Ethnography of East Africa

Key information

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Module code
FHEQ Level

Module overview

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.


This module is open to all undergraduates as an Open Option.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

On successful completion of this module a student will be able to:

  1. Demonstrate an in-depth understanding of ethnographic writing on the region;
  2. Critically engage with anthropological concepts and concerns about social change, culture and identity as these are experienced in the region;
  3. Analyze and critique ethnographic literature in written and oral form.

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. These processes of comprehension, analysis and communication are central to all anthropology programmes, as well as to the broader humanities and social sciences at SOAS.

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


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules