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Doing Shakespeare in a Kazakhstani College: Teacher Plays Ethnographer

From: College Literature
Volume 40, Number 2, Spring 2013
pp. 103-129 | 10.1353/lit.2013.0016



This essay documents the author’s work with Kazakhstani English-language students to devise and stage a play based on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. The cross-cultural nature of the project involved them all in a process of renegotiating their identities as they constructed something like a micro-culture in their dramatic classroom world. The essay examines the ways the author’s approach challenged the Soviet educational legacy of teaching about authors as icons by giving students texts and encouraging them to use the texts to understand themselves and to reflect on their culture. But the author’s role as teacher also underwent change. Accustomed to student-centered American classrooms, she could never assume the autocratic authority of Kazakhstani teachers. Teaching students to write, to act, and to direct, she had to relinquish authority to become a working member of the group. As students learned to play new roles as writers, stage managers, directors, designers, and actors, the author found herself writing about their revelations, struggles, desires, and dreams. In short, she became an ethnographer. Ethnography not only helped her cope with difficult moments of dissonance and confusion, but heightened her awareness of the inherent drama of both classroom teaching and the cross-cultural encounter.

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