Anthropology: Theory and Ethnography

This information is for the 2015/16 session.

Teacher responsible

Prof Adam Kuper OLD 6.02 and Prof Deborah James OLD 6.06


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 and MSc in Law, Anthropology and Society. 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.

Key facts

Department: Anthropology

Total students 2014/15: 53

Average class size 2014/15: 13

Controlled access 2014/15: No

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

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