Bilinda Straight; Moore Hall 1020                              

Email: Bilinda.Straight (AT) wmich (DOT) edu

Web Page:

Office Hours: Monday 2-3:50 pm and by appointment


ANTH 604: Integrating Anthropology –

War: Anthropological Approaches


This course is one of the requirements for your graduate experience here at WMU meant to offer you a thematically integrated perspective of anthropology’s four fields. This year’s theme, “War: Anthropological Approaches,” considers war – group-organized lethal violence between communities – from several anthropological perspectives. We will consider evolutionary, archaeological, and cultural approaches to the puzzle of war – the why questions, including war in relation to “human nature.” We will study evidence of war as it emerges in the archaeological record – in material culture as well as in bone. We will examine the language of war: How does language shape perspectives on war’s practices and outcomes? How do language and ideology coalesce to construct “enemies” – categories of outsiders whom we may treat differently than insiders? Finally, we will spend time considering the public health dimensions of war – its consequences for individuals and social groups. Throughout the term, we will be reading the course texts critically, considering ongoing debates on war-related topics, and we will read against the grain, from the perspective of peace.


Required Books


There is one required book: Douglas Fry (editor) 2013. War, Peace, and Human Nature: The Convergence of Evolutionary and Cultural Views. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. Additionally, we will read selected articles as listed in the course schedule.

Grading (See Grading Key for complete instructions)


Attendance/Participation   15%

Discussion Board   20%

Annotated Bibliography   30%

Final Project   35%


Attendance/Participation (15% of grade)


In a class of this kind and size, your presence and participation are essential to the quality of the experience for others as well as yourself. Ten percent of your attendance/participation grade will be based on the number of days you are absent, calculated as points missed on a one hundred percent scale. Five percent of your grade will be based on assisting to facilitate at least one week of discussion. Please note: Helping to facilitate does not entail making presentations or being entirely responsible for that class. As the instructor, I will remain responsible for every class. Assisting to facilitate means coming in ready with questions to help guide us, and being extra prepared that week.


Electronic Discussion Board (20% of grade)


Each week, you will write a 100 minimum word abstract on each reading, which you will post to the elearning Discussion Board. Additionally, you will post a 200 minimum word comment to another student’s post that engages with at least one of their abstracts. Your abstracts should summarize main points and raise at least one question for consideration – it should be very clear to me that you’ve read the material. DUE DATE: MONDAY at 8 AM. You can post any time up until then, including the weekend, the middle of the night, etc.


Annotated Bibliography (30% of grade):


This will be an annotated bibliography of sources you feel are pertinent to your own interests as a scholar. Write a 300-word abstract for each of 10 peer-reviewed, scholarly sources. Each abstract should include a 150-200 word summary and a 100-150 word critical response. Preface the annotated bib with a summary statement of why these sources are useful to the project you are contemplating. Include full bibliographic information for each of these sources. NOTE: Course readings do not count towards the 10 sources for this assignment – you’re already posting about them on D2L.


Project (35% of grade): 


The project can be a traditional thesis paper of 15-20 pages, a creative non-fiction essay of about 15-20 pages, or a poster. If you do a poster, you will be responsible for printing it in color at a minimum size of 16 x 20. I won’t mark up your posters and will return them to you after grading.


About citing references: When you cite, quote, or paraphrase in text, put an in-text citation in parentheses (author’s last name, date, page number if a direct quote).  It looks like this:  (Straight 1997) or (Straight 1997: 37). The bibliography can take any variation of Chicago Style but must be consistent throughout. Look at articles in American Anthropologist or other anthropology journals for samples.

Bilinda Straight’s

Grading Key


All letter grades are converted into a quantitative grade (see key below).  All quantitative semester grades are multiplied by the percentage of the spread they represent.  Thus, if attendance is worth 20% of the grade, it would be calculated as follows:  If you were absent 3 times out of 30 total class days, 3 out of 30 is 10 percent absence, or 90% presence. So you have a 90 on attendance, multiplied by 20% of the spread, gives you 18. All grades thus calculated are added together to equal the total percentage out of one hundred.  Your semester grade is then calculated as per the key below.


                                    Grade Scale for Final Grades


97-100                 A+


94-96                   A


87-93                   BA


84-86                   B


77-83                   CB


74-76                   C


67-73                   DC


60-66                   D


below 60              E


Reading Schedule


Week 1 (1/11) Introduction


Introduction: War in Anthropological perspective


Presentation of Syllabus, film “Silent Witness” (2008), discussion.



Part 1: Human Nature and the Puzzle of War
Week 2 (1/25) Introductions for Sorting the Puzzle


Douglas P. Fry. 2013. Chapter 1 in War, Peace, and Human Nature. (This text will be referred to as WPH in rest of this syllabus.).


WPH Chapter 2


James Waller. 2002. Chapters 5 & 9 in Becoming Evil: How Ordinary People Commit Genocide and Mass Killing. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Week 3 (2/1) Considerations from Prehistory


WPH Chapters 7, 9 & 11


Lawrence Keeley. 1996. Chapter 2 in War Before Civilization: The Myth of the Peaceful Savage. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.


Steven Pinker. 2011. Taming the devil within us. Nature 478: 309-311. October 20. Recommended (it’s short)


Week 4 (2/8) non-human primates & cooperative considerations, first peek


Michael Wilson & Richard Wrangham et al. 2014. Lethal Aggression in Pan is Better Explained by Adaptive Strategies than Human Impacts. Nature 513: 414-417. September 18.


WPH Chapters 19 & 20

Week 5 (2/15) The evolution of cooperation


Robert Axelrod and William D. Hamilton. 1981. The Evolution of Cooperation. Science, New Series 211 (4489): 1390-1396.


Joseph Henrich et. Al. 2006. Costly Punishment Across Human Societies. Science 312: 1767-1770.


Sarah Mathew and Robert Boyd. 2011. Punishment Sustains Large-Scale Cooperation in Prestate Warfare. PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences) 108(28): 11375-11380.


Karl Sigmund. 2011. Moral Assessment in Indirect Reciprocity. Journal of Theoretical Biology 299 (2012): 25-30.


Part II: Cooperation, Empathy, and the Hazards of Killing

Week 6 (2/22) From cooperation to empathy (and its inverse, first peek)


Adam D. Galinsky et. Al. 2008. Why It Pays to Get Inside the Head of Your Opponent: The Differential Effects of Perspective Taking and Empathy in Negotiations. Psychological Science 19(4): 378-384.


Grit Hein and Tania Singer. 2008. I feel how you feel but not always: the empathic brain and its modulation. Current Opinion in Neurobiology 18: 153-158.


Joan B. Silk and Bailey R. House. 2011. Evolutionary Foundations of Human Prosocial Sentiments. PNAS 108, Supplement 2: 10910-10917.


Jean-Jacques Hublin. 2009. The Prehistory of Compassion. PNAS 106(16): 6429-6430.


Week 7 (2/29) Empathy, dis-empathy, and language


Suzanne Keen. 2006. A Theory of Narrative Empathy. Narrative 14(3): 207-236.


Nils Bubandt. 2009. From the Enemy’s Point of View: Violence, Empathy, and the Ethnography of Fakes. Cultural Anthropology 24(3): 553-588.


Rafael Moses. 1985. Empathy and Dis-Empathy in Political Conflict. Political Psychology 6(1): 135-139.



Week 8 (3/14) inclusions/exclusions: ideology, language, differencing


Ann Stoler. 2006. Tense and Tender Ties: The Politics of Comparison in North American History and (Post) Colonial Studies. In Haunted by Empire: Geographies of Intimacy in North American History. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.


Julia Kristeva. 1991. Selection from Strangers to Ourselves.


V.Y. Mudimbe. 1988. The Invention of Africa: Gnosis, Philosophy, and the Order of Knowledge. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.


Gunther Schlee. 2004. Taking Sides and Constructing Identities: Reflections on Conflict Theory. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 10: 135-156.


Part III: The banality of evil – genocidal routine
Week 9 (3/21) language, ideology, banality of evil


Hannah Arendt. 1963. Chapter VI, The Final Solution: Killing. Pp. 83-111 in Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil. New York, NY: The Viking Press.


Judity Butler. 2011. Hannah Arendt’s Challenge to Adolf Eichmann. The Guardian, Monday, August 29.


Elaine Scarry. 1985. Injury and the Structure of War. Representations 10:1-51.




Week 10 (3/28) the everyday: producing culture as/and violence


Neil Whitehead. 2004. On the Poetics of Violence. Chapter 3 In Neil Whitehead (editor) Violence. SAR Press.


Ervin Staub. 2014. Obeying, Joining, Following, Resisting, and Other Processes in the Milgram Studies, and in the Holocaust and Other Genocides: Situations, Personality, and Bystanders. Journal of Social Issues 70(3): 51-514.


Veena Das. 2007. Chapter Two: The Figure of the Abducted Woman, The Citizen as Sexed. Pp. 18-37 In Life and Worlds: Violence and the Descent into the Ordinary. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.


Week 11 (4/4) aftermaths of horror


Alex Hinton. 2004. The Poetics of Genocidal Practice: Violence under the Khmer Rouge. Chapter 7 in Neil Whitehead (editor) Violence. SAR Press.


Jennifer Iles. 2012. Exploring Landscapes After Battle: Tourists at Home on the Old Front Lines. Chapter 9 In Jonathan Skinner (editor) Writing the Dark Side of Travel. New York, NY: Berg.

Rachel Moffat. 2012. Visiting Rwanda: Accounts of Genocide in Travel Writing. Chapter 4 In Jonathan Skinner (editor) Writing the Dark Side of Travel. New York, NY: Berg.


Week 12 (4/11) empathy, the warzone, and its aftermath – moral injury


WPH Chapter 25


Rajeev Ramchand et al. 2008. Chapter 3: Prevalence of PTSD, Depression, and TBI Among Returning Servicemembers (Pp. 35-59) in The Invisible Wounds of War: Psychological and Cognitive Injuries, Their Consequences, and Services to Assist Recovery. RAND. Center for Military Health Policy Research.


Paul Roscoe. 2007. Intelligence, Coalitional Killing, and the Antecedents of War. American Anthropologist 109(3): 485-495.


Jonathan Shay. 2010. From an unlicensed philosopher: reflections on brain, mind, society, culture – each other’s environments with equal “ontological standing.” Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 1208: 32-37.


Week 13 (4/18) visioning peace


WPH Chapter 27


Kirsten Renwick Monroe. 2006. Can Empathy be Taught? Academe 92(4): 58-63.


Jodi Halpern and Harvey M. Weinstein. 2004. Rehumanizing the Other: Empathy and Reconciliation. Human Rights Quarterly 26(3): 561-583.