John Pemberton

This professor has earned a CULPA gold nugget

Dec 2020

Professor Pemberton is such a nice, interesting, and engaging guy. A couple of things tho: tbh I don't think I was smart enough to really follow everything he was saying in the lecture because he would mention ideas and terms I had no clue what he was talking about. The readings in class (i thought) were challenging and hard to understand. But going to TA office hours helped clear up the general ideas of the texts. Also in the lecture Prof Pemberton definitely emphasizes a lot of key points he wants you to get so even though the entire lecture might be kind of hard to understand, you'll come away knowing the main ideas. tbh I had no clue what the class was about and kind of still don't after completing it, but it's basically just an exploration of THE social and social forces in society exploring important ideas in anthropology related to linguistics, capitalism, and religion. The second half is more geared towards longer texts/books. it's definitely not for everyone, but I say give it a try during the shopping period. and if you like his lecture style the first few classes, stay and if you don't, just leave. but overall, he's really engaging and sooo nice and easy to talk to.

Dec 2014

I found this class to be very interesting. It took me a while to adjust to the lecture as Prof. Pemberton has somewhat of a softer voice and I found myself straining to hear him, even in the front row, at times. His voice also tends to trail off at the end of sentences. By the second half of the semester I was use to this and no longer found it as difficult to follow. I was a bit disenchanted at the beginning because I found it difficult to follow exactly what the broader connection was, between the various readings, until the second half of the class. Once everything began to blur together and the broader concepts emerged, I was completely in love with the lectures and readings. The lectures are somewhat repetitive but in a good way as he does a great job of really cementing in the key points and themes. The reading was altogether challenging. The first half, although less in volume, seemed to me to be a bit more heady and complex and somewhat more technical in ways with excerpts from Saussure's writings on linguistics, Marx's Commodity, Freud's Uncanny, Mauss' The Gift, and readings from Durkheim and Boas. I had a hard time connecting these readings at first and this made it somewhat tedious to get through them at times. The second half we read one book per week. Freud's Interpretation of Dreams, Claude Lévi-Strauss' Tristise Tropiques, Weber's The Protestant Ethic and Spirit of Capitalism, Foucault's Madness and Civilization and Stewart's Space on the Side of the Road. These readings hooked me and brought everything else together. However, it's a lot of reading. I was a bit disappointed that we did not do many class discussions, at least not during the first half, and we did no graded writing assignments, only two very short, ungraded assignments. I would have enjoyed engaging with the material more via discussions or writing assignments. However, he goes over the key points plenty during lecture for anyone who pays attention and takes notes to be able to do well on the midterm. The final was a take home, three essay question,10 page minimum, which we had a little over a week to complete. It was unlike any I've ever had, it was fun but daunting. He basically asked that the student become one or more of the authors (3 essay questions) and engage with other authors about various concepts that we had discussed- part fiction, part ethnographic, I suppose. Overall I loved this class despite a rocky start and found Professor Pemberton to be a fair grader, a brilliantly profound academic and lecturer and, although he is clearly a busy man, I had no problem catching up with him for office hours. We also had three TA's all were very nice and a pleasure. They conducted two group sessions with refreshments, for the class to come together and ask questions and discuss the material. By the end of this class I began to consider majoring in Anthropology and I was actually a bit sad that the class was ending. I'd recommend this class for students who are interested in Anthropology and/or enjoys reading the works of the great founders of social science / deep thinking, but not to someone who is just trying to find a filler class.

Sep 2014

I went in for help formulating an idea for my final paper and he told me that at this point in my college career, I should already know the answer to the question I am asking. (first semester junior undergrad). I do not care what he thinks I should know, as a professor, he needs to help me where I lack. "Hmm... how can I help you while expending as little energy on my part" was said twice. He then started asking me about the readings (again, I went in there for help with a paper and had a focus on other readings I wanted to use) and when he asked me questions that I couldn't answer, he told me I was lazy, he couldn't feel sorry for me. He then gave me MORE assignments (that no other student had to do) and said that if I was able to complete this I maybe could get a C in the class. Also said in his office while I was asking for help: "Are you like this in all of your classes" "Like what?" "Like this... never mind, I can easily tell you are" The material in the class is very interesting. The readings were great, but that office experience outshone any positive experience I've had in the class. I complained to another student and she reported a similar feeling of disappointment in his office. She asked him to define a word and he told her she probably needed to take some english classes, which especially stung because she was an ESL student.

Jan 2012

Professor Pemberton is brilliant. I came into this class undeclared, and came out an Anthropology Major. One of the great things about this class was Pemberton's focus on including people from all walks of life; He loved hearing the opinions of the theatre majors, dance majors, music majors, philosophy majors, language majors, etc. Because of this, I felt like my presence was needed in the class, as I was adding a unique perspective that only I could bring. The reading can get a bit heavy at times, but as long as you skim all the readings (reading as many of them as you can closely) and bring in hard copies to class you should be able to participate in class discussions just fine. That being said, the majority of the readings are fascinating and probably unlike anything you've ever read for other classes before. Pemberton can get a bit disorganized, and loves to talk in long, rambling sentences that make it impossible to take notes, but you really don't need many notes. As there is no Midterm and only a final paper, there is no need for regurgitation of information. There are also short, one page, single spaced response papers you also turn in from time to time, that aren't graded but rather discussed in class. This was a great way to see if you actually understood the material and the readings, without the pressure of a letter grade. Pemberton weaves the curriculum with his fascinating stories about Java and his knowledge of literally everywhere else in the world, so you really get the feeling the man knows what he is talking about as opposed to reading it from a book and spitting it back out at you. If you are an open thinker and willing to change the way you look at things, definitely take this class.

Jan 2009

This could easily be dull, dry lecture course that anthro majors reluctantly sit through (it's required), but instead it's lively, interesting, and an overall great introduction to social and anthropological theory. Professor Pemberton is excellent at relating the various texts to one another as well as to the cultural/historical moment they emerged from. His lectures are engaging, well-paced (he even takes the time to repeat important points--very nice for those of us who still take notes by hand!), and interspersed with memorable anecdotes from his fieldwork in Java. There is *a lot* of reading, but hey, this is anthropology. It's all worth it.

Dec 2008

I'll echo a few of the other reviewers in saying that Professor Pemberton is a great guy whose lectures, all around, are sort of disastrous. While he clearly has a genuine enthusiasm for the material and obviously knows what he's talking about, Pemberton seems to have a bit of trouble when it comes time to bring the readings into a context that can be understood by those who aren't well-versed in anthropological theory— which, considering that this is an intro course, is a fairly large portion of the class. Speaking of the readings, Professor Pemberton seems to overestimate the amount of reading that is reasonable for a course like this one; his syllabus consisted of maybe half a dozen books (sometimes 400-500 pages each) and a separate course reader of quite a few hundred double-sided pages... and he fully expects that his students read every last bit of it. While the readings are often interesting, it can quickly grow difficult to enjoy them, as it often feels like there is no in-class synthesis of the texts, that you're simply reading for the sake of reading. All that said, Professor Pemberton is a very nice man. Quirky, sure, and maybe a bit too rooted in the procedures and history of what should be a more personal discipline, but a very nice man, nevertheless— especially in office hours, where he'll gladly sit and discuss anything from the course material to life at Columbia, often for extended periods of time.

Jan 2008

just lectures every day, but he's interesting and endearing so you find yourself (gasp!) actually paying attention in lectures. no discussion sections thank god, but he's awesome in office hours

Dec 2005

First off, Pemberton is a wonderful guy: kind, crazy intelligent, thoughtful, available to students. Despite all that, however, this seminar was a disaster. It would have been better if Pemberton had lectured the entire time; instead, "discussions" took place, which were essentially lonely students telling barely-related personal stories. Followed by Pemberton calling them "fantastic". And repeat. Some of the readings were really good, but we never discussed them in a thorough way (again, the focus was on personal experience) or connected them to one another. I learned a lot of wild facts (especially about Java -- & Pemberton talking about Java is something not to be missed), but ultimately I would not recommend the course.

Nov 2005

Professor Pemberton is brilliant! I am a senior Anthropology major, and I can't imagine graduating without taking at least one course with him. Text, Magic, and Performance is a great course that focuses on the concept of "otherness" and its relation to language (the signified and the signifier). Pemberton encourages creative writing and open discussion. Just having access to his amazing stories of times that he spent in Java is worth taking the class! If you have the chance to take a class with Pemberton don't won't regret it.

May 2005

Pemberton is great. Subtle, but great. This is one of those seminars where you'll get out of it what you put in. It is a pleasure to write essays for this class, as topics range from mass-mediation, to ghosts in machines, technology and culture, and the internet. You will find a unique mix of discussion on culture, the history of technology, and the implications of technology on one's subjectivity. The most important lesson coming out of this (and other Pemberton seminars) is that you will learn to reassess your tools of representation and interpretation. He is a gem of the anthro department.

Jan 2005

I signed up for this class out of curiousity, and I was rewarded with an open-minded professor who encourages creativity in all his students. Though the class size is larger than in earlier years, Professor Pemberton makes an effort to get to know everyone. He encourages you to experiment in your content and style of writing. I don't think I've ever written such honest papers; I never felt afraid or intimidated to share my thoughts. The readings cover similar texts as Intro to Socio-Cultural Theory, but it is not necessary to have read these before. This is truly one of the gems of the Anthropology course listing. My only complaint would be that Pemberton doesn't answer email, but he makes up for it by offering to write recommendations for everyone.

Jan 2005

Professor Pemberton is absolutely wonderful. It will take you a minute to sense just how amazing he is, but once you do, you will find that in a subtle, "hands-off" manner, he encourages very creative, alternative writing styles, urging you to explore the boundaries of what it means to write "ethnographically." Instead of simply analyzing readings, you will be inspired to experiment with style and content. He is so open-minded that you will feel free in both your writing and your class comments. Ultimately, this course is about perspective. It is not about believing in ghosts or magic--these are merely tools to think in new ways. Pemberton is the type of professor who takes academia outside of its traditional confines. He might even care about YOU!

Apr 2004

prof. pemberton is THE best professor i have ever had. we started reading freud's the uncanny and now we are talking about the current recording technology. if you want to think - if you love to think - take this class. you will not be dissappointed.

Jan 2004

I really really enjoyed this class. It only meets once a week and the reading can be a bit heavy, but if you're at all interested in linguistics and literary theory, this is most definately for you. He approaches anthro through semiotics, so it's all about the relationship between the sign and the signified. The readings are mostly excellent, occasionally bad, and we have weekly response papers of about 2-3 pages. I found him really intimidating, but he's really a sweet guy and wound up being the most lenient grader (you have to meet with him once during the semester and I was sure I'd get a C based on what he said but I wound up doing very well). Overall, I got what I wanted out of the class, and that's about the best anyone can say.

May 2003

A wonderful person; a disaster of a seminar. Pemberton, who clearly knows more about Indonesia (and the "who's who" of its study in the US) than anyone else you'll probably meet here, was not able to distill this into a managable, one- semester seminar for undergraduates, most of whom had no background in either anthro OR Asian studies (this class counted towards Major Cultures). Much, much too ambitious, leading to more confusion and dismay than anything else, although the novels (two) covered led to more productive (and valuable) class sessions. You might want to try one of his other classes.