Spotlight on: Socio-cultural Anthropology

What is socio-cultural anthropology? Is it simply the study of people? Is it any social or cultural study based around fieldwork? Or is it something far more complex?

In her lecture series, Living others’ lives – Socio-cultural anthropology through the fieldwork method, Dr Chloe Nahum-Claudel unpacks this question over four weeks, giving students the chance to learn more about the discipline and to reflect on its methods and ethics.

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Chloe’s own fascination with faraway places and peoples took her to live with an indigenous people of the Brazilian Amazon called the Enawene-nawe. She begins the course by describing her own experiences of fieldwork before moving on to outline some of the methodologies and epistemology of the discipline of anthropology itself.

Dominique, a student from Harvard, says:

I chose this course because it is something I don’t have the chance to study at home. I have never come across a class that covers this content so it seemed like a really good opportunity. so far it has been everything I expected. I’ve really enjoyed learning how the discipline of anthropology is crafted as a whole. The class gives you a kind of ‘behind the scenes’ look at it, which I really like.

A good example is the lecture that focuses on the issue of imperialism. Chloe examines the self-reflexive turn in anthropology during the 1960s and 1970s in which academics began expressing guilt over the ways in which their reports formed part of a broader narrative of white power. They began asking huge questions about the discipline. Will anthropology always be, at its core, simply a fascination with “exotic people”? Can a white ethnographer and a black native ever have a relationship that is not played out under the shadow of colonialism? Or can anthropology actually become a tool for giving voice to the powerless?

Thankfully these questions did not signal the end of socio-cultural anthropology, but rather were a new beginning that allowed practitioners to start ‘reinventing anthropology’. This course charts that reinvention over the course of the twentieth century, with plenty of chances to discuss landmark papers in the field.

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As part of the course, students also have a chance to study and critique historical approaches to anthropology. If you fancy yourself as an ethnographer, why not see what you make of this film clip? Shot in 1932 it shows a group of Australian gold miners who make the first white contact with aboriginal tribes in the highlands of Papua New Guinea:

For more information on the course, see the International Programmes website.

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