SOAS University of London

Department of Anthropology and Sociology

Culture and Society of East Africa

Course Code:
Unit value:
Year of study:
Year 1 or Year 2

The course deals with the societies existing in one of a number of broad geographical-cultural regions (those at present on offer during 2007-8 being China, Japan, South Asia, South East Asia, Near & Middle East, West Africa, and East Africa). Each course varies in detail according to the characteristics of the region and focuses on major social and cultural aspects. 

In this context, students learn about the institutions and social groupings to be found in the political, religious, domestic and economic spheres of life, as well as the values of the people and the theories which observers have put forward in analysing and explaining these societies.

The purpose of the course is to build on the first year courses, with more detailed and deeper knowledge of a single body of ethnographic material. For single-subject students whose interests lie within a region, the course provides a focused introduction to the study of that region, which can be continued in the final year through writing a 5,000 word advanced ethnography dissertation. For two-subject students, a major purpose of the regional ethnography is to provide a further dimension to their study of the language, history, etc of the region.


This course is available to students on degrees in MA Area Studies as a minor only.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the course

This course looks in depth at issues of anthropological representation of the peoples/cultures of the region, and in particular at current socio-cultural issues which challenge conventional understandings about identity and culture.

The course aims to:

  • provide students with an in-depth understanding of ethnographic writing on the region;
  • assist students to critically engage with anthropological concepts and concerns about social, ethnic, national and racial identity as these are experienced in the region.

Scope and syllabus

A focus on tradition and change at the level of community and a region that has been subject to rapid transformation from colony to post-colony. Regional societies have been shaped by the state, regional and global processes and the course will examine issues of ethnicity, nationalism and identity; witchcraft and healing; pastoralists, hunter-gatherers and cultivators; issues of ethnographic representation; problems of development, of urbanisation, and of social conflict.

Method of assessment

The written exam will count for 60%. 2 pieces of coursework will count for 40% (20% each) towards the final mark.

Suggested reading

  • A P Caplan Choice and constraint in a Swahili community (1975).
  • S Heald Controlling anger: the sociology of Gisu violence (1989).
  • P D Little The elusive granary (Chamus, 1992).
  • J F M Middleton Lugbara religion: ritual and authority among an East African people (1960).
  • D J Parkin Sacred void: spatial images of work and ritual among the Giriama (1991).
  • P Spencer The Samburu: a study of gerontocracy (1965).


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules