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DRPS : Course Catalogue : School of Social and Political Science : Social Anthropology

Undergraduate Course: Kinship: Structure and Process (SCAN10021)

Course Outline
SchoolSchool of Social and Political Science CollegeCollege of Humanities and Social Science
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 10 (Year 3 Undergraduate) AvailabilityAvailable to all students
SCQF Credits20 ECTS Credits10
SummaryThe course considers the history of kinship studies, looking at some central debates in the subject and assessing their implications for anthropological theory more generally; it also examines the relevance of kinship studies for understanding ourselves, our families, and our contemporary world.
Course description a. Academic Description
This course examines some of the ways in which people in different societies conceptualise and live out kinship and relatedness. It shows how notions of relatedness are linked to ideas about gender, theories of procreation (which are themselves changing under the impact of assisted reproductive technologies), and understandings of bodily substance, as well as having profound emotional, economic, political and religious salience. Kinship has long been regarded as the core of the anthropological discipline, and although the extent to which this was still the case had been under question, recent years have seen a marked revival.

b. Outline Content
What is Kinship?
Anthropologists have always disagreed over what kinship is. We look at the main different anthropological approaches to kinship and their analytic implications, as well as some recent kinship-related controversies in the media.
Descent Groups and Descent Categories
"Descent" refers to the structuring of society around relationships between ancestors and descendants. But is it better seen as an empirical property displayed by real social groups, or as an ideology used to make sense of complex social situations?
(Elementary) Structures and Sentiments
By contrast, LÚvi-Strauss argued that certain societies have "elementary structures" of kinship, whereby particular forms of marriage exchange are repeated generation after generation. What is the relative structural importance of descent and marriage?
Houses: Family, Memory, Work
How do houses shape, enact, and materialise family relations over time? What roles do houses play in producing, sustaining, and containing kinship?
Procreation and Relatedness
Where do babies come from? Can we take procreation for granted as a universal fact of life? Does relatedness have to be based upon biology, and what are implications of our answer to our understanding of "what kinship is"?
Reproductive Technologies and Gay Kinship
Assisted reproduction now makes it possible for infertile people, single and gay parents to have children "of their own". Social and legal attitudes towards sexuality and sexual identity have also been transformed. How do these changes impact on kinship in the 21st century?
The Domestic and the Political
How do kinship and politics relate? How do national histories intertwine with family histories? How do states harness notions of kinship and family to promote political ends? To what extent might contemporary politics in "modern" states be understood as fundamentally familial?
How Children make Families
How do children actively shape kinship? What role do they play in adapting kinship to socio-political change? What contradictions arise between children's agency in kinship, and humanitarian discourses around their vulnerability and need for protection?
Kinship, Economics and Law
How do relatives divide up, share, and pass on their communal or individual property? How and why do the state and its agents intervene legally in the intimate spaces of marriage, family, and sexual identity?
What Kinship Is
A review of the different ways in which anthropologists and those they study have understood the nature of kinship, and its social, political and emotional power.

c. Student Learning Experience
The course involves one two-hour session a week for the whole class, as well as small group tutorial teaching in separate one-hour sessions held weekly. In the main session, most weeks involve a mixture of a lecture and a discussion. In the latter, students discuss particular issues or recommended readings and then report back their conclusions to the class as a whole. The small group tutorial teaching is normally concerned with one or more key readings that illustrate or extend issues raised in the main sessions.
By the end of the course, students should have a grasp of the ways in which anthropologists have approached kinship in both classic non-Western cases and, more recently, in Western cultures too. They will have an understanding of the economic, legal and political salience of kinship, the history of kinship within anthropology, and of the significance of key debates about what kinship is, and how it might be studied. They will also be able to assess, from an anthropologically-informed perspective, the implications of the revolutions in reproductive technology and in attitudes towards marriage, sexuality, and sexual identity that are currently under way around the world.
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites Co-requisites
Prohibited Combinations Other requirements None
Information for Visiting Students
Pre-requisitesVisiting students should have at least 3 Anthropology courses at grade B or above (or be predicted to obtain this). We will only consider University/College level courses.
High Demand Course? Yes
Course Delivery Information
Academic year 2018/19, Available to all students (SV1) Quota:  68
Course Start Semester 2
Timetable Timetable
Learning and Teaching activities (Further Info) Total Hours: 200 ( Lecture Hours 20, Seminar/Tutorial Hours 9, Summative Assessment Hours 2, Programme Level Learning and Teaching Hours 4, Directed Learning and Independent Learning Hours 165 )
Assessment (Further Info) Written Exam 0 %, Coursework 90 %, Practical Exam 10 %
Additional Information (Assessment) 2 short essays each 1,500 words (70%)
Book review 1,000-1,500 words (20%)
Tutorial Participation (10%)
Feedback Feedback is provided routinely on the personal responses submitted in tutorials and on the short essay in mid-semester. In addition, class lecturers engage with and comment on student oral responses in the main class discussions and tutorial sessions.
No Exam Information
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. Have an overview of the ways in which anthropologists have approached kinship in both some classic non-Western cases, and more recently, in Western cultures
  2. Have an understanding of the economic and political salience of kinship.
  3. Be aware of the social, legal and theoretical challenges posed by new reproductive technologies and changing social attitudes towards sexual identity.
  4. Understand the historical role played within anthropology by the study of kinship
  5. Grasp the significance of key debates about what kinship is, and how it might be studied.
Reading List
Additional Information
Graduate Attributes and Skills Not entered
Additional Class Delivery Information 50 minutes per week for 9 week(s).
KeywordsNot entered
Course organiserDr Magnus Course
Tel: (0131 6)51 3893
Course secretaryMiss Lauren Ayre
Tel: (0131 6)50 4001
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