Anthropology specialises in comparing different societies and cultures. As anthropologists, we are constantly on the look-out for whatever makes us humans similar and different. These, in turn, help us broaden our ideas of what it means to be human.
However, describing and studying other cultures is not easy. Before we do so, we must make sure that our own cultural biases, values and assumptions do not get in the way. This is really hard. Different cultures may order the world in a different way from us. For example, religion, kinship and economy are quite modern and western terms. Different groups may have different ideas of what is right and wrong than us, and research with such people can be especially difficult for an anthropologist. This is why anthropologists tend to spend many months in the field; so they can learn to experience the world in the same way as the people they are studying.
This module is all about the theories and models that anthropologists have developed through decades of comparison. They are the tools you will use whenever you start analysing the world around you. By the end of the module, you will have a clearer idea of how anthropologists approach some of the key aspects of human life. You will learn about the laws of reciprocity, of gifts and commodities. You will know how hospitality works, how we understand power and resistance, and how humans communicate symbolically. We will be looking at symbols, myths, and magic. You will be able to identify the many rituals that mark and order our lives. You’ll look at gender and kinship in new light, and explain how societies change or reproduce existing institutions.