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

Postgraduate Course: An Introduction to Anthropological Theory (PGSP11049)

Course Outline
SchoolSchool of Social and Political Science CollegeCollege of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 11 (Postgraduate) AvailabilityAvailable to all students
SCQF Credits20 ECTS Credits10
SummaryThis course aims to provide an intensive introduction to some of the most important theoretical perspectives in social anthropology and to show the ways in which they have been used in explaining social and cultural processes among particular peoples. Using a number of fieldwork studies, both classic and more recent, it also focuses on the intimate link between theory and ethnography, and attempts to elucidate the distinctive character of social anthropology: the questions it asks and the answers it supplies.
Course description a. Academic Description

This course is not designed to present a complete history of the various theoretical developments or debates within anthropology. Instead, organized around a contrast between anthropologists who place the emphasis on 'society' and anthropologists who stress the importance of 'culture', it aims to provide an intensive introduction to some of the most important theoretical perspectives and to show the ways in which they have been used in explaining social and cultural processes among particular peoples. Utilizing a number of fieldwork studies, both 'classic' and more recent, it also focuses on the intimate link between theory and ethnography, and attempts to elucidate the distinctive character of social anthropology - that is, the questions it asks and the answers it supplies.

b. Outline Content

1. Introduction: The shaping of a discipline
This session introduces students to two different but related questions: what is social anthropology? And, How did it come into being? While not intended as a comprehensive history of the discipline, we will be addressing major lines of development. We¿ll also be focusing on both continuities and discontinuities between the early practitioners of anthropology and its contemporary development.

2. Kinship and Exchange
Drawing from classic studies by Malinowski, Fortes, and Levi-Strauss, this lecture explores how the theoretical perspectives which have come to be known as functionalism and structuralism were closely tied to the study of both kinship and exchange. We also approach how and why the study of kinship remains absolutely central to anthropological theorizing.

3. Cultural Relativism
As anthropologists increasingly embraced fieldwork in the early 20th century, scholars such as Franz Boas conceptualized culture and history in ways that challenged earlier social evolutionary thinking. His formulation of cultural relativism became a founding principle of modern anthropology that, despite subsequent critiques, persists in anthropological theories. Starting with Boas political writing on race, we will explore the theoretical, methodological and ethical implications of cultural relativism.

4. Universalism and Human Rights
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the UN in 1948, led to increasing uncertainty about the place of culture in the modern world. While cultural relativism has remained one of the key tenets of anthropology, debates about human rights and ethics have in some cases construed cultural differences and relativist thinking as obstacles to achieving universal rights. Rather than viewing relativism and universalism as irreconcilable positions, we will explore the ways in which both of these conceptual frameworks coexist in the contemporary world.

5. Nature, Society, and the Human
For a discipline conceived around the idea of studying human society, it¿s somewhat surprising how late anthropology came to interrogate the category of the human itself. Early precursors focussed on the nature/culture dichotomy, but important ethnographic work took us forward to contemporary ethnographic concerns about the post-human

6. Religion and the Secular
This session explores both anthropological approaches to religion, and those approaches which see ¿religion¿ as either an illusory object or somehow doomed to a religious past. In particular, we take a look at some of the debates about the complex relations of modern secularism to religion

7. Time, History, Memory
Focusing on the cross-cultural variability of modes of engaging the past, this lecture discusses some of the debates generated in distinguishing between myth and history, and between history and memory. Is history something which is universal, or just one mode of engaging with time among many?

8. Globalization and Modernity
While traditionally anthropologists studied small and seemingly isolated societies, anthropologists today have much to say about wider processes of globalization around the world. This week we look at how anthropologists analyze processes that transcend the local and the global. We will also discuss how anthropologists have been critical of concepts such as globalization, modernity and tradition. Is globalization leading to the eradication of cultural differences? What does modernity mean? How do foreign cultural forms come to have local significance?

9. Decolonizing Anthropology
For decades anthropologists have recognized the colonial contexts from which ethnographic fieldwork and writing has traditionally emerged. Today, diverse calls to decolonize anthropology point to the social and economic inequalities that have characterized social research and academic institutions more broadly. How might anthropology today become a more engaged, collaborative endeavor - a force for positive change in the contemporary world? These questions point to both practical and theoretical concerns that are central to contemporary anthropology.

10. Conclusion: Contemporary Turns
Our final session brings us up to the present by looking at two approaches or ¿turns¿ which appear to be at the cutting edge of contemporary anthropological theory: the affective turn and the ontological turn. We will discuss how these approaches, and contemporary theory more generally, are both continuous and discontinuous with all that went before.

c. Student Learning Experience

The course consists of one two-hour session a week for the whole of the semester. These sessions involve a mixture of lectures (including possibly some 'guest-lectures'), class discussions, debates, and student presentations. Throughout the various sessions, students are encouraged to explore the relevance of anthropological theory by creating links with their own interests and the kind of questions that first brought them to anthropology.
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 2023/24, Available to all students (SV1) Quota:  56
Course Start Semester 1
Timetable Timetable
Learning and Teaching activities (Further Info) Total Hours: 200 ( Lecture Hours 20, 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) The course is assessed through a combination of a short essay (20%) and a long essay (80%).
Feedback The course is assessed by a combination of a short essay (word-limit: 1,500) and a long essay (word-limit: 4,000). I set essay questions/topics but, when it comes to the long essay, students can design their own in consultation with me. The overall aim of the assessment and feedback is to allow them to develop their own ideas, demonstrate their ability to focus on pertinent issues and analyse relevant evidence in an integrated as well as critical manner. As the short essay carries only a weighting of 20% and it is submitted very early in the semester, it is used to provide formative assessment and feedback that can help students identify their strengths and weaknesses - beyond providing individual written feedback, as well as general verbal feedback in class, students will be encouraged to seek further individual feedback during one-to-one meetings with the lecturer. In the form of long essay plans and student presentations that focus on issues closely related to the long essay topics, there are more opportunities for feedback throughout the course. The long essay will be returned with written comments providing individual summative feedback for each student at the end of the course.
No Exam Information
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. show a clear understanding of the main anthropological theories and a critical appreciation of their place with social anthropology
  2. reflect on the application of a variety of ethnographic theories to different ethnographic problems
  3. engage with the kind of questions anthropologists ask and some of the answers they offer, students should have a clear understanding of the anthropological 'mode of thought'.
  4. appreciate the intrinsic connection between anthropological theory and the methodological challenges embedded in ethnographic enquiry.
Reading List
Hylland Eriksen, Thomas. 2013. A History of Anthropology. Abingdon: Pluto Press.
Barnard, A. 2000 History and Theory in Anthropology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Kuper, A. 1983 Anthropology and Anthropologists. London and New York: Routledge.
Engelke, Matthew. 2017. Think Like an Anthropologist. London: Pelican.
Hylland Eriksen, Thomas. 2010. Small Places, Large Issues: An Introduction to Social and Cultural Anthropology. Abingdon: Pluto Press.
Barnard, Alan & Spencer, Jonathan. 2009. The Routledge Encyclopedia of Social and Cultural Anthroplogy. London: Routledge.
Ortner, Sherry. 1984. Theory in Anthropology Since the Sixties. Comparative Studies in Society and History, 26(1): 126-166.
Ortner, Sherry. 2016. Dark Anthropology and its Others: Theory Since the Eighties. HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory, 6(1): 47-73.
Stocking, George. 1992. The Ethnographers Magic: Fieldwork in British Anthropology from Tylor to Malinowski in The Ethnographers Magic and Other Essays in the History of Anthropology. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.
Carsten, Janet. 1995. The Substance of Kinship and the Heat of the Hearth: feeding, personhood, and relatedness among Malays in Pulau Langkawi. American Ethnologist, 22(2): 223-241.
Mayblin, Maya. 2012. The Madness of Mothers: Agape love and the maternal myth in Northeast Brazil American Anthropologist, 114(2): 240-252.
Levi-Strauss, Claude. 1963. Structural Analysis in Linguistics and in Anthropology in Structural Anthropology. New York: Basic Books.
Sahlins, Marshall. 2011. What Kinship Is (Part One). Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 17(1): 2-19.
Boas, F. 1931. Race and Progress. Science 74: 1-8.
Lewis, H. 2001. Boas, Darwin, Science and Anthropology. Current Anthropology
42:3: 381-406.
Abu-Lughod, L. 2002. Do Muslim Women Really Need Saving? Anthropological
Reflections on Cultural Relativism and its Others. American Anthropologist
104(3): 783-790.
Scheper-Hughes. N. 1995. The Primacy of the Ethical: Propositions for a Militant
Anthropology. Current Anthropology 36:3: 409-440.
Dembour, M. 2001. Following the Movement of a Pendulum: Between Universalism
and Relativism. In Culture and Rights: Anthropological Perspectives. J.
Cowan et al, eds. Cambridge University Press. Pgs. 56-79
Merry, S. 2003. Human Rights Law and the Demonization of Culture (and
Anthropology along the Way). Political and Legal Anthropology Review 26(1):
Ortner, S. 1974 Is female to male as nature is to culture. In M. Rosaldo and L. Lamphere (eds), Woman, Culture and Society. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
Hallowell, Irving 1960. Ojibwa Ontology, Behavior, and World View. New York: Columbia University Press.
Nadasdy, Paul. 2007. The Gift in the Animal: the ontology of hunting and human-animal sociality American Ethnologist, 34(1): 25-43.
Latour, Bruno. 1993. Ch.4 Relativism, in We Have Never Been Modern. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Brenner, Suzanne. 1996. Reconstructing Self and Society: Javanese Muslim Women and the Veil. American Ethnologist. 23(4): 673-697.
Geertz, Clifford. 1973. Religion as a Cultural System. In The Interpretation of Cultures. New York: Basic Books. (also available in A Reader in the Anthropology of Religion, ed. Michael Lambek)
Sahlins, Marshall. 1996. The Sadness of Sweetness: The Native Anthropology of Western Cosmology. Current Anthropology 37(3): 395-428.
Mahmood, Saba. 2001. Feminist Theory, Embodiment, and the Docile Agent: Some Reflections on the Egyptian Islamic Revival. Cultural Anthropology 16(2):202-236.
Lambek, Michael. 1998. The Sakalava Poiesis of History: Realizing the Past Through Spirit
Possession in Madagascar. American Ethnologist 25(2): 106-127.
Hugh-Jones, S. 1988. The Gun and the Bow: Myths of White Men and Indians. L'Homme, Vol.28, No.106: 138-155. (
Levi-Strauss, Claude. 1966. The Savage Mind (pp.234-236) Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Carsten, Janet. 2007. Introduction in Ghosts of Memory: Essays on Remembrance and Relatedness. London: Wiley-Blackwell.
Friedman, J. and K. E. Friedman. 2013. Globalization as a Discourse of Hegemonic Crisis: A Global Systemic Analysis. American Ethnologist 40(2): 24-257.
Englund, H. and J. Leach. 2000. Ethnography and the Meta-Narratives of Modernity. Current Anthropology 41(2): 225-248.
Yan, Y. 1997. McDonalds in Beijing: The Localization of Americana¿. In Golden Arches East: McDonald¿s in East Asia. J.L. Watson (ed.). Pp. 39-76.
Allen, J. S. and R. C. Jobson. 2016. The Decolonizing Generation: (Race and) Theory in Anthropology since the Eighties. Current Anthropology 57(2): 129-148.
Tuhiwai Smith, L. 2012. Introduction. Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and indigenous peoples. London: Zed Books. Pgs. 1-17.
Harrison, F. 1997. Anthropology as an Agent of Transformation: Introductory Comments and Queries. In F. Harrison (ed.) Decolonizing Anthropology: Moving Further Toward an Anthropology for Liberation. American Anthropological Association.
Henare, A., Holbraad, M., and Wastell, S. 2007. Introduction. In Thinking Through Things: Theorising Artefacts Ethnographically. London: Routledge.
Bessire, Lucas, and Bond, David. 2014. Ontological Anthropology and the Deferral of Critique. American Ethnologist, 41(3): 440-456.
Viveiros de Castro, Eduardo. 2004. Exchanging Perspectives: The Transformation of Objects Into Subjects in Amerindian Ontologies. Common Knowledge 10 (3):463-484.
Laidlaw, James. 2012. Ontologically Challenged Anthropology of This Century, 4.

Additional Information
Graduate Attributes and Skills Not entered
KeywordsNot entered
Course organiserDr Stefan Ecks
Tel: (0131 6)50 6969
Course secretaryMrs Beth Richardson-Mills
Tel: (0131 6)51 1659
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