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

Undergraduate Course: The Anthropology of Africa (SCAN10067)

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
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 a. Academic 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 and 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, religion and memory, statecraft and public health. Choice of regional readings will follow the expertise of the lecturers, and students will have the opportunity to focus on certain areas in their assessed work. Each week contextualises the African material in terms of its global relevance with the ultimate aim of developing a nuanced picture of how real people deal with major issues that have shaped African history.

Learning Outcomes

On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
¿ Demonstrate familiarity with a wide range of ethnographic material from different parts of Africa and relate it to thematic topics in anthropology
¿ Appreciate how major issues facing Africa affect people on the ground, and place these issues in historical context
¿ Take a critical approach to the representation of Africa in various media, and awarenss of social and political issues involved in the idea of ¿Africa¿ itself
¿ Understand the relationship between colonial and postcolonial experiences
¿ Recognise how African voices reflect on their own society, and engage with their critiques of western scholarship
¿ Demonstrate awareness of the historical relationship between anthropology and colonialism in Africa

b. outline content

Main topics will vary from year to year. Examples include: Colonialism and Postcolonialism, Possession & Ancestry, History, Religion, Witchraft, Development, Medicine and Health, and Gender.

c. student learning experience

The course involves one two-hour session a week for the whole class, together with tutorials in separate one-hour sessions. In the main session, most weeks will involve a mixture of a lecture and some discussion and group work.

The tutorials will normally be concerned with one or more readings that illustrate, underpin or extend issues raised in the main sessions. Students should note that participation in the small group support teaching sessions is compulsory and attendance will be recorded.

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. Gain familiarity with a wide range of ethnographic material from different parts of Africa, and the ability to relate this material to thematic topics in anthropology.
  2. Gain an appreciation of how major issues facing Africa affect people on the ground, and an ability to place these issues in historical context.
  3. Develop critical approaches to the representation of Africa in various media, and an awareness of social and political issues involved in the idea of ¿Africa¿ itself.
  4. Gain a broad understanding of the relationship between colonial and postcolonial experiences and contemporary practices of labour and migration as they affect African social forms
  5. Deepen critical understanding of relationship between the subject position of ethnographic writers and the people they write about in the context of the history of anthropology.
Reading List
Additional Information
Graduate Attributes and Skills Students in this course will:
- Gain a critical appreciation of the relationship between scholarship on Africa and the political history of the continent.
- Gain familiarity with a range of issues of particular importance for work in development, NGOs, and public health work.
- Gain a wide range of detailed ethnographic knowledge about the African continent.
- Appreciate the relationship of global and regional concerns in anthropology
- Develop skills and context for future field research in Africa.
- Demonstrate an awareness of the variety of African societies and an ability to critically evaluate media portrayals of the continent.
Course organiserDr Rebecca Marsland
Tel: (0131 6)51 3864
Course secretaryMr Ewen Miller
Tel: (0131 6)50 3925
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