Not available in 2015/16
Anthropology of Learning and Cognition

This information is for the 2015/16 session.

Teacher responsible

Prof Rita Astuti OLD 6.11 and Prof Charles Stafford OLD 6.02


This course is compulsory on the MSc in Social Anthropology (Learning and Cognition). This course is available on the MRes/PhD in Anthropology, MSc in Anthropology and Development, MSc in Anthropology and Development Management and MSc in Social Anthropology. This course is available with permission as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit.

Course content

The course will start by examining the contribution that the study of human psychology can make to anthropology. After discussing why anthropologists should pay attention to psychology and why psychologists should pay attention to anthropology, we will examine a range of psychological findings (for example, on infants’ knowledge of the physical and mental world) and their relevance to anthropology. Throughout, the course will focus on the relationship between mechanisms of cultural transmission, both informal and institutional, and what anthropologists have called 'culture' and 'society'. We will look at the way universal human capabilities develop and are used during different stages of life to create unique cultural understandings. Topics covered include ‘innateness’, 'theory of mind', informal and formal education, emotions, expertise, and the nature of different types of beliefs. We will consider how themes of this kind - elaborated in cognitive anthropology and in cognitive science more generally - lead to a reconsideration of classic anthropological concerns, including kinship, religion, politics and economics.


15 hours of lectures and 10 hours of seminars in the MT. 10 hours of lectures and 10 hours of seminars in the LT. 2 hours of lectures in the ST.

Indicative reading

M Cole, Cultural Psychology; D Holland and N Quinn, Cultural Models in Language and Thought; E Hutchins, Cognition in the Wild; J Lave, Cognition in Practice; M Bloch, How We Think They Think; D Sperber, Explaining Culture; P Boyer, Religion explained; R Astuti, G Solomon and S Carey, Constraints on Conceptual Development; M Tomasello, The Cultural Origins of Human Cognition.


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 2014/15: 14

Average class size 2014/15: 15

Controlled access 2014/15: No

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Course survey results

(2011/12 - 2013/14 combined)

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

The scores below are average responses.

Response rate: 98.6%



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