Dr. Richard Wilk - Spring 1999

Professor's Office: 242 Student Building, phone 855-3901, email: WILKR
Office Hours: T 10-12 PM, or by appointment

 Course Description
 Course Structure
 Class Requirements
 Disclaimers, details, and fine print


Course Description
The University catalog defines this course with a laundry-list of topics: "economics, ecology, kinship, life cycle, education, social stratification, political organization, religion, values, culture change, evolution, methodology, etc.." By the end of the semester, you should be able to figure out when that catalog copy was written, and make a good guess about who wrote it.

This is a required course for all incoming graduate students in sociocultural anthropology, and it is also recommended for bioanthropologists, archaeologists, and linguists who desire familiarity with the current concepts and issues in the study of culture. It serves as an introduction to the field for graduate students in other social sciences, who are thinking about including anthropological method and/or theory in their own work. Many of the students in this course have taken H500, the history of anthropological theory, but I will not expect much prior knowledge about sociocultural anthropology from anyone.

The course will cover the major writers and theories in sociocultural anthropology starting in 1970 and working up to the present. Our goal is the classic one of a survey course; to get students familiar with the intellectual currents of the discipline. This means reading some major works, but it also means that sometimes we will take shortcuts and you will read about theories and writers instead of reading all the original sources.

Course Structure

How are we supposed to gain a comprehensive understanding of 30 years of developments in a rich and complex social science during 16 weeks? Especially when those 30 years are a turbulent period when the discipline has changed almost out of recognition, to the point where some people think it has exploded into fragments? Obviously we have to be selective, and divide up the work so we can cover as large a territory as possible in a short space of time.

We will use some basic anthropological tools, developed for the study of cultures, and apply them reflexively to anthropology this semester, treating anthropologists as members of an interesting but not exotic or unusual tribe. The expedition's strategy of investigation is organized around the concept of three dimensions of social life. These are space, time, and processes of change (here my approach is shaped by my training in archaeology).

Space. All disciplines, like any social groups, organize themselves spatially into social and intellectual groups. Mapping the discipline means identifying the relevant groups. These include departments, traditions, and sub-disciplines. There are many formal social groups among anthropologists, including professional associations, journal editorial boards, University departments, and foundation grant review panels. There are also informal groups of many kinds, including the students trained in a particular department, those defined by kinship connections (yes, anthropologists do marry one another and raise little anthropologists!), and those affiliated by common theoretical or political position. For the purposes of the course I will pre-define a number of these formal and informal groups, using standard taxonomic categories like "ecological anthropology," but we will also be investigating other kinds of spatial order through our own research.

Time. Once we have a basic map of the relevant groups, we can think about when they started, when they flourished, and when they began to shrink or disappear. This will help us to figure out the directions in which the discipline is moving, and identify the crucial times of transition. I will focus attention on some of the largest shifts - the emergence of applied anthropology, the rise and decline of ecological anthropology and evolutionism in the 1970s, the rise of reflexivity and postmodernism in the 80s, and the questioning of history and representation in the 90s. We will also try a more microscopic year-by-year history of the discipline, based on close reading of journal articles and annual review summaries.

Processes of Change. I don't think we understand very much about how disciplines change direction, and what causes intellectual currents to run in particular directions. The spatial and temporal perspectives are largely descriptive, but may provide some clues. The conventions of intellectual history, however, point towards the pivotal role of crucial individuals in moving a discipline. Many anthropologists also believe that the field is moved along by the intellectual efforts of particularly important thinkers (I have my doubts about this thesis, which I will discuss in class). So throughout the class we will read the works of anthropologists who are widely perceived as movers and shakers. Each student in the class will pick one person to concentrate on during the semester, and will share their insights about that person with the rest of us. I have chosen one person for particular attention by all of us this semester because I believe his work provides a key to understanding the last 30 years of change: Pierre Bourdieu. We will all read his biography and his most influential work.

Class Requirements

One thing you can expect from this course is a LOT of reading. Class lectures and discussions have the goal of helping you digest and assimilate those readings. There is simply no other way to get into recent anthropology, since the discipline is expressed most clearly and directly through the printed word. You have to keep up with the reading to make this class work.

Each week we will have a lecture on Monday and a reading-based discussion on Tuesday. Sometimes I will give you specific discussion topics in advance for the Tuesday meeting - other times we will have an open discussion. You are always welcome to make suggestions about topics or issues for the discussion period. You can call me, talk to me after class, or send me email. You must expect to participate regularly in these discussions, and demonstrate that you are keeping up with the reading. Don't be intimidated by other students.

You should expect to join a reading group to meet informally out of class time each week. I strongly discourage forming groups on the basis of your experience or academic background - you will get more from a diverse group.

There are three major assignments due during the semester. Each one will be added to a class web-based publication, which portrays the three dimensions of sociocultural anthropology during the last 30 years. If you have not already seen it, the website on theory in anthropology is at http://www.indiana.edu/~wanthro/theory.htm. So far it is getting over a hundred hits a month and has been linked on many anthropological websites. This is an opportunity to have your work read widely!

  1. You will choose a subdiscipline, an association, or some other formal or informal group of sociocultural anthropologists during the first two weeks of class. Then you will prepare an oral report on the group for presentation during a Thursday discussion session. This will be developed into a concise 5 page written report, which will become part of the class website. You will also be required to produce at least two graphics related to the group you study, in electronic format suitable for web-based publishing.
  2. You will be assigned a year. You will explore journals and books published during that year and report back to the class on what was "hot" that year. You will work closely with the people who have been assigned the years before and after your own, to compare trends. We will bring all the year summaries together in a series of discussions, where we try to piece together time lines of theoretical development. These will also go on the website.
  3. You will choose an anthropologist whom you will get to impersonate in class discussions and debates. You will be expected to know the person well enough to tell the class where he/she would stand on major issues. You should be familiar with their major works, their goals, and their place in the discipline. You are encouraged to contact them personally through email if they are available, to interview them about the way they see their own position in the development of the discipline. Otherwise you will be expected to track down obituaries, tributes, and other writings about the person, or to interview one of their students or collaborators. Your written work on this person will go on the website too.

Your grade in the course is based on four grades each of which counts for one fourth of the total. Three grades cover the quality of the written assignments, and the fourth the quality of your participation in class discussion, group decision-making, and preparation and processing of information for inclusion in the website.

TEXTS - all are required and available in the IU bookstore

The first is our general text for the semester:
Layton, R. 1998 An Introduction to Theory in Anthropology. Cambridge.

The others:

Bourdieu, P. 1977 Outline of a Theory of Practice. Cambridge U. Press.
Jenkins, R. 1992 Pierre Bourdieu. Routledge.
Fabian, J. 1983 Time and the Other. Columbia U. Press.
Edgerton, R. 1992 Sick Societies. Free Press.
Obeyesekere, G. 1994 The Apotheosis of Captain Cook. Princeton UP.
Abu Lughod, L. 1993 Writing Women's Worlds. California. 

Finally, one collection of readings, which is available from the American Anthropological Association - there is a 25% discount if you are a member, so I have not ordered this through the bookstore. You can order it at this website: http://www.ameranthassn.org/puborder.htm.

 Harrison, F. (ed.) 1998 Decolonizing Anthropology (2nd edition). AAA.

 In addition we have a pile of Xeroxed readings. I will make these available to you for your own personal copying during the first week of class. The collection will then go on reserve in the Geography library downstairs in the Student Building.

 Disclaimers, stylistic guidelines, legal advisories, etc:

You are responsible for keeping up with the readings and for attending class regularly. Late assignments will be accepted, but grades will be reduced. Incompletes are only given with good reason, and if I am notified two weeks before the final exam date.

You are not allowed to copyright any of my class handouts or other materials, nor can you publish them or use them in public presentations without my permission.

You are encouraged to discuss with classmates and colleagues, and to collaborate in studying, reading, digesting, and synthesizing class materials. I encourage you to form study groups and/or reading discussion circles. BUT, all written work you turn in must be your own individual work, unless you make arrangements with me in advance for a co-authorship. Co-authored work gets one grade which is shared by all authors.

Plagiarism is a serious breach of academic ethics. Use full footnotes and references for all quoted or attributed materials. Since we will be publishing class work on the web, we need to pay careful attention to copyright restrictions on fair use. We also need to use a uniform style for text and references:

I am always available for consultation and discussion in my office. Please don't wait until the last minute to discuss problems, readings, or issues with me! I am always very busy, but I will always make time to talk about something important, except during the last three weeks of the semester when I have very little time available.

Email is often the best way to ask me brief questions, to check on assignments, or make short comments. If you miss class, contact me by email to find out if you have been assigned some discussion for the next week.

I will make up a class mailing list early in the semester and will use it constantly to send you messages about current events, bibliographies, assignments, and course readings. I will be happy to forward messages from class members to the entire group; lets use this resource as much as possible.

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