ANTH301 – History of Anthropological Thought

“This course provides students with a historical overview of anthropological theory. Through the study of original theoretical and ethnographic texts, students engage with the interplay between theory and ethnography and recognize the continued relevance of canonical debates to the contemporary discipline.” – from the Undergraduate Calendar

NOTE: Students who have received credit for ANTH 311 or 312 may not take this course for credit.


Course Description (for syllabus click here → ANTH301)

This course provides a critical overview of the historical development of anthropological theory. This undertaking is largely chronological by design. However, in that anthropology cannot be neatly demarcated off from other disciplines and is, in fact, at the heart of the human scientific endeavour, this course will also be addressing and engaging with the philosophical thought of Enlightenment thinkers as well as more contemporary theorists. This approach will not only deepen your understanding of what anthropological theory is and why schools of thought such as evolutionism, functionalism, (post-)structuralism or postmodernism came about (and disappeared) at certain points in time but it will also provide you with the basic tools to better understand and relate to other courses in anthropology and/or the social sciences..

For the most part, social scientific theory can appear to be rather complex, abstruse and distant from the human subject that it is supposed to edify. In that theory-making is not an easy undertaking and deals with elements of the human condition which may seem at first to defy explanation or even language, this course is replete with exercises that you will be required to complete and reflect on in order to put theory in perspective and give it a real-world application. These experiences are designed to bring the theory to life and enable you to get a better handle on its significance. By the end of this course you should expect to have a firm grasp of the historical development of anthropological theory, a critical awareness of how theory informs ethnographic practice and a broader understanding of theoretical arguments within the discipline.

For more on my approach to this course, see the About page.

Course readings

A reading pack is available at the bookstore. Your reading of this material is integral to the course structure. As you will discover throughout the course, my class lectures continuously draw on, build on and refer to the readings. Students will be expected to quote from and argue about the readings in the journals and final exam.

Otherwise, you should think of this website as a major resource that you can use to help better inform your understanding of the readings. I also advise that you draw on it for your exam revision. To the left are links to descriptions and discussions of main theories. Below these there are links concerning pre-anthropological knowledge. To the right are links to individual anthropologists and to the selfish gene/ultra-darwinist debates. If you find a broken link or would like to suggest one please let me know.

Lecture Slides

All of the slides I use will be put up on this website for you to download shortly after the class. In order for you to take notes from these slides, I number each one so you can structure your notes accordingly.


photo: John W. Bennett (1916-2005) Waseda University, 1966