SOAS University of London

Department of Anthropology and Sociology

Culture and Society of East Africa

Module Code:
Module Not Running 2021/2022
FHEQ Level:
Year of study:
Taught in:
Term 2

This module provides an introduction to the richness and complexity of East African societies by drawing on ethnography of Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Somalia, Ethiopia and Eritrea. The module focuses on a number of contemporary issues including love and sexuality, violence and justice, land grabbing and dispossession, refugees, and trade and popular economies, as well as how social identity is seen through the prism of illness/spirit possession, gender, ethnicity, nationalism and race. The module seeks to explore these topics through a balance of ethnography and theory, drawing attention to how anthropology helps us to understand the social and political dynamics of the region, and how East African ethnography contributes to wider debates in the discipline.

A significant focus of the module is the situated nature of knowledge and representations on and about East Africa and particularly how colonial and post-colonial narratives can obscure the complexity and vitality of the region.


  • Students enrol via the online Module Sign-Up system.
  • MA Area Studies students wishing to take this module as their ‘major’ will normally hold a degree or substantial part-degree in social anthropology or a closely related discipline. Area Studies students wishing to take this module as their ‘major’ must contact the module convenor for approval.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

By the end of the course, students will:

• be able to critically evaluate a range of theories and ethnographic source material relating to East African societies;
• be able to locate and use secondary sources relevant to selected topics;
• have a grasp of the key debates in the anthropology of East Africa.

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. This will form a base which will enable MA Anthropology students to write their dissertations (10,000 words) on a topic relating to East Africa should they so wish.)

Scope and syllabus

  • Week 1 Introduction
  • Week 2 Imagining the Nation
  • Week 3 The Swahili
  • Week 4 Health and Healing
  • Week 5 Possession, Sorcery, Witchcraft
  • Week 6 Reading Week
  • Week 7 Popular Economies
  • Week 8 Love, Marriage and Sexuality
  • Week 9 Land and Social Relations
  • Week 10 Violence and Justice
  • Week 11 Refugees and Displacement

Suggested reading

  • Campbell, John. 2014. Nationalism, Law and Statelessness. Grand Illusions in the Horn of Africa. Routledge.
  • Carrier, Neil. 2007. Kenyan Khat: The Social Life of a Stimulant. Brill.
  • Di Nunzio, Marco. 2019. The Act Of Living: Street Life, Marginality, and Development in Urban Ethiopia. Cornell.
  • Falk Moore, Sally. 1986. Social Facts and Fabrications: "Customary" Law on Kilimanjaro, 1880–1980. Cambridge University Press.
  • Hodgson, Dorothy. L. 2011. Being Maasai, Becoming Indigenous: Postcolonial Politics in a Neoliberal World. Indiana University Press.
  • Langwick , Stacy. 2010. Bodies, Politics and African Healing: The Matter of Maladies in Tanzania. Indiana University Press.
  • Little, Peter. 2003. Somalia: Economy without State. Indiana University Press.
  • Malkki, Liisa. 1995. Purity in Exile. Violence, Memory, and National Cosmology among Hutu Refugees in Tanzania. University of Chicago Press.
  • Shipton, Parker. 1989. Bitter Money: Cultural Economy and Some African Meanings of Forbidden Commodities. American Ethnological Society.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules