SOAS University of London

Department of Anthropology and Sociology

Ethnography of South Asia

Module Code:
Module Not Running 2020/2021
FHEQ Level:
Year of study:
Year 2 or Year 3
Taught in:
Term 2

South Asia is the region which includes Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, India and Sri Lanka. Because of the availability of academic literature, the course does tend to have a stronger focus on Indian ethnographies, but the other regions are represented.

The course introduces students to some core topics in the anthropology of South Asia, such as the study of caste and issues of agrarian relations, kinship, South Asian religion (Hinduism, Islam and Christianity); it gives students a chance to explore both classic and contemporary ethnographies; it offers opportunities for deeper study of particularly salient issues as they appear in South Asian ethnography (such as gender or modernity); and it introduces students to recent debates and scholarship on 'breaking issues' of research, (e.g. environment, consumption).

The 0.5 unit ethnography modules offered by the Department of Anthropology are designed (in the 2nd year) to be combined with a 2nd ethnography module taught in a different term to form a compulsory full unit of ethnography modules (e.g., East Africa & West Africa), or (in the 3rd year) to be taken as a free-standing option.

The grasp of theory, method and problem achieved in this module builds on the foundational skills in anthropology attained in the first year, and will enable students' progression, in their following year of study, to an Advanced Ethnographic Study with a focus on South Asia or connections between South Asia and other regions, and/or to an Independent Study Project.

Instruction covers selected topics from the following five thematic areas. (A sample of possible topics from each of the five themes is shown, by way of example. Actual topics to be taught year on year will vary, although the five major themes are expected to stay constant).

Foundational anthropological themes

  • The village and anthropological imagination
  • Caste and theories of society
  • Anthropology of Hinduism
  • Kinship and society

The politics and culture of ‘minorities’

  • 'South Asian Islam' and 'ethnographers and informants'
  • Christianity in South Asia
  • Dalits and the politics of untouchability
  • Adivasi (tribal) identities and social movements

The state, development and resources

  • Anthropologies of the state and development
  • Resources, commons and conflicts
  • Liberalisation, economic growth & durable poverty in South Asia

Kinship, gender and sexuality

  • Marriages - love and otherwise
  • South Asian women: a multi-splintered category?
  • Masculinities - colonial and post Hindutva
  • Emergent gender / sexuality activism

Mobility, modernity and medicine

  • Migration, South Asian diasporas and returnee PIOs
  • The 'new India' and the 'new middle classes'
  • Technological medicine
  • Holistic and spiritualised healing, and the South Asian medical traditions


Students enrol via the online Module Sign-Up system.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

On successful completion of this module a student will be able to: 

  • critically evaluate a range of theories and ethnographic source material relating to South Asian society
  • locate and use secondary sources relevant to selected topics
  • have a grasp of the key debates in the anthropology of South Asia

Developing regional expertise is a key component of the study of anthropology, and central to programmes across the school. The learning outcomes are designed to ensure that students develop a solid grounding in the anthropology of East Africa, refine their ability to critically engage diverse literatures and communicate their knowledge in a variety of ways. These processes of comprehension, analysis and communication are central to all anthropology programmes, as well as to the broader humanities and social sciences at SOAS.

Method of assessment

One piece of coursework (40%), written exam (50%), and tutorial participation (10%).


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules