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

Undergraduate Course: Consumption, Exchange, Technology (SCAN10031)

Course Outline
SchoolSchool of Social and Political Science CollegeCollege of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 10 (Year 3 Undergraduate) AvailabilityAvailable to all students
SCQF Credits20 ECTS Credits10
SummaryThe course discusses how goods are produced, circulated and consumed, and how these three fundamental processes of social life and reproduction are mediated by technology. Classically, economic anthropologists focused on how such activities were organised in small-scale societies or in colonial territories; often production and exchange, with their associated technologies, were highlighted while consumption received less attention. Today the impact of globalisation, the rise of the digital society, and the overflowing material abundance that characterises life in the advanced economies and aspirations elsewhere, have led many social theorists to focus on consumption and communication as the key factors determining how people experience power, identity, connections and conflicts. We study a range of case studies and theoretical essays, evaluating the strengths, weaknesses and applicability of different approaches.
Course description Indicative themes:
1. Introduction
A brief history of economic anthropology and its evolving concerns up to the present.
2: Money/Value
In this class we discuss money and other currencies; who or what is considered valuable in different contexts; how have anthropologists dealt with different uses and varieties of money in different parts of the world?
3: Gifts
We consider the anthropological fascination with gift-giving and changing approaches to it. What is the relation of gift-giving to commodity exchange, and is gift-giving really socially integrating?
4: Consumption
In which we consider the social consequences of consuming and the social contexts in which things get consumed, and in particular the effects of consumption on identity - whether of groups or persons. Are modern consumption practices based on crass materialism, or is something more complex going on?
5: The Corporation & Finance
The issue of the corporation has assumed particular importance since the global financial crisis that began in 2008, with bankers' bonuses perennially in the news, and accusations of corruption levelled at corporate bosses. But what is a corporation - legally, socially and ideologically? How have anthropologists tackled the nature of modern business, greed and the legal implications of 'corporate personhood'? This lecture also explores the burgeoning field of the anthropology of finance.
6: Kinship Economies
In which we consider: the problem of domaining; kinship as exchange; kinship in the economy; ambivalent kinship: theft, ingratitude, and commoditised intimacy.
7: Global Capitalism
In which we discuss globalisation (is it something new?), supposed 'deterritorialisation' (the weakening of ties between culture and place), and the norms and forms of the contemporary global economy.
8: Technology
Technology has served as both a catalyst and a measure of progress in the modern world. This week we look at some anthropological perspectives on the compulsion of technology and its social or cultural impacts, considering ways in which technology has been bracketed off from society, and also subjective experiences of technology, and how to understand these socially.
9: Digital Technology
How have anthropologists studied the Internet? In particular we look at the methodological challenge of studying online communities given that for anthropologists face-to-face interactions have traditionally assumed such importance, and consider case-studies of online nationalism, religion and exchange.
10: Body Economies
In this session we consider how anthropological theories of commodity and gift exchange can illuminate the ethical challenges raised by organ transplants, the commodification of death, etc.
Indicative readings:
Mauss, Marcel (1925) The Gift: The Form and Reason for Exchange in Archaic Societies. London: Routledge.
Miller, Daniel (1998) "Making Love in the Supermarket." In A Theory of Shopping. Cambridge: Polity.
Wilson, Samuel M. and Leighton C. Peterson (2002) "The Anthropology of Online Communities." Annual Review of Anthropology 31: 449-67.
Mellstrom, Ulf (2004) "Machines and masculine subjectivity: technology as an integral part of men's life experience", Men & Masculinities 6: 362-82.
Romain, Tiffany (2010) "Extreme Life Extension: Investing in Cryonics for the Long, Long Term." Medical Anthropology 29, 2: 194-215.
Copeman, Jacob (2005) "Veinglory: Exploring processes of blood transfer between persons." Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 11: 465-485.
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 2019/20, Available to all students (SV1) Quota:  78
Course Start Semester 2
Timetable Timetable
Learning and Teaching activities (Further Info) Total Hours: 200 ( Lecture Hours 20, Seminar/Tutorial Hours 10, Summative Assessment Hours 2, Programme Level Learning and Teaching Hours 4, Directed Learning and Independent Learning Hours 164 )
Assessment (Further Info) Written Exam 70 %, Coursework 30 %, Practical Exam 0 %
Additional Information (Assessment) One 2-hour exam (70%) + assessed coursework (30%)
Feedback Students will receive two key pieces of feedback prior to writing their final exam, namely an assessment of the assessed coursework they submit around Week 5 and comments on their tutorial presentation.
Exam Information
Exam Diet Paper Name Hours & Minutes
Main Exam Diet S2 (April/May)2:00
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. A general understanding of classical and contemporary anthropological approaches to economic processes in non-industrialised, industrialised and post-industrial contexts Critical analysis and discussion of case studies and theoretical essays will build anthropological skills in evaluating the strengths, weaknesses and applicability of different approaches. An enriched understanding of the evolution of the study of economic categories through appreciating the ways in which they have been subjected to scholarly analysis for the past 25-30 years.
  2. Critical analysis and discussion of case studies and theoretical essays will build anthropological skills in evaluating the strengths, weaknesses and applicability of different approaches.
  3. An enriched understanding of the evolution of the study of economic categories through appreciating the ways in which they have been subjected to scholarly analysis for the past 25-30 years.
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 Siobhan Magee
Course secretaryMiss Lauren Ayre
Tel: (0131 6)50 4001
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