Being Human: Contemporary Themes in Social Anthropology
This information is for the 2022/23 session.
Dr Clara Devlieger 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 Economic History and Geography, BSc in Environment and Development, BSc in Politics 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.
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) Becoming people; 3) Bodies and Difference. Some questions considered during the term may include:
What distinguishes social anthropology from other social science disciplines? What does ‘thinking like an anthropologist’ involve? What is ‘culture’, and how are anthropological concerns shaped by the particular history and method of the discipline? How does language shape thought and action? 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? What does it mean to be a ‘person’ in society? 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.
The contact hours listed above are the minimum expected. This course has a reading week in Week 6 of both the MT and LT.
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.
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.
Total students 2021/22: 98
Average class size 2021/22: 14
Capped 2021/22: No
Value: One Unit
Course selection videos
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