Full course description
Social and political anthropology studies human lives in all their diversity and how power emerges and works in different contexts. Situated somewhere between the humanities and the social sciences, what makes anthropology unique is its commitment to long-term, deep engagements – often of a year or more – with the communities and cultures it studies. Although traditionally associated with “exotic” places far from its home in the “Western” universities of Europe and the USA, anthropologists are now as likely to study “at home,” making field sites out of their own back yards.
Over 6 weeks, this course will journey through Amazonia, Melanesia, Sub-Saharan Africa, and Europe to track the complex history of anthropology as a discipline and to attempt to understand the various ways that humans make their lives around the world today. We will interrogate anthropology’s beginnings as a tool of colonialism, through to its discovery for the West of the true complexity of non-western ways of life and political structures, and finally its transformation into a critical tool for uncovering racism, oppression, and inequality. Participants of this course will gain a deeper and theoretically informed appreciation of the stunning diversity of ways of being human; At the same time, they will also discover principles – political, spiritual, emotional, physical – that seem common to the human experience across space and time. This course is unique in its mixture of academic and non-academic texts and video to produce a well-rounded appreciation of how anthropological knowledge is immediately applicable to the world around us. To deepen an understanding of the course material – and to act like anthropologists! – the course also contains mini field elements such as noting changes of land use on your way to class, or noting the role of different objects – food, phones, flowers – in mediating your various relationships. The mixture of academic text with current events, popular culture, and real-world engagements allows students of this course to receive an intensive and well-rounded introduction to the world of anthropology, and to anthropology through the world!
This course will run for 6 weeks, 7-9pm. Wednesdays, 18th of October until 22nd of November 2023.
Location- Western Gateway Building, Room G13, UCC.
Closing date for applications: Monday, 18th September, 2023
Week 1: What is anthropology?
This week will introduce anthropology as a discipline, discussing its relationship to European ideas of cultural “Others” going back to ancient Greece. We will also discuss key attributes of doing anthropology today and will orient it in relation to other humanities and social sciences.
Week 2: Anthropology and “primitive” peoples.
During the 19th century anthropology was very much part of the colonial enterprise and anthropologists were concerned with the recording of “primitive” non-Western societies. Bit by bit, however, anthropologists discovered the astonishing complexity of alternative ways of life and that it is impossible to study another culture through the concepts familiar to one’s own. This week we analyse this important moment in the history of Euro-American thought, introducing key concepts such as evolutionism, ethnocentrism, and assessing what this knowledge might mean for an understanding of contemporary racism and cultural stereotyping.
Week 3: Anthropological fieldwork.
This week presents the early 20th century transformation of anthropology from an “armchair” discipline to one that is committed to long term engagements with field research – now a defining feature. We will discover how anthropologists learn about people by spending time with them, sharing their daily lives, learning their languages, and so on. This week introduces some of the key methods of anthropological research and analyses political considerations with respect to their use.
Week 4: Power and the state Does power work in the same way everywhere?
What is the relationship between leaders and their subjects? One of the key contributions of political anthropology is its use of comparative analyses of power in different societies to critique Western political philosophy that presents its concepts as universally applicable. This week we will analyse statecraft and political movements past and present to assess how legitimacy, leaders, and revolution are produced.
Week 5: The EU from an anthropological perspective What are we talking about when we say “the EU”?
Is it a bunch of bureaucrats, a community containing many different communities, a peace project, a market/cartel, all the above? This week we will examine the many faces of the EU from the point of view of how all the aspects and activities mentioned above create identities and relationships between different states and cultures that is quite unique. We will also discuss the EU’s place in the world today and how anthropology can help us make sense of the present.
Week 6: Activism and revolution
Around the world we see examples of how activism creates community, or how regime change can have a near-overnight effect on what is social permissible and how people relate to each other. This week we will discuss how grassroots political activity acts as a crucible for the creation or imagining of new forms of community, and examine the techniques governments and rebel groups have used to affect post-revolutionary social transformation from the top down.
Dr David Whyte is an anthropologist with MaREI SFI Centre for Energy, Climate and Marine, UCC. He specialises in the study of coastal communities, community development, and the anthropology of Ireland and the EU. Dave is currently working on the Horizon Europe PREP4BLUE project, researching methodologies of stakeholder engagement and citizen involvement to support the EU Commission’s Mission to Restore Our Oceans and Waters by 2030. With his “teaching-as-activism” philosophy, he tries to bring this experience to the classroom, ensuring the learning experience is as critical and subversive as possible.
Applicants must be at least 18 years old at course commencement.
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