SOAS University of London

Department of Anthropology and Sociology

The Anthropology of Gender

Module Code:
Year of study:
Year 2 or Year 3
Taught in:
Term 2

The aims of this course are to encourage students to explore the literature on gender and employ the ideas in the construction of an anthropological perspective on the relations between women and men in society; and explore the extent to which (both Western and non-Western) ethnographic studies can inform and qualify questions of gender in our own society.

The course begins with a general introduction to mainly Western historical perspectives on gender, sexuality and the body. It is important that students have a firm grasp of the constructed nature of the discourses surrounding these issues in our own society before moving off to explore and compare non-Western examples. The next few weeks will be focussed on the topic of gender, including the way that everyday spaces in the home and city become gendered and even sexualised. We will next move to a critical consideration of the ways in which sexuality has been constructed through scientific and medical discourses, and through the practices of categorisation.

The latter part of the course will focus on the body as it is represented in art and popular culture, and the way adornment and alteration of the body are used as mediums of communication, conformity and resistance. We will conclude with a look at the gendered representation of illness, concentrating on AIDS, and further consider the inextricable links between gender, sexuality, the body, ethnicity and race.

During the term, we will try to visit a current museum exhibit in London pertaining to one or more of our course topics


  • Students enrol via the on-line Module Sign-Up system.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

After completion of the course, students will:

  • obtained a familiarity with major writers and theories in the study of gender and sexuality from the 1970s to date; 
  • will have some knowledge of earlier studies; 
  • will have read several ethnographies of gendering or sexual behavior;
  • understand the differences between differently rooted branches of the study of these phenomena, and will apprcaite ways in which anthropological perspectives differ from feminist studies and from psychonalaytic; 
  • be aware of the range of core issues which have formed the principal focus of various disciplines' approaches (e.g. difference, dominance, sexual behaviours, the sexed body, binary and non binary gender systems, normativity and expectation, cross-cultural variability, whether sex and gender are linked or separated etc);
  • they will understand and be able to evaluate and apply contemporary theoretical literature (e.g. performativity, queer theory, trans theory) and assess it against ethnographic case studies.

Method of assessment

The written exam will count for 60%. Coursework will count for 30% (essay) and 10% (class participation) towards the final mark.

Suggested reading

Sample Readings:
  • Butler, J. 1990. Gender Trouble: feminism and the subversion of identity. London: Routledge. Introduction: Pages 1-34.
  • Frances, E. Mascia Lees & P. Sharpe, 1992. Introduction: Soft Tissue Modification and the Horror Within, in Tattoo, Torture, Mutilation, & Adornment: the denaturalisation of the body in culture & text. Albany: SUNY Press.
  • MacCormack, C. 1980. Nature, Culture & Gender: a critique', in MacCormack & Strathern (eds) Nature, Culture & Gender. Cambridge: UP.
  • Mirzoeff, N. 1998. The Visual Culture Reader. London: Routledge. Chapters by Susan Bordo Reading the Slender Body and Judith Butler Gender is Burning.
  • Synnott, A., 1993. The Body Social: symbolism, self & society. New York: Routledge. Chapters: 1. Body; 2. Gender. Pages 7-72.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules