Advanced Theory of Social Anthropology

This information is for the 2019/20 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Fenella Cannell OLD 5.07 and Prof Deborah James OLD 6.06


This course is compulsory on the BA in Social Anthropology and BSc in Social Anthropology. This course is available on the BA in Anthropology and Law, Exchange Programme for Students in Anthropology (Fudan), Exchange Programme for Students in Anthropology (Melbourne) and Exchange Programme for Students in Anthropology (Tokyo). This course is not available as an outside option. This course is available with permission to General Course students.

Places are limited and the course may only be suitable for external students in unusual cases. Any student who wishes to make an exceptional request to be considered should please contact the course teachers for advice on suitablity and availability of places.


Students should have a substantial background in Social Anthropology. 

Course content

The aim of this course is to train students to engage critically with classic and contemporary texts in the discipline, thereby deepening understandings of current trends and emerging debates. It will examine the theoretical implications of particular anthropological approaches by surveying their origins, their strengths and their critique. The course will take the form of lectures and classes conducted as an intensive reading group in which approximately six texts (three in each of MT and LT) will be discussed and analysed in depth, along with supplementary reading material where appropriate. Students will be expected to develop their own critical responses to each text, as well as an appreciation of the context in which it was written and its contribution to relevant theoretical discussions and debates. Students taking this course will develop their capacity to meet the distinctive demands of reading and analysing longer (typically book-length) texts. 


4 hours of lectures and 18 hours of classes in the MT. 4 hours of lectures and 18 hours of classes in the LT.

Lectures provide a general introduction to the text and relevant issues or debates, which may include background and contextual issues, comparative materials (published, visual, primary text etc as appropriate) and in some instances debates about what is at stake in the different ways in which we learn to think and write.

This course has a reading week in Week 6 in MT and LT.

Indicative reading

Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing (2017) The Mushroom at the End of the World - On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins

Gillian Feeley-Harnik. Selection of articles, including chapters in S.Mckinnon and F. Cannell eds. (2013) Vital Relations and in S. Franklin and S.Mckinnon eds. (2001) Relative Values

You are advised to start independent reading with these texts.

Further readings to be announced during the Michaelmas Term.


Coursework (100%, 6000 words) in the MT and LT.

All students will produce a portfolio of position pieces (worth 100% of the total mark), to which they are expected to make a contribution after each cycle. Portfolios will be assessed periodically throughout the year, with the final grade determined after the end of Lent Term.The final mark will be the average of the 2 pieces with the highest grade from each term.

Students are welcome to come and discuss their summative coursework plans individually with course teachers in office hours, in addition to the guidance that will be given in lectures and classes.

Key facts

Department: Anthropology

Total students 2018/19: 53

Average class size 2018/19: 27

Capped 2018/19: No

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills