Challenges of the 21st Century


Course Objective

The aim of the courses is to make student familiar with the
anthropological discipline, its key issues, the various conceptual
approaches, the theoretical discussions and contemporary efforts to
understand a contemporary world in turmoil. Basic concepts such as
culture, socialisation, resistance, embodiment, and power, and how they
developed throughout the history of the discipline and how they are
applied in understanding and explaining contemporary societal issues.
There are six central themes or recurring issues that will be revisited
implicitly and explicitly in all three courses within the cluster. These
themes are: 1) the nature of cultures, 2) the individual and society, 3)
beliefs and belonging, 4) structure and agency, 5) the body and
materiality, and 6) language and categorisations. Anthropologists have
time and again addressed these six themes in different ways and under
different circumstances. They constitute the basis for theoretical
disagreements, methodological reflections, but also for assessing
contemporary societal issues. They should however in no way be treated
as disciplinary straightjackets. Far from that, the themes only help us
to draw some lines in the enormous complexity of human activities and
human lifeworlds. Students obtain knowledge and insights in the specific
ways in which anthropology addresses contemporary topical issues and
urgent societal problems.

Learning outcomes:

Knowledge and understanding. The student has acquired knowledge and
understanding of:
(1) how key anthropological concepts can be applied in order to address,
assess and analyze various contemporary societal issues. The six
perennial themes in anthropology will be the guideline.
(2) the specific problem definitions, conceptual frameworks and
paradigmatic approaches typical for anthropology.

Application. The student has acquired the competences to:
(3) show how anthropologists can contribute to the explanation and
possible solution of pressing societal issues. They learn about
Attitude. The student demonstrates:
(4) the ability to critically observe and analyse urgent societal
problems from an anthropological perspective and consider the
contingencies and limits of their own cultural routines.

Course Content

Each era faces societal challenges that keep politicians, the public and
academia busy. Our 21st century is no exception. Contemporary
anthropologists nowadays assess urgent issues and formulate questions to
understand their significance and consequence, such as new forms of
urbanisation and mobility, far-reaching technological and digital
developments, ongoing destructions of habitats due to large-scale
economic activity, the over-use of natural resources and transnational
violent conflicts, which forces people to migrate or turn to local
strategies that adapt or contest these processes of accelerated change.
These pressing socio-political developments in some parts of the world
are complex issues that pose a challenge for local, national and
international governmental bodies. Behind the technical administrative
challenges there are the much more fundamental questions about who the
real victims are and who benefits from crises and emergencies.
Knowledge and its application in policies all depend on the perspective
we take in assessing these urgent issues. The task for anthropologists -
in and outside academia - is to demonstrate that there simply is no
universal definition of what a contemporary challenge or problem is and
that governance is always a deeply political practice and full of
competing interests. Anthropology may be not unique in recognising a
multitude of perspectives, but it definitely is the most outspoken
discipline in exposing diversity. it climate change and global
warming, the refugee crisis, urbanisation and economic transformation,
the role of religion in global affairs, social movements against
poverty, exclusion or diversity in society; all these urgent societal
issues have winners and losers.

Teaching Methods

Lectures, guest lectures, viewing and analysing documentaries and other
audio-visual illustrations, text analysis, class debates.

Method of Assessment

Mid-term exam and take-home exam


To be announced in the course manual (see CANVAS).

Target Audience

First-year bachelor students in Cultural Anthropology and Development
Sociology. Also open as an elective course for Exchange Students.

Additional Information

This course is the last of series of three courses: Core Themes in
Anthropology; b) History and Theory in Anthropology; and c) Challenges
of the 21st Century. In these three courses, the focus of anthropology
will be introduced, explained and discussed.

Recommended background knowledge

Active participation in "Core Themes in Anthropology" and "History and
Theory of Anthropology".

General Information

Course Code S_C21C
Credits 6 EC
Period P4
Course Level 200
Language of Tuition English
Faculty Faculty of Social Sciences
Course Coordinator dr. E. van Roekel
Examiner dr. E. van Roekel
Teaching Staff dr. E. van Roekel
prof. D. Dalakoglou

Practical Information

You need to register for this course yourself

Teaching Methods Lecture
Target audiences

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