Intro to Anthropology Syllabus

Introduction to Anthropology – Spring 2011 – Queensborough Community College

Instructor: Rachel Signer, adjunct lecturer

Course description and objectives:

Anthropology has been described, throughout its history, as the study of: culture, “man,” difference, evolution, civilization, the past, “tribal peoples,” and processes of change.

Studying anthropology, therefore, requires a certain level of metathought. We are not just studying culture, man, etc.; we are also studying our analyses and representations of those categories.

In this course we will encounter anthropology through four main work modes: (1) critical readings of anthropological texts and viewings of (one, maybe two) anthropological films; (2) analytical writing that reflects on the concepts and practices of anthropology; (3) classroom discussion and presentations; and (4) an ethnographic research project that students take on individually or in groups.

Students will gain critical and analytical thinking skills in this course. Students will also have the experience of developing and implementing an ethnographic research project on the topic of their choice. Research skills are fundamental in today’s job market, and anthropological subjects can be useful in fields such as marketing, advertising, non-profit educational or social work, policy and law, and economics.

Week 1: Introductions and “What is Anthropology?”
Where has anthropology come from and where is it going? We will share our preconceptions of anthropology, and give our reasons for wanting to be in the class. We will also go over the syllabus together and discuss the requirements of the course.

Readings for next week:

(1) Claude Levi-Strauss, The Savage Mind, pg. 1-22 and 35-44

(2) Evans-Pritchard, “Theoretical Beginnings”

(3) Evans-Pritchard, The Nuer, pg. 3-15

(4) Jorge Luis Borges, “The Ethnographer”

Week 2: Continue Discussion of “What is Anthropology?”
What is “culture” and how is it related or opposed to “history” and “nature”?  And what assumptions are built into anthropology’s ideas about culture? We will discuss the importance of 19th-century scientific concepts such as empiricism and positivism. Additionally we will look at how anthropologists have used concepts such as “structure” and “agency,” the importance of symbolism in anthropology, and the relationship between language and culture.

Readings for next week:

(1) James Agee, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, pg. 5-28

(2) Emily Martin, Bipolar Expeditions, pg. —

(3) Paul Rabinow, Reflections on Fieldwork in Morocco, Introduction

Week 3: What is Ethnography?
What methods do anthropologists use to do ethnographic research? How do they choose a “field site” (and an “ethnos”) and how do they collect data? What even counts as “data” in anthropology? We will consider the concepts of “objectivity” and “subjectivity,” and debate ethical issues raised by the practice of ethnography.

Readings for next week:

(1) James Ferguson, Expectations of Modernity, pg. 1-24 and 133-144

(2) Melissa Caldwell, “Domesticating the French Fry”

(3) Arturo Escobar, Encountering Development, first page of preface and pg. 21-54

Week 4: Colonialism, Capitalism, Modernity, and Globalization
What is meant by “Western”? What is it to be “modern”? Following World War II, anthropologists began to document societies that were transitioning from colonial governance to independent nation-statehood, particularly in Africa. At the same time, globalization was bringing Western forms of technology and commercial culture to non-western societies around the world. We will examine how anthropologists have, in many cases, provided a counter-narrative to mainstream ideas about these processes.

Readings for next week:

(1) Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, pg. 1-43

(2) Talal Asad, Anthropology and the Colonial Encounter, pg. —

(3) Edward Said, Orientalism, pg. —

Week 5: The “Postcolonial Critique”
What happened to anthropology when those who it claimed to speak for began to represent themselves? Many societies that had been colonized began to produce their own intellectuals in the second half of the twentieth century. Their work was often dedicated to responding to Western academic ideas that developed in colonial contexts. We will discuss the power relations inherent to anthropology as a discipline, and evaluate the impact of postcolonial intellectuals.

NOTE: We will introduce and discuss the ethnographic projects.

Readings for next week:

(1) Saba Mahmood, “Feminist Theory and the Egyptian Islamic Revival”

(2) Kimberle Crensaw, “Mapping the Margins,” Critical Race Reader

(3) Leith Mullings, “Resistance and Resilience”

Week 6: Race, Class, and Gender
How has anthropology been transformed by ideas of social justice? As feminism took hold in U.S. culture in the 1960s and 70s, its ideas also seeped into anthropology. In some ways, anthropology has problematized feminism by exposing its Western roots. Meanwhile, anthropologists who began doing ethnography in what are called “complex” societies shifted the focus from “culture” to race and class, and the historical, social constructions that underlie them. In part this was due to the “postcolonial critique” that we studied last week.

Readings for next week:

(1) Nadia Abu El-Haj, Facts on the Ground: Archaeological Practice and Territorial Self-Fashioning in Israeli Society, pg. —

(2) Jean and John Comaroff, “Ethnography and the Historical Imagination”

(3) Michael Taussig, The Devil and Commodity Fetishism, pg. 1-18

Week 7: The Politics of the Past: Archaeology and Historical Anthropology
How can we understand who we are today, without knowing where we’ve come from? While archaeology and historical anthropology are very different methodologies of understanding the past, both produce narratives about the present and challenge the idea that culture is “static” and unchanging.

NOTE: We will present our ethnographic project proposals and students will turn them in to the professor.

Readings for next week:

(1) Rayna Rapp, “Gender, Body, Biomedicine”

(2) Paul Farmer, Pathologies of Power: Health, Human Rights, and the New War on the Poor, pg. —

(3) Emily Martin, The Woman In the Body, pg. 1-14 and 139-155

Week 8: Medical Anthropology
How has anthropology deconstructed the common belief that disease and health are solely biological factors? Beyond looking at illnesses such as HIV/AIDS, obesity, and drug abuse, anthropologists have used ethnography to study cultural beliefs about the body. We will consider how medical anthropology can be considered a form of “applied anthropology.”

Readings for next week:

(1) Bronislaw Malinowski, Argonauts of the Western Pacific, pg. —

(2) Marcel Mauss, The Gift, pg. —

(3) Stefan Helmreich, “Replicating Reproduction in Artificial Life, or, the Essence of Life in the Age of Virtual Electronic Reproduction”

Week 9: Kinship Studies
What does anthropology mean by “kinship,” and how has this concept changed over time? We will discuss concepts such as belonging and community, and examine how kinship has been conceived of in drastically different ways as the discipline of anthropology has transformed.

Begin film in class: “The Ax Fight” or “The Feast” by Tim Asch

Readings for next week:

(1) Faye Ginsburg, “Screen Memories: Resignifying the Traditional in Indigenous Media”

(2) John L. Jackson, “An Ethnographic FlimFlam: Giving Gifts, Doing Research, and Videotaping the Native Subject/Object” in American Anthropologist, March 2004

Week 10: Visual Anthropology and Media Studies
How has image-making contributed to the study of culture as well as the production of false stereotypes? We will examine visuality within anthropology from two angles; one, how it has been used to document “the other,” and two, how it has been studied as an object of culture.

NOTE: Essay proposal due in class.

Finish Asch film

Readings for next week:

(1) Michel Foucault, “Subjectivity and Truth”

(2) Sigmund Freud, “The Unconscious”

Week 11: Subjectivity I: Psychoanalysis and Subject-Formation

How have individuals been made into analytic categories by psychologists, such as founder of psychoanalysis Sigmund Freud, or social theorists, such as historian Michel Foucault? We will discuss the idea of the “subject,” and examine a few approaches to the study of subjectivity.
Readings for next week:

(1) Joao Biehl, Vita, “Introduction,” pg. 1-24, and pg. 92-107

(2) Stephania Pandolfo, “The Burning”

Week 13: Subjectivity II: Ethnographies of the Subject

How have anthropologists approached studying subjectivity? What might be some of the ethical issues involved in this kind of work? We will discuss our reactions to these ethnographies of subjectivity, and compare them to other ethnographies we’ve read in the course.
Readings for next week:

(1) Caitlin Zaloom, Out of the Pits, pg. —

(2) Paul Rabinow and George Marcus, Designs for an Anthropology of the Contemporary, pg. 33-44

(3) Andrew Lakoff, “Preparing for the Next Emergency,” Public Culture Vol 19 (2). 2007.

Week 13: Anthropology of “the West”

And finally, anthropologists realized that “otherness” exists within our own society, particularly as technology advances at a rapid pace. How has ethnography been able to capture Western society, and how has this new field of study in anthropology transformed the discipline as a whole?

Week 14: Presentations of Ethnographic Projects in Class

Week 15: Presentations Continued, and Final Essay Due


One thought on “Intro to Anthropology Syllabus

  • Wow, Rachel! What a ride they must have had. It seems like high expectations were well rewarded in your case. Congrats.

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