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DRPS : Course Catalogue : School of Social and Political Science : Postgrad (School of Social and Political Studies)

Postgraduate Course: Culture and Power: The Anthropology of Political Processes (PGSP11178)

Course Outline
SchoolSchool of Social and Political Science CollegeCollege of Humanities and Social Science
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 11 (Postgraduate) AvailabilityAvailable to all students
SCQF Credits20 ECTS Credits10
SummaryThis course introduces a range of anthropological approaches to politics. It provides a detailed examination of both open and hidden forms of power and their workings at the global, state, national, community, and personal level. Key themes of this course are: bureaucracy and irrationality in the modern state, sovereignty, political violence, resistance, citizenship, religion and human rights.
Course description 1. Introduction to the Anthropology of Politics
What is political anthropology and how does an anthropology of politics differ from the study of politics in political science? This week will introduce the anthropology of politics and give a historical overview of this disciplinary subfield. We will consider how and where we locate the political, and the ways in which politics might be said to operate.

2. Sovereignty and the State
After being exempted from serious ethnographic enquiry in the classics of political anthropology, the state and its forms of power have re-emerged as a central interest. While seemingly an all-powerful agent, much anthropological work brings out the failures and paradoxes of state power. In this process, a number of questions emerge: what is 'the state'? How can anthropologists study it? An ethnographic perspective on the state allows new questions to be asked of it, such as the relationship between sovereignty and the state. The state is classically seen as sovereign, containing within itself the supreme law making body and whose power is absolute and indivisible. The power to wield legitimate violence, however, may not only lay with the state, and the state's sovereignty is often contested.

3. Power and Resistance
Where should we look for significant political events? Anthropologists have challenged the idea that acts of political significance should not solely be located in the domain of formal politics. One way they have done so is by examining the forms of resistance to political domination that might be present in everyday acts among the seemingly most powerless. In doing so questions are also asked about the nature and location of power itself. This session focuses on the relationships between power and domination, hegemony and discourse, agency and resistance. How do aspects of everyday life become symbols of resistance? Does an emphasis on everyday forms of resistance to domination result in a corresponding neglect of everyday forms of co-operation? Have anthropologists romanticised resistance?

4. Nationalism
Contemporary thinking on globalization explores the idea that national boundaries and citizenship have become more fluid due to trade and migration. Historical perspective, however, reveals that concepts of nation-state as well as actual borders are relatively recent phenomena. Indeed, it may be argued that the past 200 years of nation-states are anomalous and fluidity more the historical norm. From this position, we ask: What are the origins of nationalism, and intellectual understandings of it? How did anthropology as a discipline emerge in relation to this political doctrine and practice? How are nations, states and subject-citizens constructed? How have the political imperatives of nationalisms affected the practice of anthropology? How will the idea of "nation-state" work out in the future?

5. Religion and Secularism
How has the sphere of politics become conceptually separated from the domain of religion? This session will investigate the ongoing debates about the place of religion in the public sphere. Why have anxieties around political religiosity re-surfaced in recent years? How can we understand the imbrications of religious vocabularies and sentiments in contemporary politics? How does politics play itself out in ritual idioms?

6. Citizenship and Migration
Citizenship is a central concept for modern politics, based on an assumption that the state is accountable to its citizens and all people have equal rights and responsibilities. But what happens to those who are deemed not to be citizens, and how does the state decide who is and is not a citizen? Recent debates about immigration have raised questions the limits of equality and the naturalization of difference. This session explores how citizenship is not simply the product of an abstract set of legal rights or self-evident nationality, but is produced through the everyday encounters between citizen/subjects and those who act in the name of the state.

7. Colonialism and Post-Colonialism
From the start, anthropologists have worked in societies shaped by colonial power, even if they preferred to either ignore its presence or to work actively within colonial administrations. Colonialism brought about major change in knowledge systems, identities and forms of rule in large parts of the non-European world. What are the key forms of colonial power and how have anthropologists studied these forms? What lasting impact has colonialism left on post-independence politics and contemporary violence?

8. Democracy
Mainstream global discourse treats liberal democracy as a universal virtue against which political realities are judged. Features such as an electoral system, popular sovereignty, protection of individual rights and the rule of law are endowed with a normative force. The prevailing assumption is that democratisation is a linear process through which countries gradually progress, with democracy as the end point. However, anthropological perspectives on democracy show that such a normative model does not capture the plurality of democratic forms and the realities of democracy on the ground. In what ways do cultural norms and practices articulate, translate, reinvent or recombine the liberal democratic model? What are the processes and mechanisms behind the normalization and legitimation of democracy?

9. Violence
This lecture explores how we should understand the relationship between violence and peace. Is violence an inevitable part of contemporary political life, or a pathological distortion? This session focuses on debates over the current 'war on terror' and explores what, if anything, anthropology can offer to an understanding of political violence? In doing so, it asks how can we understand the causes and implication of political violence, can we distinguish between different types of violence, and should we even try?

10. Human Rights

What does it mean to claim that all human beings have the same rights? In this session we examine anthropology's changing approaches to the notion of universal rights. Following the creation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in the late 1940s, anthropologists were initially sceptical about its apparently universalizing cultural claims. However, work in the 1990s increasingly came to question the assumptions behind the distinction between universal and culturally specific claims about human rights. The session will conclude by examining the relationship between academic critique and political action.

Student Learning experience

By the end of the course, the students should have a clear understanding of the importance and scope of anthropology's contribution to the analysis of power and politics. They will be able to take an informed, anthropological perspective on issues of governance, citizenship, processes of democratization, protest, and the role of the state in a variety of ethnographic contexts.
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites Co-requisites
Prohibited Combinations Other requirements None
Information for Visiting Students
High Demand Course? Yes
Course Delivery Information
Academic year 2016/17, Available to all students (SV1) Quota:  42
Course Start Semester 1
Timetable Timetable
Learning and Teaching activities (Further Info) Total Hours: 200 ( Lecture Hours 10, Seminar/Tutorial Hours 10, Programme Level Learning and Teaching Hours 4, Directed Learning and Independent Learning Hours 176 )
Assessment (Further Info) Written Exam 0 %, Coursework 100 %, Practical Exam 0 %
Additional Information (Assessment) A combination of a short essay (20%) and a long essay (80%).
Feedback Short written summaries are submitted to tutors weekly during the tutorial session, which serve as the basis for the participation mark. The course convener sets the essay questions; the short essay is based on the short mid-term ethnographic project students must undertake in either the Edinburgh Sheriff Court or the Scottish Parliament. The aim of the assessments is to allow students to develop their own ideas and topics, demonstrate their ability to analyse relevant issues and draw on and synthesise relevant evidence.
No Exam Information
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. show a clear understanding of the importance and scope of anthropology's contribution to the analysis of power and politics
  2. take an informed, anthropological perspective on issues of governance, citizenship, processes of democratization, protest, and the role of the state in a variety of ethnographic contexts.
  3. identify and characterise key approaches from social anthropology, from other social science disciplines, and from interdisciplinary fields like cultural studies, development studies, and science and technology studies to understanding and evaluating issues concerning political anthropology as a sub-field, and identify advantages, problems and implications of these approaches.
  4. critically evaluate contributions to the academic and public debates regarding political issues in scientific, philosophical, and humanities-related inquiries in order to engage wider audiences regarding issues of human social and cultural difference
  5. identify and evaluate a selection of techniques and procedures used in political anthropology and their relation to the formal techniques and procedures of anthropology and the social sciences generally.
Reading List
Beles, M. 1988. Modern political ritual: Ethnography of an inauguration and a
pilgrimage by President Mitterrand. Current Anthropology 29(3): 391-404.
Bourgois, P. 2001. The Power of Violence in War and Peace: Post-Cold War Lessons from El Salvador. Ethnography 2(1) 5-34
Dirks, N. 1992. Castes of Mind. Representations 37: 56-78.
Evans-Pritchard, E.E. 1969 [1940]. The Nuer: A description of the modes of livelihood and political institutions of a Nilotic People. Oxford & New
York: Oxford University Press. Pp. 94-95; 135-138; 225-226.
Farquar, J. & Q. Zhang 2005. Biopolitical Beijing: Pleasure, Sovereignty, and Self- Cultivation in China's Capital. Cultural Anthropology 20(3): 303-327.
Gupta, A. 1995. Blurred Boundaries: The Discourse of Corruption, the Culture of Politics, and the Imagined State. American Ethnologist 22(2): 375-402.
Hansen, T. B. 2005. Sovereigns beyond the State: Authority and Legality in Urban India. In T.B. Hansen and F. Stepputat (eds.). Sovereign Bodies. Citizens, Migrants and States in the Postcolonial World.
Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Kipnis, Andrew B. 2007. Neoliberalism Reified: suzhi discourse and tropes of neoliberalism in the People's Republic of China. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute (N.S.) 13:383-400.
Navaro-Yashin, Yael. 2002. Faces of the state: secularism and public life in Turkey. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Pp. 188- 204.
Schuller, Mark. 2007. Seeing Like a Failed NGO: Globalization's Impacts on State and Civil Society in Haiti. PoLAR: Political and Legal Anthropology Review 30(1): 67-89.
Spencer, J. 1990. Writing Within: Anthropology, Nationalism and Culture in Sri Lanka. Current Anthropology 3(2): 283-300.
Stoler, A. 1989. Making Empire Respectable: The Politics of Race and Sexual Morality in 20th Century Colonial Cultures. American Ethnologist
16(4): 26-51.
Additional Information
Graduate Attributes and Skills Not entered
KeywordsNot entered
Course organiserProf Jonathan Spencer
Tel: (0131 6)50 3944
Course secretaryMiss Kate Ferguson
Tel: (0131 6)51 5122
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