Humans and Culture: an Introduction to Anthropology
Anthropology is at once a contested and vital field of study and inquiry. Still hotly debated is a basic question: what is the scope of anthropological inquiry? Modern anthropologists no longer divide the world, as their 19th-century forebears did, into a sociological “West” and an anthropological “rest of the world,” its “backwardness” waiting to be understood. Yet, expanding the anthropological field of view to the whole of the globe only intensifies the ambitious remit of studying everything human—from prehistoric societies to human evolution, from language to digital culture and capitalist hegemony. What is the meaning, and use, of anthropology in the 21st century? How can a universalist anthropology help us understand, to a unique degree, the complex, conflictive, and crisis-prone sphere of human existence today?
In this course, we will examine the development of anthropology as a field of study and engage with core concepts from all “four sub-fields” (cultural anthropology, archeology, linguistics and biological anthropology). How have debates in anthropology sharpened its contemporary usefulness and that of its signature methods of field work and participant observation. Beginning with the origins and transformation of the field itself, we will then examine three thematic areas of particular anthropological relevance: Race and Racism, Gender and Sex, and Power and Class. We will identify the tools and data necessary for addressing questions that seem at once perennial and immediately pressing: Is racism just a function of human nature and the need to create in- and out-groups? Is gender a feeling or fact? Does power inevitably corrupt? What kinds of transformations of human social life are inevitable or possible? Readings will draw from the work of major figures in 19th and early-to-mid 20th century anthropology such as Morgan, Malinowski, Boas and Mead along with the work of thinkers outside of the field, including Marx, Fanon, Butler and Foucault, in order to elaborate the anthropological approach to these critical themes and related debates.
Course ScheduleWednesday, 6:30-9:30pm ET
July 14 — August 04, 2021