SOAS University of London

Department of Anthropology and Sociology

Body politics: the anthropology of "race", gender and desire

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

This course explores the construction and lived realities of race in its intersection with gender, and its rootedness in colonialism and empire, both historically and in the present. It critically situates anthropological knowledge as central to both the perpetuation and the critical analysis and political critique of "race" as a category of difference with social, political, and economic effects. Exploring the fluid, socially constructed, and powerfully effective nature of both gender and "race" the course explores the ways they intertwine in theory and in lived experience across diverse societies and political discourses. At the same time, we explore how the categories of race and gender have been the object of scientific discourses and technologies of control. Also exploring social theory and other scholarship beyond anthropology, the course examines the diverse and interconnected understandings, experiences, and effects of “race”and gender as systems of meaning-making and power across spaces, places and historical times. A core aim of the course will be to analyse whiteness as a system of power and knowledge that intersects gendered ideologies and privileges, and sustains white supremacy in anthropological theory and in cultural-political systems. 

We will also look at the emerging body politics of political cultures, struggles, and solidarities that have congealed through and beyond static binary constructions of gender and biological notions of “race," including those efforts to address the politics of knowledge production within the discipline that unsettle the white premises of anthropology's history and present.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

By the end of the course, students should be able to demonstrate:

  • Understand the parameters of analysis and stakes involved in Anthropology's treatment of “race”, gender and Whiteness
  • Understand the concepts and methods of intersectional analysis
  • Understand how race and gender are mutually constitutive in different contexts
  • Use anthropological and social theory to analyze the history and present of gender and "race"
  • ecome familiar with recent anthropological and other social theory of gender in its intersection with "race"
  • Apply increased analytical and research skills to contemporary and historical topics related to "race" and gender
  • Read texts closely and critically
  • Reflect critically and in nuanced ways on the ways in which Anthropology has conceptualised “race” and gender as well as made whiteness invisible
  • Understand how "race" and gender have been a feature of capitalism and global political systems
  • Critically read ethnographies of racialized and gendered experiences


One hour lecture and one hour seminar per week.

Scope and syllabus

  1. Body Politics: Gendering "Race" and Racialising Gender
  2. "Race", Sexuality Colonialism and Desire
  3. Whiteness and White Ignorance:The Complicity of Anthropology
  4. Race, Gender, Extinction and the Anthropocene
  5. Right Wing Populism: Gender and the Reproduction of Whiteness
  6. Race, Gender and Precarious BodiesGender and Post-Humanism: "Breathing Race into the Machine"
  7. Gender, "Race" and Sex Work
  8. Gender, "Race" and Pornography
  9. Black and Other Lives Matter: New Solidarities and Struggles

Suggested reading

  • Mire, A. (2019). Wellness in Whiteness. Taylor & Francis
  • Berry, Maya, Claudia Chávez Argüelles, Shanya Cordis, Sarah Ihmoud, and Elizabeth Velásquez Estrada. (2017). “Toward a Fugitive Anthropology: Gender, Race, and Violence in the Field”. Cultural Anthropology 32 (4):537-65.
  • Rosa, J., & Bonilla, Y. (2017). Deprovincializing Trump, decolonizing diversity, and unsettling anthropology. American Ethnologist, 44, 201–208.
  • Roy, D. (2018). Molecular feminisms: Biology, becomings, and life in the lab. Seattle: University of Washington Press.
  • Braun, L. (2014) Breathing Race into the Machine: The Surprising Career of the Spirometer from Plantation to Genetics. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
  • Bosworth, M., & Flavin, J. (2007). Race, gender, and punishment: From colonialism to the war on terror. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press.
    Edmonds, A. (2011) Pretty Modern: Beauty, Sex, and Plastic Surgery in Brazil. Durham: Duke University Press
  • Heyes, C.J. and Jones, M. (2009) Cosmetic Surgery: A Feminist Primer. London: Ashgate.
  • Miller-Young, Mireille (2014) A Taste for Brown Sugar: Black Women in Pornography. Durham: Duke University Press.
  • Mills, C. (2007) White Ignorance, in Shannon Sullivan and Nancy Tuana (eds), Race and Epistemologies of Ignorance. Albany, NY: SUNY Press ,pp. 13–38.
  • Pierre, J., (2013) The predicament of blackness: Postcolonial Ghana and the politics of race. Chicago; London: University of Chicago Press.
  • Hill, Collins, P., (2004) Black Sexual Politics: African Americans, Gender, and the New Racism, Routledge, 2004.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules