• Offered by School of Archaeology and Anthropology
  • ANU College ANU College of Arts and Social Sciences
  • Course subject Biological Anthropology
  • Areas of interest Biological Anthropology, Psychology, Evolution and Ecology
Human Society as Animal Society: Sex, Conflict, Co-operation and Human Uniqueness (BIAN3124)

What continuities are there between human and animal social lives? How did characteristically human social arrangements emerge over the course of hominid evolution? Is there, despite human cultural diversity, a genetically based human nature that can be contrasted with, e.g. chimpanzee nature? What might the human social sciences learn from the zoological disciplines that study animal social behaviour (ethology, sociobiology, behavioural ecology) or from evolutionary psychology? The long-standing social-science orthodoxy has been that radical differences between us and other animals render such questions fruitless, even dangerous, to pursue. But recent developments in the study of animal behaviour have challenged this view. Biological perspectives on human social life are attracting a fresh interest and research effort, though they remain controversial. This course examines the resulting debates. Communication, conflict, altruism, kinship, sex, parenthood, social organisation, language and culture are amongst the topics covered. These will be discussed in three main contexts: the evolutionary past of hominid social characteristics; child development and child-rearing; and adult interactions, relationships and social structures. The main empirical base will be present-day and ethnographically described human societies, with some discussion of evidence on the undocumented past, and some use of animal examples. The aim will be to present the biological approaches and the criticisms they have attracted in a balanced way, and to identify both the strengths and the weaknesses of these approaches. Students will be encouraged to form their own views on the material studied, and on its status in the natural and social sciences.

Learning Outcomes

Upon successful completion, students will have the knowledge and skills to:

Upon successful completion of this course students will be able to:

  1. Master the essentials of the groundwork presented in the course, especially in the lectures and the required readings; and demonstrate awareness of key ideas and the contributions of pivotal authors in the anthropological and wider literature which attempts to examine aspects of human society in a comparative cross-species context
  2. Place the controversies and debates reviewed in the course in their social and historical context, and demonstrate a secure grasp of fundamental biological concepts and methods drawn on in this literature
  3. Develop a well reasoned critical assessment of the validity of arguments and evidence presented for the application of these concepts to human society and social behaviour
  4. Use a selective case study approach to explain a topic or argument in the field orally to your peers, in a clear, concise, analytical and evidence-based manner, couched so as to elicit discussion; and respond thoughtfully and critically to the substance of peers’ similar contributions
  5. Draw together material from a range of scholarly sources relevant to a topic or proposition in the field, to form a unified text which sets out your own independent, where appropriate critical, assessment of that material, balancing general argument and supporting evidence.

Indicative Assessment

One 2,500 word essay (45%); an option to re-submit may be offered [Learning Outcomes 3 & 5].

One mid-semester and one final examination (totalling 45%), covering respectively the first and second parts of the course [Learning Outcomes 1, 2].

One short tutorial presentation (10%) [Learning Outcomes 2 & 4].

The ANU uses Turnitin to enhance student citation and referencing techniques, and to assess assignment submissions as a component of the University's approach to managing Academic Integrity. While the use of Turnitin is not mandatory, the ANU highly recommends Turnitin is used by both teaching staff and students. For additional information regarding Turnitin please visit the ANU Online website.


This course is normally offered in odd-numbered years

Normally there will be two hours of lectures, one hour of tutorial, and one hour of film/videos weekly; plus private study to bring the total weekly commitment to ten hours per week.

Requisite and Incompatibility

Two first-year courses to the value of 12 units in the School of Archaeology and Anthropology ANTH, ARCH or PREH); or the School of Botany and Zoology. Incompatible with PRAN2024



Tuition fees are for the academic year indicated at the top of the page.  

If you are a domestic graduate coursework or international student you will be required to pay tuition fees. Students continuing in their current program of study will have their tuition fees indexed annually from the year in which you commenced your program. Further information for domestic and international students about tuition and other fees can be found at Fees.

Student Contribution Band:
Unit value:
6 units

If you are an undergraduate student and have been offered a Commonwealth supported place, your fees are set by the Australian Government for each course. At ANU 1 EFTSL is 48 units (normally 8 x 6-unit courses). You can find your student contribution amount for each course at Fees.  Where there is a unit range displayed for this course, not all unit options below may be available.

6.00 0.12500
Domestic fee paying students
Year Fee Description
1994-2003 $1230
2014 $2478
2013 $2472
2012 $2472
2011 $2424
2010 $2358
2009 $2286
2008 $2286
2007 $2286
2006 $2286
2005 $2286
2004 $1926
International fee paying students
Year Fee
1994-2003 $2574
2014 $3246
2013 $3240
2012 $3240
2011 $3240
2010 $3240
2009 $3240
2008 $3240
2007 $3132
2006 $3132
2005 $3132
2004 $2916
Note: Please note that fee information is for current year only.

Offerings, Dates and Class Summary Links

ANU utilises MyTimetable to enable students to view the timetable for their enrolled courses, browse, then self-allocate to small teaching activities / tutorials so they can better plan their time. Find out more on the Timetable webpage.

The list of offerings for future years is indicative only.
Class summaries, if available, can be accessed by clicking on the View link for the relevant class number.

First Semester

Class number Class start date Last day to enrol Census date Class end date Mode Of Delivery Class Summary
3295 16 Feb 2015 06 Mar 2015 31 Mar 2015 29 May 2015 In Person N/A

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