Department of Anthropology ANTH 4400E-001: ANTHROPOLOGICAL THOUGHT

Department of Anthropology
September 2014 - April 2015
Regna Darnell
Social Science Centre 3329, more likely SSC 3208
Mondays 1:30-2:30
(whenever office door is open or by appointment)
519-661-2111 x85087 or x85589
[email protected]
Ian Puppe (2nd term only)
[email protected]
CLASS TIME/PLACE: Mondays 2:30-5:30, UCC58
Credit Value: 1.0
Prerequisite: Anth 3301E or Anth 3333F/G
Unless you have either the requisites for this course or written special permission from your Dean
to enroll in it, you may be removed from this course and it will be deleted from your record. This
decision may not be appealed. You will receive no adjustment to your fees in the event that you are
dropped from a course for failing to have the necessary prerequisites.
I have ordered the following texts for the first semester, some of which may be available online:
Edmund Leach, Political Systems of Highland Burma (London School of Economics and Political
Science 1954)
E. E. Evans-Pritchard, Witchcraft, Oracles and Magic among the Azande (Oxford 1937)
Robert Desjarlais, Shelter Blues (Pennsylvania 1997)
E. Valentine Daniel, Charred Lullabies (Princeton 1998)
Julie Cruikshank, Do Glaciers Listen? (UBC 2005)
Harry West, Ethnographic Sorcery (Chicago 2007)
*A collection of shorter readings will be available on-line for the 2nd term.
This is a heavy reading load, particularly in the first semester, both in quantity and in density of
argument. These ethnographies are all magnificent books that replay careful and critical reading.
They recapitulate the evolution of our discipline’s core methodology. You should aim to develop
expertise in figuring out what an author is up to rather than trying to recall every detail. To “read” a
book is to extract from it what you need to know for your own purposes, including those of this
course. Note that the “critical” in critique or critical theory is not necessarily negative, although is it
usually addressed to changing the way things are done or thought about, whether in the academy
or in the world beyond it. Contemporary theory across the social sciences and humanities can be
FUN, especially in its deliberate use of unconventional and nonliteral forms of representation.
Anthropologists have had to learn how to read such material as well as to write more lucidly and
playfully themselves.
We will develop these skills of critical thinking in both reading and writing, during the first
semester through class discussion and three short papers (5-8 pages) based on the readings. Each
ethnography will be discussed for two class sessions. A paper on one of each pair of ethnographies
will be due in class one week after the discussion on the set is completed. You are not expected to
read additional materials for these papers, although you may incorporate (with proper citation)
anything else that you think is relevant to your argument.
The first two readings (Evans-Pritchard and Leach) are ethnographic classics that set out the
relationship between ethnography and theory for modern professional anthropology. The second
pair deals with the ethnography of violence (Daniel) and marginalization (Desjarlais), allowing us
to explore the foundation of our discipline in relation to issues of social justice. The third set
(Cruikshank and West) raises issues of cross-cultural differences in what and how we know
(epistemology) and the status of superficially incommensurable belief systems as reality
(ontology). Do not panic. These terms will make sense as we discuss the readings if they do not
The reading of these ethnographies will set up the second term work of integrating
interdisciplinary theory with anthropological thought by means of the ethnographic enterprise at
the core of our discipline. We will take for granted that anthropology itself is always already
interdisciplinary. In considering how to write ethnography that interrogates the assumptions and
conclusions of other social scientists and humanities scholars, we must also address the history of
anthropology (both the strengths and weaknesses of its national traditions, theoretical paradigms,
institutional frameworks, individual scholars and their social networks). Each of these
ethnographies engages in implicit dialogue with theories and theorists as well as with ethnographic
subjects. Anthropology today is not isolated from other scholarly and public discourses.
Familiarity with the terms and the players is essential to joining this ongoing conversation.
We will be concerned with reading skills, close textual analysis, and coherent argument in
developing your own personal critical standpoint. There are few right or wrong answers. The
exceptions are racism, sexism, homophobia and any other positions overtly or implicitly
disrespectful of individuals or groups. We will attempt to identify the unwanted baggage from
prior theories, e.g, of social evolution or environmental determinism, and judgments implicit in
what linguistic anthropologist Jane Hill calls “everyday racism.” This open-endedness may be
frustrating initially, but it is the only way to empower your own critical voice. I will, of course,
attempt to persuade you of my own point of view, but you are encouraged to resist and to articulate
counterarguments. I have been known to change my mind, and I respect a well-honed argument
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even if I disagree. The texts we are reading exist somewhat differently for each of us according to
what we bring to them and want to take from them. That’s OK.
The works covered in the first semester are ethnographic, i.e., they are descriptions of particular
cultures as an anthropologist comes to know them through participation-observation fieldwork
(albeit some of that fieldwork is archival). The standpoint and identity of the ethnographer
highlight the reflexive intersections of theory and ethnography, description and interpretation or
explanation. Experimental ethnographies abound these days, as unconventional forms of writing
explore the nature of representation, the situated subjectivity of the ethnographic process, and the
storied narratives whereby cultural knowledge is articulated and conveyed to an audience outside
the fieldwork experience. This particularity of subjects and contexts, the position of a particular
case as a necessary component of responsible generalization, is one of the most important things
distinguishing anthropologists from our colleagues in other disciplines.
In the second semester, each student will present a seminar discussion as part of a team dealing
with one or more interdisciplinary theorists, grouped in disciplinary clusters assigned to a team.
Students will divide the work so that each student reads the work of a different theorist in detail.
Each team will meet with the instructor at least once to discuss how the presentation will hang
together. You are expected to become familiar with the oeuvre of your theorist and to consult
primary sources as well as critical commentary. It is desirable to address the overlap and
relationship among the theorists in your cluster. I.e., the teams will have to meet independently of
each student’s own topic. After the class presentation, each student will write a 20-25 page paper
based on his or her research, to be handed in during or before the last class. Related theorists may
be substituted on consultation with the instructor.
The majority of these theorists are not, in the narrow sense, anthropologists. Indeed, many of them
could benefit from a more sophisticated cross-cultural perspective. Disciplinary boundaries are
breaking down these days, yet anthropologists continue to bring a unique perspective to the human
and cultural sciences. The anthropological approach has been profoundly misinterpreted by
literary critics, philosophers, educators, and even other social scientists. To counter their critiques,
we must clarify for ourselves what it means to think like an anthropologist – and consider what the
real-world consequences might be of thinking this way.
You will receive a mark of 10% for the oral presentation (closely tied to the biographical sketch
described in the next paragraph) and 20% for the written paper. The timing of your presentations
affects the relationship between the two parts of the assignment. A more polished and better
documented presentation is expected later in the semester. An earlier presentation date leaves
more time for revision in the written version. The oral and written versions may differ
substantially (though they need not).
Each student will prepare a biographical sketch (hopefully with a picture), basic bibliography and
glossary of key terms for their theorist (aim for one double-sided single-spaced page per theorist –
10%). These materials are to be presented to the class one week in advance of the presentation.
Each student should maintain a file or binder of this material. It will also be posted on-line. This
material from your classmates is an essential resource in studying for the final. The readings for
the term are correlated to the weekly clusters. These materials provide an intensive guide to a
range of material that you could not possibly read yourself within a single course.
This is not a correspondence course and learning is not a passive process. You are unlikely to do
well on any of the assignments if you do not attend class regularly and participate actively.
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Students are responsible for anything said in class, not factual details but the critical assessment of
theorists, their works, concepts, and lines of argument. You are expected to learn from your fellow
students as well as from the instructor. The readings and biographical sketches will give you a
starting point to respond to the weekly presentations.
The final exam will explore issues of critical theory in anthropology and related disciplines (based
on second term readings and classwork, including your classmates’ presentations). It will include
both short answer or identification and essay questions. These will not be trick questions.
Students who have attended class regularly, done the readings, and followed the discussions, will
be able to identify and compare the theorists, concepts and major works.
This course is intended as the culmination of the Honors Anthropology degree at Western. It is not
supposed to be easy but I hope it will be fun. It is designed to pull together things you have learned
over the years of your education and to increase your confidence in your own control over the
substance and significance of anthropology as a discipline. Professional socialization is integral to
continuing study beyond the undergraduate level. For those of you who move directly to
employment or switch disciplines, this is your chance to try out the role of social science critical
scholar. Our society desperately needs an informed intelligentsia, both inside and outside the
academy. This is the goal of your education and of my teaching. Its value is not restricted to those
who aspire to become academic anthropologists. Those who do, however, will be well-prepared to
perform as scholars with theoretical breadth and anthropological sophistication.
The emphasis is on socio-cultural anthropology but the issues and methods raised by the
ethnographers and theorists we are reading can be applied easily to problems of archaeology and
biological anthropology. The emphasis will be placed on qualitative methodologies essential to the
experience of doing fieldwork, regardless of the formal methods employed to organize the
materials gathered. What literary critic Kenneth Burke called “the representative anecdote” is often
the most effective way to understand another culture and to convey that understanding to a
broader audience. Anthropologists excel in qualitative research, going beyond correlations to
underlying meanings and their variability across cultures.
8 September
Introduction: Theorizing Ethnography
15 September
22 September
29 September
6 October
13 October
20 October
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27 October
3 November
10 November
17 November
24 November
1 December
West (a short book, one week should suffice)
5 January
From Theory to Ethnography
One week before presentation – BIOGRAPHICAL
DESCRIPTION of your Theorist – 10%
ORAL PRESENTATION as below – 10%
12 January
Sociological Approaches (Pierre Bourdieu, Raymond
Williams, Bruno Latour)
19 January
Literary Criticism (Roland Barthes, Paul Ricoeur,
Walter Benjamin, Mikhail Bakhtin)
26 January
Linguistic Approaches (C.S. Peirce, John Searle,
Ludwig Wittgenstein)
2 February
Historical Approaches (Hayden White, Frederick
Jameson, Marshall Sahlins, Louis Dumont)
9 February
Philosophical Approaches: Deconstruction (Michel
Foucault, Jacques Derrida, Francois Lyotard)
16 February
23 February
Philosophical Approaches: Radical Deconstruction
(Gilles Deleuze, Felix Guattari, Jean Beaudrillard)
2 March
The Frankfort School (Hannah Arendt, Antonio
19 Gramsci, Theodore Adorno, Jurgen
Habermas, Herbert Marcuse)
9 March
Activist Approaches (Stuart Hall, Edward Said, Gayatri
Spivak, Paulo Friere, Vine Deloria)
16 March
Feminist Approaches (Julia Kristeva, Judith Butler,
Donna Haraway, Simone de Beauvoir)
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23 March
Evolutionary Biology (Stephen Jay Gould, Richard
Dawkins, Stephen Pinker)
31 March
Complexity and Chaos Theories (Isabelle Stengers, Ilya
Prigogine, Richard Lewin, James Gleick)
6 April
The Anthropological Metanarrative?
(one week extension for March 24 and April 7 teams)
Late papers will be marked down by 2% each day or 10% per week for two weeks. Papers will not
be accepted thereafter. All exceptions require documentation of medical or compassionate
accommodation confirmed by the Dean’s Office.
Extended absences (including failure to participate in team preparation and presentation) and late
essays or assignments require documentation. Please consult the Policy on Accommodation for
Medical Illness: ( Request for medical or nonmedical accommodation should be directed to the appropriate Faculty Dean’s office and not to the
No electronic devices will be permitted during the final exam. Laptop computers may be used in
class for purposes of taking class notes or relevant information retrieval only. Cell phones should
be turned off.
Academic offenses are taken seriously and students are responsible for reading and understanding
the definition of scholastic offenses:
All required papers may be subject to submission for textual similarity review to the commercial
plagiarism detection software under license to the University for the detection of plagiarism. All
papers submitted for such checking will be included as source documents in the reference database
for the purpose of detecting plagiarism of papers subsequently submitted to the system. Use of the
service is subject to the licensing agreement, currently between the University of Western Ontario
and (
Students who are in emotional/mental distress should refer to Mental Health@Western for a complete list of options about how to obtain help.
Student support services and student development services can be found at
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