SOAS University of London

Department of Anthropology and Sociology

Theoretical Approaches to Social Anthropology

Module Code:
Module Not Running 2022/2023
FHEQ Level:
Year of study:
Year 1
Taught in:
Full Year

Theoretical Approaches to Social Anthropology (TASA) is a core MA course that guides students through a host of key concepts and theories that underpin the modern discipline of social anthropology. The course seeks to highlight the contribution of anthropological thinking to the understanding of social life, and to show how anthropologists ask serious, big questions about society, but they do so in a way that is explicitly attentive to particularity, multiplicity, and complexity.

Term 1 introduces students to the discipline’s theoretical concerns and orientations since the 1960s, and the varied ways in which they have been rethought and retooled under contemporary conditions. The syllabus consciously moves beyond curricular models of “who is who” in theory, offering instead a theme-based genealogy of theoretical shifts over the past five decades. But it does so without overlooking anthropology’s historical colonial entanglements, and without giving up its older core question: what does it mean to be human? The topics covered include, for example, history and anthropology, statecraft, spaces of death, 'new' kinship, informal work, and humour.

In Term 2, the module looks into some of the most important sources of new anthropological ideas after the demise of ‘grand theory’, roughly from the 1960s to the present. New concerns and questions came to the fore through anthropology engaging with a variety of theoretical and political currents, themselves ranging from feminism to phenomenology and including the important work of Bourdieu, Foucault, Derrida and Deleuze.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

At the end of the course, students will:

  • have acquired a sense of the historical shifts in the discipline;
  • be able to engage with and evaluate the debates and arguments that have made these shifts possible;
  • be familiar with a series of very important theoretical trends;
  • be equipped with key analytical concepts.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules