Ethnography and Theory: Selected Texts

This information is for the 2020/21 session.

Teacher responsible

Prof David Graeber OLD 6.10 and Dr Johannes Steinmuller OLD 5.06A


This course is compulsory on the BA in Anthropology and Law, BA in Social Anthropology and BSc in Social Anthropology. 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 discusses important aspects of anthropological theory in relation to ethnographic research. It covers the development of anthropological thought from the second half of the 19th century to today. Anthropology is situated within its context, including the social conditions of scholarship, as well as the histories of empires, nation-states, and capitalism. The course is intended to give students a sound grasp of central theoretical concepts and of their significance for empirical research.


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 MT and LT.

Formative coursework

Students are expected to prepare discussion material for presentation in the classes. 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

A Barnard, History and Theory in Anthropology, J Clifford, The Predicament of Culture; M Engelke, Think like an anthropologist; EE Evans-Pritchard, A History of Anthropological Thought; C Geertz, The Interpretation of Cultures; A. Kuper, Anthropology and Anthropologists; GW Stocking, Observers Observed; GW Stocking, Victorian Anthropology; B Malinowski Argonauts of the Western Pacific; R Benedict, Patterns of Culture; EE Evans-Pritchard, Witchcraft oracles and magic among the Azande; V Turner, The Forest of Symbols; M Sahlins, Culture and Practical Reason. Detailed reading lists are provided at the beginning of the course.


Exam (100%, duration: 3 hours) in the summer exam period.

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: 62

Average class size 2019/20: 11

Capped 2019/20: No

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information