SOAS University of London

Department of Anthropology and Sociology

Introduction to Social Anthropology

Module Code:
FHEQ Level:
Year of study:
Year 1
Taught in:
Full Year

The first term introduces students to anthropology through a number of significant analytical oppositions. These include society and the individual, status and contract, mind and body, culture and nature, self and other, etc. In addition, particular themes in anthropology, such as modes of classification, ritual and meaning, exchange relations, explanations of witchcraft, and so forth, will be discussed. The aim is to emphasize that only through detailed ethnographic knowledge can theoretical ideas be grasped and assessed.

The second term covers the history of anthropology as an academic discipline in Britain and the United States between roughly 1900 and 1970. The purpose of this term is threefold. First, it evaluates the classical canon of mainstream social and cultural anthropology using seven leading figures and their research as our examples. Second, it introduces a critical framework for understanding the production of anthropological theory/knowledge in relation to changing biographical, social, political, economic, and ethnographic circumstances. Third, it helps students develop the skills necessary for a close and critical reading of ethnographies.

In general, lectures will deal with the theoretical problems of a particular theme, while tutorial classes will examine ethnographic case studies in greater detail.


May also be taken as an open option by students in other departments.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

At completion of the course students:

  • will be familiar with some of the major themes (e.g. kinship, gift exchange, categorisation) in the history of the discipline of anthropology, and with the lives, ethnographic work, and thought of those who introduced and explored these themes;
  • they will have knowledge of a range of debates from the beginnings of anthropology to the contemporary scene and will be able to assess these debates and place them in their own socio-historical context;
  • will have an appreciation of the impact of history and social change upon the discipline, via study of phenomena such as the World Wars, colonialism, and the emergence ‘native anthropology’;
  • will have explored issues of disciplinarity and will have a good sense of ways in which anthropology has allied itself at various moments and places with hard science, social science, literature, humanities and film.

Method of assessment

The written exam will count for 50%. Two pieces of coursework will count for 40% (20% each) towards the final mark, whilst Seminar Participation will account for 10%.

Suggested reading

  • Delaney, Carol, An Experiential Introduction to Anthropology, Blackwell, 2004.
  • Eriksen, Thomas H., Small Places, Large Issues: An Introduction to Social and Cultural Anthropology, Pluto Press, 1995.
  • Geertz, Clifford, Works and Lives: The Anthropologist as Author, Polity Press, 1998.
  • Herzfeld, Michael, Anthropology, Theoretical Practice in Culture and Society, Blackwell, 2001.
  • Kuklick, Henrika, A New History of Anthropology, Blackwell, 2008.
  • Kuper, Adam, Anthropology and Anthropologists, Routledge, 1996.
  • Monaghan, John, and Peter Just, Social and Cultural Anthropology: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford University Press, 2000.
  • Moore, Henrietta L. (ed.), Anthropological Theory Today, Polity Press, 1999.
  • Stocking, George (ed.), Observers Observed: Essays on Ethnographic Fieldwork, University of Wisconsin Press, 1984.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules