SOAS University of London

Department of Anthropology and Sociology

Contemporary Trends in the Study of Society

Module Code:
Module Not Running 2022/2023
FHEQ Level:
Year of study:
Year 3
Taught in:
Full Year

This course addresses contemporary approaches to the social with special reference to anthropological contributions and those of neighbouring disciplines.  

Term 1 explores the latest trends of (anthropological) thought on the 'post-human' and the 'all too human.' Before reading week we will consider the question, does anthropology just need to be about humans? This is the provocative question that will lead us into five weeks on the ontological and post-human turns in anthropology. What would an object centred anthropology look like? What power do non-human actors (be they animals, objects, spirits, gods, ideas) have? Can we go one step further and approach ethnography from the perspective of the non-human? After reading week we will return to and reappraise an 'all too human' field, the political aesthetics of power and protest. We will address the question, in what ways art and performance are put to politics use? Major topics will include (neo)fascist image politics, religious nationalist iconographies, critically-queer creatives of colour, unruly blues singers, and climate activist artists.       

Term 2 explores a cluster of “ethico-political” concepts, ones that aim to provoke their readers into moral reflection and political debate over the contemporary conditions of society. We will consider ten such concepts (one per week) – life, death, ghosts, vulnerability, care, intimacy, secrecy, critique, dreams, and hope – through a careful combination of theory and ethnography. Each week, moreover, we will zoom in on one specific case study (e.g. “commercial surrogacy” in the week on “life”), in order to demonstrate and discuss a) the tense intertwining of ethics and politics when interpreting the social, and b) the lived struggles entailed in attempts to make sense of (often senseless) social experiences and conditions. Our ten topics, therefore, are deliberately designed to take us on uneasy journeys in order to expand our social horizons by combining passion (enthusiasm for social change) with perspective (experience of everyday social life).

Representative readings:

Term 1

  • Attala, L. 2019. How Water Makes Us Human: Engagements with the Materiality of Water. Cardiff: University of Wales Press.
  • Chao, J. 2019. Portraits of the Enemy: Visualising the Taliban in a Photography Studio. Media, War & Conflict 12 (1): 30-49.
  • Gopinath, G. 2018. Unruly Visions: The Aesthetic Practices of Queer Diaspora. Durham: Duke UP.
  • Haraway, D. J. 1991. A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century. In Simians, Cyborgs and Women. London: Routledge.
  • Kipnis, A. B. 2015. Agency between humanism and posthumanism. HAU: Journal of Anthropological Theory. 5 (2): 43-58.
  • Miller, D. 2009. Stuff. London: Polity
  • Munoz, J. E. 1999. Disidentifications: Queers of Color and the Performance of Politics. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
  • Ranciere, J. 2009. The Emancipated Spectator. London: Verso.
  • Salti, R. 2010. From Resistance to Bearing Witness to the Power of the Fantastical. Third Text 24 (1) 39-52.
  • Tarlo, E. 2007. Hijab in London: Metamorphosis, Resonance and Effects. Journal of Material Culture 12 (2): 131-56.

Term 2

  • Asad, T. et al. (eds.) 2009. Is Critique Secular? Berkeley: University of California Press.
  • Banerjee, A. 2014. Race and a Transnational Reproductive Caste System: Indian Transnational Surrogacy. Hypatia 29 (1): 113-128.
  • Fast, S. & Jennex, C. (eds.) (2019) Popular Music and the Politics of Hope. New York: Routledge.
  • Fuhrmann, A. 2016. Ghostly Desire: Queer Sexuality & Vernacular Buddhism in Contemporary Thai Cinema. Durham: Duke UP.
  • Gunaratnam, Y. 2013. Death and the Migrant: Bodies, Borders and Care. London: Bloomsbury.
  • Marino, E. & Faas, A. J. 2020. Is Vulnerability an Outdated Concept: After Subjects and Spaces. Annals of Anthropological Practice 44 (1): 33-46.
  • Miyazaki, H. 2006. Economy of Dreams: Hopes in Global Capitalism and Its Critiques. Cultural Anthropology 21 (2): 147-172.
  • Sharpe, C. 2010. Monstrous Intimacies: Making Post-Slavery Subjects. Durham: Duke UP.
  • Taylor, Janelle. 2008. On Recognition, Caring, and Dementia. Medical Anthropology Quarterly 22 (4): 313-35.


This module is required of all Year 3 BA Social Anthropology (single hons) students, and is highly recommended for all final-year joint hons Social Anthropology students, who may take it to fulfill 45 of the 60 Options credits allowed in the final year. 

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

Learning Outcomes:

  • Students are introduced to a range of issues and areas of questioning in anthropology which are fundamental to the study of society today. Students will be expected to build on their ability, developed in previous years on the programme, to read independently, closely and critically
  • Students are trained to develop the ability to look at complex situations ethnographically, teasing out the particular norms or principles which condition or shape them.
  • This includes (a) learning to look for the specifically social in everything (even and especially in the “natural”) and (b) learning how to form an anthropological problem – that is to distinguish an anthropological problem from a mere topic or area of interest.
  • Independent and innovative thinking is developed during class discussion as students come to engage with theoretical perspectives that might be new to them. Emphasis is placed upon the continuing relevance of anthropological thinking to the understanding of contemporary social life.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules