Anthropology has always been concerned with the study of the Other and the diverse ways humans have conceptualized and interacted with the world around them across time and space. In doing so, an anthropological approach to the learning about and understanding of the Other offers critical and self-reflexive methods and perspectives that often reveal as much about Us as it does Them, and the traits that bind all of humanity. One of these universal traits shared by humans is fear. While fear is, in part, a biological function of the brain, culture shapes and expresses many of our fears and reactions. These cultural expressions may take various forms, but in their most extreme manifestation societal fears are often expressed as another cultural universal, monsters, the definitive Other. Since many monsters are constructed of both the Self and the Other, the anthropological study of monsters allows us to examine socio-cultural groups, including ourselves, in relation to, in distinction from, and as part of the Other. Through the semester, monsters will guide, or chase, students to think anthropologically about concepts such as race/ ethnicity, gender/sex, sexuality, power, class, and more. Anthropology’s four sub-fields offer us a variety of tools for discovering, analyzing, and interpreting monsters: sociocultural anthropology offers consideration of monsters as symbols, both revealing and reflecting our concerns, values, and desires; anthropological archeology, along with material and visual culture studies, provides a tangible approach to understanding the values and structures of monster representation; linguistic anthropology proffers approaches to interpreting monsters as signs in discourse about the Self and Other; while biological anthropology offers biological evidence and understanding for the reality of monsters. Given the state of the world and the upheavals in sociocultural norms and values, from the local to regional, regional to national, national to international, and, yes, even international to galactic/universal, this semester is thematically unified by the concept of personhood. As such, our analyses and discussions of specific monsters will ask students 1) to consider the ways that humans and non-humans have been/are being perceived and treated by Others, including ourselves, 2) what underlies those perceptions and actions, and 3) what can be done to address these inequalities and injustices. As part of this, we will also integrate anthropology’s newest, fifth sub-field - applied anthropology. By using both an objective, scholarly, critical analysis, as well as, a humanistic-interpretive approach students will be tasked with undertaking a research project that addresses an example of how a monster reflects sociocultural norms and behaviors towards a specific society/subculture by analyzing: 1) the cultural underpinnings of those perspectives and actions upon the targeted monster/society/subculture, 2) the impacts upon and reactions from the targeted monster/society/subculture, 3) how personhood is expressed for/by the monster/society/subculture (i.e., upheld, withdrawn, suspended, ...), and 4) how the resulting inequalities and injustices might be addressed to improve one’s understanding of the Other and improve lives at the individual and societal scales.
Sage, Clark, "ANTH 290A The Undead, Monsters, and the Paranormal Sage Fall 2023" (2023). Course Syllabi. 164, Scholarly and Creative Work from DePauw University.