SOAS University of London

Department of Anthropology and Sociology

Culture and Society of East Africa

Module Code:
FHEQ Level:
Year of study:
Year 1 or Year 2
Taught in:
Term 1

A focus on tradition and change at the level of community and a region that has been subject to rapid transformation from colony to post-colony. Regional societies have been shaped by the state, regional and global processes and the course will examine issues of ethnicity, nationalism and identity; witchcraft and healing; pastoralists, hunter-gatherers and cultivators; issues of ethnographic representation; problems of development, of urbanisation, and of social conflict.

The module is is one of several regional ethnography modules offered by the Department of Anthropology (currently Culture and Society of: China, Japan, South Asia, South East Asia, Near & Middle East, West Africa, and East Africa). Each of these focuses on major cultural and social aspects, but varies in detail according to the characteristics of and scholarship on the region. Masters students in the Department of Anthropology are encouraged to study more than one regional ethnography module (albeit not normally two modules taught in the same term), to explore synergies across regions and gain a broader comparative understanding of the discipline.


  • 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.

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. Skills in reading and contextualizing works on East Africa are readily transferable to other regional studies.

Suggested reading

  • A P Caplan Choice and constraint in a Swahili community (1975).
  • S Heald Controlling anger: the sociology of Gisu violence (1989).
  • P D Little The elusive granary (Chamus, 1992).
  • J F M Middleton Lugbara religion: ritual and authority among an East African people (1960).
  • D J Parkin Sacred void: spatial images of work and ritual among the Giriama (1991).
  • P Spencer The Samburu: a study of gerontocracy (1965).


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules