This course fulfills the American Cultures requirement, taking account of the historical, cultural, and political formation of the United States as a society of native peoples and successive waves of migrants—including those pursuing opportunities, those forced into slavery, and those fleeing war, persecution, economic or environmental displacement. This course is therefore concerned with what it means to live in the United States and to be positioned as a member of a racial, national, or religious group; to be considered normal, or to be treated as a problem.
Cultural Anthropology is the intimate study of human cultures, societies and the changing social, economic and political situations of a globalized world. Anthropological research typically involves an extended period of living with the community under study and the production of a written account—combining description, analysis and interpretation—called an ethnography. Over the course of more than a century, anthropologists have sought to document the varieties of human practices and experience. Early anthropologists are ambiguous figures in the landscape of colonialism: they were both complicit with colonial rule but also challenged the ideologies of racial and civilizational superiority that justified colonial exploitation. As they undermined the modern West’s ethnocentric certainties about the imputed “primitiveness” of others, anthropologists often turned their insights back to question taken-for-granted assumptions about their own social worlds.
Building on this history, this course will present anthropological accounts of life in the formerly-colonized world and put them in dialogue with contemporary accounts of life in the United States. This dialogue is intended to help students use anthropological approaches to make sense of conflicts and controversies that may touch their own lives and communities. Broad course themes include race and ethnicity; systems of exchange; ritual and religion; the body, gender and sexuality; ways of communicating; and techniques of social control.
This class meets the lower division social/cultural anthropology requirement.