SOAS University of London

Department of Anthropology and Sociology

Theoretical Approaches to Social Anthropology

Course Code:
Unit value:
Year of study:
Year 1 or Year 2
Taught in:
Full Year

The major concepts, traditions and debates within anthropology are introduced in this course. Theoretical Approaches to Social Anthropology is the foundation course for students taking any of the MA courses in Anthropology. As such, it is available only to MA students in Anthropology, and is a requirement for them unless they have a full degree, or substantial part degree, in Anthropology at BA level, in which case they may be exempted but are advised to consider attending the lectures of either the third year BA course, Contemporary Trends in the Study of Society, or the second term of Theoretical Approaches the Social Anthropology as these courses stress particular contemporary theoretical approaches of which other courses make extensive use.) Teaching is by a one-hour weekly lecture and a one-and-a-half hour tutorial class. A full outline of topics and readings is circulated at the beginning of the course.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the course

At the end of the course, students will:

  • have acquired a sense of the historical shifts in the discipline;
  • be able to engage with and evaluate the debates and arguments that have made these shifts possible;
  • be familiar with a series of very important theoretical trends;
  • be equipped with key analytical concepts.

Scope and syllabus

The first term of the course covers debates concerning the status of the concepts of society and culture and the individual, and then introduces students to some important traditions in Social Anthropology: British structural functionalism; individualistic approaches; structuralism; Marxism and Neo-Marxism. The background to these approaches and their implications are discussed in intensive classes that complement a series of lectures.

In the second term, the course will consider anthropological approaches to history and social change beginning in the late colonial era and continuing through to the development of post-colonial theory and globalization studies. Among topics studied will be process, practice and performance; social memory; power, violence, hegemony and resistance; and the politics of representation and dialogical anthropology. The format of once weekly lectures and classes continues in the second term.

Method of assessment

The course is examined by a two hour Exam in May (50%); and four term essays (12.5% each).


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules