SOAS University of London

Department of Anthropology and Sociology

Issues in the Anthropology of Gender

Module Code:
Year of study:
Year 1 or Year 2
Taught in:
Term 2
The course attempts an extended critique of the western biases which lie behind both anthropological and feminist/gay/lesbian accounts of gender and subordination in human societies. Anthropological approaches to gender differ from the latter perspectives in a number of ways, of which perhaps the most important is the anthropological disposition to relativism. Students are encouraged to use ideas and examples drawn particularly from non-Western ethnographies to inform and to qualify gender issues as they are usually discussed in the West. 

Students following the MA programme in Social Anthropology are asked to undertake essay work which raises questions of theory concerning, e.g. rationality, socialization, the relation between anthropology and psychology, or between inequality and domination. Students following the MA in the Social Anthropology of Development will focus on issues concerning gender and the state, international labour debates, and the causes and consequences of the gendered aspects of development projects - among other topics. MA Medical Anthropology students will focus in particular on questions related to the gendered body, which have, for example, been treated in recent dissertations on sex therapy, reproductive technologies, HIV and AIDS, and mental health. Students in the other Anthropology MA programmes may identify issues particularly relevant to their primary area of study, in dialogue with the course convenor.


  • Students enrol via the online Module Sign-Up system.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

At completion of the course, students will:

  • have a familiarity with major writers and theories in the study of gender and sexuality from the 1970s to date;
  • have some knowledge of earlier studies;
  • have read several ethnographies of gendering or sexual behaviour;
  • understand the differences between differently rooted branches of the study of these phenomena;
  • appreciate ways in which anthropological perspectives differ from feminist studies and from psychoanalytic approach;
  • be aware of the range of core issues which have formed the principal focus of various disciplines' approaches (e.g. difference, dominance, sexual behaviors, the sexed body, binary and non binary gender systems, normativity and expectation, cross-cultural variability, whether sex and gender are linked or separated etc);
  • 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.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules