Anthropology: Theory and Ethnography

This information is for the 2016/17 session.

Teacher responsible

Prof Deborah James OLD 6.06 and Prof Charles Stafford OLD 6.02


This course is compulsory on the MSc in Social Anthropology and MSc in Social Anthropology (Learning and Cognition). This course is available on the MSc in Anthropology and Development, MSc in Anthropology and Development Management, MSc in China in Comparative Perspective, MSc in Law, Anthropology and Society and MSc in Social Anthropology (Religion in the Contemporary World). This course is available with permission as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit.

Course content

The main aim of this course is to examine the relationship between theory and ethnography in modern social and cultural anthropology; the course focuses mainly on the development of anthropology before circa 1970 (with an emphasis on the British School) during the MT, and after that date during the LT. The course starts with the influence on social anthropology of classic social theorists Durkheim, Marx, and Weber. It covers topics such as the origin of the concept of the social sciences as a distinct branch of knowledge,  and of key concepts within that paradigm (for instance,  'kinship'  or 'religion')  functionalism/structural functionalism; methodological individualism; conflict and the critique of functionalism; class consciousness and ideology, ethnic group and social stratification; and 'elective affinities' between cultural predispositions and economic action.  The significance of these foundational concepts  for an understanding of current anthropology and key stages in its development  is also a focus of the course.  The second term covers topics which may include structuralism; Sahlins, Ortner and practice theory; theories of culture and interpretive anthropology; postmodernism and ethnographic critique. The precise emphasis and distribution of topics may vary from year to year. 


15 hours of lectures and 10 hours of seminars in the MT. 15 hours of lectures and 10 hours of seminars in the LT. 1 hour of workshops in the ST.

Formative coursework

Formative coursework consists of participation in weekly seminars, and the opportunity to work on formative essays with the student's academic tutor, as per normal departmental arrangements.

Indicative reading

A. Callinicos 2007  Social Theory; a historical introduction; A Kuper, 2005, The Reinvention of Primitive Society: transformations of a myth; H L Moore and T Sanders (eds.), 2006, Anthropology in Theory: Issues in Epistemology; D Mclellan, 1977, Karl Marx: Selected Writings; W Runciman, 1978, Weber: Selections in Translation; S Lukes, 1973, Emile Durkheim: His Life and Work; B Malinowski, 1922, Argonauts of the Western Pacific; EE Evans-Pritchard, 1971, Nuer Religion; E Leach, Political Systems of Highland Burma; M Gluckman, 1958, Analysis of a Social Situation in Modern Zululand; M Sahlins, 1976, Culture and Practical Reason; M Bloch, 1983, Marxism and Anthropology; C Lévi-Strauss, 1966, The Savage Mind; A Kuper, 2000, Culture: the Anthropologists’ Account; M Sahlins, 2000, Culture in Practice; P Bourdieu, Outline of a Theory of Practice; C Geertz, 1973, The Interpretation of Cultures; D Schneider, 1968, American Kinship: a cultural account. Detailed reading lists are provided at the beginning of the course.


Exam (100%, duration: 3 hours) in the main exam period.

Teachers' comment

In interpreting the Course Survey results, bear in mind that over the period covered by the survey this course has been taught by a number of different teachers (who might not be teaching you in the next session). In addition, the course material may have changed quite considerably.

Key facts

Department: Anthropology

Total students 2015/16: 43

Average class size 2015/16: 11

Controlled access 2015/16: No

Lecture capture used 2015/16: Yes (MT)

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

  • Self-management
  • Team working
  • Problem solving
  • Communication
  • Specialist skills

Course survey results

(2012/13 - 2014/15 combined)

1 = "best" score, 5 = "worst" score

The scores below are average responses.

Response rate: 86%



Reading list (Q2.1)


Materials (Q2.3)


Course satisfied (Q2.4)


Lectures (Q2.5)


Integration (Q2.6)


Contact (Q2.7)


Feedback (Q2.8)


Recommend (Q2.9)