• Class Number 2011
  • Term Code 2930
  • Class Info
  • Unit Value 12 units
  • Mode of Delivery In Person
    • Prof Francesca Merlan
    • Prof Francesca Merlan
  • Class Dates
  • Class Start Date 25/02/2019
  • Class End Date 31/05/2019
  • Census Date 31/03/2019
  • Last Date to Enrol 04/03/2019
SELT Survey Results

This course surveys the variety of approaches to the description and analysis of social life in social/cultural anthropology through seminars and the close examination of selected texts. It does so by tracing the development of anthropological theory through the twentieth century, and with reference to its intellectual origins. The course begins by locating anthropology in its contemporary post-colonial context with an examination of critical perspectives on the history of the discipline, and explores the challenge of reading the past from the perspective of the present. It then moves from a consideration of the emergence of 'society' and 'the social' as objects of study, outlines and assesses key aspects of functionalist, structural-functionalist, and structuralist approaches, explores the influence of Marxism and practice theory, examines key aspects of interpretive and symbolic anthropology, and ends with an examination of the implications of globalisation and the post-representational turn for the doing and writing of ethnography.

Learning Outcomes

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

Upon successful completion of this course, students will have the knowledge and skills to:
  1. Demonstrate extended acquisition of a systematic and coherent body of knowledge of anthropological theory, its underlying principles and concepts;
  2. Critically apply theoretical concepts to anthropological theory;
  3. Apply extended knowledge acquired in their own written work as well as in class discussion; and
  4. Demonstrate the development of a foundation for self-directed learning.

Research-Led Teaching

Class participants will be asked to research certain relevant current

news stories related to the course -- in news media and journals

(available through the library).

Required Resources

Reading materials which will form the basis for class discussion will be online.

Some books (recommended resources) are on 2-hour or 2-day library reserve.

Useful collections of readings and resources in the history and theory of anthropology (and, to some extent, allied disciplines) are to be found in: 

Mcgee, R., & Warms, R. (2013). Theory in Social and Cultural Anthropology : An Encyclopedia. Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications. [unfortunately not in our ANU library}

McGee, & Warms. (1996). Anthropological theory : An introductory history. Mountain View, Calif.: Mayfield Pub. 

Erickson, P. A., & Murphy, L. D. (Eds.). (2013). Readings for a history of anthropological theory. University of Toronto Press.


We will settle on the order and discussion tasks of our week-by-week readings. There will often be a format in which two students will take one reading and decide how to present discussion and questions that the reading raises. 

Please see the Discussion Guide for instructions on what is looked for in presentations.

Staff Feedback

Students will be given feedback in the following forms in this course:

  • inclass comments on discussions led by students, participation
  • online comments and marks on work submitted

Student Feedback

ANU is committed to the demonstration of educational excellence and regularly seeks feedback from students. Students are encouraged to offer feedback directly to their Course Convener or through their College and Course representatives (if applicable). The feedback given in these surveys is anonymous and provides the Colleges, University Education Committee and Academic Board with opportunities to recognise excellent teaching, and opportunities for improvement. The Surveys and Evaluation website provides more information on student surveys at ANU and reports on the feedback provided on ANU courses.

Class Schedule

Week/Session Summary of Activities Assessment
1 Organisation of the course. Assessment. Background. What is anthropology anyhow and how do we know? For first week, please read the following: Liebersohn, Harry 2009. Anthropology before Anthropology. Pp. 17-32 in Henrika Kuklick (ed), A New History of Anthropology. Blackwell. Casas, Bartolome de las 1542. [1992] A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies. Penguin. pp. 45-65. Rousseau, Jean-Jacques 1755. [1992] pp. 43-67 from the Discourse on the Origins of Inequality. (Second Discourse). In The Collected Writings of Rousseau, vol. 3. eds. Roger D. Masters and Christopher Kelly. Hanover and London: University Press of New English.
2 Crisis and the social sciences. 19th century evolutionism, progressivism and social Darwinism. Readings include selections from: McGee and Warms, on 19th century Evolutionism Darwin, Charles from The Descent of Man. pp 63-75. [Originally 1871] Freud, Sigmund from Civilization and its Discontents. Pp. 95-105 [Originally Das Unbehagan in der Kultur, 1930]. Preview of Americanist Anthropology and exit from evolutionism: Stocking, George 1968. From Physics to Ethnology. Pp. 113-60 in George Stocking, Race, Culture and Evolution. Macmilian Co.
3 The French connection. American anthropology (continued) and the Four Fields; Cultural Relativism. Readings: Durkheim, Emile What is a social fact? (from The Rules of the Sociological Method, NY, Free Press 1982, pp. 50 - 59. Original publication 1895) Durkheim, Emile The Division of Labour and Social Differentiation Durkheim, Emile The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life. Pp. 76-94 [Original publication 1912] see also Historical Particularism and Frank Boas at end of McGee and Warms reading from week 1
4 Structuralism. Readings: Stasch, Rupert 2018 Structuralism Pp. 60-78 in Schools and Styles of Anthropological Theory, ed. Matei Candea. London. Routledge Radcliff-Brown, A.R. Social Structure Pp. 197-205 Levi-Strauss, Claude. The Science of the Concrete and The Structural Study of Myth Rutherford, Danilyn 2016. How Structuralism Matters. HAU Journal of Ethnographic Theory 6(3): 61-77
5 Functionalism. British Social Anthropology. Readings: Radcliffe-Brown, A.R. On the concept of Function Malinowski, Bronislaw The Subject, Method and Scope of This Inquiry. Pp. 206-27 Malinowski, Bronislaw The functional analysis of culture Fortes, Meyer and Evans-Pritchard, E.E. Introduction to African Polical Systems. Pp. 228-246.
6 Marxism, Cultural Materialism and derivative and alternative views; cultural materialism. Readings: Marx, Karl Bourgeois and Proletarians. Pp. 15-25. [Original 1888 version of the Communist Manifesto] Weber, Max 2012 Religious Affiliation and Social Stratification. Cited in version Pp. 291-309 Classical Social Theory, ed. Craig Calhoun, Ch. 21. de Leon, Jason 2013. Undocumented migration, use wear, and the materiality of habitual suffering in the Sonoran Desert. Journal of Material Culture 0(0): 1-25. Miller, Danny 2010. Theories of Things. Pp. 42-78 in Stuff. Cambridge: Polity Press
7 Symbolic Anthropology (and Structuralism) Readings: Geertz, Clifford 1973. Thick Description: Toward an Interpretive Theory of Culture Geertz, Clifford Deep Play: Notes on a Balinese cockfight Turner, Victor 1964. Symbols in Ndembu Ritual Douglas, Mary 1966. Ritual Uncleanness. From Purity and Danger. Pp. 7-29
8 Anthropology, Colonialism and (Post-Colonial and Other) Critique. Readings: Asad, Talal 1973. Two European Images of Non-European Rule. Pp. 103-18 in Anthropology and the Colonial Encounter. Ithaca Press Marfleet, Philip 1973. Bibliographical Essay. Pp 273-81 in Anthropology and the Colonial Encounter. Ithaca Press Yanagisako, Sylvia 2005. Flexible Disciplinarity: Beyond the Americanist Tradition. in D. Segal and S.J. Yanagisako (eds), Unwrapping the Sacred Bundle: Reflections on the Disciplining of Anthropology. Duke University Press. Fassin, Didier 2017. The Endurance of Critique. Anthropological Theory 17(1): 4-29 Li, Tania 2017. The Practice of Critique: A Comment. Anthropological Theory 17(1): 262-4
9 Theory since the 60s. Practice Theory. Bourdieu. Readings: Ortner, Sherry 1984. Theory since the 60s. Comparative Studies in Society and History 26: 126-66 Bourdieu, Pierre Structures and the Habitus from Outline of a Theory of Practice [Original published 1972] LiPuma, Edward 1993. Culture and the Concept of Culture in a Theory of Practice in Bourdieu : critical perspectives
10 Feminism and Anthropology. Readings: Rosaldo, Michelle 1980. The Use and Abuse of Anthropology: Reflections on Feminism and Cross-Cultural Understandings. Signs 5(3):389-417 Scheper-Hughes, Nancy 1983. Introduction: The Problem of Bias in Androcentric and Feminist Anthropology. Women's Studies 10: 109-16 Strathern, Marilyn 1987. An Awkward Relationship: The Case of Feminism and Anthropology. Signs 12: 276-92
11 Some recent re-articulations. Readings: Ortner, Sherry 2016. Dark anthropology and its others: theory since the eighties. HAU Journal of Ethnographic Theory 6(1): 47-73 Clifford, James 2005. Rearticulating anthropology, Pp. 24-48 in Segal and Yanagisko eds. Comaroff, John 2010. The End of Anthropology, Again: On the Future of an In/Discipline. American Anthropologist 112(4): 524-38 Speed, Shannon 2006. At the Crossroads of Human Rights and Anthropology: Toward a Critically Engaged Activist Research. American Anthropologist 108(1):66-76 Tengan, Ty 2005. Unsettling Ethnography. Anthropological Forum 15(3): 247-56 Borofsky, Robert 2007. Defining Public Anthropology: A Personal Perspective. (online blog)
12 Discussion of student papers.

Assessment Summary

Assessment task Value Due Date Return of assessment Learning Outcomes
Seminar attendance and participation (10%) 10 % 01/03/2019 31/05/2019 1, 2, 5
2500-3000 word essay (40%) 40 % 26/04/2019 10/05/2019 3, 4
5000 word essay (50%) 50 % 31/05/2019 14/06/2019 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

* If the Due Date and Return of Assessment date are blank, see the Assessment Tab for specific Assessment Task details


ANU has educational policies, procedures and guidelines, which are designed to ensure that staff and students are aware of the University’s academic standards, and implement them. Students are expected to have read the Academic Misconduct Rule before the commencement of their course. Other key policies and guidelines include:

Assessment Requirements

The ANU is using 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. For additional information regarding Turnitin please visit the ANU Online website. Students may choose not to submit assessment items through Turnitin. In this instance you will be required to submit, alongside the assessment item itself, hard copies of all references included in the assessment item.

Moderation of Assessment

Marks that are allocated during Semester are to be considered provisional until formalised by the College examiners meeting at the end of each Semester. If appropriate, some moderation of marks might be applied prior to final results being released.

Assessment Task 1

Value: 10 %
Due Date: 01/03/2019
Return of Assessment: 31/05/2019
Learning Outcomes: 1, 2, 5

Seminar attendance and participation (10%)

This is an `in-class' course which meets 3 hours per week. From students doing the course at 12-unit intensity, full attendance is expected. This is a minor part of the mark but a very important part of the course, where the main ideas will get their airing, there will be class discussion and debate. Assessment items, possibilities and related issues will be discussed in class well in advance of due dates.

Assessment Task 2

Value: 40 %
Due Date: 26/04/2019
Return of Assessment: 10/05/2019
Learning Outcomes: 3, 4

2500-3000 word essay (40%)

This could be one of the following:

  • a draft or proposal of your long essay with a map of its ideas and sources;
  • a piece that details your response to a theoretical position we have covered and your attraction to/repulsion from it;
  • a biographical/theoretical piece on one of the major theorists we will have covered by the due date, with critical commentary on at least two selections by that theorist
  • a critical piece on a work of anthropology you like detailing the argument taken, the positions that inform it and the sense in which they are theoretical; or, alternatively, a critical piece on a major current issue showing how you take an anthropological approach to it

Assessment Task 3

Value: 50 %
Due Date: 31/05/2019
Return of Assessment: 14/06/2019
Learning Outcomes: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

5000 word essay (50%)

  • an assessment of a theoretical perspective that interests you that we have covered
  • for those who've come with some particular work in mind, a paper detailing the theoretical position you wish to advance in some research you are planning in the near future. This could be an intended future research project, or a current issue to which you want to develop an approach.
  • take the Australian Research Council guidelines for making a Discovery Project and formulate a research project you have invented. The guidelines will press you to describe a theoretical take on what you are drawing up.

Some essay questions that you may do will be posted on Wattle. You may also work up your own question, as some of the above suggestions imply.

Academic Integrity

Academic integrity is a core part of our culture as a community of scholars. At its heart, academic integrity is about behaving ethically. This means that all members of the community commit to honest and responsible scholarly practice and to upholding these values with respect and fairness. The Australian National University commits to embedding the values of academic integrity in our teaching and learning. We ensure that all members of our community understand how to engage in academic work in ways that are consistent with, and actively support academic integrity. The ANU expects staff and students to uphold high standards of academic integrity and act ethically and honestly, to ensure the quality and value of the qualification that you will graduate with. The University has policies and procedures in place to promote academic integrity and manage academic misconduct. Visit the following Academic honesty & plagiarism website for more information about academic integrity and what the ANU considers academic misconduct. The ANU offers a number of services to assist students with their assignments, examinations, and other learning activities. The Academic Skills and Learning Centre offers a number of workshops and seminars that you may find useful for your studies.

Online Submission

You will be required to electronically sign a declaration as part of the submission of your assignment. Please keep a copy of the assignment for your records. Unless an exemption has been approved by the Associate Dean (Education) as submission must be through Turnitin. The main written pieces will be submissible online through Wattle.

Hardcopy Submission

For some forms of assessment (hand written assignments, art works, laboratory notes, etc.) hard copy submission is appropriate when approved by the Associate Dean (Education). Hard copy submissions must utilise the Assignment Cover Sheet. Please keep a copy of tasks completed for your records.

Late Submission

No submission of assessment tasks without an extension after the due date will be permitted. If an assessment task is not submitted by the due date, a mark of 0 will be awarded.


Late submission of assessment tasks without an extension are penalised at the rate of 5% of the possible marks available per working day or part thereof. Late submission of assessment tasks is not accepted after 10 working days after the due date, or on or after the date specified in the course outline for the return of the assessment item. Late submission is not accepted for take-home examinations.

Referencing Requirements

Accepted academic practice for referencing sources that you use in presentations can be found via the links on the Wattle site, under the file named “ANU and College Policies, Program Information, Student Support Services and Assessment”. Alternatively, you can seek help through the Students Learning Development website.

Returning Assignments

Assignments will be returned online with comments, no more than two weeks after submission.

Extensions and Penalties

Extensions and late submission of assessment pieces are covered by the Student Assessment (Coursework) Policy and Procedure. The Course Convener may grant extensions for assessment pieces that are not examinations or take-home examinations. If you need an extension, you must request an extension in writing on or before the due date. If you have documented and appropriate medical evidence that demonstrates you were not able to request an extension on or before the due date, you may be able to request it after the due date.

Resubmission of Assignments

Normally not allowed; documented medical situations excepted.

Privacy Notice

The ANU has made a number of third party, online, databases available for students to use. Use of each online database is conditional on student end users first agreeing to the database licensor’s terms of service and/or privacy policy. Students should read these carefully. In some cases student end users will be required to register an account with the database licensor and submit personal information, including their: first name; last name; ANU email address; and other information.
In cases where student end users are asked to submit ‘content’ to a database, such as an assignment or short answers, the database licensor may only use the student’s ‘content’ in accordance with the terms of service – including any (copyright) licence the student grants to the database licensor. Any personal information or content a student submits may be stored by the licensor, potentially offshore, and will be used to process the database service in accordance with the licensors terms of service and/or privacy policy.
If any student chooses not to agree to the database licensor’s terms of service or privacy policy, the student will not be able to access and use the database. In these circumstances students should contact their lecturer to enquire about alternative arrangements that are available.

Distribution of grades policy

Academic Quality Assurance Committee monitors the performance of students, including attrition, further study and employment rates and grade distribution, and College reports on quality assurance processes for assessment activities, including alignment with national and international disciplinary and interdisciplinary standards, as well as qualification type learning outcomes.

Since first semester 1994, ANU uses a grading scale for all courses. This grading scale is used by all academic areas of the University.

Support for students

The University offers students support through several different services. You may contact the services listed below directly or seek advice from your Course Convener, Student Administrators, or your College and Course representatives (if applicable).

Prof Francesca Merlan

Research Interests

social transformation; ethnography and theory; language and culture; Australia, PNG, Europe

Prof Francesca Merlan

Monday 12:00 13:00
Monday 12:00 13:00
Friday 13:00 14:00
Prof Francesca Merlan

Research Interests

Prof Francesca Merlan

Monday 12:00 13:00
Monday 12:00 13:00
Friday 13:00 14:00

Responsible Officer: Registrar, Student Administration / Page Contact: Website Administrator / Frequently Asked Questions