Document Type


Publication Date

Fall 2023

Course Description

Why Does This Course Matter? This semester, we will study anthropological theory. The term “theory” can seem intimidating and abstract, but in essence the word simply means how anthropologists make sense of the world. Different theoretical lenses in anthropology have led to radically different understandings of the same cultural phenomena. By exploring a wide range of theoretical standpoints, we will learn how adopting each of these varied perspectives shapes our explanations of the world around us. We will also analyze the power structures governing who has been recognized as “important” theorists in anthropology. Toward this end, the class will analyze the complex and troubled history of the discipline, including how it was used to justify and support colonialism. We will also study anthropologists who are typically overlooked in traditional histories of the discipline, including women, people of color, and scholars from the global south. The final portion of the course invites students to contribute to a new view of anthropology’s canon by highlighting theoretically innovative contemporary scholarship. How This Course Will Help In this course, I want you to gain a firm grasp on the historical development of anthropological theory, including how different theories relate to and build on one another. We are studying earlier theories not merely as historical curiosities but as the threads from which contemporary anthropological theory has been woven. We will also explore how anthropological theories reflect the historical eras and cultural contexts in which they developed. By the end of the semester, you should additionally understand how historical and continuing social inequities have shaped which scholars are included in the anthropological canon. You should also be able to apply a variety of theoretical perspectives to the analysis of new cultural data. This course is additionally designed to help you sharpen your critical reading skills, practice clear verbal communication of your ideas, develop your presentation and discussion leadership skills, and improve your ability to write reflectively and integrate ideas from different sources in your writing.

Student Outcomes

Students will be able to: - summarize the history and development of anthropology as a discipline, including the ways anthropology has been complicit with colonial and racist logics and how this history shapes contemporary approaches. - compare, critique, and apply anthropological theoretical approaches. - engage with cultural difference and develop self-awareness of their own cultural backgrounds and how that impacts their values, beliefs, and assumptions.