ANTH 3450/5450: Language, Mind, and Culture

Spring 2007

Tues   6-8:30 PM

Moore Hall Rm 1121



Bilinda Straight <bilinda DOT straight AT>

            Office:  1001 Moore Hall

Office Hours: T 3:30-4:30; F 1-2 or by appointment


Kristina Wirtz  <kristina DOT wirtz AT>

Office:  1016 Moore Hall

Office Hours: T/Th 3:30-4:30 or by appointment


Course description

This course examines mind and consciousness in anthropological perspective.  Human cognition is fundamentally related to our social complexity and language capacity.  This course takes up questions and perspectives from philosophy, linguistics, psychology, and anthropology about the nature of consciousness, the role of language in thought, the connections between mind, body, and the world, and the relative psychic unity of all humans amid a sometimes astonishing diversity of experience.  From issues of learning and identity, to the role of the social in thought and experience, to cross-cultural comparisons of the senses, emotions, and states of awareness, research in linguistic and cultural anthropology makes important contributions to these fundamental questions about the relationship between language, culture, and mind.  The course is being team-taught this semester, and is offered at two levels.  Students registering for the 5450-level will have additional expectations for readings and assignments.


Course Texts are available at the campus bookstore or from online vendors like or 

1. Straight, Bilinda.  Miracles and Extraordinary Experience in Northern Kenya. (2006)

2. Wertsch, James.  Voices of the Mind.  (1991)

3. Geurts, Kathryn.  Culture and the Senses: Bodily Ways of Knowing in an African Community.  (2002)

4. Coursepack of a reading that is otherwise out of print.


Other Readings are available on library e-reserve OR as full-text online articles at <>, where you can download them for free and print them out. 

The course password for e-reserve is __brain____


Course Requirements:


q       Regular attendance and preparation prior to each class session

q       Participation in class discussions



q       Weekly Discussion Board posting to course WebCT and response to another student’s posting.

q       Take-Home Mid-term or Annotated Bibliography

q       Take-Home Final, or Final Research Project (paper or website)


Explanation of assignments:

Reading assignments

All readings must be completed before completing discussion board postings (due Sunday AM) and coming to class.  We highly recommend that you annotate and/or write notes on each week’s readings, which you will need to bring to each class.  Students registered for Anth 5450 will need to do any additional/recommended readings for each week and be sure to discuss these in Discussion Board postings.


WebCT Discussion Board Posting and Response

You must post a thoughtful, concise one-paragraph response to the readings on the WebCT discussion board each week.  This must be posted by 10AM Sunday.  Your posting should address the questions listed on the course schedule for the upcoming week through a discussion that reflects synthesized consideration of the week’s readings.  You must also read other students’ postings and respond to at least one each week.  Your response to another student’s posting should be a brief paragraph and must be posted by 5PM Monday.  


Annotated Bib/Mid-term Take-Home Exam

Anth 3450 students will be given a take-home mid-term exam. Anth 5450 students may choose mid-term and final take-home exams or an annotated bib and final project (research paper or well-constructed web site). Anth 5450 students opting to do a final project must commit to a project with a paragraph précis by February 20th. They must then prepare an annotated bib for their project due on March 20th, the same date as the mid-term exam. The annotated bib must provide a brief introduction outlining their research thesis or problem, followed by a one-paragraph summary and 2-sentence relevance paragraph (explaining the relevance of the source for the project) for each of five non-class reading sources.


Final Research Project/Take-Home Exam

Anth 3450 students will be given a take-home final exam. Anth 5450 students opting to do a final project will choose a research topic that allows you to explore issues central to the course in one culture or by comparing two cultures.  You will need to submit a paragraph description of your topic by February 20th, then prepare an annotated bibliography of your sources by mid-semester.  Your final product can be a research paper or website/multimedia presentation. Research papers should be 10-12 pages in length and should cite at least 4 course readings in addition to at least five external sources. Web pages and multimedia presentations must also cite sources, provide a bibliography at the end, and demonstrate thoughtful consideration of the topic chosen. Examples are available through



Attendance and Participation: 15%

Postings and responses:             25%

Mid-term and Final:                30% Each

OR for 5450 students who choose this option:

Annotated Biblio with Proposal in Advance: 25%

Final Project:                35%


Grading Scale

A:    92-100 %                                                               C:   72-77.9 %

BA: 88-91.9 %                                                               DC: 68-71.9 %

B:   82-87.9 %                                                               D:   62-67.9 %

BC: 78-81.9 %                                                               E:   Below 62 %




Week 1:                      Introduction to the course: Culture-language-mind

Tues, Jan 9      


Weeks 2 & 3:             Language and thought

Questions for posting: What is the relationship between language and mind?  Between thought and word (sign)?  How does language shape our thinking?


Tues, Jan 16    

Read: Eco, Chs 1-3 (e-reserve)

            Whorf, “The relation of habitual thought and behavior to language” AND “Science and

linguistics” (e-reserve)


5450 Supplement:

Lucy, John.  Linguistic relativity.  Annual Review of Anthro 26(1) (1997).  (e-reserve)

Harré & Gillett.  “Discourse and the brain,” AND “The discursive origins of the sense of self,” in          The Discursive Mind, (1994), pp.80-96, 97-111.  (e-reserve)


Tues, Jan 23

Read:             Parmentier, “Peirce divested for nonintimates,” Signs in Society (e-reserve)

            Straight: Ch 1 and Appendix 1


5450 Supplement: Urban, Greg.  Metasignaling and language origins.  (2002) AA 104(1). (e-reserve); and Parmentier, “Peirce’s concept of semiotic mediation,” Signs in Society (e-reserve)



Weeks 4 & 5:                         Intersubjectivity and mind

Questions for posting:  In what sense is consciousness intersubjective (that is, a product of social interactions)? What are some models for thinking about mind as social, rather than individual? How does the concept of the unconscious fit into all this?


Tues, Jan 30    

Read: Voloshinov, p.15, Chs 2-3, 5, 8-9 from Freudianism: A Critical Sketch  (coursepack)


5450 Supplement: Krips, pp. 18-44 (e-reserve)



Tues, Feb 6     

Read: Straight, Chs 2, 4, 5


Weeks 6 & 7:                         Learning: The thinking self

Questions for posting: What does an examination of learning tell us about the social nature of mind and cognition?  How is gaining knowledge related to gaining identity?


Tues, Feb 13

Read:             Wertsch, James  Chapters 2-4, Voices of the Mind


5450 Supplement: Read Wertsch, James  Chs 1 and 6, Voices of the Mind



Tues, Feb 20

Read:            O’Connor, "Communicative practice, cultural production, and situated learning:                                                Constructing and contesting identities of expertise in a heterogenous learning                                     context," In Wortham and Rymes. (e-reserve)

            Wortham, “Interactionally situated cognition: A classroom example.” Cognitive Science,                                   25, 37- 66 (2001). (e-reserve)

            Wortham “Socialization beyond the speech event.”  Journal of Linguistic Anthropology                         15(1) (2005). (e-reserve)


DUE: Anth 5450 students: One-paragraph typed description of your final project topic and plan.



Week 8:                      Embodiment and phenomenology

Questions for posting: Instead of thinking about mind versus body, how can we productively think about the embodied mind?  What do phenomenological approaches tell us about consciousness as embodied?


Tues, Feb 27

Read: Jackson, “Introduction,” Things as They Are (e-reserve)

            Straight, Chs 3, 7


5450 Supplement: Read Lakoff & Johnson, Ch 3 of Philosophy in the Flesh (e-reserve)






Week 9            Embodiment and Location: Space, place, and perception

Questions for posting: How do we orient ourselves in space? How do our bodies limit or shape that process of orientation?



Tues, Mar 13

Read: David Howes, “Skinscapes: Embodiment, Culture and the Environment (e-reserve)

            John Hull, “Rainfall and the Blind Body” (e-reserve)

            Hay, “The Development of Some Aspects of the Ojibwa Self and Its Behavioral

Environment” (Ethos 1977, e- reserve)


5450 Supplement: Read Hertz, “Death and the Right Hand” (e-reserve)


TO BE HANDED OUT: Mid-term Take-Home Exam


Week 10            Embodiment and Technology: Cinema Bodies, Virtual Bodies

Questions for posting: How do our bodies navigate, sense, and respond to cinematic and virtual technologies? How virtual is virtual experience? Consider your own bodies responses to computing, web surfing, and movie watching this week and bring in some ideas.


Tues, Mar 20  

Read: David MacDougall, “The Body in Cinema” (e-reserve)

            Kristin Veel, “The Irreducibility of Space” (e-reserve)

            Straight, Ch 9


5450 Supplement: Read Stoller, “Artaud, Rouch, and the Cinema of Cruelty” (e-reserve)


DUE: Mid-term Take-Home Exam or Annotated bibliography for final project: provide complete citation information for each of five sources, one summary paragraph, and with two sentences explaining how each of the sources is useful to your project.



Weeks 11 & 12            Culture and the senses

Questions for posting: To what extent are our sensory experiences shaped by our culture?  Are the basic senses, and our perception of them, the “same” across cultures?  What are some issues researchers face in trying to answer these questions?


Tues, Mar 27  

Read: Guerts, Culture and the Senses, Chs 1-5 


Tues, Apr 3

Read:             Guerts, Culture and the Senses, Chs 6-10


Weeks 13 & 14            Ecstatic experience and altered states of awareness

Questions for posting: What do cross-cultural comparisons of ecstatic experience and altered states of awareness tell us about the human brain’s capacity for such experiences and the role of culture in shaping them?


Tues, Apr 10

Read: Stoller, “Embodying Colonial Memories” (American Anthropologist 1994, e-reserve)

            Winkelman, “Shamanism as the Original Neurotheology” (Zygon 2004, e-reserve)

            Newberg et al.  Chs 1-3 in Why God Won’t Go Away: Brain Science and the Biology of

Belief  (e-reserve)


Tues, Apr 17               

         Wirtz, “From Skepticism to Faith: Narratives of Religious Experiences” (e-reserve)

         Straight, Ch 8


DUE: Final project (printed out paper or CD containing web pages)

TO BE HANDED OUT: Take-Home Final (due on final exam day)