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Department of Social Anthropology

In order of precedence, Ethiopia

SAN3: Anthropological theory and methods

The aim of this paper is to enable students:

  • to understand, evaluate, and engage with contemporary debates in anthropological theory; and
  • to approach substantive questions of ethnographic interpretation and social explanation in a theoretically informed manner.

It does this by providing them with a grounding in classical social theory, and in the main schools of thought in social and cultural anthropology. The paper introduces the writings of some of the most important thinkers, schools, and debates in the history of anthropological thought. Each of these is presented in its intellectual and historical context, and each is examined critically and in terms of its continuing intellectual relevance, with an emphasis on reading original texts. This historical approach is complemented by themes considered in detail. The themes selected change from time to time.

Theoretical approaches are seen in the context of anthropological field research and the various genres of anthropological writing.

The challenges of understanding some specific ethnographic cases have been important spurs to anthropological theorising, and have given rise to concepts, questions, and theories that have been influential both in and beyond the discipline. At the same time, anthropological theory has registered the influence of innovations and intellectual fashions from a range of other disciplines. Both these dynamics are examined.

We consider how different theoretical approaches propose different basic conceptions of human social life, and different conceptions of anthropological knowledge. We also consider the way different theoretical approaches have been associated with characteristically different kinds of ethnographic writing.

Further information including a list of lecture courses and background reading can be found in the Paper Guide in the Paper Resources section to the right of this page.

Image: In order of precedence, Ethiopia, Julian Sommerschuh

Paper Resources

SAN3 Paper Guide 2023-24

For lecture reading lists, additional teaching materials, past exam questions and exam reports please see the SAN3 Moodle Course.

Please note teaching staff and students enrolled on SAN3 will automatically be enrolled on the SAN3 Moodle course and you will find a link to the course in the ‘My Home’ section of Moodle.

If you are a member of the University of Cambridge and you wish to view the reading lists, past exam questions and exam reports then you can access the SAN3 Moodle Course as a guest. For more information on how to access Moodle Courses as a guest please see Moodle Help.