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One of the most important battles in social science theory has been that between “sociocentrism” and “methodological individualism.” Do people act as they do because they are highly motivated individuals, or is the old excuse that “society made me do it” a catch-all explanation? Anthropologists and others in the social sciences have, over the past two decades, moved towards a “militant middle ground” in which the key concept is “practice”. These questions are important for our daily lives as well as for the development of anthropology and other social sciences; we will explore the concepts of practice, agency, function, and structure, and examine how these terms have been used and what kinds of advances and limitations they represent. In addition to “classic” anthropological texts, we will read some ethnographic illustrations of the key issues, using materials from many parts of the world (including Europe, Southeast Asia, and Sub-Saharan Africa) and from a variety of intellectual traditions. We will ask why particular theoretical “takes” may have achieved scholarly popularity at specific times – in other words, how current political ideas affect the development of social theory. This subject will thus tackle some of the most fundamental issues in social theory, doing so from a specifically anthropological standpoint, and with a view to illuminating possible approaches to contemporary social problems.
Intended learning outcomes
On successful completion of this subject, students should have:
- enhanced knowledge of the topic or area of scholarship taught in the module;
- an ability to reflect upon their own research work in relation to the content of the module; and
- enhanced engagement with leading-edge research in Arts today.
Last updated: 2 December 2019