Introduction to Social Anthropology

This information is for the 2020/21 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Catherine Allerton OLD 6.13 and Dr Gisa Weszkalnys


This course is compulsory on the BA in Anthropology and Law, BA in Social Anthropology and BSc in Social Anthropology. This course is available on the BA in Geography, BSc in Environment and Development and BSc in Psychological and Behavioural Science. This course is available as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit and to General Course students.

Course content

This course provides a general introduction to Social Anthropology as the comparative study of human societies and cultures. Students will be introduced to key themes and debates in the history of the discipline. Ethnographic case studies will be drawn from work on a variety of societies, including hunter-gatherers, farmers, industrial labourers, and urban city-dwellers.

The Michaelmas Term will explore the relationship between nature and culture, drawing on classic and contemporary debates about human difference and similarity. The term is divided into three blocks: 1) Culture, fieldwork and history; 2) Rites of Passage; 3) Bodies and Difference. Some questions considered during the term include: 

What distinguishes social anthropology from other social science disciplines? What does ‘thinking like an anthropologist’ involve? How do societies ‘make’ the individuals of which they are composed? Why are human life stages so often characterised by rituals, and what do these rituals reveal about understandings of life, adulthood and death? How are bodily differences between people thought about in different contexts? How does culture shape our bodies and the health of those bodies?

The Lent Term will address different kinds of relations between and among people, animals and things, and how these are mediated in different ways. The term is also divided into three blocks: 1) Relations, 2) Place, 3) Technology. Some questions considered during the term include:

Is it valid to distinguish between people and things? What are the politics of human animal relations? To what extent is place a product of power? Can people only be dispossessed of material belongings? In what ways does technology mediate and reinvent expressions of race and racism? Do infrastructures only become visible on breakdown?


10 hours of lectures and 10 hours of classes in the MT. 10 hours of lectures and 10 hours of classes in the LT.

This year, some or all of this teaching will be delivered through a combination of virtual lectures, classes and online interactive activities. The contact hours listed above are the minimum expected. This course has a reading week in Week 6 of both the MT and LT.

Formative coursework

Students are expected to prepare discussion material for presentation in the classes and are required to write assessment essays. Anthropology students taking this course will have an opportunity to submit one tutorial essay for this course to their academic mentor in the MT and one in the LT. For non-Anthropology students taking this course, a formative essay may be submitted to the course teacher in the MT and in the LT.

Indicative reading

M Engelke, Think Like an Anthropologist (2017)

R Astuti et al (eds.), Questions of Anthropology (2007)

M Carrithers, Why Humans Have Cultures (1992)

T Eriksen, Small Places, Large Issues: An Introduction to Social and Cultural Anthropology (2001)

M Bloch, Prey into Hunter (1996)

L Tuhiwai Smith Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples (1999)

B Larkin, Signal and Noise: Media, Infrastructure, and Urban Culture in Nigeria (2008)

R. Govindrajan, Animal Intimacies: Interspecies Relatedness in India’s Central Himalayas (2018)

K. Stewart, A Space on the Side of the Road: Cultural Poetics in an “Other” America (1996)


Essay (50%, 2500 words) in the LT.
Essay (50%, 2500 words) in the ST.

Important information in response to COVID-19

Please note that during 2020/21 academic year some variation to teaching and learning activities may be required to respond to changes in public health advice and/or to account for the situation of students in attendance on campus and those studying online during the early part of the academic year. For assessment, this may involve changes to mode of delivery and/or the format or weighting of assessments. Changes will only be made if required and students will be notified about any changes to teaching or assessment plans at the earliest opportunity.

Key facts

Department: Anthropology

Total students 2019/20: 92

Average class size 2019/20: 13

Capped 2019/20: No

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information