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BSocSc Social Anthropology
Explore human behaviour and relationships and the challenges across different cultures.

BSocSc Social Anthropology / Course details

Year of entry: 2018

Course unit details:
Anthropological Theory

Unit code SOAN20830
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 2
Teaching period(s) Full year
Offered by School of Social Sciences
Available as a free choice unit? No


The module is conceived in such a way as to provide understanding of the ways in which anthropological thinking develops through arguments over time. Students will gain insight into major theoretical approaches in anthropology and, particularly, into the relationship between these different approaches. This means asking what different approaches and conceptual frameworks emphasise, and what they leave undiscussed, what they make visible and what they make invisible, through describing and analysing data in one way rather than another. Ethnographic studies will be used alongside more abstract writing by key thinkers in order to understand arguments in the contexts in which they unfolded.

The first block will explore what is meant by the term theory and focus on Anthropology as an engaged conversation among anthropologists and other scholars. The second block will zoom in on anthropology’s contested relationship with the Enlightenment and notions of science, and on the concepts of structure, habitus and power/knowledge. The third block will explore issues of language, performance and communication.  The fourth block will examine value, as the question of what matters to people.


This module aims to provide students with an overview of the main ways of thinking anthropologically, and to help them, over the course of a year, to gain a firm understanding of the range of conceptual approaches that they have encountered in the anthropological literature that they have read so far. The unit is designed to allow students the time to build a full understanding of how anthropologists develop their arguments, how they critique the arguments of others, and the ways in which thinking anthropologically changes with time and across space. The course also aims to identify the key theoretical approaches that have defined the discipline both in the past and in the contemporary period, and looks at questions such as: the shifting relationship between ethnography and theory; how during some periods, some approaches were more popular than others; how the focus of what anthropology studies (its objects and subjects) has changed with time; how particular ethnographic regions and themes became associated with certain theoretical approaches; questions about the relationship between anthropology and other disciplines, and the debates that has engendered about multi-disciplinarity and inter-disciplinarity; questions about the history of the discipline's relationship with different political, economic, social, and geographical contexts; and an account of the way Manchester Anthropology has contributed to the development of anthropological thinking and practice.

Learning outcomes

On completion of this unit successful students will be able to:

  • Understand what it means to think and argue anthropologically.
  • Each section focuses on one or more major theoretical approaches in anthropology, and enables students to understand the differences between them.
  • Understand the historical and regional differences in theoretical approaches.
  • Use the material in this course to develop more subtle arguments in their written work, and use anthropological theory themselves to develop their own intellectual arguments (e.g. in a dissertation)
  • Identify the distinctive contributions made by the Manchester School.

Teaching and learning methods

This module is team-taught in four blocks of five weeks each. Each week will have a two-hour session consisting of lectures, group discussions and perhaps other tasks as set by the lecturer. For the duration of each block, the relevant lecturer will have a dedicated drop-in office hour reserved for students on this module. All the module details will be available in the modules Blackboard zone.

Assessment methods

3 hour Exam Sem 2 100% - Semester 2


Feedback methods

Students will received electronic, personalised feedback on their assessed essays.

Recommended reading

This list is only indicative of the type of literature that will be used for the course: the lecturer who will be running each block will, in consultation with the course convenor, be free to use the literature that they feel is most appropriate.

Abram, S. & J. Waldren (eds) 1998. Anthropological perspectives on local development: knowledge and sentiments in conflict. London: Routledge.

Austin, J L (1962) How to do things with words:  The William James Lecstures delivered at Harvard University in 1955, Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Besnier, N (2009) Gossip and the Everyday Production of Politics, University of Hawaii Press.

Bourdieu, P. 1995 (1990). The Logic of Practice (trans.) R. Nice. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Cameron, D (2001), Working with Spoken Discourse. London: Sage.

Das, Veena. 2006. Life and Words: Violence and the Descent into the Ordinary

Douglas, M. (ed.) 1973. Rules and meanings: the anthropology of everyday knowledge - selected readings. Harmondsworth: Penguin Education.

Duranti, A (2009) Linguistic Anthropology: A Reader, Oxford: Wiley Blackwell

Durkheim. E. 2008 [1912]. Elementary forms of Religious Life. Oxford. Trans. Cosman. C.

Evans-Pritchard, E.E. 1992. Theories of Primitive Religion. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Evens, T.M.S. & D. Handelman. 2006. The Manchester School: practice and ethnographic praxis in anthropology. New York ; Oxford: Berghahn Books.

Evens, T M S and D Handelman,(2006), The Manchester School: practic and ethnographic praxis in anthropology. New York; Oxford: Berghahn Books.

Fardon, R. (ed.) 1995. Counterworks: managing the diversity of knowledge. London; New York: Routledge.

Fischer, M.M.J. 1999. Emergent forms of life: Anthropologies of late or postmodernities. Annual Review of Anthropology 28, 455-478.

Foucault, M. 1974. The Order of Things. An Archaeology of the Human Sciences. (tr. anon.) London: Tavistock.

Geertz, C. 1983. Local Knowledge: further essays in interpretive anthropology. New York: Basic Books.

Gluckman, M. 1965. Politics, law and ritual in tribal society. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.

Hanks, W (1996) Language and Communicative practice.  Boulder, CO: Westview.

Ingold, T. (ed.) 1996. Key debates in anthropology. London, New York: Routledge.

Kapferer. B and Meinert. L (eds.). In the event. Towards an anthropology of generic moments. Social Analysis, 54(3)

Kuklick, H. (ed.) 2008. A new history of anthropology. Oxford: Blackwell.

Leonardo, M.d. (ed.) 1991. Gender at the Crossroads of Knowledge: Feminist Anthropology in the Postmodern Era. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Levi-Strauss, C. 1977. Structural Anthropology 1 and 2. London: Peregrine Books.

Lewis, I.M. 1999. Arguments with ethnography: comparative approaches to history, politics & religion. London; New Brunswick, N.J.: Athlone Press.

Marcus, G.E. & M.M. Fischer. 1986. Anthropology as Cultural Critique. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Mauss, M. 1990. The Gift: the form and reason for exchange in archaic societies. (tr. W.D. Halls) London: Routledge.

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Assessment written exam 3
Lectures 40
Tutorials 20
Independent study hours
Independent study 137

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Jeanette Edwards Unit coordinator
Penelope Harvey Unit coordinator
Stef Jansen Unit coordinator
Soumhya Venkatesan Unit coordinator

Additional notes


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