AN480      Half Unit
Public Anthropology

This information is for the 2019/20 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Andrea Pia


This course is available on the MSc in Anthropology and Development, MSc in Anthropology and Development Management, MSc in China in Comparative Perspective, MSc in Social Anthropology and MSc in Social Anthropology (Religion in the Contemporary World). This course is available with permission as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit.

Course content

What and how does anthropology contribute to public life? Do anthropologists have a responsibility to meaningfully contribute to communities beyond the academy that make the study of anthropology possible? This module explores the challenges, difficulties, and stakes of having ethnographic research encounter various publics, ranging from journalists, legal experts, and policymakers to activist groups, local populations, and other scholars. Students of this module engage critically with a variety of media (books, newspaper articles, documentaries, podcasts, social platforms and interactive digital tools) with a view of analysing the ways in which anthropological ideas are conveyed to broader audiences, reflecting on how to improve their representation and effectiveness, and proposing new ways of disseminating these ideas to different publics.


6 hours of lectures, 3 hours of seminars, 8 hours of classes and 12 hours of workshops in the LT.

The course is divided into ten weeks, consisting of a combination of lectures/movie workshops/classes. Each week students read excerpts from selected ethnographic texts across geographical areas that have spurred public interest for the sensitiveness of their subject matter or the questionability of their research ethics. Workshops introduce students to the public buzzes generated by these studies and ask them to reflect on the politics and situatedness of ethnographic research and on the relatability of its findings. In some of the seminars a ‘local expert’ will be present to serve as a resource in the discussion of the issues.

The focus of this module is on the relationship between anthropological theory, the power fields in which it is inserted and its diverse publics. The types of questions this module address are both of critical and applied nature: to what extent can ethnographic studies of the food production system, waste management and water and energy provisions make global social infrastructures fairer? To what extent structure/agency debates in anthropology (and cognate disciplines) may move public perceptions of criminality and marginality towards more sympathetic positions? How effective have ethnographic-based critiques of trickle-down economics and social mobility really been, and why? How can anthropological accounts of systemic inequality take root into public representations of otherness?

The course ends by examining recent anthropological proposals within academia for a more vocal and engaged anthropology. It asks student to critically reflect on whether the discipline’s colonial past may still weigh on today’s attempts at engaging new publics. What disciplinary benchmarks of successful engagement should anthropologists set up for their own scholarship?

Formative coursework

Students will be expected to produce 1 project and 1 presentation in the LT.

Formative assessment consists in a series of dedicated methodological seminars (two sessions in total) where students familiarise with non-traditional methods of communicating ethnographic insights. In preparation of seminars (on week 4 and 8) students submit a draft proposal of their research in progress and present related research materials in small groups.

Indicative reading


Research project (100%) in the LT.

The course is assessed via a research essay (100%) at the end of LT

For the research essay, students carry out independent research to produce a document of a maximum of 5000 words which relates anthropological scholarships to a public issue of their choice.

Key facts

Department: Anthropology

Total students 2018/19: Unavailable

Average class size 2018/19: Unavailable

Controlled access 2018/19: No

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills