Options

This is a list of option papers that will be available in the current academic year. Please note that these options are not guaranteed to be offered in future years.

The Social Anthropology of a Selected Region

A1. THE MIDDLE EAST (Dr Morgan Clarke and Dr Zuzanna Olszewska)

Eight lectures in Hilary Term
Examination: Written paper sat in June

This introduction to anthropological work on the Middle East caters for first-year graduate students in anthropology. The course is centred on eight classes, supplemented by recommended documentary films. Material may be drawn from throughout the MENA region, but particularly the Arab and Persianate worlds. Topics to be covered include classic considerations of systems of Islamic learning, concepts of self and society, relations between the sexes, ideologies of descent and marriage, and local constructions of history, but also contemporary popular culture, political movements, states and governance, and the politics and ethics of representation in a time of war.

A2. JAPANESE ANTHROPOLOGY (Prof. Roger Goodman)
Eight lectures in Hilary Term; 12 classes in Hilary and Trinity Term
Examination: Written paper sat in June

This course has two main aims: (a) to provide an introduction to Japanese society from an anthropological perspective and (b) to show how the study of Japan can contribute to mainstream anthropological theory. Major themes which will be covered include notions of personhood, rituals and symbols, time and space, structure and agency, continuity and change, and the construction of ethnic, gender, sexual and minority identities. It will be possible to study a number of contemporary social institutions in depth, including the Japanese educational, legal, medical, welfare, company, household and kinship systems, new religions, and the worlds of traditional arts and popular culture. At the micro level, the details of these operations and the ideologies which support them will be examined, while at the macro level the course will explore their relation to other social institutions and the wider political and economic arena both inside and outside Japan.

A5. ANTHROPOLOGY OF SOUTH ASIA (Dr Nayanika Mathur)
Eight lectures in Hilary Term
Examination: Written paper sat in June

Anthropology as a discipline has a problematic history due to its long-standing romance with primitivism and alterity as well as its close imbrication with colonialism. Nowhere is this better reflected than in the concepts and tropes that define the standardised Anthropology of South Asia. This course constitutes an attempt to decolonise and subvert such a study of this region. It does so by critically questioning the canonical literature and discarding the normative frames through which South Asia has historically been studied and taught. We will retain a reliance on the ethnographic method as a primary tool to understand South Asia, but will expand the usual ‘canonical’ reading list and reformulate some of its themes. Gender, Religion, and Caste will be integrated into every lecture rather than featuring as stand-alone separate sessions. Similarly, the nation-states comprising contemporary South Asia will be included in each lecture session to the extent possible. Academic books will be read alongside fiction, art, blog posts, and films.

A6. THEMES IN AFRICAN ANTHROPOLOGY (Drs David Pratten, Thomas Cousins and Thomas Hendriks)
Eight lectures in Hilary Term
Examination: 4,000-word essay and 1,000-word book review

This course provides an empirical foundation and conceptual framework for the academic study of Africa and its peoples. The course also aims to introduce students to a critical understanding of ethnographic writing on Africa. The course is organized around a series of lectures and readings which introduce theoretical issues that have developed in the anthropology of Africa. These will be presented in weekly classes held in conjunction with a film series that introduces a range of ethnographic and wider issues in African culture and society.

Topics in Visual, Material & Museum Anthropology

B2. OBJECTS IN MOTION: DEBATES IN ECONOMIC ANTHROPOLOGY (Dr Inge Daniels)
Eight seminars and eight film screenings in Hilary Term
Examination: 4,000-word essay and a 1,000-word visua; essay

This option explores key anthropological debates about the production, circulation and consumption of commodities through the lenses of markets, religion, and travel. Drawing on ethnographic examples from around the world, but with a particular focus on East Asia, the aim is to critically examine contentious issues surrounding commodification, globalisation and cross-cultural circulation of people and things. Topics discussed include the exchange of commodities within gift economies; the impact of commercialisation upon spiritual forms; tourism and notions of authenticity; money, markets and the ethics of global trade; advertising and visual economies, the Internet and mobile technologies, and disposal and the second-hand economy. All these topics will be explored through a mixture of written texts, photography and film.

The course runs over 8 weeks in Hilary (but an introductory meeting will be held on the Thursday in week 0). It consists of two components: in the morning key readings will be presented and discussed in a seminar, while in the afternoon students will review a film and lead the discussions after a public viewing.

Students planning to take this option should make sure they can attend both parts of the class, generally held on Tuesday mornings and afternoons. The course is capped at 12 students (8 places are guaranteed for the SA degree and 4 for the VMMA degree, but if necessary, students will be selected by a lottery draw).

B4. KEY DEBATES IN THE ANTHROPOLOGY OF ART AND VISUAL CULTURE (Prof. Clare Harris and Dr Elizabeth Hallam)
Eight lectures in Hilary Term
Examination: 5,000-word essay

This course explores key debates in the anthropology of art and visual culture, drawing on studies of art, artists, museums, and displays from around the world. It will begin with an overview of anthropological approaches to art and aesthetics. We will then examine a range of specific theoretical concerns with regard to art: distinctions between art, artefacts and organisms; processes of production and circulation including art markets, collecting, exhibiting, and the attribution of value; constructions of authenticity and ‘primitivism’, theories of agency, and we will consider how anthropologists might study the burgeoning contemporary transnational artworld. The course will include sessions led by Dr. Hallam on sketching as a method and an analytical tool within anthropological research. Students will have the opportunity to experiment with this methodology and to make presentations on other topics for the seminar group and within the galleries of the Pitt Rivers Museum. They will also be encouraged to make active use of the collections and displays at the Museum of Natural History, the Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology, the Museum of the History of Science, and Modern Art Oxford. It is likely that we will make a fieldtrip to visit museums in London depending upon what is on display in spring 2019.

B5. ANTHROPOLOGY AND FILM (Prof. Marcus Banks)
Eight lectures in Hilary Term
Examination: 5,000-word essay

This option explores the various ways in which the discipline of social anthropology and the theory and practice of filmmaking have come together over the past century and more. The first encounter was at the end of the nineteenth century, when marine biologist turned anthropologist Alfred Cort Haddon took a film camera to the Torres Strait Islands in 1898 and shot a few minutes of local people dancing. Since then, film has been coopted methodologically by social anthropology as a medium of record. However, documentary film theory shows us that there is no such thing as neutral objective record of a social event: all film records are social constructions, including Haddon’s 1898 footage. The option will critically explore the growth and development of the genre of ‘ethnographic film’ and its associated media presence through television broadcasting and bienniel festivals, as well as anthropological investigations into film production and film semiotics. The class does not include a practical component, but participants will be expected to use the internet to research film genres and to present film clips as well as critical readings in their class presentations. The option is examined by assessed essay (4,000 words) and a film review (1,000 words) and it is expected that film clips (as digital files submitted on CD-ROM or as hyperlinked files) will be included as part of the submission.

Themes in Anthropology

C1. SENSORY EXPERIENCE IN THERAPEUTICS (Prof. Elisabeth Hsu and Dr Paola Esposito)
Eight lectures in Hilary Term
Examination: Written paper sat in June

This option course discusses ritual healing from a critical medical anthropological viewpoint. Its focus is on bodily skills of ritual practice that can affect a substantial as well as perceived sensory transformation in patients, and their entourage. Ethnographic evidence will be presented to suggest that those techniques are conducive to recovery from sickness. The option is open to all students at SAME, and those PGT students enrolled in it receive two tutorials in groups of two or three students. Furthermore, there are four 90 minutes sessions on a film with subsequent discussion on themes related to the course materials.

C2. THE ANTHROPOLOGY OF LAW (Professor Fernanda Pirie)
Eight lectures in Hilary Term, two tutorials in Hilary and Trinity Term
Examination: Written paper sat in June

How are we to understand the very different systems of law found in other societies? On what grounds can we even define them as ‘law’? These questions are central for anthropologists of law. They are also faced, in more practical terms, by those concerned with the implementation of human rights regimes or involved in the promotion of good governance and democracy around the world. How do western models of law and legal practices relate to, conflict with, complement, or undermine the laws of the Hindu, Islamic, and Confucian worlds, or the legal practices and expectations of small communities in Africa and Amazonia?

In this course we reflect upon the parameters and cultural specificity of our concept of law, while also asking what is distinctive about legalistic modes of thought, argument, and social organization. The course begins with classic studies in legal anthropology, conflict resolution, and social order. It moves on to consider empirical studies from the great legal systems of the world, including work by legal historians on Rome and the Hindu and Islamic worlds. We will discuss the role of literacy, rules, and texts, and the relations between law and justice, and relate them to recent work on human rights and international laws.

Eight two-hour seminars are held in Hilary Term. These are also offered to Master’s students in law, which provides a lively context for debate and discussion. All students are expected to contribute to the discussions on the basis of the assigned readings. Two tutorials are offered to each student in both Hilary and Trinity terms, for which essays are written.

C4. REPRODUCTION MIGRATIONS: WITH A FOCUS ON THE ASIA PACIFIC (Prof. Biao Xiang)
Eight lectures in Hilary Term
Examination: Written paper sat in June

This option course explore how biological and social reproduction—activities that maintain and reproduce human life on a daily and generational basis—is becoming a main driving force of migration. Reproduction migrations (RMs) include the migrations of domestic helpers, students, retirees, medical patients, marriage partners (especially of the commercially brokered transnational unions, which differ from conventional family reunion migration), “birth tourism” (would-be parents move a country to give birth in order for the new born to gain certain legal status), and investment migrants who move for the access to high-quality education, care and retirement life.

RM is encouraged by policy makers firstly because of the shortage of reproductive labour in the receiving country. Some nations have to reply on foreigners in order to reproduce themselves. RM is encouraged also because reproduction activities, for instance commercialized education, care and entertainment, are becoming a new engine of growth. Advanced countries are remaking themselves from centres of production into global hubs of reproduction. The reproduction of life, instead of the production of goods, may shape the world division of labour in the 21st century.

This option is timely as it explores an emerging trend that has not been thoroughly investigated.  The theme of “reproduction migration” and the geographical focus on the Asia Pacific are lacking the current curriculum of the degree.

C5. ANTHROPOLOGY OF BUDDHISM (Prof. David Gellner)
Eight lectures in Hilary Term
Examination: 4,000-word essay and 1,000-word book review

Buddhism, of all the world religions, arguably comes closest to the ideal type of a soteriology or transcendent ideology; it offers a model of personal transformation and social relationships that is radically different from the Abrahamic religions. Its global influence and salience in the modern world, whether in South Asian, Tibetan, Southeast Asian, or East Asian forms, make it a highly relevant focus or way into an understanding of classical anthropological concerns, such as exchange, hierarchy, belief, ritual, migration, modernization, and globalization. This course aims to introduce students to the major themes in the anthropological study of Buddhism across all three major regions (south, north, east), as well as in the globalized extensions in developed countries.

C6. (alternate years) MIGRATION, CAPITALISM, AND SPATIAL INEQUALITY: POSTSOCIALIST PERSPECTIVES (Dr Dace Dzenovska) 
Eight lectures in Hilary Term
Examination: 5,000-word essay

The course examines spatial configurations of contemporary capitalism and their relationship with migration. It considers how such phenomena as deindustrialization, the rise of the global city, rural land grabs, and withdrawal of the state lead to particular forms of displacement, but also give rise to new forms of life. The course engages with theories of space, capitalism, and migration from a variety of disciplines. It is empirically grounded in anthropology of post socialist Eastern Europe, Russia, and Central Asia. However, the focus on postsocialism is not merely regional. The course understands postsocialism as a way of seeing the world that invites attention to the geopolitical and ideological shifts after the end of the Cold War.

C6. (alternate years) MOBILITY, NATION AND THE STATE (Dr Dace Dzenovska) 
Eight lectures in Hilary Term
Examination: Written paper sat in June

Contemporary life is hardly imaginable without mobility—of capital, things, ideas, images, and people. However, the effects of these forms of mobility and their desirability are variously distributed and perceived across historical and political contexts. For example, while the desirability of capital flows is hardly questioned by modern polities, migration is increasingly thought to undermine political communities and the institutions associated with them.

This course will investigate mobility-related political tensions of the current historical moment—for example, the tension between the unbounding of nations and the assertion of territorial sovereignty, or the tension between the recognition of multiplicity of identities and the re-assertion of various communities of value. The course will engage with different theories and ethnographies of sovereignty, nation, and the state, as well as consider whether and how practices of mobility open possibilities for imagining alternative political forms.

Firmly grounded in anthropology, the course will draw insights from other disciplines and fields of study, such as history, political theory, cultural studies, and geography. The course will include ethnographies from different regions, while at the same time questioning conventional regional divisions, instead emphasizing relational constitution of people and places.

C9. ANTHROPOLOGY AND LANGUAGE (Prof. Elisabeth Hsu and Dr Zuzanna Olszevska)
Eight lectures in Hilary Term
Examination: 4,000-word essay and 1,000-word book review

Understanding and using languages as means of communication lies at the heart of ethnographic fieldwork, opening windows on new worlds and ways of thinking and being. But language is also key to understanding a whole range of other social and cultural issues and theories in social anthropology and its subfields. Language has been one of the core areas of classic anthropology since the days of Bronislaw Malinowski in the UK and Franz Boas in the US. This course will enable students to appreciate the importance of language not only as part of everyday life, self-expression and communication, but also its central role in numerous cultural domains including ritual and religion, political speech and rhetoric, and knowledge production and meaning-making, among others. It will also introduce students to key anthropologists who have studied language as a part of their research and how they theorised their findings.

The main aim of the course is to offer an overview of the most significant themes in the anthropological study of language, familiarising students with the main authors, modes of analysis and concepts, and drawing also on related disciplines, including sociolinguistics. The course covers a broad range of world regions and allows for comparative perspectives.

C10. INTRODUCTION TO SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY STUDIES (Dr Javier Lezaun)
Eight lectures in Hilary Term
Examination: 4,000-word essay and 1,000-word book review

This course offers a postgraduate-level introduction to the field of Science and Technology Studies (STS). STS is a thriving interdisciplinary field, with a strong ethnographic tradition, that explores how new scientific and technical knowledge is produced, and its impact on society. STS has multiple empirical and theoretical synergies with anthropology, and has become an engine of new insights for the social sciences and the humanities. It is, in particular, a key resource for a new “anthropology at home,” the careful exploration of the practices that characterize modern Euro-American institutions and their global influence.

The course focuses on some of the key areas of theoretical innovation in STS, and on key domains of empirical investigation in the field. It is not designed (exclusively) for those with a specific interest in the anthropology of science and technology, but for all students who seek a better understanding of the processes by which societies generate new knowledge and instruments, and transform themselves in the process.

C11. ANTHROPOLOGY OF ENVIRONMENT (Prof Laura Rival and Dr Javier Lezaun)
Eight lectures in Hilary Term
Examination: 4,000-word essay and 1,000-word book review

Human-environment engagements are at the heart of anthropological concerns with how humans live and relate with their physical surroundings. Anthropology of environment is a recognised sub-field, which has long reflected core disciplinary questions and challenges, and contributed to the development of anthropology and its relevance to other disciplines and the world at large.

This option course offers a postgraduate-level introduction to core themes in anthropology and environment. It addresses key theoretical concepts and empirical topics that will be useful to students planning anthropological fieldwork in different geographical regions and speaks to relevant and timely concerns in anthropological theory and practice, including questions of nature and culture, resource politics, feminist and postcolonial political ecology, interdisciplinarity, and diverse ways of knowing and experiencing environments.

C12. ANTHROPOLOGY OF MOBILITY AND THE ECONOMY (Dr Marthe Achtnich)
Eight lectures in Hilary Term
Examination: 5,000-word essay

This course offers an introduction to anthropological engagements with mobility, focusing on migration and related mobility economies. A world shaped by mobility has been of long-standing anthropological interest, going back to some of the discipline’s earliest scholars. Increased migration and transnational connections have led to new dimensions of mobility research, including debates on ethnographic practice, assessments of formal and informal economies underpinning migration, borderwork and biopolitical modes of migration governance. Furthermore, the emergence of the so-called migration ‘crisis’ has put mobility at the centre of public debate.

The focus of this course is to critically assess the significance of anthropological contributions to understanding mobility, migration and their attendant economies. The course brings these three aspects together by focusing on a number of themes: (1) anthropological approaches to mobility and related economies; (2) mobile methodologies; (3) unauthorized migration; (4) value, accumulation and resource extraction; and (5) the biopolitics and bioeconomies surrounding migration. The course is open to all students, not just those with an interest in migration.

Who must do what:

Social Anthropology M.Sc. and first-year M.Phil. students:

Two options.

Medical Anthropology and VMMA M.Sc. and first-year M.Phil. students:

One option from any of Lists A, B or C.

Social Anthropology and VMMA second-year M.Phil. students:

One option except that or those in which you were examined in your first year.

NB: options not available for:

M.Sc. students in Cognitive & Evolutionary Anthropology

Medical Anthropology second-year M.Phil. students

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