Not available in 2020/21
AN280      Half Unit
Public Anthropology

This information is for the 2020/21 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Andrea Pia


This course is available on the BA in Anthropology and Law, BA in Social Anthropology, BSc in Social Anthropology, Exchange Programme for Students in Anthropology (Cape Town), 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 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 (e.g. in the case of General Course students). Students should consult the course lecturer.

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 essay in the LT.

Students will have the opportunity to write a (unmarked) formative essay on a 'public issue' of their chosing (in week 5) and will be invited to discuss feedback during office hours.

Indicative reading

Low, Setha and Sally Engle Merry 2010. Engaged Anthropology: Diversity and Dilemmas, Current Anthropology 51(2): S203-226.

Sanford, Victoria and Asale Angel-Ajani 2006. Engaged Observer: Anthropology, Advocacy, and Activism. Rutgers.

Scheper-Hughes, Nancy 2009. Making anthropology public. Anthropology Today 25(3): 1-3.

Beck, Sam and Carl Maida 2015 Public Anthropology in a Borderless World. Berghahn Books.

Fassin, Didier 2017. If Truth Be Told: The Politics of Public Ethnography. Duke University Press.

Borofosky, Rob. 2005. Yanomami: The Fierce Controversy and What We Can Learn from It. University of California Press.

Pachirat, Timothy 2013. Every Twelve Seconds: Industrialized Slaughter and the Politics of Sight. Yale University Press.

Lora-Wainwright, Anna 2017. Resigned Activism: Living with Pollution in Rural China, MIT Press.

Powell, Dana 2018.Landscapes of Power: Politics of Energy in the Navajo Nation. Duke University Press.

Von Schnitzler, Antina 2016. Democracy's Infrastructure: Techno-Politics and Protest after Apartheid. Princeton University Press.

Goffman, Alice 2014. On the Run: Fugitive Life in an American City. University of Chicago Press.

Fassin, Didier 2013. Enforcing Order: An ethnography of Urban Policing. Blackwell’s.


Take-home assessment (100%).

The take-home exam asks students to answer, within 8 hours, one question from a set of synoptic questions which will cover all ten weeks of teaching. The take home exam will be submitted after the end of LT.

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: 32

Average class size 2019/20: 11

Capped 2019/20: No

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

  • Leadership
  • Self-management
  • Team working
  • Problem solving
  • Communication