Not available in 2021/22
AN483      Half Unit
Anthropology, Art, and Poetics

This information is for the 2021/22 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Michael Scott


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

‘Art’ and ‘poetics’ – practices of making and creating – are prolific, diverse, fluid, and mutable.  Nowadays, anything can become art, and art can be as many things as there are people who make and study it.  The broad theme of this course will be the historical and ongoing nexus between art and anthropology.  We will discover how anthropology has informed the theory and practice of art and vice versa.

Topics covered will include: art and the anthropology of modernity; the significance of qualifiers attached to the category art (e.g., ‘primitive’, ‘fine’, ‘sacred’, 'commerical', ‘decorative’, ‘practical’); art and alternative modernities; Surrealism and anthropology; class, race, and gender in relation to art; the concept of ethnoaesthetics; economies of value; the ethnographic study of artists and art-making; the concept of art worlds; art and agency; the ethnography of art collecting and curation; the works of artist ethnographers and ethnographer artists; ways of decolonizing art; problems of cultural appropriation; intellectual property; and modes of relational and collaborative poetics.


10 hours of lectures and 15 hours of seminars in the LT.

Formative coursework

Students will be expected to produce 1 essay in the LT.

Students will have the opportunity to write an (unmarked) formative essay (1,500 words) and will be invited to discuss the written feedback during office hours.

Indicative reading

  • Clifford, James. 1988. The Predicament of Culture: Twentieth-Century Ethnography, Literature, and Art. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
  • Coote, Jeremy and Anthony Shelton, eds. 1994. Anthropology, Art, and Aesthetics. Oxford: Clarendon.
  • Danto, Arthur C. 1989. Art/Artifact: African Art in Anthropology Collections. New York: Prestel.
  • Fillitz, Thomas and Paul Van Der Grijp, eds. 2018. An Anthropology of Contemporary Art: Practices, Markets, and Collectors.  London: Bloomsbury Academic.
  • Gell, Alfred. 1998. Art and Agency: An Anthropological Theory. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Kisin, Eugenia and Fred R. Myers. 2019. The Anthropology of Art, After the End of Art: Contesting the Art-Culture System. Annual Review of Anthropology 48: 317-34.
  • Morphy, Howard. 2007. Becoming Art: Exploring Cross-Cultural Categories. Oxford: Berg.
  • Myers, Fred R. 2000. Around and about modernity: some comments on themes of primitivism and modernism. In Antimodernism and Artistic Experience: Policing the Boundaries of Modernity, ed. Lynda Jessup, pp. 13-25. Toronto: University Toronto Press.
  • Schneider, Arnd, ed. 2017. Alternative Art and Anthropology: Global Encounters. London: Bloomsbury Academic.


Essay (100%, 4000 words) in the ST.

In consultation with the course instructor, students will be asked to formulate their own essay questions.  As much as is feasible or appropriate, students will be encouraged to design their essay around a particular object that they can encounter in a lived setting (museum, public space, etc.).

Course selection videos

Some departments have produced short videos to introduce their courses. Please refer to the course selection videos index page for further information.

Important information in response to COVID-19

Please note that during 2021/22 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 differing needs of students in attendance on campus and those who might be studying online. For example, this may involve changes to the mode of teaching 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 2020/21: Unavailable

Average class size 2020/21: Unavailable

Controlled access 2020/21: No

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

  • Leadership
  • Self-management
  • Team working
  • Problem solving
  • Application of information skills
  • Communication
  • Commercial awareness
  • Specialist skills