detour of sorts (from poetry to street photography as well as my interest in film cameras) which began a few years ago seems to be now taking over my work.

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I’ve been teaching an MA level course at my department with the generic title “Special Topics in Genre Studies”. I’ve shaped it around what I thought would be key genres that are of contemporary interest (Writing, Photography, Blogging). This is the second time I’m running the course.

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An external reviewer from another university who’ve looked at the students’ assignments as well as course materials from the first run of the course commented that this is a course which puts together “creative and critical, theoretical and practical insights” and that it connects “popular culture activities to major strands of 20th century theoretical discourse on creative media”.

I am very much encouraged by this comment and I think the bit about combining the critical with the creative is spot-on in terms of describing what I’m setting out to do.

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Basically, it’s a course for those who are interested in Hong Kong culture.

It’s a project-based course whereby students are encouraged to explore different micro-cultures of Hong Kong and present them (in any way they want) via blogs.

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We would read and discuss the following works together in class:

Clifford Geertz. “Thick Description: Toward an Interpretive Theory of Culture”.

Leon Anderson. “Analytic Autoethnography”. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography 35 (4): 373-395.

Marshall McLuhan. Selection sections from Understanding Media.

Georg Simmel. “Metropolis and Mental Life”

Walter Benjamin. “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”.

Roland Barthes. Selected sections from Camera Lucida.

Martin Heidegger. Selected sections from “The Question Concerning Technology”.

Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer. Selected sections from “The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception”.

Sontag, Susan. Selected sections from On Photography.

John Berger. “Understanding a Photograph”.

Clive Scott. Selected sections from Street Photography: From Atget to Cartier-Bresson.

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There would be group presentations, and students would write individual auto-ethnographic essays on their learning experience and the experience of micro-cultures they’ve chosen to explore.

I keep telling my students in class that I don’t fully know what I’m doing, and that we’re making it up as we go along. To my mind, this is a course that begins with a few fixed parameters, without fully determining the scope of what is to be learnt.

We start from a few well-known ideas and essays in critical theory and extend the insights to the various HK micro-cultures we’re interested in. A group (some of them are teachers) is working on school culture. Another is working on what 5.30pm means to Hong Kong. They’ve more or less decided on taking (street) photographs at exactly 5.30pm. Another group is working on wet markets.

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I remember that in the previous run of the course, there were projects on the neighbourhood of Sham Shui Po, street temples, as well as interviews with the practitioners of “da siu yan” (people you hire to beat paper figurines of your enemies in public with slippers). There was an essay on the travel discourse of Hong Kong people via the analysis of a video by the Hong Kong indie band My Little Airport.

The projects, incorporating elements of street photography, are turning out to be urban ethnographies of sorts.

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Here’re the student blogs:

I tell my class that perhaps blogging could be a tool for intellectual engagement.

In some ways, I’m already doing it myself.

A series of entries on the Umbrella Movement in this blog have culminated in a conference presentation, which in turn have been reworked into the editorial essay “The Poetics of the Umbrella Movement” in the literary journal Cha.

Thanks for reading!

Camera: Leica M6

Lens: Voigtlander Nokton Classic 35mm f/1.4 SC

Film: Kodak BW400CN