751 Conceptualising the Social

Key information

Start date
End date
Year of study
Term 2
Module code
FHEQ Level

Module overview

This option module is open to all students interested in understanding major transitions in the conceptualisation of the social since the 1960s. Highlighting important currents in poststructuralist thought in anthropology and beyond, the module explores sources of new ideas and frameworks that are themselves of fundamental significance to all humanities and social science scholars.

The module guides students to engage with and critically evaluate the theoretical underpinnings of social anthropology as a field of inquiry, and the ways these have been rethought in the face of recent historical and political shifts inclusive of decolonisation and neoliberalism. It introduces new vital concepts and currents, themselves the result of intense interdisciplinary encounters between anthropology on the one hand, and sociology, history, philosophy and political science, on the other. The underlying aim is to show how the condition of the social is currently being rethought, how this rethinking has come about both within and beyond anthropology and what kinds of future actualisations of the social are invited to come about.

The module introduces some of the most important sources of new anthropological ideas after the demise of 'grand theory', roughly from the 1960s to the present.

Each week an important theoretical current will be the focus of class sessions and readings: we will discuss the concept of the habitus and work of Bourdieu, the genealogical method of Foucault, the (im)possibility of deconstruction after Derrida and the endless becomings Deleuze invites us to participate in. At the same time, the 'Moderns' of Latour and the 'Indigenous' of Strathern and Viveiros de Castro will be brought into deep conversations with one another and the work of theorists proposing the concept of embodiment as a way of bypassing the dichotomies of the body and mind, the individual and the world, will be examined.



Guided option for students on:

  • MA Social Anthropology
  • MA Social Anthropology + Intensive Language
  • MA Migration & Diaspora Studies
  • MA Migration & Diaspora Studies + Intensive Language
  • MRes Social Anthropology
  • MRes Social Anthropology + Intensive Language

This module is also a School-wide Open Option. No prerequisites.


Objectives and learning outcomes of the module


On completion of this module a student should be able to

  • Grasp the theoretical underpinnings and orientations of social anthropology as a field of inquiry, and the ways these have been rethought in the face of emerging conditions
  • Identify and evaluate diverse theoretical approaches and critically assess them in relation each other
  • See and articulate the relevance of anthropological thought to the understanding of contemporary social life
  • Use anthropological concepts to describe and discuss themes of concern across the humanities and social sciences
  • Articulate an anthropological problem - that is to distinguish an anthropological problem from a mere topic or area of interest
  • Hone their ability to read theoretical texts independently, creatively, and critically


Suggested reading

Representative readings:

  • Abélès, M. 2008. Foucault and Political Anthropology, International Social Science Journal 59: 59: 68
  • Bourdieu, P. 1990. Structures, habitus, practices & Belief and the body, in his Logic of practice. Cambridge: Polity
  • Csordas, T. 1990 Embodiment as a paradigm for anthropology, Ethos 18: 5-47
  • Derrida, J. 2006. Spectres of Marx. New York: Routledge
  • Foucault, M. 1977. Discipline and punish. The birth of prison. New York: Vintage Books
  • Foucault, M. 2008. The birth of biopolitics. Lectures at the Collége de France 1978-1979. New York: Palgrave McMillan
  • Ingold, T. (ed.) 1996. Key debates in anthropology. London: Routledge
  • Scheper-Hughes, N. & M. Lock 1987. The mindful body: a prolegomenon to future work in medical anthropology, Medical Anthropology Quarterly (n.s.) 1 (1): 6-41
    Viveiros de Castro, E. 1998. Cosmological deixis and Amerindian perspectivism, JRAI 4 (3): 469-488
  • Wacquant, L. 2011. Habitus as a topic and tool: reflections on becoming a prizefighter, Qualitative Research in Psychology 8 (1): 81-92.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules