Core Themes in Anthropology

Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

Course Description

  • Course Name

    Core Themes in Anthropology

  • Host University

    Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

  • Location

    Amsterdam, The Netherlands

  • Area of Study


  • Language Level

    Taught In English

  • Course Level Recommendations


    ISA offers course level recommendations in an effort to facilitate the determination of course levels by credential evaluators.We advice each institution to have their own credentials evaluator make the final decision regrading course levels.

    Hours & Credits

  • ECTS Credits

  • Recommended U.S. Semester Credits
  • Recommended U.S. Quarter Units
  • Overview

    Six transversal themes (embodying perennial themes in anthropology will be addressed: 1) the questions about the nature of “culture(s)”; 2) the individual and society; 3) ties that bind (on the manifold manifestations of belonging); 4) structure and agency; 5) the body; and 6) language, convictions and emic/etic categorizations. These themes are however linchpins or hubs rather than the only substance of classes. In the Introduction, also fieldwork and ethnographic methods; time and space; kinship, gender and aging; hierarchies, power and politics; economy, exchange and reciprocity; ritual; religion; ethnicity; anthropology’s role in development issues; (collective) identities; and globalization, will be introduced and explained in their relation to anthropological approaches.

    Learning outcomes:
    Knowledge and understanding - The student has acquired knowledge and understanding of:
    (1) the core subjects of anthropology (the six perennial themes in anthropology);
    (2) basic concepts, methodological approaches and theoretical perspectives.

    Application - The student has acquired the competences to:
    (3) observe their own life-worlds from an anthropological perspective and to realize the contingencies of their own cultural routines.

    The second course in this cluster is called ‘History and Theory of Anthropology’. Instead of following the chronological evolution of the various schools of anthropological thought like usually happens with the anthropological theory courses, it follows the history of the discipline using the six perennial issues as vehicles or pegs. Students get to see how anthropology approached such subjects and through that contributed to our understanding of the world. They learn that although the issues at stake may be very diverse, the six basic concerns are always present, in different and changing disguises.

    The third course is called ‘Challenges of the 21st Century’. The six central issues are again the interconnecting parameters throughout the course, but they will now constitute the basis for an assessment of contemporary societal issues, problems and discussions. Anthropology is by definition an ‘applying science’ in that invites to look at the world from an angle that aspires to make a difference, or question common-sense and taken-for-granted assumptions about how we tend to see the world, ‘ourselves’ and ‘others’.

    “Anthropology is the science of culture and anthropologists gaze at other peoples’ cultural peculiarities, map them and make sense of them.” This is the common sense assumption of many people outside the profession and it may in part be the case. But anthropology is much more than that. From the time anthropology emerged in the 19th century as a scholarly discipline in its own right, anthropologists have addressed a whole range of fundamental questions dealing with human activity, in social, cultural, political, religious, economic and other domains. There is a considerable overlap with what sociologists do, for example in addressing societal structures and institutional settings. But anthropology has a broader, yet more specific focus: to understand how human beings create cultural life worlds, how they live in those worlds, and how they make sense of these worlds. The main aim of anthropology is to study human activity in relation to the social and cultural environment of people, groups and societies.

    This course is the first of three courses in the thematic cluster “Anthropological Base”, in which the focus of anthropology will be introduced, explained and discussed. The aim of the courses is to make student familiar with the discipline, the big issues, the various approaches, the theoretical discussions and contemporary efforts to understand a world in turmoil. Basic concepts will be explained: how they developed throughout the history of the discipline and how they are applied in understanding and explaining contemporary societal issues.

    There are six central theme-hubs or recurring issues that will be revisited in all three courses within the cluster. These themes are: 1) questions about the nature of “culture(s)”; 2) questions about individual and society; 3) questions about “ties that bind” (on the manifold manifestations of belonging); 4) questions about structure and agency; 5) questions about the body; and 6) questions revolving around language, convictions and emic/etic categorizations.

    These themes can be considered as six recurring basic conceptual questions, or discussions that have time and again been addressed by anthropologists in different ways and under different circumstances. They constitute the basis for theoretical disputes, methodological reflections, but also for assessing contemporary societal issues. They should however in no way be treated as disciplinary straightjackets. Far from that; they only help us to draw some lines in the enormous complexity of human activity. In order to enhance the coherence of the cluster, the six recurring issues will in different ways be addressed in each of the three courses.

    Lectures, guest lectures, documentaries and other audio-visual illustrations, text analysis, class debates.

    Mid-term exam, open questions: 25% of final grade; Final exam, open questions: 75% of final grade

Course Disclaimer

Courses and course hours of instruction are subject to change.

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