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LPS-AN201 Everyday China: Anthropological Perspectives on Culture and Society

Dr Hans Steinmüller, Assistant Professor, Department of Anthropology, London School of Economics and Political Science

Course outline

Social change is taking place on an unprecedented scale in contemporary China - e.g. in the form of mass rural-to-urban labour migration, rapid urbanization, dramatic change to kinship and family life, the growth of consumerism, religious revival and heightened transnational mobility. How can we understand these changes? What is particular about the Chinese experience of them and how are they comparable to similar changes that have taken place elsewhere?

Social anthropology (a discipline which was invented, in its modern form, at the London School of Economics) provides a unique perspective on such questions, in part by combining ‘micro’ and ‘macro’ angles. Its principal method – long-term ethnographic fieldwork – prioritizes empirical research in the form of participant observation. It allows us to see very dramatic macro changes from the viewpoint of ordinary people. But anthropology also moves constantly between the micro-perspective of everyday life and the macro-perspectives of social, political and economic theory.

The aim of this course is to acquaint students with an anthropological perspectives on Chinese culture and society. As an introductory course, it is not necessary that students have a background in anthropology. Following the long-standing LSE tradition of China anthropology, the primary material to be used in this course will be ethnographic accounts of contemporary Chinese society, combined with appropriate anthropological and social theories. The course will outline the basic tenets of an anthropological approach to contemporary China and the lectures will present different ways in which such an approach has been used to understand topics such as the countryside, the city, the family, education, government, consumerism, popular religion, morality, and transnationalism.

Full course outline|

About the Instructor


Dr Hans |Steinmüller| is a specialist in the anthropology of China. He has conducted long-term fieldwork in the Enshi region of Hubei Province in central China, focusing on family, work, ritual, and the local state. The main object of his research are the ethics of everyday life in rural China, but he has also written on topics such as gambling, rural development, and Chinese geomancy (fengshui). Recently he has started a new research project on political authority on the China-Burma border.

Dr Steinmüller is Convener of LSE's multi-disciplinary Masters degree China in Comparative Perspective|.