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School of Social Sciences

Social Anthropology for Year 12/13*

The course is organised around a series of foundational questions that anthropologists have asked and continue to ask about the organisation and interpretation of social life, questions that are profoundly relevant for making sense of the world around us.

* Open to Year 13 offer holders for any School of Social Science undergraduate programme.

Course aims

A commonly used description is that social anthropology is about 'making the familiar strange and the strange familiar’. Therefore, an important goal of this course is to encourage students to question their own assumptions and open their minds to other types of 'common sense' around the world.

Learning outcomes

  • Understand some of the main theories in social anthropology. 
  • Learn to examine one’s cultural assumptions in light of comparisons with other cultures. 
  • Be able to explain what unites and divides human social life around the world. 
  • Develop critical thinking skills.

The course at a glance

  • Course lead: Prof. Jeanette Edwards
  • Six x 2 hour weekly sessions 
  • Students get a taste of university life and a mix of lectures, writing exercises and groups discussions
  • Students will have an opportunity to write an essay at the end of the course and to receive feedback from the university lecturer.

Course content

Students will be expected to do short reading assignments before each class to prepare for the lecture and discussions.

Students will read excerpts from the following books (see class reading packet):

  • Hendry, J. and Underdown, S. 2012. Anthropology: A Beginner’s Guide. Oxford: Oneworld Publications.
  • Bourgois, P. 2009. Righteous Dopefiend. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  • Garcia, Angela. 2010. The Pastoral Clinic: Addiction and Dispossession along the Rio Grande. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  • Fadiman, A. 2012[1997]. The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures. Later Printing edition. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
  • Mintz, S. 1985. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. London: Penguin Books.

Week 1: Welcome and introduction

Students will be introduced to the university, to the course and to the subject of social anthropology.

Week 2: How can we study culture?

Topics to cover: social classification, the interpretation of symbols, bodily practices as culture and theories of gift exchange. One topical focus will be gender and race.

Week 3: How can we understand cultural differences?

Topics to cover: issues of comparison across cultures, human rights and cultural difference, context and cultural relativism, and questions of science and witchcraft.

Week 4: How are humans connected across cultures?

Topics to cover: colonialism, globalisation, migration, and structural inequalities.

Week 5: How do anthropologists conduct research?

Topics to cover: ethnography and participant observation, objectivity, subjectivity and reflexivity, ethnographic writing.

Week 6: How do you write an academic essay?