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THEORY Anthropological Theory

Fall 2013

Professor: Sharika Thiranagama

Office: 52C

Office Hours: Wednesday 2.30-3.30pm & Thursday 1-2 pm

Seminar: Wednesday

This course reviews competing approaches in anthropological theory from the late 19th
century to the present. The goal is to provide students with an understanding of how
anthropological theories and methods have been formed through historically situated
debates and engagements with broader social and cultural movements. The emphasis is on
understanding concepts, categories, and modes of analysis in their historical context and
identifying points of connection that make past debates relevant to current ones.

The first half of the course will concentrate on some exemplary debates within the newly
emerging discipline of anthropology and the differing approaches that anthropologist took
to these debates such as stateless societies et cetera. Given the common origins of
anthropology and sociology as well as the division of labor whereby the latter was
considered to study the developed world and anthropology the rest, we will also
examine the legacies of evolutionary thinking and images of savages and primitives within
anthropological theory. The second half of the course will trace new debates and theories
in anthropology that emerged as a consequence of larger struggles within social and
political life that anthropology could no longer insulate itself from, such challenges came
from feminism, decolonization, the Vietnam war, arguments about agency, individual and
historical. Not least, anthropologys central axis and attachment, the concept of culture,
increasingly became the site of struggle and contestation outside the academy. The course
does not promise to be exhaustive but it will provide students with some of the major texts
and debates that have informed the development of anthropological theory.

There are numerous histories of anthropology texts being published. Below are a few
recommendations if you want to have any accompanying material through the class.

***Alan Barnard and Jonathan Spencer Encyclopedia of Social and Cultural

Anthropology [very useful as a reference and an invaluable guide to have though bear in
mind that I will recognize potted histories in essays and commentaries that come from the

Adam Kuper, The Invention of Primitive Society / Anthropology and Anthropologists

George Stocking Jr. - Multiple books

Moore, H. L. and T. Sanders (eds) (2005) Anthropology in Theory: Issues in Theory in

Epistemology. Blackwell Publishing
Sherry B. Ortner Anthropology since the Sixties Comparative Studies in Society and
History , Vol. 26, No. 1 (Jan., 1984), pp. 126-166

Course Requirements:

Students are required to attend all weekly seminars, to do all required reading, and to
participate actively in seminar discussions. Each session will have two students appointed
as facilitators. Student facilitators should come to class with a list of questions to guide class
discussion & specific passages that they would like the class to focus on in discussion.

In addition, by Tuesday midnight, students will post a five hundred-word commentary to a

common email list. All students are expected to read each others commentaries before

The course will be assessed partly (40%) on class contributions (discussion, presentation,
and commentaries) and on a final paper (60%). Final paper topics can be discussed with
me. Paper topics should be focused on a key anthropological question/debate and the ways
in which this has been framed, understood and answered within anthropology. Abstracts
for the paper are due in on Week 10. Papers will be 10-15 pages long.

Class Schedule:

Every class (with the exception of the first class) will begin with a 20-30 minutes of
introductory remarks where I will put the readings into larger context and provide
somewhat of a framework for the discussion. Then the student facilitators will open the
class for general discussion.


All required readings are available at the coursework site. There are two categories of
readings, primary and supplemental. I expect you to have done the primary and the
supplemental readings for class, reading the primary first and then the supplemental as way
of providing a larger commentary on the material. The supplemental is not the same thing
as optional. You will also find that the supplemental reading often illuminates the primary
reading, so I do not suggest sacrificing it. Where I think material can be skimmed, I have
indicated it.


9/25 Week 1. Introduction: how do we study society?

Is the social an object?
We will spend the first 40 minutes discussing the overview of course syllabus and themes,
and allocating student facilitator slots. The second half of the class will be discussion of the
reading for the session. The reading will introduce students to the setting up of society
and the social as an object of study distinct from the natural sciences in the late
nineteenth century. We will focus on the question of social facts and Webers insistence
on meaning as integral to social action.

Primary Reading
Emile Durkheim, What is a Social Fact? and Rules for the Explanation of
Social Facts in Rules of the Sociological Method (Pages 50-59, 119-144)
Durkheim, Selections from The Elementary Forms of Religious Life (Pages 1-44,
SKIM/SKIP 207-241, read with care 418-448)
Max Weber Economy and Society Basic Sociological Terms (Pages 3-36 & 53-
Max Weber The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (Authors intro &
Part 1: pages 3-50)

Supplementary Reading
Robert Parkin Durkheim and his Era in Frederik Barth, Andre Gingrich, Robert
Parkin and Sydel Silverman One Discipline Four Ways: British, German, French,
and American Anthropology (Halle Lectures) Pages 170-185
Anthony Giddens Introduction in Max Weber The Protestant Ethic and the
Spirit of Capitalism

10/2 Week 2. The social: how does it work? who acts?

The introductory remarks will introduce students to theories of functionalism and

structural functionalism, their major presumptions especially in setting up guidelines of
ethnographic research and comparative analysis, and their legacy for how we think about
the social as an object of study. Reading will focus on the key themes of total social
facts, participant observation ( the natives point of view), forms of structural analysis,
conscious and unconscious structures of meaning and signification, and the principle of
reciprocity and exchange as a fundamental of human existence. How is the social being
analyzed here? Who is to be analyzed and who analyzes? Is the universal the same as the

Primary Reading
Marcel Mauss The Gift (Pages 1-45, 63-81)
Radcliffe-Brown, On Joking Relationships The Sociological Theory of
Totemism On Social Structure, in Structure and Function in Primitive Society
(1924) (Pages 90-104, 117-132, 188-204)
Bronislaw Malinowski Argonauts of the Western Pacific, Introduction: The
Subject, Method, and Scope of this Inquiry & The Essentials of the Kula (Pages
1-25, 81-104)

Supplementary Reading
Edmund Leach Virgin Birth Proceedings of the Royal Anthropological Institute
of Great Britain and Ireland No. 1966 (1966), pp. 39-49
Frederik Barth Malinowski and Radcliffe- Brown, 1920-1945 in One Discipline,
Four Ways: British, German, French, and American Anthropology (Halle
Lectures) Pages 22-31

10/9 Week 3. Boas and Levi Strauss: Culture, Language and


The Introductory remarks will discuss how the French and German Enlightenment
produced the seemingly opposed ideas of Civilization and Kultur and the impact of
this on different schools of thinking about culture and structure. Remarks will take
Franz Boas and Levi-Strauss (who knew each other) and discuss the legacy of their work
and lives particularly around issues of history, race, language and ideas around structure,
which have profoundly shaped anthropology. Readings will focus in on getting students
acquainted with Boas and Levi-Strauss and their key concepts and critiques, as well as
examining the Boasian Culture and Personality school which has influenced larger
American culture as well as anthropology.

Primary Reading:
Franz Boas, Selections, 1,7,8,29,30,31,34, 42 in A Franz Boas Reader: The
Shaping of American Anthropology 1883-1911 Pages 23-36, 61-71, 202-218, 221-
242, 267-281, 310-316
Claude Levi Strauss Structural Anthropology (Pages 1-25, 31-51, 277-315)
Claude Levi Strauss Race and Culture in A View from Afar, Pages 3 - 24,
Claude Levi Strauss Elementary Structures of Kinship, 1-25, 52-68, 478-497

Culture and Personality School

Ruth Benedict The Chrysanthemum and the Sword: Patterns of Japanese Culture p.
1-20, 43-76, 253-297
Margaret Mead Coming of Age in Samoa: A Pyschological Study of Primitive Youth
for Western Civilization, pages 3-12. 16-28, 135-160

Supplemental Reading
Marshal Sahlins On the Anthropology of Levi-Strauss
Johannes Fabian Our Time, Their Time, No Time: Co-evalness Denied Time
and the Other: How Anthropology Makes its Object (Pages 37-69)
Sydel Silverman The Boasians and the Invention of Cultural Anthropology One
Discipline, Four Ways: British, German, French, and American Anthropology
(Halle Lectures) pages 257-274
Andre Gingrich From the Nationalist Birth of Volkskunde to the Establishment of
Academic Diffusionism: Branching Off from the International Mainstream in One
Discipline, Four Ways: British, German, French, and American Anthropology
(Halle Lectures) pages 76- 93
10/16 Week 4. The Problem of Authority: Society without a

Introductory remarks will highlight the key issues surrounding the birth of political
anthropology (especially the Manchester School and the Rhodes Livingston institute in
South Africa) and dominant ideas about stateless societies and primitive forms of power.
The readings will focus in on the major questions that anthropologists felt they encountered
how do societies that seemed to not have a centralized state work? Why do people obey
rules? Where does authority come from? Why do those societies seem to have ever more
intricate social arrangements rather than less in the absence of centralized states? What was
the role of kinship or ritual for anthropologists viewed as issues of morality- in arbitrating
social life? In these accounts, these societies appear shorn of the colonial states in which
they were in fact embedded within. Does such an acknowledgement constitute these
questions differently?

Primary Reading
E. E. Evans-Pritchard and Meyer Fortes (1940) Introduction in African Political
Systems (Pages 1-23)
E. E. Evans-Pritchard The Nuer African Political Systems (272-296)
Max Gluckman Stateless Societies and the Maintenance of Order in Politics,
Law and Ritual in Tribal Society. (Pages 81-121)
Max Gluckman Introduction & Rituals of Rebellion in South-East Africa
(Pages 1-49, 110-136)
Pierre Clastres Society against the State in Society against the State. (189-218)
Pierre Clastres Archeology of Violence: War in Primitive Societies Archaeology
of Violence (Pages139-167)
Edmund Leach Introduction Political Systems of Highland Burma (Pages 1-17)

Supplemental Reading
McKinnon, Susan. "Domestic Exceptions: Evans-Pritchard and the Creation of
Nuer Patrilineality and Equality." Cultural Anthropology 15, no. 1 (2000): 35-83
Frederik Barth The Golden Age, 1945-1970 in Frederik Barth, Andre Gingrich,
Robert Parkin and Sydel Silverman One Discipline, Four Ways: British, German,
French, and American Anthropology (Halle Lectures) Pages 32-43

10/23 Week 5. Confronting Colonial Histories

Introductory remarks will talk about the political and intellectual contexts in which
anthropologist began confronting the colonial and postcolonial world. The major question
was also one about history. Hitherto, anthropologists had understood non-western societies
as timeless culture gardens. How does thinking about these societies within global history
and as having distinct histories transform anthropology? The readings will focus on
anthropology confronting its own colonial position AND the anthropology of colonialism.
Primary Reading
Talal Asad Introduction in Anthropology and the Colonial Encounter, (Pages 9-
Eric Wolf Introduction Europe and the People Without History (Pages 3-23)
Nicholas Thomas, Introduction, Chaps 4,6 Colonialisms Culture (Pages 105-142,
Peter Pels & Oscar Salemink Introduction: Locating the Colonial Subjects of
Anthropology in Colonial Subjects: Essays on the Practical History of
Anthropology, (Pages 1-52)
Jean & John Comaroffs Ethnography and the Historical Imagination The
Madman and the Migrant in Ethnography and the Historical Imagination (Pages 3-
45, 155-177
Ann Stoler Carnal Knowledge and Imperial Power: Gender, Race and Morality in
Colonial Asia in Michaela di Leonardo, ed., Gender at the Crossroads of
Knowledge (Berkeley: University of California Press, 55-101

10/30 Week 6. Gendered Models: Gendered Methods: Feminist


The first major challenge to anthropological scholarship was from feminism. Feminist
anthropology fundamentally questioned the universalization and normalization of
particular points of view as the supreme analyzers as well as objects of study. Remarks will
put this history in context. Readings cover some of the classic themes in feminist
anthropology and the questions that they pose which have transformed anthropological
practice and theory. We will also discuss whether questions of gender and questions of
sexuality can be considered to be synonymous with each other or should be distinct.

Annette Weiner Introduction Women of Value, Men of Renown. Texas:

University of Texas Press, l976 (Pages 3-24)
Sherry Ortner Is Female to Male as Nature Is to Culture? Woman, Culture and
Society, edited by M. Z. Rosaldo and L. Lamphere. (Pages 21-42)
Michelle Z. Rosaldo, Woman, Culture, and Society: A Theoretical Overview, in
Michelle Z. Rosaldo and Louise Lamphere (eds), Woman, Culture, and Society.
Marilyn Strathern No Nature, No Culture: The Hagen Case in Nature, Culture,
and Gender, Carol MacCormack and Marilyn Strathern (eds). Cambridge,
Cambridge University Press. (Pages 174-219)
Carol Delaney. 1986. "The Meaning of Paternity and the Virgin Birth Debate."
Man, volume 21: 494-513.
Gayle Rubin "The Traffic in Women: Notes on the 'Political Economy' of Sex", in,
Toward an Anthropology of Women ed Rayna Reiter (Pages 157-210)
Jane Fishburne Collier and Sylvia Junko Yanagisako. "Toward a Unified analysis of
Gender and Kinship," Gender and Kinship: Essays Toward a Unified Analysis ed.
Collier and Yanagisako (Pages 14-50)
Feminism and Sexuality Studies
Gayle Rubin Thinking Sex: Notes for an Radical Theory of the Politics of
Sexuality Pages 143-172
Judith Butler Against Proper Objects in Differences: A Journal of Feminist
Cultural Studies Vol. 6. Summer-Fall, pp. 1-26

11/6 Week 7. Culture: Doing, Being, Having

Anthropology has always positioned culture as its unique and distinct object of study.
Introductory remarks will position this notion of culture in relation to nationalism, and,
anthropological discourse itself in relation to ideas of national character and culture. We
will be looking back at previous weeks discussions of national character etc. Readings will
discuss our use of the idea of culture and meaning (introducing the Interpretive and
Symbolic turn in Anthropology in the 1970s) and its challenging by political and ethical
questions around perspective, ethnic conflict, and anthropological authority in the 1980s.

Clifford Geertz Thick Description: Towards an Interpretive Theory of Culture,

Deep Play: Notes on the Javanese Cockfight in The Interpretation of Culture.
(Pages 3-30, 412-453)
Clifford Geertz Being There, Anthropology and the Scene of Writing Works
and Lives: The Anthropologist as Author (Pages 1-24)
James Clifford Introduction: Partial Truths in Writing Culture: The Poetics and
Politics of Ethnography. (Pages 1-26)
Richard Fardon Localizing Strategies: The Regionalization of Ethnographic
Accounts (General Introduction) in Localizing Strategies, p. 1-35
James Clifford Identity in Mashpee in The Predicament of Culture (Pages 277-
Richard Handler Having a Culture: the Preservation of Quebecs Patrimoine in
Nationalism and the Politics of Culture in Quebec (Pages 140-158)
Jonathan Spencer Writing Within: Anthropology, Nationalism, and Culture in Sri
Lanka [and Comments and Reply] Current Anthropology Vol. 31, No. 3 (Jun.,
1990) (Pages 283-300)

11/13 Week 8. Substantivism, Marxism, Moral Economy

Since Karl Polanyis The Great Transformation, and Mauss The Gift anthropological
thinking has been heavily substantivist focusing not on formal economic models but on
how the economy is embedded within larger social process. Karl Marx has also, as in
almost all academic disciplines, been a towering influence in how questions of labor, value,
alienation, and macro-economic analysis has been framed and understood within
anthropology (especially in the work of Maurice Godelier & Claude Meisselloux). Within
anthropology there has been some major major (intermingled) objects of analysis that has
dominated economic analysis, examples are: the question of money (from primitive
monies onwards; the distinction between the gift and the commodity and how this relates
to the determination of value; the idea of the moral economy; and most latterly capitalist
transformation, financialisation and new neoliberal regimes. This session we will focus in
on the question of moral economy and how anthropological analysis configured the
peasant as the new savage of the 1980s. Students will also become acquainted with some
of Marxs critical writings on the question of labor, value, and the social and political
embeddness of economic analysis.

Karl Marx Manuscript 1, 2 & 3 (minus last section on Hegel)Economic and
Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844
OPTIONAL Karl Marx. Chapter 1 Capital. (I have truncated the selection
which may make for odd reading but try your best and do read the stuff on value in-
between if it would aid understanding! Pages, 3-33, 45-52)

Moral Economy
James. C. Scott The Moral Economy of the Peasant: Rebellion and Subsistence in
South- East Asia. (Pages 157- 192)
William Roseberry Marxism and Culture & The Construction of Natural
Economy in Anthropologies and Histories: Essays in Culture, History, and
Political Economy (Pages 30-54, 197-232)
Michael Taussig The Devil and Commodity Fetishism. Chap 1,2,6,7 (Pages 3-38,
Stephen Gudeman and Diego Riviera Conversations [OPTIONAL] The
House The Base Conversations in Colombia: The Domestic Economy in Life
and Text Pages 1-12 [this intro is OPTIONAL], 39-77
Caroline Humphrey 2002, Introduction to Part I. and Chapters 1 & 2 The
Unmaking of Soviet Life: Everyday Economies after Socialism Pages 1-39

11/20 Week 9. Power: Technique, Practice, Fetish

Since the 1980s, the older questions in anthropology around power in stateless societies
has increasingly come to confront the modern state. How does one study the modern
state? Is the state an idea or a thing? How do anthropologists configure it as an
ethnographic object? How do we think about power in the modern state and how does it
manifest? What is the relationship to the colonial and postcolonial state? Introductory
remarks will briefly discuss these new trends within anthropology since the 1980s and
1990s. The readings will take power as a form of technique, as a set of practices, and as a
mystical fetish/name. We will also discuss how we relate these new concerns around the
state to older anthropological theories of power.

Primary Reading
Philip Abrams Notes on the Difficulty of Studying the State (1977) Journal of
Historical Sociology Vol. 1 No. 1 March 1988 (Read Pages 58-82 of 58-89)
Michel Foucault, Selections from Society Must be Defended Lectures at the
Collge de France, 1975-1976
Michel Foucault, Governmentality The Foucault Effect: Studies in
Governmentality, Edited by Graham Burchell, Colin Gordon, and Peter Miller
Timothy Mitchell Society, Economy, and the State Effect in George Steinmetz
(ed.) State/Culture: State Formation after the Cultural Turn (Pages 76-95)
Michael Taussig Maleficium: State Fetishism in The Nervous System. (Pages
111- 140)
Supplemental Reading
Thomas Blom Hansen and Finn Stepputat Sovereignty Revisited Annual Review
of Anthropology, Vol. 35 (2006), pp. 295-315
Mladen Dolar Where Does Power Come From? The Ethics of Violence, pages

12/4 Week 10. Practice and Performance: The Body
Abstracts for final paper due in

We finish the course with a topic that offers an overview of many of the different debates
and schools that we have covered hitherto: the body. Remarks and readings show the
long anthropological engagement with questions of the body as an actor and as acted upon,
as well as the more recent focus on the body from the 1990s onwards.

Primary Reading

Marcel Mauss Techniques of the body, Economy and Society, 2:1, 70-87
Mary Douglas External Boundaries in Purity and Danger, (Pages 141-159)
Mary Douglas The Two Bodies Natural Symbols: Explorations in Cosmology,
pages 93-112
Pierre Bourdieu The Logic of Practice. Pages 30-79, 98-134 [reading is split into
two parts on Coursework: Chapters 1-4 and Chapters 5,7,8]

Supplemental Reading
Thomas J. Csordas Introduction: the body as representation and being-in-the-
world in Embodiment and Experience: the Existential Ground of Culture and Soil
ed. Thomas. J. Csordas. (Pages 1-12)
Terence Turner Bodies and Anti-bodies: Flesh and Fetish in contemporary social
theory Embodiment and Experience: the Existential Ground of Culture and Soil
ed. Thomas. J. Csordas (Pages 27- 46)