Core Themes in Anthropology

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Doel vak

Six transversal themes (embodying perennial themes in anthropology will
be addressed: 1) the questions about the
nature of “culture(s)”; 2) the individual and society; 3) ties that bind
(on the manifold manifestations of belonging); 4) structure and agency;
5) the body; and 6) language, convictions and emic/etic categorizations.
These themes are however linchpins or hubs rather than the only
substance of classes. In the Introduction, also fieldwork and
ethnographic methods; time and space; kinship, gender and aging;
hierarchies, power and politics; economy, exchange and reciprocity;
ritual; religion; ethnicity; anthropology’s role in development issues;
(collective) identities; and globalization, will be introduced and
explained in their relation to anthropological approaches.

Learning outcomes:

Knowledge and understanding. The student has acquired knowledge and
understanding of:
(1) the core subjects of anthropology (the six perennial themes in
(2) basic concepts, methodological approaches and theoretical

Application. The student has acquired the competences to:
(3) observe their own life-worlds from an anthropological perspective
and to realize the contingencies of their own cultural routines.

The second course in this cluster is called ‘History and Theory of
Instead of following the chronological evolution of the various schools
of anthropological thought like usually happens with the anthropological
theory courses, it follows the history of the discipline using the six
perennial issues as vehicles or pegs. Students get to see how
anthropology approached such subjects and through that contributed to
our understanding of the world. They learn that although the issues at
stake may be very diverse, the six basic concerns are always present, in
different and changing disguises.

The third course is called ‘Challenges of the 21st Century’. The six
central issues are again the interconnecting parameters throughout the
course, but they will now constitute the basis for an assessment of
contemporary societal issues, problems and discussions. Anthropology is
by definition an ‘applying science’ in that invites to look at the world
from an angle that aspires to make a difference, or question
common-sense and taken-for-granted assumptions about how we tend to see
the world, ‘ourselves’ and ‘others’.

Inhoud vak

“Anthropology is the science of culture and anthropologists gaze at
other peoples’ cultural peculiarities, map them and make sense of them.”

This is the common sense assumption of many people outside the
profession and it may in part be the case. But anthropology is much more
than that. From the time anthropology emerged in the 19th century as a
scholarly discipline in its own right, anthropologists have addressed a
whole range of fundamental questions dealing with human activity, in
social, cultural, political, religious, economic and other domains.
There is a considerable overlap with what sociologists do, for example
in addressing societal structures and institutional settings. But
anthropology has a broader, yet more specific focus: to understand how
human beings create cultural life worlds, how they live in those worlds,
and how they make sense of these worlds. The main aim of anthropology is
to study human activity in relation to the social and cultural
environment of people, groups and societies.

This course is the first of three courses in the thematic cluster
“Anthropological Base”, in which the focus of anthropology will be
introduced, explained and
discussed. The aim of the courses is to make student familiar with the
discipline, the big issues, the various approaches, the theoretical
discussions and contemporary efforts to understand a world in turmoil.
Basic concepts will be explained: 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 theme-hubs or recurring issues that will be
revisited in all three
courses within the cluster. These themes are: 1) questions about the
nature of “culture(s)”; 2) questions about individual and society; 3)
questions about “ties that bind” (on the manifold manifestations of
belonging); 4) questions about structure and agency; 5) questions about
the body; and 6) questions revolving around language, convictions and
emic/etic categorizations.

These themes can be considered as six recurring basic conceptual
questions, or discussions that have time and again been addressed by
anthropologists in different ways and under different circumstances.
They constitute the basis for theoretical disputes, methodological
reflections, but also for assessing contemporary societal issues. They
should however in no way be treated as disciplinary straightjackets. Far
from that; they only help us to draw some lines in the enormous
complexity of human activity. In order to enhance the coherence of the
cluster, the six recurring issues will in different ways be addressed in
each of the three courses.


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


Mid-term exam, open questions: 25% of final grade;
Final exam, open questions: 75% of final grade.


Eriksen, Thomas Hylland (2010). Small Places, Large Issues. An
Introduction to Social and Cultural Anthropology (4th edition), London:
Pluto Press (approx.. 25 euro).
Additional literature to be announced in the course manual (see CANVAS).


1st year students in Cultural Anthropology and Development Sociology;
Premaster students Social and Cultural Anthropology.
This course is also open as an elective course for Exchange Students.

Algemene informatie

Vakcode S_CTA
Studiepunten 6 EC
Periode P1
Vakniveau 100
Onderwijstaal Engels
Faculteit Faculteit der Sociale Wetenschappen
Vakcoördinator prof. dr. J.T. Sunier
Examinator prof. dr. J.T. Sunier
Docenten prof. dr. J.T. Sunier

Praktische informatie

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