BA Linguistics and Social Anthropology

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Anthropology of Human Learning: Childhood and Education

Course unit fact file
Unit code SOAN30372
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


It is because childhood learning is central to the process of becoming a particular kind of person that every ethnographic endeavour (to understand the collective distinctiveness of specific peoples and the unique particularity of the individuals making up the collective) must, by definition, rely on some notion of learning even when it is an assumed one. Usually, where a theory of learning is not made explicit, it is taken for granted that children have somehow been properly socialised and that there is no need, therefore, to consider such processes further because learning is thought to pertain to children and childhood and not to adults who are the more typical subjects of anthropological research. The implications of challenging anthropological assumptions about learning are twofold: it is not just a question of asking if an assumed model of childhood socialisation is a good enough theory of learning, but also of whether or not there is any theoretical use in thinking about social structure in terms of on-going processes of learning in adulthood.






In this course, which explores the anthropology of education and childhood, it is not taken for granted that it is somehow obvious how ‘social construction’ works or that it can be assumed to be something to do with vaguely conceived processes of socialisation in childhood. Rather it sets out to explain how the structuring of social relations at all ages - from child to adulthood, from birth until death - implies the constant unfolding of processes of learning. In this light children and novices and by implication, persons of all kinds are seen to be continuously making sense, in practice, of who they can be in relation to other people’s historically specific ideas about who it is appropriate for them to become. Exploring this learning phenomenon in detail, this course aims to provide a solid foundation on which students can begin to confidently make cross-cultural comparisons of processes of teaching and learning, focusing on the question of how people learn in child and adulthood and youth what they come to take for granted as social and cultural knowledge.


Learning outcomes

On completion of this unit successful students will be able to:

  • Critically evaluate the relevance to anthropology of a more rigorous theory of learning
  • Understand what counts as an anthropological theory of learning, and of education
  • Make a cross-cultural comparison of childhood and youth
  • Understand the difference between formalised education and informal learning
  • Understand the relationship between learning, education and culturally specific categories of child, youth and personhood
  • Understand the relationship between learning, education and the politics of culture and society
  • Critically evaluate the relevance of literacy and institutionalised education to processes of development and globalisation



Teaching and learning methods

Ten lectures and ten small-group seminars.


Intellectual skills

  • Reading and understanding in-depth ethnographic case studies and learning how to analyse them for the purposes of cross-cultural analysis
  • Writing an in-depth anthropological essay based on analytical skills in relation to the interpretation of in-depth reading of ethnographic and other anthropological texts.
  • Preparing short literature reviews
  • Presenting oral interpretations of literature

Practical skills

  • Using the library to search for texts
  • Using the electronic journals to search for articles
  • Making seminar presentations
  • Analysing Film Materials
  • Using Blackboard

Transferable skills and personal qualities

  • Small group work
  • In depth analysis
  • Analytical writing
  • Online research
  • Oral Presentation

Assessment methods

  • 3,000 word final essay (worth 100%)
  • Opportunity to submit practice essay of 1,500 words mid-term, non-assessed. 

Feedback methods

Written feedback online via Turnitin and oral feedback in one-to-one office hours.

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 20
Tutorials 10
Independent study hours
Independent study 170

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Gillian Evans Unit coordinator

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