ANTH 6010 Cultural Anthropology Seminar

Fall 2013

Bilinda Straight

Office: Moore Hall 1020

Office Hours: Mondays noon-2 p.m. & by appointment

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course description


This course has the very simple catalog description of “intensive study of contemporary issues in sociocultural theory,” and – in this and many departments – has traditionally covered the history of anthropological theory. We will not take that conventional route in this course. On the first day of class, I will bring several anthropology theory books along for us to examine and interrogate. One thing I want us to consider is a gender and ethnicity count: How many men, how many women are represented in each theory book? How many people of color? How many authors are included – in other words – writing from the margins? As a discipline, anthropology was about colonialism from its inception. It has always been a discipline focused on difference, and it has always worked from a vantage of power and inequality. We will interrogate this, not ignore it. We will question, upset, and destabilize the canon. A second thing I want us to consider is the problem of the ‘nutshell’. The history of anthropological thought is typically investigated through captions – 19th century evolutionism, Boasian four-fields, functionalism, structural-functionalism, structuralism, cultural ecology, symbolic, cognitive, postmodern. Yet we cannot capture the past over-a-century of anthropology in a series of captions and nutshells. At any given time in anthropology, every possible approach we see in the 21st century was being explored, in some version, by someone. The canon is, itself, a scientific object. It is created through a process of homogenizing, simplifying, flattening, and exclusion. In this course, we will work through an impoverished number of topics because we have very little time, and within each of those topics, we will, over and over, very partially cover the history of an infinite field.




You will read a lot in this class. A LOT. You may skim some of Visions of Culture. Read the rest carefully. You will have two assignments in total. (1) First, you will post to the course Discussion Board a minimum of three times per week in ways that demonstrate you have done the reading and which engage with your fellow students. Your first post each week is due by Sunday morning, 8 a.m. Other posts may be done up until Monday morning, 8 a.m. Your first post should be at least 300 words – less than a page. (2) You will present a poster that highlights one issue as examined by at least two scholars – race for example, or agency, or the relationship between objects and persons, or exchange, or inequality. Those are all very broad so you would need to narrow further. Ideally, you choose something that fits where you are headed with your M.A. thesis or internship. The poster is due on the day of our final, and we’ll have a party/reception to display and share them.




Attendance: 15%      Discussion Posts: 40%          Poster: 45%


Scale: A+ 97-100; A 94-96; BA 87-93; B 84-86; CB 77-83;

C 74-76; DC 67-73; D 60-66; E: >60



Course Schedule


In this course schedule, WWC refers to Women Writing Culture (edited by Ruth Behar); VOC refers to Visions of Culture (by Jerry D. Moore). Those are your textbooks – all other readings will be available to you in D2L/elearning.


1.     September 9. What is a canon? How does it come into being? Why am I wearing this hat? Part 1: On obedience, conformity, and canons. Part 2: What is anthropology about? What are its big questions? Part 3: Some lecture on beginnings.

2.     September 16. Questioning the canon, questioning anthropology’s object, questioning what we think we know about history.

a.     WWC Chapter 12 (Lutz)

b.      Mary Louise Pratt. 1992. Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing and Transculturation. New York, NY: Routledge. Chapters 1-2 (pp. 1-37).

c.      Braude, Benjamin. 1997. The Sons of Noah and the Construction of Ethnic and Geographical Identities in the Medieval and Modern Periods. The William and Mary Quarterly 54(1): 103-142.

d.     Mudimbe, V.Y. 1990. Which Idea of Africa? Herskovits’s Cultural Relativism. October 55: 93-104.

3.     September 23. Boasian Anthropology, Race & Anthropology from the Margins, 1

a.     VOC Chapter 3 (10 pages)

b.     WWC Chapters 4, 6, 7, 8 (60 pages)

c.      Mourning Dove (Christal Quintasket). 1981 [1927]. Cogewea, the Half Blood: A Depiction of the Great Montana Cattle Range. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press. “Chapter II: The Roundup at Horseshoe Bend” (pp. 20-30).

d.     Zora Neal Hurston. 1990 [1935] Mules and Men. Brief excerpt (opening pages).

4.     September 30. Race & Anthropology from the Margins, 2

a.     WCC 18 & 21

b.     Talal Asad. 1986. “The Idea of An Anthropology of Islam.” Occasional Paper Series. Center for Contemporary Arab Studies, Georgetown University.

c.      Achille Mbembe. 2002. African Modes of Self-Writing. (Steven Rendall, transl.). Public Culture 14(1): 239-273.

d.     Bilinda Straight. 2008. Killing God. Current Anthropology 49(5):837-860.

5.     October 7. Evolution, Cultures as Systems, 1

a.     VOC Chapters 1, 2, 4 (33 pages) and 9, 10, 11, 12 (45 pages)

b.     Emile Durkheim and Marcel Mauss 1963 [1903]. Primitive Classification. Rodney Needham (translator). Pp. 81-88.

c.      Richard Swedberg. 2010. A Note on Civilizations and Economies. European Journal of Social Theory 13(1):15-30.

6.     October 14. Evolution, Cultures as Systems, 2

a.     VOC 13, 14, 15 (30 pages)

b.     Marvin Harris. 1977. Cannibals and Kings: The Origins of Cultures. New York, NY: Vintage. Excerpt.

c.      Roy Rappaport. 1979. Ecology, Adaptation, and the Ills of Functionalism. Pp. 43-95 in Ecology, Meaning, & Religion. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books.

d.     Gregory Bateson. 1972. Steps to an Ecology of Mind. New York, NY: Ballantine Books. Pp. 440-447

7.     October 21. Structuralism/Post-Structuralism, Systems & Exchange, 1

a.     Marx, Karl. In David McLellan (ed.). Karl Marx: Selected Writings. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. “On James Mill” (pp. 114-123) and excerpt from “Chapter 32, Capital” (pp. 415-470).

b.     Antonio Gramsci. 1971. [1930s] The Prison Notebooks. International Publishers. Excerpt.

c.      F. de Saussure. 1983 [1916]. Roy Harris (translator). Course in General Linguistics. London, UK: Duckworth: Introduction, “Chapter III: The Object of Study” (pp. 8-17); Part One, “Chapter 1: Nature of the Linguistic Sign” (pp. 65-70; and Part Two, “Chapter IV: Linguistic Value” (pp. 110-120).

8.     October 28. Structuralism/Post-Structuralism, Systems & Exchange, 2.

a.     VOC 17, 20 (25 pages) And review 9, read previously.

b.     Marcel Mauss. The Gift. 1967 [1924]. Ian Cunnison (translator). New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company. Brief Excerpt.

c.      Claude Levi-Strauss. 1969. The Elementary Structures of Kinship. Boston, MASS: Beacon Press. Chapter III: The Universe of Rules (pp. 29-41)

d.     Gayle Rubin. 1975. “The Traffic in Women: Notes on the ‘Political Economy’ of Sex.” Pp. 156-210 In Rayna R. Reiter (ed.) Toward An Anthropology of Women. New York, NY: Monthly Review Press.

e.     Bilinda Straight. 2002. From Samburu Heirloom to New Age Artifact: The Cross-Cultural Consumption of Mporo Marriage Beads. American Anthropologist 104(1): 1-15.

9.     November 4. Structuralism/Post-Structuralism, Systems & Exchange, 3.

a.     VOC 16, 24 (26 pages)

b.     Frederick Cooper and Ann L. Stoler. 1989. “Introduction: Tensions of Empire: Colonial Rule and Visions of Rule.” American Ethnologist 16(4): 609-621.

c.      Michel Foucault. 1979. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. Alan Sheridan (translator). New York, NY: Vintage Books. “The Body of the Condemned” (pp. 3-31).

d.     Michel Foucault. 1990. The History of Sexuality, Volume 1. Robert Hurley (translator). New York, NY: Vintage Books. “The Deployment of Sexuality, Method” (pp. 92-102).

10. November 11. Humans and Meaning, Interpretive Cultural Approaches

a.     VOC 5, 6, 7, 8 (35 pages) and 18, 19 (19 pages)

b.     WWC 5, 9 (36 pages)

c.      Margaret Mead. 1928. Coming of Age in Samoa. Brief Excerpt.

d.     Ruth Benedict. 2005 (1934). Patterns of Culture. Mariner Books. “Chapter VIII: The Individual and the Pattern of Culture” (pp. 251-278).

11. November 18. Humans and Meaning, Phenomenology, Experience, Mind/Body, 1.

a.     Charles Sanders Peirce. 1894. Selected Writings. “What is a Sign?”

b.     Bilinda Straight. 2007. Miracles and Extraordinary Experience. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press. Appendix 1 (pp. 195-213).

c.      Deborah Reed-Danahay. 2005. Locating Bourdieu. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press. Pp. 14-16.

d.     Pierre Bourdieu. 1977. R. Nice (translator). Outline of a Theory of Practice. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. “Chapter Two: Structures and the Habitus” (pp. 72-95).

12. November 25. Humans and Meaning, Phenomenology, Experience, Mind/Body, 2.

a.     Bilinda Straight. 2005. In the Belly of History: Memory, Forgetting, and the Hazards of Reproduction. Africa 75(1):83-104.

b.     Paul Stoller. 1997. Sensuous Scholarship. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press. “2. The Griot’s Tongue” (pp. 24-43).

c.      C. Nadia Seremetakis. 1994. The Senses Still: Perception and Memory as Material Culture in Modernity. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press. “The Memory of the Senses, Part I: Marks of the Transitory” (pp. 1-18).

13. December 2. Humans and Beyond: Emotion.

a.     Charles Darwin. 1872. The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals. Excerpt.

b.     Sarah Winter. 2009. Darwin’s Saussure: Biosemiotics and Race in Expression. Representations 107:128-161.

c.      Deborah Reed-Danahay. 2005. Locating Bourdieu. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press. “Chapter Four: Habitus and Emotion” (pp. 99-128).

d.     C. Daniel Batson. 2011. Altruism in Humans. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. “The Empathy-Altruism Hypothesis” (pp. 11-32).

14. December 9. Finals – Poster Day. Location TBA.