Not available in 2019/20
AN477      Half Unit
Topics in the Anthropology of sub-Saharan Africa

This information is for the 2019/20 session.

Teacher responsible

Prof Deborah James OLD 6.06

Professor Karin Barber


This course is available on the 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.

This course is available with permission as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit.


It is preferred that students will normally have done preliminary courses in Anthropology or have a Social Science background, but there is some flexibility. Students should consult the course lecturer.

Course content

This course gives students a critical understanding of ethnographic and theoretical writing on Africa. Grounded in some classic debates around tradition and modernity (kinship-based polities vs states; studies on occult knowledge vs rationally-oriented political economy approaches; relationality and communality vs developmentally-oriented progress; ‘objective’ class vs forms of identification such as tribe or race), it explores questions about how the continent’s societies orient themselves, and respond to new precarities, in a postcolonial and neoliberal age. Are there specifically African forms of knowledge – and what is the role of the occult? What is postcolonial about the ‘postcolony’? Do youth have a future of work in post-industrial Africa, or are familial or welfare dependencies the only way forward? Is Europe ‘evolving towards Africa’, as has been maintained?


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

Students are expected to prepare discussion material for presentation in the classes. They will also have an opportunity to write a formative review, incorporating their insights from an event visit (see below) and incorporating some reading matter from the course, which will be discussed with the class teacher. 

The weekly lectures for this course, laying out essential background for understanding the readings, will be shared with a group of undergraduate students. The weekly seminars of 90 minutes, based on the close reading of at least 3 articles and led by the professor teaching the course, will not be shared but will be held for Masters’ students exclusively.

Formative coursework

Students will be expected to produce 1 piece of coursework in the LT.

Students will be asked to write one formative review during termtime, to be discussed with and evaluated by the course lecturer. The formative review will allow for students’ individuality and expression and allow them to bring their own interest in current debates into interplay with course materials.

Indicative reading

Adebanwi, Wale. 2017. The Political Economy of Everyday Life in Africa: Beyond the Margins. Oxford: James Currey.

Comaroff, J and JL. 2012. Theory from the South or, How Euro-America is Evolving Toward Africa Anthropological Forum 22 (2).

Englund, Harri. 2006. Prisoners of Freedom. Human Rights and the African Poor. Berkeley: UC Press.

Geschiere, Peter. 2013. Witchcraft, Intimacy and Trust: Africa in comparison. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Guyer, Jane. 2014. Marginal Gains: monetary transactions in Atlantic Africa. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Mbembe, A. 2001. On the Postcolony. Berkeley, University of California Press.

Moore, H. L. 2013. Still life: hopes, desires and satisfactions. London, John Wiley & Sons.


Take home exam (100%) in April.

Key facts

Department: Anthropology

Total students 2018/19: 7

Average class size 2018/19: 7

Controlled access 2018/19: No

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

  • Leadership
  • Self-management
  • Team working
  • Problem solving
  • Application of information skills
  • Communication