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Introduction to Cultural
University College, St. Louis, MO
Tuesday, 6:30-9:00pm
Fall 2015
Anth 101
Seigle Hall 106
Elyse Ona Singer
[email protected]
Office Hours: TBA
Thurs. 3:00-6:00pm
Or by appointment
Course description and objectives:
Cultural anthropologists take culture as their principal object of study,
underscoring its centrality in shaping human behavior. Cultural anthropologists seek to
understand human diversity in all of its forms in all corners of the world. They investigate
and theorize about diverse aspects of human behavior including: how people adapt to
their environments, the symbolic systems they develop for communication and the
religious systems that regulate their lives, their economic and political organization, what
they do for a living, how they make meaning in their lives and more. At the end of this
course you should have an understanding of the central axes that ground social
organization cross-culturally as well as the particularities inherent to diverse cultural
contexts. Examining how “other” people live both expands our understanding of this
ever-shrinking world and pushes us to question key assumptions about our own
The course is divided into five sections and each week we will change thematic
focus. In Part I you will be oriented to the sub-field, learning what anthropologists mean
by “culture”, what are the origins of the discipline, what kind of questions cultural
anthropologists ask and how they carry out their work. In this section we will also discuss
the range of ethical issues that anthropologists routinely confront. In Part II we will
discuss a few central axes that guide both human identification and anthropological
analysis including gender, sex, sexuality, race and ethnicity and the key differences
between these fundamentally cultural categories. Along with these more ubiquitous
identities, we will discuss a few examples of “alternative” identifications to shine light on
the fact that all such categories are culturally constructed but experientially real. In Part
III we will review forms of social organization on a large scale (including a discussion of
diverse forms of economic and political organization) as well as on a smaller-scale
(including discussion of kinship and marriage). In the fourth section we examine the
ways that anthropology has been used to effect change in the world (typically geared
towards promoting social justice) and also the ways in which is has been misused (often
in the promotion of wars or corporate interests). In this section we also review an
important sub-field of cultural anthropology, medical anthropology. We close the course
by discussing the dramatic increase in global flows of information, technologies,
commodities and ideas and what this means for our changing world and changing lives.
Reading: Read the articles assigned for each week BEFORE that week’s class.
You are expected to come to class with opinions, doubts, questions, and critiques
about the readings. Disagreeing with the author is okay!
Participation: I understand some students have a more vocal or non-vocal
learning style. We will work together to create a safe classroom environment for
all to feel comfortable speaking and sharing thoughts.
Technology: Cell phones off. Laptops may be use for note taking only although I
prefer notebooks. Class time is for engaging and being present. I can circulate
slides and lectures if students want.
Ethics: All submitted work must be one’s own. No copying from other students or
from the internet. If you have questions about proper citation, ask me! Plagiarism
is a serious academic offense.
Fieldwork Essay (25% of final grade):
As we learn about anthropological methods in week 5, students will carry out their own
participant observation exercise in a (safe) place where they do not usually spend time
(e.g. in a store, park, etc.), or in a familiar space but viewing it through a different lens.
Students are required to spend at least 3 hours there, ideally in a continuous block,
observing, writing fieldnotes, and engaging in casual conversation if possible. During and
after students should take detailed fieldnotes. The final essay (5 pages double-spaced)
will be both a reflection on the research process and an analysis of research findings and
should address the following questions: Where did you carry out your fieldwork? How
did you feel in that space? How did people react to your presence? What did you
observe? How do your findings relate to class readings? Fieldnotes and final essay are
due in class on week 7. Late essays will lose 4 points for each day they are late.
Midterm Exam (30% of final grade):
Exams will be a mixture of true/false, fill-in-the-blank, and short answer questions, and
are designed to last about one hour.
Participation/attendance/in-class assignments (15% of final grade):
Come to class having completed the readings and ready to discuss them. Occasionally we
will have in-class assignments, which will also inform your participation grade.
Final Exam (30% of final grade):
The final exam will be cumulative, structured in the same way as the mid-term, and last
an hour.
Required textbook and readings: There will be one required textbook to help guide our
class discussions: 2014 Kenneth J. Guest, Cultural Anthropology: A Toolkit for a Global
Age, WW Norton and Co. All assigned articles will be scanned and available online
through Blackboard. On average you will be assigned three academic articles per week.
In addition, occasionally I also assign short snippets from the newspaper and certain
passages from the textbook, for lighter reading.
Absence policy: 2 excused absences for emergencies only. On the third absence I will
need to bring the issue to administration.
Course schedule (subject to modification)
Part one: The scope of cultural anthropology
Week 1: Introduction to course
Personal introductions
Review syllabus and course expectations
*In-class activity: Brainstorm about ideal first date behavior.
Intro to anthropology lecture (Sahlins)
Week 2: Defining Anthropology, Defining Culture: A moving target
Read before class:
Deep Play: Notes on the Balinese Cockfight, Clifford Geertz
Body Ritual Among the Nacirema, Horace Miner
Textbook Pg. 33-42 and Pg. 46-59.
Week 3: The origins and history of the discipline: Colonialism and its discontents
Textbook Pg. 82-88.
Introduction to Europe and the People Without History, Eric Wolf
Introduction to Guns, Germs and Steel, Jared Diamond
Week 4: Cultural relativism and its limits
Human Rights Law and the Demonization of Culture, Sally Engle Merry
Cultural Relativism and Universal Human Rights, Jack Donnelly
Rites and Wrongs. In Female “Circumcision” in Africa. Lynne Rienner (Ch. 14)
Do Muslim women really need Saving? Lila Abu-Lughod
*In-class discussion: What are the positives and negatives of human rights law?
Who gets to establish such laws? How do we account for cultural variation and
Week 5: Ethical Considerations with anthropological research
Textbook : Pg. 97-102.
Up the Anthropologist: Perspectives Gained from Studying up, Laura Nader
After Cultural Competency: Research practice and moral experience in the study
of brand pirates and Tobacco farmers, Peter Benson and Kedron Thomas
Week 6: Doing Anthropology: Methods and practice
Textbook: Pg 78-81.
Ethnography and Participant Observation, Paul Atkinson/Martyn Hammersley
Notes on Fieldnotes, James Clifford
Excerpt from Elyse Singer’s fieldnotes
Assign: Fieldwork activity due in class week 7.
Part two: Identities
Week 7: Race, Ethnicity, Nationality
Textbook Pg. 195-230 and 237-244 and 254-265
White Privilege: Unpacking the invisible knapsack, Peggy Mkintosh
One Hundred Percent American, Ralf Linton
*Contemporary topics: Ferguson, MO police abuse and social protest
MTV documentary White privilege
Week 8: Gender, Sex, Sexuality
Is Female to Male as Nature is to Culture? Sherry Ortner
Chapter one from The Meanings of Macho: Being a man in Mexico City, Mathew
Pick another article on sexuality from Feminist Reader in Anthropology
Week 9: “Alternative” identities (subject to omission)
Critical Therapeutics: Cultural Politics and Clinical Reality in Two Eating
Treatment Centers, Rebecca Lester
Intimacy, chapter In Coming of Age in Second life, Tom Boellstorff
Chapter 1 from In Search of Respect, Philippe Bourgois
Social Organization and Power Structures
Week 10: Economic Systems
Textbook Pg. 441-474
The Laborer in the Culture of Capitalism, Chapter 2 In Global Problems and the
Culture of Capitalism, Richard Robbins
The Original Affluent Society, Marshall Sahlins
Chapter of Sidewalk
In the news:
Mackeral Economics in Prison:
Week 11: Family, Kinship, and Marriage
Textbook Pgs. 349-351, 360-371
Strategic Naturalizing: Kinship in an infertility clinic, Charis Thompson
“Is there a Family?” Roger Lancaster (ed.). The Gender/Sexuality Reader. New
York: Routledge, Jane Collier
In the news: 8 Adults, 3 Children, 1 House, Hartford Courant
Contemporary topics: Gay marriage
Practicing Anthropology: Uses and misuses
Week 12: Medical Anthropology
The Egg and the Sperm, Emily Martin
On suffering and structural violence: A view from below, Paul Farmer
Chronic Pain: The Frustrations of Desire In Illness Narratives, Arthur Kleinman
The Mindful Body: A Prolegomenon to Future Work in Medical Anthropology,
Nancy Scheper-Hughes and Margaret Lock
Week 13: Uses and Misuses of Anthropology
AAA Statement on Human Terrain System,
Anthropology and the Development Encounter: The making and marketing of
development anthropology, Pablo Escobar
Reclaiming Applied Anthropology: Its past, present and future, Barbara RylkoBauer, Merrill Singer and John Van Willigen
Beyond the Ivory Tower: Critical praxis in medical anthropology, Merrill Singer
Globalization and the changing contours of culture
Week 14:
Textbook Pg. 19-31 and 66-71.
Appadurai, Arjun. Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization.
Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996, pp. 27-65.
*In class full movie: Mardi Gras: Made in China
Week 15: In-class review and final