BA Linguistics and Social Anthropology / Course details

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Anthropological Theory

Course unit fact file
Unit code SOAN20830
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 2
Teaching period(s) Full year
Available as a free choice unit? No


The module provides students with an opportunity to learn about the ways in which the discipline develops through arguments made by anthropologists over time. Students will gain insight into major theoretical approaches and arguments in the contexts in which they unfolded. This means asking what different approaches and conceptual frameworks emphasise, what they leave undiscussed and what they make invisible.The course will be delivered in four blocks, each one concerned to show a different approach or form of analysis.


This course aims to identify the key theoretical approaches that have defined the discipline of anthropology, both in the past and in the contemporary period. It frames the ongoing problem of understanding society holistically. The enigma of what connects us as humans, without us fulling grasping how or why, is addressed across four different blocks, each presented by a different convenor. We will consider themes such as: the shifting relationship between ethnography and theory; the rise and fall of some theories over others; the shifting focus of anthropologists’ research (its objects and subjects); the link between particular ethnographic regions and theoretical approaches; anthropology’s changing relationship with other disciplines; the influence of different political, economic, social, and geographical contexts on the development of the discipline and the place of Manchester Anthropology in this. The course is offered over two semesters, as one 20 credit course in order to enable students to think more deeply.

Learning outcomes

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

  • Understand what it means to think and argue anthropologically.
  • Each section focuses on one or more major theoretical approaches in anthropology, and enables students to understand the differences between them.
  • Understand the historical and regional differences in theoretical approaches.
  • Use the material in this course to develop more subtle arguments in their written work, and use anthropological theory themselves to develop their own intellectual arguments (e.g. in a dissertation)
  • Identify the distinctive contributions made by the Manchester School.

Teaching and learning methods

This module is team-taught in four blocks of five weeks each. Each week will have a two-hour session consisting of lectures, group discussions and perhaps other tasks as set by the lecturer. For the duration of each block, the relevant lecturer will have a dedicated drop-in office hour reserved for students on this module. All the module details will be available in the modules Blackboard zone.

Assessment methods

Each semester has the following assessments: Weekly tutorial tasks: 2 x 250 words (worth 20%);

2 hour Final Exam (worth 80%)

Feedback methods

Electronic and personalised feedback

Recommended reading

This list is only indicative of the type of literature that will be used for the course: the lecturer who will be running each block will, in consultation with the course convenor, be free to use the literature that they feel is most appropriate.

Abram, S. & J. Waldren (eds) 1998. Anthropological perspectives on local development: knowledge and sentiments in conflict. London: Routledge.

Austin, J L (1962) How to do things with words:  The William James Lecstures delivered at Harvard University in 1955, Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Besnier, N (2009) Gossip and the Everyday Production of Politics, University of Hawaii Press.

Bourdieu, P. 1995 (1990). The Logic of Practice (trans.) R. Nice. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Cameron, D (2001), Working with Spoken Discourse. London: Sage.

Das, Veena. 2006. Life and Words: Violence and the Descent into the Ordinary

Douglas, M. (ed.) 1973. Rules and meanings: the anthropology of everyday knowledge - selected readings. Harmondsworth: Penguin Education.

Duranti, A (2009) Linguistic Anthropology: A Reader, Oxford: Wiley Blackwell

Durkheim. E. 2008 [1912]. Elementary forms of Religious Life. Oxford. Trans. Cosman. C.

Evans-Pritchard, E.E. 1992. Theories of Primitive Religion. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Evens, T.M.S. & D. Handelman. 2006. The Manchester School: practice and ethnographic praxis in anthropology. New York ; Oxford: Berghahn Books.

Evens, T M S and D Handelman,(2006), The Manchester School: practic and ethnographic praxis in anthropology. New York; Oxford: Berghahn Books.

Fardon, R. (ed.) 1995. Counterworks: managing the diversity of knowledge. London; New York: Routledge.

Fischer, M.M.J. 1999. Emergent forms of life: Anthropologies of late or postmodernities. Annual Review of Anthropology 28, 455-478.

Foucault, M. 1974. The Order of Things. An Archaeology of the Human Sciences. (tr. anon.) London: Tavistock.

Geertz, C. 1983. Local Knowledge: further essays in interpretive anthropology. New York: Basic Books.

Gluckman, M. 1965. Politics, law and ritual in tribal society. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.

Hanks, W (1996) Language and Communicative practice.  Boulder, CO: Westview.

Ingold, T. (ed.) 1996. Key debates in anthropology. London, New York: Routledge.

Kapferer. B and Meinert. L (eds.). In the event. Towards an anthropology of generic moments. Social Analysis, 54(3)

Kuklick, H. (ed.) 2008. A new history of anthropology. Oxford: Blackwell.

Leonardo, M.d. (ed.) 1991. Gender at the Crossroads of Knowledge: Feminist Anthropology in the Postmodern Era. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Levi-Strauss, C. 1977. Structural Anthropology 1 and 2. London: Peregrine Books.

Lewis, I.M. 1999. Arguments with ethnography: comparative approaches to history, politics & religion. London; New Brunswick, N.J.: Athlone Press.

Marcus, G.E. & M.M. Fischer. 1986. Anthropology as Cultural Critique. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Mauss, M. 1990. The Gift: the form and reason for exchange in archaic societies. (tr. W.D. Halls) London: Routledge.

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Assessment written exam 3
Lectures 40
Tutorials 12
Independent study hours
Independent study 137

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Caroline Parker Unit coordinator
Sonja Dobroski Unit coordinator
Chloe Nahum-Claudel Unit coordinator
Judy Thorne Unit coordinator

Additional notes


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