Advanced Theory of Social Anthropology

This information is for the 2018/19 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Johannes Steinmuller OLD 5.06A and Dr Fenella Cannell OLD 5.07


This course is compulsory on the BA in Social Anthropology and BSc in Social Anthropology. This course is available on the BA in Anthropology and Law. This course is not available as an outside option. This course is available with permission to General Course students.


Students should have a substantial background in Social Anthropology.

Course content

The aim of this course is to train students to engage critically with classic and contemporary texts in the discipline, thereby deepening understandings of current trends and emerging debates. It will examine the theoretical implications of particular anthropological approaches by surveying their origins, their strengths and their critique. The course will take the form of an intensive reading group in which approximately six texts (three in each of MT and LT) will be discussed and analysed in depth, along with supplementary reading material where appropriate. Students will be expected to develop their own critical responses to each text, as well as an appreciation of the context in which it was written and its contribution to relevant theoretical discussions and debates.


4 hours of lectures and 18 hours of classes in the MT. 4 hours of lectures and 18 hours of classes in the LT.

Lectures provide a general introduction to the text and relevant issues or debates. The class will run as a large group dynamic seminars to interrogate materials and split into smaller sub group discussions on texts and issues.  

This course has a reading week in Week 6 in MT and LT.

Formative coursework


Indicative reading

Marshall Sahlins & David Graeber. On Kings

James Scott. Seeing like a State

Danilyn Rutherford. Laughing at Leviathan

Anna Tsing. Mushroom at the End of the World

Deirdre de la Cruz. Mother Figured

Gillian Feeley-Harnik.   Selection of articles will be specified by the course teacher.   For advance examples see  chapters by GFH in  eds.  S.Mckinnon and  F.  Cannell  Vital Relations and in eds.  S. Franklin and S.  Mckinnon ,   Relative Values. 


Essay (100%, 9000 words) in the MT and LT.

All students will produce a portfolio of six position pieces, to which they are expected to make a contribution after each three-week cycle. Each position piece will be up to 1500 words, and will comprise a critical reflection on the text and its contribution to the wider anthropological literature. The position pieces will be assessed throughout the year, with feedback provided to students on a regular basis. The final mark will be the average of the 4 pieces with the highest grade. 

Key facts

Department: Anthropology

Total students 2017/18: 47

Average class size 2017/18: 12

Capped 2017/18: No

Lecture capture used 2017/18: Yes (MT & LT)

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

PDAM skills

  • Leadership
  • Self-management
  • Application of information skills
  • Communication
  • Specialist skills