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Semester 1

Anthropological Theory (SCAN10022)

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Social Anthropology





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Visiting students must have taken at least 3 Anthropology courses at grade B or above. We will only consider University/College level courses.

Course Summary

This 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?

Course Description

This course takes a broad view of the development of modern anthropological theory through some simple foundational questions: What actually is a society? What is a culture? And how have our conceptions of what it is to be human changed over time? The course takes the approach that theory need not be conceptually abstract or esoteric, but has direct and regular application to daily experience. An overview will be given of anthropological theory from the mid 19th century to the present, with special focus on major thinkers and ideas. The course will include both an intellectual history of anthropology, and a critical assessment of theories: their logical consistency, political importance, and the impact of gender, sexuality, colonialism, and race on anthropological thought. As a whole the course aims to leave students with a strong sense of anthropology as a coherent, vibrant discipline with major contributions to make on contemporary issues. The course will cover major theorists such as Marx, Weber, Latour, Lévi-Strauss, and Foucault, and theoretical movements such as feminism and post-structuralism, as well as introducing students to some of the more exciting aspects of contemporary anthropological theory: the changing relationship between nature and culture, the meaning of value in the post-crash era, and the role of technology in society. Lecture topics will include Evolutionism, Post-structuralism and postcolonialism, Marxist anthropology, the Social Life of Strangers, the Nature-Culture divide, Technology and Culture, Feminism, and Culture and Globalization. Lectures will introduce the core questions of anthropological theory in a cumulative fashion, each week building on the last to produce a fuller appreciation of theory as a process of development. Content will be delivered in lecture sessions involving some participatory activities. These will be supported by hour-long tutorial sessions for each week. Students are expected to actively discuss readings in class, and to participate in classroom activities and discussions during lecture time.

Assessment Information

Written Exam 0%, Coursework 100%, Practical Exam 0%

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