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Anthropology 4138/6138. The Anthropology of Violence and Non-violence

This course is about a disturbing topic, violence: assault, murder, rape, infanticide, feuding, war, capital punishment, human sacrifice, state terror, and genocide. But it is also about reconciliation and the avoidance of violence. We begin with individual violence: What are the motives for murder across cultures? Why are men in so many societies ready to risk their lives for intangibles like honor and reputation? What motivates beatings, rapes and murders of women, and the killing of children? We move on to group-against-group violence — feuding and warfare. How warlike are people in societies without central governments? What makes societies more or less warlike or peaceful? What is the role of war in the rise of the state and in forms of government? How have violent collisions between herders and famers, and between Western and non-Western societies shaped history? We conclude by looking at collective aggression within groups: How do societies maintain law and order? What are the cultural meanings of human sacrifice and cannibalism? Why are some societies obsessed with punishing witches and other moral outcasts? What are the connections between group persecutions in the anthropological record and in twentieth century history? Throughout the course we will consider how the study of violence and non-violence across cultures can help us to better understand such issues in our own culture.


Anthropology 4181/6181. Sex, Family and Kinship (Now retitled Kinship and Marriage)

This course is about one of anthropology’s central topics — kinship, For over a century, anthropologists have wrestled with a number of questions: Why is kinship such an important principle of organization in so many societies? Why is it that kinship systems vary so much from one society to another, yet the same systems are constantly rediscovered? Where did Western ideas about kinship, marriage and the family come from? In addressing these questions, we first look at several theoretical traditions that have developed in the study of kinship: The evolutionary approach emphasizes “selfish genes” and the biology of mating. Descent theory is concerned with how kinship is used to build strong groups. Alliance theory sees marriage exchange as central to human sociality. And symbolic and psychological theories ask what kinship means and how people name — and think about — their kin. In the second part of the course, we tour the world, turning to geographic variation in kinship systems. We look at the remarkable similarities in ideas of kinship and gender that have developed in Melanesia and Amazonia, at how population spreads in Africa and Oceania relate to the evolution of kinship, and at the role of kinship in the stratified societies of Eurasia, from the Far East to the Middle East to Europe. Finally we consider continuity and change in kinship systems around the world today, and the continuing relevance of kinship.


MY OTHER COURSES (Mostly taught on a two year rotation)


Anthropology 1010. Culture and the Human Experience

This course is an introduction to cultural anthropology. Cultural anthropology covers some of the same topics as other social sciences – how people raise their children and relate to their relatives, how they make a living and distribute goods and services, how they use and abuse political power, and how they think about the natural and supernatural worlds. But more than any other social science, cultural anthropology is concerned with how human behavior varies over the widest range of space and time. In this course we will consider the cultures of Australian aborigines, of native Amazonians, of East African herders and Pacific Islanders, of Asian Indians, and of modern Brazilians, always making comparisons that will help us to better understand our own culture.


Anthropology 3153/6153. The Black Atlantic: Anthropology of the African Diaspora

This course offers an anthropological perspective on people of African descent in the United States, the Caribbean, Latin America (with side excursions to South Africa and the Muslim Middle East). We begin by looking at all three sides of Atlantic slavery: Western Europe, which supplied most of the slave masters, West Africa and southern Africa, which supplied most of the slaves, and the slave societies of the New World and South Africa. We consider the “maroon” societies founded by fugitive slaves, the threat of slave revolution in the age of the American revolutions, and the politics of racial categorization and stratification in the aftermath of slavery. Then we take a comparative look at family life, sexuality, conflict and class, language, and old and new religions, and review the continuing transmission of arts and ideologies among cultures of the African Diaspora.


Anthropology 3154/6154. Brazilian Culture: A Comparative Perspective

This course is an introduction to the rich and contradictory culture of Brazil, a country at once traditional and self-consciously modern, ordered and unruly, inviting and dangerous. It is also an introduction to cross-cultural comparison: we are interested in Brazil not only for its own sake, but for what it can teach us about major international issues, including ecology, economic dependency, theories of world civilizations and culture areas, constructions of race and ethnicity, cultural trans-nationalism, and national identities. The course is divided into six segments: (1) Geography and ecology in the tropics, (2) Order and progress, (3) Poverty, inequality and modernity, (4) Comparative constructions of race, (5) Religion in the global South, and (6) Culture and nation. Each takes a look at a major topic in Brazilian culture in an international and comparative comparison.


Anthropology 4134/6134 Language, Thought, and Culture: The Anthropology of the Mind

How does language work? Does the language we use affect the way we think? What thoughts do animals have? What (if anything) is unique about the human mind? Are we born with minds like blank slates, or with a stock of innate ideas that organize our perception? Do people in different cultures think the same way, or does learning another culture also mean learning another style of thinking? Do people everywhere have the same core ideas of right and wrong? Why do people believe in gods and souls? These are big questions that have intrigued people for centuries; we are now beginning to answer them scientifically. This course addresses these topics and others at the intersection of language, thought, and culture, bringing in the latest findings from linguistics, genetics, cognitive ethology (the study of animal thinking), developmental and cognitive psychology, and cultural anthropology. We begin with language, including speech sounds and syntax, showing how a modest set of rules can give rise to a potentially astronomical number of languages and grammars, and considering how the capacity for language has evolved. We continue with various domains of thought, reviewing concepts of physical objects and numbers; of space and time and causation; of living kinds (like species and genera) and social kinds (like ethnic and kin groups); of self and of other minds. Finally, we consider how the mind is “customized” in different cultures, looking especially at moral ideas, and how these differ between cultures, and how they may divide people in our own culture.


Anthropology 4187/6187. Economic Anthropology

This course looks at the intersection of cultural anthropology and economics – at how societies ranging from hunter-gatherer bands, through Pacific Island chiefdoms, to rich and poor countries in the modern world economy resolve basic economic issues of what gets produced and consumed, and who gets what from whom. The course is organized around four major modes of distribution found in one form or other in a wide range of societies: reciprocity and balanced exchange; communal sharing and common property; hierarchical redistribution; and market exchange. For each of these modes we consider its psychological and emotional roots, and how and why it operates across societies, including our own.


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