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

Postgraduate Course: Anthropological Theory (PGSP11172)

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 give a broad outline of how anthropologists use theory in their work, and how we can apply theory for ourselves to gain a better understanding of society and culture.

The disciplinary basis on which anthropology was founded ¿ the study of primitive peoples ¿ began to disappear once we realized that societies did not simply evolve from simpler to more complex states, and ¿modernity¿ was not an endpoint for all peoples. So what is anthropology now? The study of society? Of culture? Of human difference? What are we actually spending our degrees studying?
The 1970s and 80s saw a broad attack on the idea of grand theories in all parts of the humanities and social sciences. Scholars increasingly came to see truth as relative, multiple, dependent on perspective and politics. At the same time, the collapse of old colonial orders undercut certainties about what society and culture: the world began to seem much more fluid and transient, and idea of an objective, impartial ethnographer came to be viewed with suspicion. Our knowledge of the world no longer seemed separate from our political and historical engagement.
We still need theory if we are to understand the world around us, and this course will explore how anthropologists today are rethinking our concepts of culture and society in our ongoing efforts to make sense of things. We will focus on a few key questions: what is the relationship between society/culture and nature? What is the relationship between theories of society and political events in the world? Can anthropology ever be objective, or should we try to be engaged and active participants in the world we study?

Course description Week 1: Origins: Evolution, Culture and Society
Week 2: Marx and Marxist Anthropology
Week 3: Culture
Week 4: Society and Strangers
Week 5: Structure and Practice (John Harries
Part 2: The Rise of Critical Theory
Week 6: Breakdown: Postmodernism, Postcolonialism and the Critique of Everything
Week 7: Feminism and Anthropology
Part 3: Rebuilding Anthropology From the Ground Up
Week 8: Nature, Culture and the Material World: the Mind Beyond the Human
Week 9: Anthropology in the Age of Global Capital
Week 10: Power and Ethics

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:  20
Course Start Semester 1
Timetable Timetable
Learning and Teaching activities (Further Info) Total Hours: 200 ( Seminar/Tutorial 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) 4000 word essay
Feedback Not entered
No Exam Information
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. show a confident grasp of the main trends in anthropological theory that are influential today
  2. utilise the reading of a number of original writings by a range of theorists, and be capable of providing a critical account of anthropological theorists and the intellectual context in which they worked
  3. relate the application of those theories in existing ethnographic writing and be able to draw upon them in thinking about future ethnographic research.
Reading List
Nash, J. 1997. When Isms Become Wasms: Structural Functionalism, Marxism, Feminism And Post-Modernism. Critique of Anthropology 17(1): 11-32.
Ortner, S. 1984. Theory in Anthropology Since the Sixties. Comparative Studies in Society and History 26(1):126-166
Boas, F. 1974. The Aims of Ethnology. In A Franz Boas Reader: the Shaping of American Anthropology, 1883-1911. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. GN6 Boa
Stocking, G. 1982. Franz Boas and the Culture Concept in Historical Perspective. In Race, Culture, and Evolution. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. GN325 Sto
Orta, A. 2004. The Promise of Particularism and the Theology of Culture: Limits and Lessons of "Neo-Boasianism." American Anthropologist, Vol. 106 (3): 473-487.
Marx, K. 1970. The German Ideology. London: Lawrence & Wishart. HX276 Mar
Althusser, L. 1971. Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses. Lenin and Philosophy, and Other Essays. London: NLB. B2430.A473 Alt
Asad, T. 1979. Anthropology and the Analysis of Ideology. Man, Vol.14, No.4: 607-627 (
Tutorial reading:
Taussig, M. 1977. The Genesis of Capitalism amongst a South American Peasantry: Devil's Labor and the Baptism of Money. Comparative Studies in Society and History, Vol.19, No.2: 130-155. (
Lévi-Strauss, C. 1967. Four Winnebago Myths. In Myth and Cosmos: Readings in Mythology and Symbolism (ed.) J. Middleton. New York: The Natural History Press. BL313 Myt. (also available in Lévi-Strauss's Structural Anthropology: Vol.2. GN362 Lev)
Lévi-Strauss, C. 1972. Overture. In The Raw and the Cooked: Introduction to a Science of Mythology. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. BL304 Lev
Gow, P. 2001. Introduction. An Amazonian Myth and Its History. Oxford: Oxford University press. F3430. 1. P5 Gow.
Latour, B. 1993. Ch.4 Relativism, in We Have Never Been Modern. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Q175.5 Lat
Latour, B. Where are the Missing Masses? The Sociology of a Door Shaping Technology/Building Society: Studies in Sociotechnical Change, edited by Wiebe E. Bijker & John Law, MIT Press, USA, 1992, pp. 225-258.
Nadasdy, P. 2007. The Gift in the Animal: The Ontology of Hunting and Human-Animal Sociality. American Ethnologist 34(1): 25-43.
Bourdieu, P. 1990. The Logic of Practice. Cambridge: Polity (chapters 3&4: Structures, Habitus, Practices AND Belief and the Body, pp. 52-79)
Foucault, M 1977 Docile Bodies' in M Foucault Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison Harmondsworth: Penguin. 135-169
Laidlaw, J. 2002. Towards an Anthropology of Freedom and Ethics. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute n.s. 8 (2): 311-332
Strathern, M. 1987. 'An Awkward Relationship: the Case of Feminism and Anthropology' Signs 12 (2): 276-92
Mahmood, S. 2001. Feminist Theory, embodiment, and the docile agent: some reflections on the Egyptian Islamic revival. Cultural Anthropology 16 (2): 202-36
Said, E. 1985 [1978]. Orientalism. London: Penguin. In particular the Introduction.
Bhabha, H. 1984. Of Mimicry and Man: The Ambivalence of Colonial Discourse
October 28, Discipleship: A Special Issue on Psychoanalysis: 125-133
Also published as Chapter 4 in The Location of Culture. London: Routledge. 85-92
Sahlins, M. 1999 Two or three things I know about culture Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute n.s. 5(3): 399-421
Carrithers, M. 2005.Anthropology as a Moral Science of Possibilities Current Anthropology 46: 433-456
Dirks, N., G. Eley and S. Ortner Introduction: Culture/Power/History in Dirks, Eley and Ortner (eds) 1992 Culture/Power/History. Princeton: UP
Kuper, A. 1994 Culture, identity and the project of a cosmopolitan anthropology Man 29 (3): 537-54.
Additional Information
Graduate Attributes and Skills Not entered
KeywordsNot entered
Course organiserDr Tom Boylston
Course secretaryMrs Beth Richardson-Mills
Tel: (0131 6)51 1659
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