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

Postgraduate Course: The Anthropology of Africa (PGSP11414)

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
SummaryA course on major themes in the anthropology of Africa based on ethnographic and theoretical readings from across the continent. Readings are set in context of thematic topics such development, colonialism, religion, and violence, aiming toward a broad survey of key issues in historical and contemporary African anthropology.
Course description This course asks what a specifically anthropological viewpoint, based on close ethnographic research, contributes to our understanding of the African continent. Africa has frequently been known to the West through images of war, disease, and poverty, and treated both as a homogenous, undifferentiated entity and a victim of outside circumstances, from slavery to colonialism to international debt and structural adjustment. In this course we ask how these issues can be addressed without losing sight of the variety of African social forms or the ways in which people actively work to create meaningful, viable lives. Can ethnography be mobilised to bring to life the "everyday-ness" of life in Africa, without doing disservice to the very problems that exist? How do the people living on the continent reflect on their position in the global economy? What do tradition, modernity and development mean to them? How do people mobilize memories of the past create the sense of a liveable future?

The course uses ethnographic and theoretical work from across the African continent and beyond to reflect on a series of key topics that shape the social and political lives of people in Africa, including colonialism, development, witchcraft, labour and slavery, pan-Africanism and diaspora, migration, and public health. Choice of regional readings will follow expertise of the lecturers, and students will have the opportunity to focus on certain areas in their assessed work. Each week contextualizes the African material in terms of its general, global relevance, with the ultimate aim of developing a nuanced picture of how real people deal with the major issues that have shaped African history.

Content Outline:

Main topics include Colonialism and Postcolonialism; Health; Development; Witchcraft; History and Memory; and Religion. Key readings include Evans-Pritchard (1936) Witchcraft, Oracles, and Magic among the Azande; Mbembe (2001) On the Postcolony; Ferguson, J. (1999) Expectations of modernity: myths and meanings of urban life on the Zambian copper belt. Moore, S.F. (1994) Anthropology and Africa. Changing perspectives on a changing scene; Ntarangwi, M., D. Mills & M. Babiker (eds, 2006) African anthropologies. History, critique and practice.

Student Learning Experience:

Material will be presented in lectures with supporting seminars to discuss readings. During the first half of the semester, students will be working on an ethnographic book review with guidance and feedback from the lecturers. Lectures will introduce the history of anthropology in Africa, reflect on how that history has been shaped by wider global events, and present detailed accounts of how we might understand local African understandings of the contemporary era.
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
Not being delivered
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. Demonstrate specialised knowledge of African ethnographic material and relate it to wider anthropological themes.
  2. Critically evaluate the relationship between ethnographic evidence and major social issues affecting the African continent (e.g. development, migration, postcolonialism, conflict, HIV/AIDS) and break down "grand narratives" of Africa.
  3. Describe the complex relationship between the subject position of ethnographic writers and the people they write about, in the context of the history of the discipline of anthropology.
  4. Creatively apply ethnographic data to the understanding of concrete problems of development and governance.
  5. Interrogate mass media depictions of the African continent and write clearly and concisely about Africa with an appreciation of the social and political issues involved in such writing.
Reading List
Ferguson, J. 1999. Expectations of modernity: myths and meanings of urban life on the Zambian copper belt. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press.
Moore, S.F. 1994. Anthropology and Africa. Changing perspectives on a changing scene. Charlottesville and London: University Press of Virginia.
Ntarangwi, M., D. Mills & M. Babiker (eds) 2006. African anthropologies. History, critique and practice. London and New York: CODESRIA in association with Zed Books. A. Gordon & D.L. Gordon. London: Lynne Reinner.
Additional Information
Graduate Attributes and Skills Broad knowledge of ethnographic data about Africa, ability to apply this knowledge to concrete issues of development and public health, critical skills and understanding of broad themes of postcolonialism and development.
KeywordsNot entered
Course organiserDr Rebecca Marsland
Tel: (0131 6)51 3864
Course secretaryMrs Gillian MacDonald
Tel: (0131 6)51 3244
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