BASS Social Anthropology and Philosophy / Course details

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Power and Culture: Inequality in Everyday Life

Course unit fact file
Unit code SOAN10301
Credit rating 10
Unit level Level 1
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


How can social anthropology contribute to the study of everyday life? This course explores power, culture, and the (re)production of inequality from an anthropological perspective. Rather than providing a comprehensive overview of global inequality, it introduces students to a set of anthropological tools that can be applied to analyse and critique structural inequality on both local and global levels.


Power and Culture centres on two concepts often considered central to anthropological thinking: social constructionism and cultural relativism. A social constructionist approach suggests that much of what seems “natural,” “normal,” or “common sense” about the way we live—such as our political and economic systems, our understanding of gender, or how we decide who counts as family—is dependent on the time, place, and culture in which we find ourselves. As the historical products of collective social life, these “social constructions” could be otherwise—and in different cultural contexts, they often are. Partly as a result of this contingency, many anthropologists adopt a cultural relativist approach to the study of human social life. Rather than seeing their own culture as a universal norm, they seek to understand how different ways of living seem equally “normal” to people in different social, cultural, and historical contexts.


By helping to denaturalise our social worlds, an anthropological approach suggests that our social systems—and the hierarchies, inequalities, and injustices they can produce—need not be seen as inevitable.


Power and Culture: Inequalities in Everyday Life provides an introduction to social anthropology for students from diverse disciplinary backgrounds. It is aimed at students with little to no prior training in anthropology, including first year Social Anthropology students and students in any year of study on another degree programme. 

Learning outcomes

By the end of the module, students who have successfully completed the course should be able to:

  • Understand a set of key anthropological approaches, concepts, and debates
  • Situate different anthropological arguments in relation to each other
  • Understand a selection of ethnographic texts and reconstruct their core arguments
  • Critically evaluate these arguments in light of this understanding
  • Present these anthropological approaches, concepts, and debates in written form
  • Distil the key arguments and contributions of different ethnographic studies
  • Explain how they can serve critical analysis and relate to political action
  • Employ these anthropological approaches to develop critical understandings of social life
  • Mobilise these approaches and concepts to critically analyse and challenge mainstream understandings of social life in their own surroundings
  • Illustrate their understanding of such approaches and concepts with examples drawn from their own experience

Teaching and learning methods

Lectures and tutorials



Assessment methods

Two written assignments:

  • One 500-word mid-term assignment worth 30% of the final grade (due in November)
  • One 1,000-word final assignment worth 70% of the final grade (due in January)

Feedback methods

Written feedback is provided on written assignments. Students also receive feedback during tutorials and, if applicable, office hours. 


Recommended reading

Useful introductory texts include:

  • Engelke, Matthew. 2018. How to Think Like an Anthropologist. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
  • Mullings, Leith. 2015. “Presidential Address: Anthropology Matters.” American Anthropologist 117 (1): 4-16.

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 20
Tutorials 5
Independent study hours
Independent study 70

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Méadhbh McIvor Unit coordinator

Additional notes



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