The discipline of social anthropology is arguably a twentieth century endeavor and as such one of the newest of the social sciences. It begins around the turn of the century with the study of the customs and manners of "early" people by means of direct observation. Its aim is said to be a scientific understanding of primitive society, a project that flourishes during the first part of the century before being touched by various doubts during the latter part of the century. By this accounting, social anthropology appears to arise as a symptom of, and sometimes a reaction to, the problems and crises of the modern age. If this is so, we are obliged to read the works of social anthropology for what the can tell us about our own time even when they describe peoples who would appear to be different precisely because they are not "modern".

It can be further argued that the concept of primitive society in social anthropology has always been associated with theorizing the prospects of modernity. This is consistent with another feature of the discipline: Ethnographers have always deployed positions drawn from elsewhere, that is, from outside social anthropology, usually from the work of other thinkers who were directly addressing the conditions of modernity. This means that ethnographies, even those which describe seemingly "early" peoples, set in motion argument about who we ourselves might be. Ethnographies can therefore be considered projects which put the philosophies of modernity at risk, confronting them with people ad places deemed strange, exotic, or improper.

These themes will be explored in the lectues and readings. The course will address four major topics in anthropology: society, religion, money, and nation. The first two are the "classical" topics which preoccupied early social anthropologists during the frtat of the twentieth century. They were especially prominent concerns in the studies of "early" peoples. The latter two are topics which have come forward during the last two decades or so. They illustrate how anthropologists have shifted their attention to the varied experience of modernity at home and abroad, in cities and villages, among rich and poor.




  1. Thurs. 09/25: Introduction: The concept of "primitive society" and the predicaments of modernity.
    Readings: Durkheim & Mauss, Primitive Classification pp. 3-26.

  2. Tues. 09/30: social relations are the ground of collective representations.
  3. Thurs. 10/02: natural genealogies and political institutions.
    Readings: Durkheim & Mauss, Primitive Classification pp. 27-88.
    Readings: E. E. Evans-Pritchard. The Nuer pp. 1-93.

  4. Tues. 10/07: contrasts between Nuer and Dinka.
  5. Thurs. 10/09: Monotheism and gender.
    Readings: E. E. Evans-Pritchard. The Nuer pp. 94-248.

  6. Tues. 10/14: natural genealogies and age-sets.
  7. Thurs. 10/16: Conclusion: who are the Nuer?.

  8. Tues. 10/21: EXAMINATION I.


  9. Thurs. 10/23: Collective representations are the ground of social relations.
    The problem of meaning and the process of rationalization.
    Readings: Max Weber The Protestant Ethic pp. 35-128.

  10. Tues. 10/28: Luther and Calvin: practical experiences vs. rational powers.
  11. Thurs. 10/30: There is no sense of person, no linear time, and no moral conduct in Bali.
    Readings: Clifford Geertz. "Person, time and conduct in Bali." (Reader).

  12. Tues. 11/04: The experience of what is not recognized: self, event, and virtue in Bali.
  13. Thurs. 11/06: Examination II.
    Readings: Clifford Geertz. "Deep play: notes on the Balinese cockfight." (Reader).


  14. Tues. 11/11: The conditions of modernity: value and exchange.
  15. Thurs. 11/13: Monetizations and Imagination: individualism, freedom, relativism.
    Readings: Georg Simmel. "Individual freedom." (Reader).
    Maurice Bloch and Jonathan Parry. "Introduction: money and the morality of exchange." (Reader).

  16. Tues. 11/18: The devil and commodity fetishism.
  17. Thurs. 11/20: Gender differences and the danger of the market.
    Readings: Mike Sallnow. "Precious metals in the Andean moral economy." (Reader).
    Suzanne Brenner. "Why women rule the roost: rethinking Javanese ideologies of gender and self control." (Reader).
    Benedict Anderson. Imagined Communities pp. xi-xv, 1-46.


  18. Tues. 11/25: The Age of Nation: thoughts, practices, and effects.
  19. Thurs. 11/27: Thanksgiving Holiday.
    Readings: Benedict Anderson. Imagined Communities pp. 47-154.

  20. Tues. 12/02: Imagining anonymous others.
  21. Thurs. 12/04: Mass society and interpersonal relationships.
    Readings: Benedict Anderson. Imagined Communities pp. 155-206.
    Michael E. Meeker. "Once there was and once there wasn't: national monuments and interpersonal exchange." (Reader).

FINAL EXAM: MONDAY, DECEMBER 8, 1997, 11:30 A.M.-2:30 P.M..

Created on 12 October 1997
Last updated 12 October 1997

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