Challenges of the 21st Century
Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam
Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Area of Study
Taught In English
Course Level Recommendations
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Recommended U.S. Semester Credits3
Recommended U.S. Quarter Units4
Hours & Credits
This third course of the cluster "Anthropological Base" is called ‘Challenges of the 21st Century’. The six central issues from "Core Themes" 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’.
Knowledge and Understanding. The student has acquired knowledge and understanding of:
(1) how anthropological concepts can be applied in order to address, assess, and analyse contemporary societal issues (see course content). The six perennial themes in anthropology (see remarks) will be the guiding line.
Application. The student has acquired the competences to: (2) apply these insights and how anthropologists can contribute to the explanation and possible solution of pressing societal issues.
Attitude. The student demontrates: (3) the ability to observe their own life-worlds from an anthropological perspective and learn to realize the contingencies of their own cultural routines.
Be it the result of long-term developments, technological changes, or sudden and unprecedented events, each era is faced with societal challenges that keep politicians and the public busy. Our 21st century is no exception. Globalization and mobility, the rapid extension of human habitats, or the destruction of habitats due to large-scale economic activity, the use of natural resources, and not least the pressing political developments in some parts the world are complex issues that pose a challenge for local, national and international governmental bodies. Behind these technical administrative challenges there is the much more fundamental question who the real victims are and who benefits from crises. The anthropological perspective on these fundamental questions learns us that there simply is no common definition of what a challenge is and that governance is a deeply political practice and thus a matter of interests. It all depends on the perspective we take in assessing urgent issues. Anthropology may be not unique in recognizing a multitude of perspectives, but it is the most outspoken discipline in this respect. Anthropology is applied science by default.
Lectures, guest lectures, viewing and analyzing documentaries and other audio-visual illustrations, text analysis, class debates.
TYPE OF ASSESSMENT
Written assignments (blog) and final exam.
RECOMMENDED BACKGROUND KNOWLEDGE
Active participation in "Core Themes in Anthropology" and "History and Theory of Anthropology".
First-year bachelor students in CAO. Also Exchange students and students doing elective Courses in VU can participate.
This course is part of the cluster "Anthropological Base", consisting of three courses (see also ‘Core Themes’ and ‘History and Theory’).
Introduction to the course cluster: “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.
The thematic cluster “Anthropological Base” consists of three courses 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.
The first course of the cluster is called ‘Core Themes of Cultural Anthropology’. Students obtain knowledge and insights in the core themes of anthropology, including basic concepts, methodological approaches and first acquaintances with theoretical perspectives. Additionally, students learn to observe their own life-worlds from an anthropological perspective and learn to realize the contingencies of their own cultural routines.
The second course 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’.
Courses and course hours of instruction are subject to change.
Some courses may require additional fees.