What is the nature of human society? How do societies very different from our own organize themselves? What drives humans to act? What is culture and how does it manifest itself? What is the nature of human thought? By what means can one person comprehend the lives of others?
As a friend of mine once noted, cultural anthropology is like cross-cultural philosophy: one asks the Ã¢â‚¬Å“big questionsÃ¢â‚¬Â and contemplates these knowing that not all societies and cultural values are alike. That said, the aim of this course is to give an overview of key thinkers and the works that have addressed these and similar big questions and, in doing so, have shaped anthropological research and writing over the past hundred-plus years.
In a certain sense this is an impossible course. There is no way, within a fifteen-week semester, to capture the breadth and depth of the field of anthropology. However, this is also an extremely important course for students who want to understand the roots of the discipline and enter into a discussion of contemporary anthropological issues with a sense of history. Recognizing both the importance and impossibility of our effort, we will do our best to sketch an outline of the history of anthropological thinking over the past hundred and fifty years with a selection of writings by key authors. In general each class will consist of (1) a brief overview of a paradigm or perspective within which a particular anthropologist (or a precursor) falls and (2) a student-led discussion of the primary text(s) assigned for the day. Short writing assignments focus on the readings. The mid-term and final writing assignments deal with readings selected by students from a list of period-specific ethnographies.