Not available in 2019/20
AN277      Half Unit
Topics in the Anthropology of sub-Saharan Africa

This information is for the 2019/20 session.

Teacher responsible

Professor Deborah James OLD 6.06

Professor Karin Barber


This course is available on the BA in Anthropology and Law, BA in Social Anthropology and BSc in Social Anthropology. This course is available with permission as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit and to General Course students.

In deciding whether to admit students from the General Course and/or other departments, consideration will be given to preliminary/general training in anthropology and/or cognate social science disciplines.


Students must have completed Introduction to Social Anthropology (AN100) and Ethnography and Theory: Selected Texts (AN101).

It is preferred that students will normally have done preliminary/first-year courses in Anthropology as noted above, but there is some flexibility (eg in the case of General Course students). Students should consult the course lecturer.

Course content

This course gives students a critical understanding of ethnographic and theoretical writing on sub-Saharan 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 sub-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 10 hours of classes in the LT. 1 hour of lectures in the ST.

During weeks 1-5 and weeks 7-11, regular lectures will be held. During the reading week, where available, students will be taken to attend one of a number of possible public events held by (for example) the Firoz Lalji Centre for Africa (LSE) the Centre of African Studies (SOAS), the Royal African Society. Where the appropriate public events are not held during week 6, students will instead be offered a chance to consolidate readings and to consult the lecturer with any questions arising, or to ask about how to structure the seminars with which they have been charged. Students will also be encouraged to make use of regular office/feedback hours during term time for the same purpose.

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 term time, to be evaluated by and discussed with 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

Capped 2018/19: No

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills