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 introduces students to ethnographic studies in and of a particular region in Sub-Saharan Africa, its resident populations, and its diasporas, viewed through a variety of interconnected topics that have been important in the anthropological literature. With a particular focus on West Africa, East Africa, or Southern Africa, students will have the opportunity to explore classic and contemporary anthropological themes such as social organization, political economy, religion, gender and sexuality, race/ethnicity, personhood, the body, consumption, labour and livelihoods, violence and justice, and social identities, as they take shape in particular locales.

The module also encourages students to consider how anthropological and historical understandings help us to recognize the fundamentally interconnected and global nature of any nation, subregion, or region, whose boundaries are often designated or shift as a result of colonial, post-colonial, and neo-colonial social processes and power relations.

Whilst anthropologists are well-attuned to the histories and politics of "regionality", we remain committed to our core critical and reflective tool of fieldwork-based research, which enables us to explore the effects of extralocal and historical dynamics in the everyday practices and lived experiences of specific communities and particular lives. Such grounded, experientially based knowledge is a key aspect of anthropology—whether the anthropologist is studying their own region/community or an initially foreign locale—and thus offers a distinctive contribution to programmes across the School.

The module’s lectures, tutorials, readings and assignments are designed to ensure that students develop a solid grounding in the anthropological study of the region covered, refine their ability to critically engage diverse literatures and perspectives, and communicate their knowledge in a variety of ways. While the focus in the module is on anthropological sources, we may also look at how non-anthropologists, including novelists, filmmakers, artists, and activists, have portrayed specific regions and regional issues.     


  • 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