Introduction to Social Anthropology
Social anthropology is the comparative study of human behavior in its social context. Societies and peoples around the world vary enormously in their conduct and ideas, and the study of these variations – and the common humanity which underlies them and renders them intelligible – lies at the heart of social anthropology. Drawing on selected ethnography and ethnographic film, this course introduces students to the range of questions which anthropologists have sought to answer, and to the particular explanatory power of its method of prolonged ‘participant observation’ of distant cultures as a means to better understand ourselves.
What is society? In what way is it more than the sum of its parts, individuals or persons? Does society shape individuals in order to achieve stability for the whole? Or is social conduct and thought revealing of underlying structures in our unconscious? Or is such conduct and thought instead led by lived experience, the practice and habit of everyday life? This course will take us through the foundational theory of anthropology: functionalism and its roots in evolutionism (Boas, Durkheim, Malinowski), to structural-functionalism (Radcliffe-Brown, Mauss, Fortes), to structuralism (Levi-Strauss, de Saussure), to post-structuralism in its myriad forms (Bourdieu, Ortner, Sahlins, Jacobsen). Each topic will be taught in the context of ethnographic examples and of contemporary theorists working with these foundations.
Ritual & Religion
What is religion? How does it create meaning and explanation? Why is it such an important force in our lives? With their detailed studies of ritual and religious practice, anthropologists have shown how religion is a special way of formulating order in the social world and how such formulations are publicly legitimated and reiterated in ritual. The course will draw on ethnographic material from a range of world religions to engage in debates about magic, (ir)rationality, witchcraft, shamanism, sacrifice, rites of passage and religion’s relationship with science.
Kinship, Caste & Community
This course explores the ways in which people in different societies conceptualise and live out relatedness, in their families, wider kin and non-kin groups. Drawing on ethnography from South Asia and elsewhere, we explore the different forms of relatedness as expressed through kinship, caste and community, highlighting their link to ideas of personhood, to gender, and to relations of ownership and inheritance. We explore the way in which kinship and caste both connect and divide: while on the one hand, shared identity and solidarity is created, on the other, inequality and exploitation is instituted.
Economy & Society
Anthropologists have drawn on the study of non-industrial and small-scale communities to understand the nature of the economy and its relation to wider society. This comparative understanding has positioned them to comment critically on the categories and assumptions inherent in Western economic thought. The course will draw on theory and case studies from anthropology, sociology and political economy to cover topics such as market and non-market exchange, money, the nature of value, norms and morality in commercial society, formal versus substantive meanings of the economic, transactions and game theory, and the social regulation of the economy.
Politics, Law and the State: Perspectives from Anthropology & Sociology
This course is concerned with the nature of power, the relation between state and society and the challenges and limits to political authority. Drawing on recent and contemporary work of sociologists (Thomson, Lukes, Foucault, Chatterjee, Gai, Kaviraj, Hall, Giddens) and anthropologists (Hansen, Fuller, Benei, Gupta, Brass, Tambiah), the course will explore topics such as:- the origin of law in custom; the corporation and other legal fictions; conflict and static versus dynamic political systems; institutions and their relation with ideology; political symbols and techniques of legitimation; the critique of political order in favour of individual agency; corruption, and everyday experiences of the state in India and elsewhere.
Social Change and Development
This course introduces students to the ideas of development which have informed government policy and civil society in India and the developing world since Independence. It locates development discourse in an Indian context, exploring the assumptions and world views which underlie the support to economic growth and ‘trickle down’, dependency theory and notions of sustainability, empowerment, participation and radical alternatives to market liberalism. Using case studies of policies and programmes, the course will explore the gap between plan and actual implementation. It asks how and why the gap is repeatedly reproduced and an understanding of ‘real change’ continues to elude us.
Anthropology of India
The aim of the course is twofold. First, to introduce students to some of the classical themes of Indian anthropology and to their contemporary relevance. Second, to equip students with the ability to observe contemporary social phenomenon – critically and with detachment – to make sense of the rapidly changing appearance of Indian society. Among the themes covered will be:- caste and its relation to class, religion and secularism, state-society relations and the politics of identity, gender and sexual violence, environmentalism and ideas of indigeneity, urbanization and cultural change, corporate activism and responsibility, and notions of schooling, knowledge and status.
Capitalism and Industry
The course will offer the chance both to examine and interrogate the founding theories of capitalism and industrialization, and to explore some of the most exciting and pertinent ethnographies of our time: those documenting everyday conduct and thought at the heart of capitalist milieus in India and the West. Topics will include:- time and discipline in industrial societies, the question of whether India has a working class, the nature of exploitation and progressive alienation, industrial migration, the trading of stocks and currencies on global markets, and consumption and shopping.
Agrarian studies is the interdisciplinary exploration of the modern transformation of the countryside across the world. It tries to understand the intrusive thrusts of nation-state formation, urban industrial production, and the rationalization of belief into the most distant agrarian regions. It insists that people everywhere have confronted those forces with their particular histories and distinctive, local configurations of environment, society and culture. The course approach is global, while emphasis is given to the Indian context of agrarian systems, land tenure and reform, social change in the village and peasant movements.
Sociology of Post-Industrial Societies
How do we observe, analyze, apprehend society when it is spatially dispersed and virtual, residing in networks and new forms of affinity? To what extent does technology shape society, or is it rather than technology is driven by social needs which shape and reshape it? Demonstrating how and why contemporary social theory has converged on common questions, across the disciplines (including philosophy, sociology, anthropology, economics, geography, ecology, history), the course will explore topics such as:- the city and urbanity, globalization, science and technology, environmentalism and the case for analysis of the world as a ‘system’ in which different parts are positioned in relation to a dominant ‘core’.
Qualitative research methods
The course has two parts. First, it introduces students to some of the questions and debates around epistemology in social science. How does social scientific knowledge compare with scientific? How does one honour cultural difference when its description must be rendered in one’s own language? Can one claim to be an objective observer ineffective of and unaffected by the phenomenon being observed? Second, it provides the opportunity to explore and test out a variety of field methods and to understand their relative strengths, including participant observation, questionnaires, semi-structured interviews, use of historical sources, and sound and visual recordings.
Second, it provides the opportunity to explore and test out a variety of field methods and to understand their relative strengths, including participant observation, questionnaires, semi-structured interviews, use of historical sources, and sound and visual recordings.