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

Undergraduate Course: Ethnographies of the United States (SCAN10086)

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
SummaryThis course will provide UG Honours students with an introduction to the anthropological study of the USA, incorporating perspectives on a variety of topics and regions, and referring to research carried out at a range of historical moments. It will provide a grounding in key debates. It will show how ethnographic work carried out in the US has influenced the discipline of anthropology. The course will take a (self)-critical look at what area-based foci of study do. Those teaching the course will draw from rich ethnographies and from their own fieldwork experiences in the US.
Course description This course will explore themes and provocations that emerge from a range of ethnographies written about the USA or about places within the USA. It looks at how historical regimes and critical events, from slavery and the Civil War, 9/11 to Hurricane Katrina have influenced US society. It unpacks ethnographies that both describe and problematize the idea of 'the everyday'. Selected ethnographies explore ideas of social change, such as those brought about by or following civil rights movements. Students might discuss and problematise concepts that have been central to constitutional, political, and quotidian discussions and conflicts about what the US is or about what various groups think it should be: justice, 'family', happiness, and democracy. They will critically engage with popular themes for discussing the US ethnographically such as individualism and capitalism. Emphasis will also be placed on looking at emergent lenses: dystopia, whiteness, captivity.
It will explore a variety of key questions and topics, such as:
- How have ethnographies explored and problematized the emergence of the USA? How do ethnographies represent slavery and its afterlives, and the displacement of indigenous peoples?
- How do people experience legal and medical systems and how can this be explored ethnographically?
- What is the role of organised religion in everyday life and in electoral politics in the US?
- How do ethnographers of the US approach subcultures?
- How does ethnography make apparent how 'race', gender, sexuality, class, and nationality are constructed?
- How are ideas about public and private domains, rights, and activism salient in a US context?

Indicative topics
1) Anthropology from an American Vantage: Decentering the Canon. How can we reread classic anthropological debates through a perspective situated in the American experience? How would the discipline be different if our 'founding figure' was Zora Neale Hurston rather than Bronislaw Malinowski?
2) Freedom and Captivity
3) Care and Disregard
4) Dispossession and Ownership
5) Secularism and Faith
6) Rationality and Affect
7) Unity and Multiculturalism
8) Indigeneity and Nativism
9) Autonomy and Dependence
10) Equality and Difference

This course will be delivered by lecture (one hour per week) and seminar (two hours per week), with an emphasis on student participation and discussion during seminars. Seminar and lecture alike will centre on set readings. Films, visual art, and music will be used to complement and complicate the readings. Students will be asked to approach these latter materials with an 'ethnographic eye' to practice their ethnographic argumentation within the scope of the classroom.
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 2023/24, Available to all students (SV1) Quota:  30
Course Start Semester 2
Timetable Timetable
Learning and Teaching activities (Further Info) Total Hours: 200 ( Lecture Hours 9, Seminar/Tutorial Hours 20, Programme Level Learning and Teaching Hours 4, Directed Learning and Independent Learning Hours 167 )
Assessment (Further Info) Written Exam 0 %, Coursework 100 %, Practical Exam 0 %
Additional Information (Assessment) A mid-semester 1000-word essay plan and proposal (10%), followed by a 4000 word essay at the end of the course (90%).
Feedback Feedback will be given in line with School policy
No Exam Information
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. Demonstrate extensive and specialist knowledge of the ethnography of the United States.
  2. Understand some of the ways in which the history of the US informs how anthropologists choose topics and analyse their findings.
  3. Synthesize materials from the course in order to discuss topics in class and to write clear and convincing essays.
  4. Discuss some of the methodological and ethical challenges of carrying out research in the US.
  5. Reflect upon how use of aesthetics and poetics in ethnographic texts give insight into social phenomena.
Reading List
Lynd, Robert, and Helen Lynd 1929[1959] Middletown: A Study in Modern American Culture.
Lepselter, Susan. 2016. The resonance of unseen things: poetics, power, captivity, and UFOs in the American uncanny.
Mariner, Kathryn, A. 2019. Contingent kinship: the flows and futures of adoption in the United States.
Shange, Savannah. 2019. Progressive dystopia: abolition, antiblackness, and schooling in San Francisco.
Weston, Kath. 1992. Families we choose: lesbians, gays, kinship
Additional Information
Graduate Attributes and Skills The course will help the students to:
- critically analyse, compare, and synthesise theoretical and empirical texts
- recognize and reflect upon how thematic foci in academic disciplines might change in line with major political events and social movements
- discuss complicated topics in a considered and sensitive manner, not only talking but truly listening to others
- collaborate and debate with colleagues
- communicate through writing and speech to form coherent and persuasive arguments.
KeywordsNot entered
Course organiserDr Siobhan Magee
Course secretaryMr James Heitler
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