Stephen C. Brown
History of the culture concept and its use in the field of cultural anthropology. History of its emergence in European colonial expansion and contemporary debates about its place as the central concept defining the field of anthropology.
This is a course designed to explore a foundational idea in anthropology: culture. Strangely perhaps to our contemporary sensibilities, culture as a category has not always been what it seems to be today. During the middle ages, for example, the closest etymological precursor to the term meant simply ‘farming’. Perhaps equally surprising, many anthropologists today question the usefulness and universality of the very term they made a household word. Thus the trajectory of the course leads from something before culture, through a variety of interpretations and applications of the concept, and ultimately to attempts to move beyond its limitations. That said, the goal of the course is not simply to attack the concept(s) of culture, but to understand the history behind it and the implications of its use.
Student learning goals
General method of instruction
This is an introductory-level course. As such it will take every opportunity to provide accessible points of entry to the relevant topics. It is important to note, however, that an important function of any introductory course is not just to simplify the material, but to introduce a sophisticated level of discourse and a familiarity with the acknowledged foundational texts of the field. To that end we will read from source materials whenever possible, rather than relying on abstracts from textbooks. This will make lectures and class discussions especially important in assuring your comprehension of the readings.
Class assignments and grading
Students will be graded on three primary activities: 4 short discussion papers; leading and participating in class discussions; and several short quizzes.
Discussion papers should be 750 words, double spaced, and are due in class on every other Wednesday. Class will be broken into two groups on a staggered schedule, so each week half the class will write a response to that week’s reading. Your discussion paper should do two things: succinctly demonstrate an understanding of the main points of the reading to which it responds, and identify in it and briefly explore a specific issue you consider compelling. Bear in mind that your opinions or beliefs, while probably playing a role in what you choose to respond to, do not constitute the content of your response. You must endeavor to demonstrate your point, not just assert it.
Class participation consists of general participation in discussions and, on the Wednesday you turn in a response paper, of helping to lead the class discussion. To that end you should come to class prepared to discuss all assigned readings. Writing response papers should help you to organize your thoughts about the readings. You should also prepare a few questions to pose to the class about the readings and about how they relate to one another, or to issues that have come up previously in class discussions or lectures. You may be called upon to pose your questions to the class.
Quizzes will be short and simple, primarily designed to ascertain whether you have completed the reading.
If you haven’t divined as much already, the most important things in this course are to read the assignments thoughtfully and to come and participate in class. Do these things and you can expect to do very well. It is not necessary to have all the answers; it is essential to come and at least exercise your questions.