Annu Dahiya

Teaching Statement

My previous teaching experience includes four self-designed undergraduate courses at Duke University. These have included introductory courses such as “Gender and Everyday Lifeas well as intermediate and advanced courses on feminist science and technology studies. My pedagogical aims in the classroom are informed by my research in feminist theory, biophilosophy, and the origins of life. I encourage my students to think philosophy beyond the realm of the human in order to reframe the human’s relation to the natural world. This reordering of the relation between human and non/human is necessary to undoing anthropocentrism, an intellectual violence positing the human as the organizing center or top of the hierarchy that dictates what and how one can know. To actualize this aim my courses tend to ask students to reconsider what I term the nature of nature: if nature itself does not operate via binary logic, why should the theoretical and cultural premises that undergird how and what we think abide by such binaries? I find it crucial to teach my students to be able to recognize the hallmarks of philosophical systems that rest on such binary logics. I train my students to mobilize concepts that complicate such systems that rest on binary logic and the hierarchical ordering of beings and things.

—Anonymous Student Feedback, Summer 2018 Course, Duke University

—Anonymous Student Feedback, Summer 2018 Course, Duke University

My teaching philosophy writ large rests on the idea that thinking beyond binaries requires first intimately knowing the binary frames themselves. In my courses, I begin with texts that are not explicitly feminist. I developed this strategy over time through trial and error after I realized that my students are much more receptive to thinking with feminist approaches to science if they first know the consequences of anti- or non-feminist approaches. My pedagogy is rooted in a methodology that teaches my students how to invent new ways of thinking by first understanding how phallocentric and racist systems operate themselves. I teach my students how to analyze the ways in which concepts  such as “women”, “nature”, “the body”, and “the non/human”—concepts that have been historically devalued—operate within such systems of thought as their constitutive exteriors.

The first topic in my class “Monstrosity, Science, Culture” focuses on how a sexed/gendered hierarchy inheres in Aristotle’s theory of reproduction.  The “female” in his Generation of Animals is a mutilated deviation from the perfect male body. This “mild monstrosity,” however,  is a “deformed necessity” because she ensures the reproductive regeneration of the species. In short, the female’s defective body is necessary for reproduction despite the fact that the deformity of femaleness itself inherently casts her “against nature.”  I have my students grapple with what the theoretical consequences of the female body being a body whose presence is required for biological birth is simultaneously understood as a deviation from an ideal that is nonetheless necessary for (Aristotelian) Nature to function. To teach a complex idea such as this, I first situate my students in the general milieu of a thinker’s corpus through a range of teaching strategies: aurally, through a short lecture as well as visually through schematic diagrams representing the problem by writing theoretical questions on the board that are explicated within my lecture. I deploy a multi-modal approach in my pedagogy to address the diverse learning strategies that work best for my students. In a course survey, one student wrote, “I really enjoyed the atmosphere of the course. At times, the course was like an open discussion where students could share their thoughts and interpretations. Other times, especially for difficult concepts, the course took the form of small lectures, which I really enjoyed. Overall, the hybrid nature of the class worked well with my learning style.”

—Anonymous Student Feedback, Summer 2018 Course, Duke University

—Anonymous Student Feedback, Summer 2018 Course, Duke University

In “Non/Human Reproduction,” my students traced how the concepts of  “intersexed” and “trans” carry the potential to destabilize binary systems that assume fixity of sex and gender, specifically the presumption that sex is the pre-given ground that, moreover, exists only as male and female. In particular, we closely examined the symptoms of fear around how intersexed and trans bodies operate in the science fiction horror film Splice (2007), which is a contemporary retelling of Frankenstein, where two scientists create an human/animal hybrid organism, Dren, born with ‘ambiguous’ genitalia and whose body metamorphoses into different species and sexed and gendered embodiments throughout the film. In the six different organisms that make up Dren, three are animal species that do transform their sex in nature (based on environmental factors). I use this horror fiction film, contemporary biology research of intersexed animals, and feminist biologist Anne Fausto-Sterling’s writings on intersex humans to prompt my students to think about whether intersexed subjects are ‘unnatural.’  Combining scientific research with a cultural object that hyperbolizes a fear of an intersexed and trans (Dren is both) subject has given my students the resources to rethink whether intersexed bodies are “against nature.” Indeed, the ability of “intersexed” and “trans” to weaken the static and preordained binary nature of male and female makes “intersexed” and “trans” ideas and bodies surveilled, disciplined, and oftentimes rendered invisible to ensure that “sex” remains stable ground from which “gender” and “sexuality” both arise.

The most concrete learning goal I set in my courses is to prompt my students to write at length on how a concept operates within a thinker’s corpus, and to be able to juxtapose the way the same idea is mobilized differently in different theoretical systems of thought. The skill I most intensely hone in my students is the ability to explicate an idea through close readings of texts and to be able to connect different bodies of thought in precise yet novel ways. As my teaching evaluations demonstrate, I challenge and prompt my students to imagine theoretical and social systems could exist outside the binary logics which continue to perpetuate patriarchal systems. I equip my students with the knowledge of how to reframe the implicit assumptions of scientific and cultural thought through the intellectual sites that have been historically erased and silenced by these oppressive systems in the hopes that when they leave the walls of my classroom, they can reimagine the world in more politically just ways.  

 

 Previous Teaching Experience

Instructor of Record—Duke University (self-designed undergraduate courses)

  • Monstrosity, Science, Culture,” intermediate course, Program in Literature; cross-listed with Program in Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies, Summer 2018

  • Contagion in Culture and Society,” advanced intermediate course, Program in Literature; cross-listed with Global Health, and Program in Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies, Summer 2017

  • Gender and Everyday Life,” introductory course to major, Program in Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies; cross-listed with Program in Literature, Spring 2017

  • Non/Human Reproduction,” intermediate course, Program in Literature, cross-listed with Cultural Anthropology, Program in Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies, Fall 2016

Additional Courses I am Prepared to Teach

  • Introductory Undergraduate Courses:  Introduction to Feminist Science Studies • Introduction to Women’s Studies • Introduction to Science and Technology Studies

  • Intermediate Undergraduate Courses: Feminist Research Methods • What is Sex?• Feminist Theories of Embodiment

  • Survey Graduate Courses: Foundations in Feminist Science and Technology Studies • Foundations in Feminist Theory

  • Concept-Driven Graduate Courses: The Uses of Life: Biotechnology, Synthetic Biology, BioArt • Non/Human Somatechnics: Sex, Life, & Reproduction

  • Advanced Graduate Single-Theorist Seminars: Bergson• Irigaray•Foucault•Whitehead