SOAS University of London

Department of Anthropology and Sociology

Voice and Place

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

This course is structured around two key words:

“Voice” suggests the subject who speaks and writes: under this rubric we can think about different forms of voice deployed and reflected upon by anthropologists in their work.

“Place” is considered as the location from which these voices emanate: and we will think about the different types of places within which anthropologists conduct research, as well as about the types of places from which they write.

The central question that brings together these two themes and runs throughout the course will be to what extent a methodological feature of that earlier tradition - “fieldwork” - remains central to anthropology as practiced and as a body of theoretical reflection. 

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

The aim of this course is to provide an overview of theoretical and regional concerns, situating past and present anthropologies in the context of their producers and audiences. A further key aim is to introduce students to members of the department and their regional interests, thereby informing the choice of Year 2 anthropology option modules (which you will be required to make at the end of the first year). 

On successful completion of the course, a student will:

  • Know about the research work and theoretical interests of most members of the Department of Anthropology at SOAS.
  • Have knowledge of ethnographic and theoretical work which the department collectively feels to be central to contemporary Social Anthropology.
  • Have an awareness of ethnographically grounded theoretical issues on which courses in the 2nd and 3rd years will be focused.
  • Have an understanding of the diverse types of media through which anthropological knowledge is conveyed.
  • Be able to make an informed choice concerning your Year 2 anthropology option modules.
  • Have a deeper awareness of the types of changes that anthropological research and theory is currently undergoing.

Scope and syllabus

Representative topics discussed in the past include:
  • Religion and tribal identities in South-East Asia;
  • Elite weddings in Syria;
  • Death ritual in China;
  • Sorcery and subjectivity among the Tabwa of Zaire;
  • The role of the anthropologist in representing local voices to development bureaucrats. 
And among the representative questions raised in the past include: 
  • Is Hindu caste a British invention?
  • Arabia in Africa: are pure cultures possible?
  • Why does fieldwork matter?
  • What will anthropology look like in the year 2029?

Method of assessment

Two essays each of 2500 words will contribute 40% of the mark. Three hour written examination 50%. Seminar Participation will account for 10%.

Suggested reading

  • Eriksen, T H 2001 Small Places, Large Issues: An Introduction to Social and Cultural Anthropology. Pluto Press. Introduction and chapters to interest.
  • Geertz, C. 1988. Works and Lives: The Anthropologist as Author. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
  • C Geertz The Religion of Java (Chicago, 1960).
  • E E Evans-Pritchard Witchcraft, Oracles and Magic among the Azande (Oxford, 1937).
  • A C Mayer Caste and Kinship in Central India (Routledge, 1960).
  • J Clifford & G Marcus (eds) Writing Culture: the poetics and politics of ethnography (California, 1986).
  • P Spencer (ed) Society and the Dance (Cambridge, 1985).
  • E M Ahern The Cult of the Dead in a Chinese Village (Cambridge, 1973).
  • E Said Orientalism (Penguin, 1978).
  • R Firth We the Tikopia (Allen and Unwin, 1936).


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules