Option Courses 2020-2021



Lead contact

Japanese Anthropology

Roger Goodman

Lowland South America

Elizabeth Ewart

Anthropology of South Asia

David Gellner

Themes in African Anthropology

David Pratten

Key Debates in the Anthropology of Art and Visual Culture

Clare Harris

Anthropology and Film

Marcus Banks

Sensory Experience in Therapeutics

Elisabeth Hsu

The Anthropology of Law

Fernanda Pirie

Anthropology of Buddhism

David Gellner

Introduction to Science and Technology Studies

Javier Lezaun

Anthropology of Environment

Laura Rival

Socialist and Postsocialist Perspectives on Mobility and Migration

Di Wu



MSc and first-year MPhil students:

  • Social Anthropology: Any two options.
  • Medical Anthropology and VMMA: Any one option.

Second-year MPhil students:

  • Social Anthropology and VMMA: Any one option, except that or those in which you were examined in your first year.

NB: options not available for:

  • MSc students in Cognitive & Evolutionary Anthropology
  • Medical Anthropology second-year MPhil students

Prof. Roger Goodman

Eight lectures in Hilary Term; 12 classes in Hilary and Trinity Term

This course has two main aims: (a) to provide an introduction to Japanese society from an anthropological perspective and (b) to show how the study of Japan can contribute to mainstream anthropological theory. Major themes which will be covered include notions of personhood, rituals and symbols, time and space, structure and agency, continuity and change, and the construction of ethnic, gender, sexual and minority identities. It will be possible to study a number of contemporary social institutions in depth, including the Japanese educational, legal, medical, welfare, company, household and kinship systems, new religions, and the worlds of traditional arts and popular culture. At the micro level, the details of these operations and the ideologies which support them will be examined, while at the macro level the course will explore their relation to other social institutions and the wider political and economic arena both inside and outside Japan.

In Hilary Term, there will be a series of 8 lectures that will introduce students to the anthropological literature on Japan. There will also be a weekly class. Students will be able to choose from a list of around 20 topics for the class which they would like to pursue. Each topic is headed by a key anthropological reading which all those who attend the class must read (copies are kept in the Tylor and Nissan libraries) and the purpose of the class is to relate the specific readings on Japan (not all of which will be anthropological) to the themes covered in this anthropological text. Each week, students will be assigned to lead the discussion in the class and also as discussants. In Trinity Term, a further one or two topics will be covered and there will be revision class.

Recommended Introductory Reading

  • Hendry, Joy, 2019, Understanding Japanese Society (5th edition), Routledge.
  • Martinez, D. P., (ed.), 2007, Modern Japanese Culture and Society (4 Vols), Routledge.
  • Nakane, Chie, 1973, Japanese Society, Penguin.
  • Robertson, Jennifer (ed.), 2005, A Companion to the Anthropology of Japan, Blackwells.
  • Ryang, Sonia, 2004, Japan and National Anthropology: A Critique, RoutledgeCurzon.
  • Sugimoto, Yoshio, 2010, An Introduction to Japanese Society (3rd edition), Cambridge University Press.

Dr Elizabeth Ewart

Course Description

The course introduces students to one of the most exciting and recently studied ethnographic regions of the world, lowland South America. Defined broadly, this cultural area comprises the lowland tropical and subtropical regions east of the Andes, the coastal and foothill regions on either side of the Andes, and other lowland geographic regions, including urban and peri-urban frontier regions.

Content and Structure

The course focuses on how ethnographic insights from Lowland South America contribute to broader themes and debates in social anthropology. We look at classic themes such as personhood, body, space and transformational processes as well as more recent debates on the relationships between nature and society, or between humans and non-humans.

In all of this, we consider what concepts and idioms might be most suited to grasping the ethnographic realities lived by indigenous peoples in the Amazon.

Structurally, the course begins with an Introduction to the region, followed by the deep history/archaeology of the lowlands and a consideration of contemporary relations between indigenous peoples and the nation state. We then turn from this ‘outside-in’ perspective to an ‘inside-out’ perspective to explore how indigenous people themselves conceptualise their worlds, the humans and others they engage with, as well as the spaces they inhabit.

Topics may include:

  1. Insights from deep history: archaeology/pre-history of the Amazon
  2. Stories of contact: relations between indigenous people and the nation-state
  3. Rainforest economies: concepts of the ‘good life’
  4. Rainforest cosmologies: perspectivism and transformation
  5. Amazonian bodies: the making of persons and kinship
  6. Amazonian spaces: villages and houses
  7. Nature and Society: debates in Amazonianist anthropology
  8. Myths and histories
  9. Shamans and the question of power

Alongside the ethnographies about indigenous people, we will also read extracts from The falling sky by Davi Kopenawa and Bruce Albert and watch films, many of which are by indigenous filmmakers. This will add other voices to the course but will also allow us to consider questions of representation and self-representation in anthropology. 

Learning Outcomes

By the end of the course, students will have gained a general understanding of

  • Amerindian ways of life, values and thought systems;
  • the ecological, historical and political conditions of contemporary indigenous Amazonian societies;
  • theoretical debates within Amerindian ethnography .

A primary goal of the course is to show students how the anthropology of lowland South America, through its diversity and debates, is contributing to anthropological thinking more generally.

Transferable Skills

In addition to learning how to identify and systematise bibliographical sources, read critically, develop oral and written skills, and evaluate alternative theoretical approaches to the analysis of society, students will also gain an ability to appreciate and comprehend the diversity of thinking in and about the world.

Teaching arrangements

The course is divided into 8 weekly sessions, usually comprising a lecture, discussion and class presentation, followed by a film. Students are expected to participate actively in the course, through readings, discussion, questions and presentations.

Formative assessment will comprise one essay, on which feedback will be given and one book review.

Summative assessment will be by essay (max. 5,000 words) due in Trinity term.

Recommended Reading

Conklin, B. 2001. Consuming grief. Compassionate cannibalism in an Amazonian society. Austin: University of Texas Press.
Descola, P. 1996. The spears of twilight. Life and death in the Amazon jungle. London: Harper Collins.
Ewart, E. 2013. Space and Society in central Brazil: a Panara ethnography. London: Bloomsbury
Lévi-Strauss, C. 1973. Tristes Tropiques. London: Picador Classics
Rival, L. 2002. Trekking through history: The Huaorani of American Ecuador. New York: Columbia.
Vilaça, A. 2010. Strange enemies: indigenous agency and scenes of encounters in Amazonia. Durham NC: Duke University Press
Walker, H. 2013 Under a watchful eye: self, power, and intimacy in Amazonia. Berkeley: University of California Press


Prof. David Gellner


Anthropology as a discipline has a problematic history due to its long-standing romance with primitivism and alterity as well as its close imbrication with colonialism. Nowhere is this better reflected than in the concepts and tropes that define the standardised Anthropology of South Asia. This course constitutes an attempt to decolonise and subvert such a study of this region. It does so by critically questioning the canonical literature and discarding the normative frames through which South Asia has historically been studied and taught. We will retain a reliance on the ethnographic method as a primary tool to understand South Asia, but will expand the usual ‘canonical’ reading list and reformulate some of its themes. Gender, Religion, and Caste will be integrated into every lecture rather than featuring as stand-alone separate sessions. Similarly, the nation-states comprising contemporary South Asia will be included in each lecture session to the extent possible. Academic books will be read alongside fiction, art, blog posts, and films.

Introductory readings

  • Rege, Sharmila. 2013. Writing Caste/Writing Gender: Narrating Dalit Women’s Testimonios. Delhi: Zubaan Books
  • Das, Veena. 1997. Critical Events: An Anthropological Perspective on Contemporary India. Delhi: Oxford University Press
  • Mosse, David. 2018. ‘Caste and development: Contemporary perspectives on a structure of discrimination and advantage’, World Development 110: 422-436
  • Anand Pandian and Daud Ali (eds.). 2010. Ethical Life in South Asia. Bloomington: Indiana University Press
  • Gyan Prakash. 2011. Mumbai Fables. Princeton: Princeton University Press

Week 1 - Animals in South Asia

Cow-related lynchings are on the rise in contemporary India. How can such a situation arise wherein the act of eating a particular meat or being seen with cows leads to public murder?
Is the life of a big cat more valuable than a human being in India?

Week 2 - Tribes or Adivasis

What is a ‘tribe’ and why do ‘tribal people’ or adivasis continue to be marginalised in India?
Who are Naxals and why are they at war with the Indian state?

Week 3 - Space

What does waste teach us about the city in South Asia?
‘Borderlands explain South Asian states better than the centre.’ How so?

Week 4 - Marriage, love, family, and queer politics in South Asia

How are attitudes to marriage changing?
How is queer activism challenging traditional notions of gender?

Week 5 - Politics and Nationalism

Assess Paul Brass’s theory of the ‘riot system’ in the light of two or three ethnographically informed accounts of riots in India or elsewhere in South Asia.
Have democratic processes in South Asia permitted or encouraged upward social mobility?

Week 6 - The State and Bureaucracy

How do ‘ordinary’ people view and interact with the bureaucracy? Compare three different locations within South Asia.
Compare three contrasting ethnographies of bureaucracy in South Asia. What do they teach us about the state and the people who ‘man’ it?

Week 7 - Film and Media

Discuss the ‘bollywodisation’ of Indian films. OR How does ‘bollywoods’ get produced and consumed in South Asia? Demonstrate through at least two ethnographic examples.
What is the emergent literature on social media and print media in South Asia adding to political anthropology?

Week 8 - Indian Political Thought: Gandhi and Ambedkar

Are any of the following concepts especially illuminating in explaining the political significance of ‘Mahatma’ Gandhi and/or B.R. Ambedkar?: (a) somatic nationalism (J. Alter); (b) derivative discourse (P. Chatterjee); (c) Orientalism (E. Said); (d) hypermasculinity (Ashis Nandy).
Describe the similarities and differences between Gandhi and Ambedkar’s visions of modern India.


Drs David Pratten, Thomas Cousins and Ramon Sarró

david.pratten@africa.ox.ac.uk; thomas.cousins@anthro.ox.ac.uk; ramon.sarro@anthro.ox.ac.uk

This course provides an empirical foundation and conceptual framework for the anthropological study of Africa and its peoples. Its main theme is to explore the connections between people, power and things. Threading the material and immaterial through classic issues of gender, personhood, exchange, memory and performance, the course provides an introduction to key theoretical issues that have developed in the anthropology of Africa. The course also aims to introduce students to a critical understanding of ethnographic writing on Africa. Organized around a series of lectures and readings running over eight weeks, including film screenings and object handling sessions at the Pitt Rivers Museum, the course is presented in weekly classes that introduce a range of ethnographic and wider issues in African culture and society.

Content and Structure

The writing of ethnography is necessarily grounded in local concerns and debates and the course will examine how the ethnography of Africa has contributed to the development of the wider anthropological discipline. The course will introduce the challenges of representing selves and others by examining ethnography’s engagement with key issues in anthropology and by exploring ethnography’s relationship with its own past.

  1. Anthropology and Africa [David Pratten]
  2. Screening of ‘Xala’ (Ousmane Sembène) [David Pratten]
  3. Frontiers and other places [Ramon Sarró]
  4. The past and other times [Ramon Sarró]
  5. Social struggles and the politics of health and healing [Thomas Cousins]
  6. Life and/of objects: from fetish to pharmaceuticals [Thomas Cousins]
  7. TBC
  8. Masking and modernity [David Pratten]

Course Objectives

By the end of the course students will:

  • gain a more informed and critical understanding of African countries;
  • acquire knowledge of contemporary African societies and of the contribution of this regional ethnography to anthropological theory and other social sciences.
  • be able to locate such themes in a wider debate of anthropological theory
  • further their ability to analyse and critically evaluate ethnographic texts
  • improve skills in writing and in the presentation of information and argument
  • acquire a knowledge of the culture and social institutions of Africa as preparation for MSc or M.Phil theses and for further research on African anthropology.

Teaching arrangements

The course is divided into 8 weekly sessions, each one comprising a 55 minute lecture plus 55 minutes of discussion of selected literature. Each student will be expected to make a significant contribution to class discussions based on their readings.

Formative assessment will be based on a book review and summative assessment will be a long essay plus a book review.

Preliminary reading


  • Moore, S. F. (1994) Anthropology and Africa: changing perspectives on a changing scene. Charlottesville: University of Virginia.
  • Ntarangwi, M., D. Mills & M. H. M. Babiker (eds) (2006) African anthropologies: history, critique, and practice, London and New York: Zed Books.
  • Ferguson, J. (2006) Global shadows: Africa in the neoliberal world order. Durham: Duke University Press.

Selected texts

  • Cousins, T. (2016) 'Antiretroviral therapy and nutrition in Southern Africa: Citizenship and the grammar of hunger', Medical anthropology 35 (5): 433-46.
  • Sarró, R. & R. L. Blanes (2009) 'Prophetic Diasporas Moving Religion Across the Lusophone Atlantic', African Diaspora 2 (1): 52-72.
  • Pratten, D. (2008) 'Masking Youth: Transformation and Transgression in Annang Performance', African Arts 41 (4): 44-60.


Prof. Clare Harris and Dr Elizabeth Hallam

clare.harris@prm.ox.ac.uk, elizabeth.hallam@anthro.ox.ac.uk

This course explores key debates in the anthropology of art and visual culture, drawing on studies of art, artists, museums, and displays from around the world. It will begin with an overview of anthropological approaches to art and aesthetics. We will then examine a range of specific theoretical concerns with regard to art: distinctions between art, artefacts and organisms; processes of production and circulation including art markets, collecting, exhibiting, and the attribution of value; constructions of authenticity and ‘primitivism’, theories of agency, and we will consider how anthropologists might study the burgeoning contemporary transnational artworld. The course will include sessions led by Dr. Hallam on sketching as a method and an analytical tool within anthropological research. Students will have the opportunity to experiment with this methodology and to make presentations on other topics for the seminar group and within the galleries of the Pitt Rivers Museum. They will also be encouraged to make active use of the collections and displays at the Museum of Natural History, the Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology, the Museum of the History of Science, and Modern Art Oxford. It is likely that we will make a fieldtrip to visit museums in London depending upon what is on display in spring 2019.

The course is capped at 12 students, with priority given to those taking the VMMA degrees since its subject matter relates so directly to them.

Teaching Arrangements

The course is divided into 8 weekly sessions, consisting of presentations by staff and students and discussion of the selected literature. All students must attend these 8 two-and-a-half hour sessions and will be expected to make a significant contribution to class discussions based on their readings. Classes will be held on Wednesday afternoons in the lecture theatre at the Pitt Rivers Museum.

Assessment for this option will be in the form of an essay of no more than 5,000 words to be submitted by noon on Tuesday of 2nd week of Trinity term.

Some Introductory Literature for this Course

  • Morphy, Howard and Morgan Perkins (2006) ‘The Anthropology of Art: A Reflection on its History and Contemporary Practice’, in H. Morphy and M. Perkins (eds) The Anthropology of Art: A Reader (Oxford, Blackwell)
  • Hiller, Susan (ed) (1991) The Myth of Primitivism: Perspectives on Art (London, Routledge).
  • Layton, Robert (1991) The Anthropology of Art (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press).
  • Morphy, Howard (2007) Becoming Art: Exploring Cross-Cultural Categories (Oxford, Berg).
  • Myers, Fred (2006) ‘“Primitivism”, Anthropology, and the Category of Art’, in C. Tilley, et al. (eds) Handbook of Material Culture (London, Sage).
  • Schneider, Arnd and Christopher Wright (eds) (2006) Contemporary Art and Anthropology (Oxford, Berg).
  • Thomas, Nicholas (1999) Possessions: Indigenous Art/Colonial Culture (New York, Thames and Hudson).
  • Marcus, G. and Myers, F. (eds.) 1995 The Traffic in Culture: Refiguring Art and Anthropology, (University of California Press)
  • Gell, A. 1998 Art and Agency: An Anthropological Theory, An Anthropological Theory, (Oxford: Clarendon).


Prof. Marcus Banks


This option explores the various ways in which the discipline of social anthropology and the theory and practice of filmmaking have come together over the past century and more. The first encounter was at the end of the nineteenth century, when marine biologist turned anthropologist Alfred Cort Haddon took a film camera to the Torres Strait Islands in 1898 and shot a few minutes of local people dancing. Since then, film has been coopted methodologically by social anthropology as a medium of record. However, documentary film theory shows us that there is no such thing as neutral objective record of a social event: all film records are social constructions, including Haddon’s 1898 footage. The option will critically explore the growth and development of the genre of ‘ethnographic film’ and its associated media presence through television broadcasting and bienniel festivals, as well as anthropological investigations into film production and film semiotics. The class does not include a practical component, but participants will be expected to use the internet to research film genres and to present film clips as well as critical readings in their class presentations. The option is examined by assessed essay (4000 words) and a film review (1000 words) and it is expected that film clips (as digital files submitted on CD-ROM or as hyperlinked files) will be included as part of the submission.

The option will be taught through a combination of lectures (1-2), reading / discussion classes (6-7) and one tutorial. All students will be expected to cover two or three key readings each week, and to watch one to two films. All students are expected to write one tutorial essay. We will finalise the syllabus at the first meeting, but previous classes have covered topics such as: ethnographic film and the crisis of representation; defining documentary; gender and film; indigenous media; film and the nation; anthropology, film and public engagement; film and new media.

By the end of the course, students will be expected to:

  • have a critical appreciation of film as the product of social action
  • critically evaluate film and other modes of representation for conveying ethnographic and analytical insight
  • have a critical appreciation of ‘other cinemas’

Some readings:

  • Banks, Marcus and Jay Ruby (eds.) (2011) Made to be Seen: Perspectives on the History of Visual Anthropology. Chicago: University of Chicago Press (especially Chapters 7, 10, 11).
  • Crawford, Peter and David Turton (eds.) (1992) Film as ethnography. Manchester: Manchester University Press.
  • Gray, Gordon (2010) Cinema: a visual anthropology. Oxford: Berg.
  • Griffiths, Alison (2002) Wondrous difference: cinema, anthropology and turn-of-the-century visual culture. New York: Columbia University Press.
  • Kaur, Raminder and Sinha, Ajay J (eds.) (2005) Bollyworld: popular Indian cinema through a transnational lens. London: Sage.
  • MacDougall, David (2006) The corporeal image: film, ethnography and the senses. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
  • Taylor, Lucien (1998) ‘Visual anthropology is dead, long live visual anthropology!’ American Anthropologist 100/2: 534-537.
  • Weinberger, Eliot (1992) ‘The Camera People’. Transition 55: 24-54 [online  at: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2934848].


Prof. Elisabeth Hsu and Dr Paola Esposito

elisabeth.hsu@anthro.ox.ac.uk; paola.esposito@anthro.ox.ac.uk


This option course discusses ritual healing from a critical medical anthropological viewpoint. Its focus is on bodily skills of ritual practice that can affect a substantial as well as perceived sensory transformation in patients, and their entourage. Ethnographic evidence will be presented to suggest that those techniques are conducive to recovery from sickness. The option is open to all students at SAME, and those PGT students enrolled in it receive two tutorials in groups of two or three students. Furthermore, there are four 90 minutes sessions on a film with subsequent discussion on themes related to the course materials.

Course overview

  1. Sensory Experience and Ritual Transformation   (EH)
  2. Play, Performance and Rhythm: Dance   (PE)
  3. Pain that Awakens  (EH)
  4. Immersion in Light, and the Clinical Gaze  (PE)
  5. Immersion in Sound: Percussion, Voice, Melody, Music  (PE)
  6. Transformative Tactility: Touch, Massage, Manipulation and Synæsthesia   (EH)
  7. Odours and Transition: the Rotting, the Dead and the Dreamt  (PE)
  8. Taste and Distinction; the Substances of Memory, Ecology and Place  (EH)

Recommended reading:

  • Laderman, C. & Roseman M. eds. (1996). The Performance of Healing. London: Routledge.

Readings in Sensorial Anthropology

  • Howes, D. ed. 1991. The Varieties of Sensory Experience. University of Toronto Press.
  • Howes, D. 2003. Sensual Relations. Engaging the Senses in Culture and Social Theory. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
  • Howes, D. ed. 2004. Empire of the Senses: The Sensual Culture Reader. Oxford: Berg.
  • Howes, D., and Classen C., 2014. Ways of Sensing: Understanding the Senses in Society. London: Routledge.

Readings in Sensory Anthropology

  • Jackson, M. (1996). Things as They Are: New Directions in Phenomenology. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. [Introduction]
  • Ingold, T. (2000). Perception of the Environment: Essays in Livelihood, Dwelling and Skill. London: Routledge.
  • Hsu, E. ed. (2008). The Senses and the Social. Special Issue. Ethnos 73 (4).


Prof. Fernanda Pirie

There is limited availability for this option

How are we to understand the very different systems of law found in other societies? On what grounds can we even define them as ‘law’? These questions are central for anthropologists of law. They are also faced, in more practical terms, by those concerned with the implementation of human rights regimes or involved in the promotion of good governance and democracy around the world. How do western models of law and legal practices relate to, conflict with, complement, or undermine the laws of the Hindu, Islamic, and Confucian worlds, or the legal practices and expectations of small communities in Africa and Amazonia?

In this course we reflect upon the parameters and cultural specificity of our concept of law, while also asking what is distinctive about legalistic modes of thought, argument, and social organization. The course begins with classic studies in legal anthropology, conflict resolution, and social order. It moves on to consider empirical studies from the great legal systems of the world, including work by legal historians on Rome and the Hindu and Islamic worlds. We will discuss the role of literacy, rules, and texts, and the relations between law and justice, and relate them to recent work on human rights and international laws.

Eight two-hour seminars are held in Hilary Term, on Thursdays from 3 to 5pm. These are also offered to Master’s students in law, which provides a lively context for debate and discussion. All students are expected to contribute to the discussions on the basis of the assigned readings.

Two tutorials are offered to each student in both Hilary and Trinity terms, for which essays are written.

Seminar topics

  1. Identifying law in non-Western societies
  2. Order and disputes
  3. Legal pluralism
  4. Legalism: rules and categories
  5. Legal borrowing and imposition
  6. Human rights: theory and practice
  7. Law and justice
  8. Legalism reconsidered: morality and aspiration

General readings

Malinowski, Bronislaw. 1926. Crime and Custom in Savage Society. London: Kegan Paul.
Moore, Sally Falk. 1973. Law and Social Change: the Semi-Autonomous Social Field as an Appropriate Subject of Study. Law and Society Review 7: 719–46.
von Benda-Beckmann, Keebet and Fernanda Pirie. 2007. Order and Disorder: Anthropological Perspectives. Oxford: Berghahn.
Roberts, Simon. 2005. ‘After government: on representing law without the state.’ Modern Law Review 68(1): 1-24.
Messick, Brinkley. 1986. The Mufti, the Text and the World: Legal Interpretation in Yemen. Man 21: 102–19.
Goodale, Mark and Sally Engle Merry. 2007. The Practice of Human Rights: Tracking Law Between the Global and the Local. Cambridge: University Press
Pirie, Fernanda. 2013. The Anthropology of Law. OUP.


Prof. David Gellner



Buddhism, of all the world religions, arguably comes closest to the ideal type of a soteriology or transcendent ideology; it offers a model of personal transformation and social relationships that is radically different from the Abrahamic religions. Its global influence and salience in the modern world, whether in South Asian, Tibetan, Southeast Asian, or East Asian forms, make it a highly relevant focus or way into an understanding of classical anthropological concerns, such as exchange, hierarchy, belief, ritual, migration, modernization, and globalization. This course aims to introduce students to the major themes in the anthropological study of Buddhism across all three major regions (south, north, east), as well as in the globalized extensions in developed countries.


  1. Introduction: History and reception
  2. Monks, nuns, and laypeople: Gifts and merit-making rituals
  3. Monastic education
  4. Buddhist ritual in the context of non-Buddhist ritual systems
  5. Buddhism and modernity: Anti-ritual, meditation, education, reform
  6. Bhikshunis and laywomen
  7. Buddhism, the state, and violence
  8. Transnational, missionary, and globalizing Buddhism

General resources and introductions

  • Gellner, D.N. & R.F. Gombrich 2015. ‘Buddhism’ in J.D. Wright (ed.) International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences (2nd ed.) Vol 2. Oxford: Elsevier.
  • Gellner, D.N. (ed.) 1990. JASO special issue on Buddhism 21(2).
  • Gombrich, R.F.  2006. Theravada Buddhism: A Social History from Ancient Benares to Modern Colombo. Routledge.
  • Harvey, P. 2013. An Introduction to Buddhism (2nd ed.). Cambridge: Univ. Press.
  • Jerryson, M. 2016. The Oxford Handbook of Contemporary Buddhism. OUP.
  • Lopez, D. (ed.) 2005. Critical Terms for Buddhist Studies. Princeton: Univ. Press.
  • Samuel, G. 2012. Introducing Tibetan Buddhism. Routledge.
  • Vargas-O’Bryan, I. 2013. ‘Anthropology of Buddhism’, Oxford Bibliographies. DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393521-0001


Dr Javier Lezaun


Course overview

This course offers a postgraduate-level introduction to the field of Science and Technology Studies (STS). STS is a thriving interdisciplinary field, with a strong ethnographic tradition, that explores how new scientific and technical knowledge is produced, and its impact on society. STS has multiple empirical and theoretical synergies with anthropology, and has become an engine of new insights for the social sciences and the humanities. It is, in particular, a key resource for a new “anthropology at home,” the careful exploration of the practices that characterize modern Euro-American institutions and their global influence.

The course focuses on some of the key areas of theoretical innovation in STS, and on key domains of empirical investigation in the field. It is not designed (exclusively) for those with a specific interest in the anthropology of science and technology, but for all students who seek a better understanding of the processes by which societies generate new knowledge and instruments, and transform themselves in the process.

Course structure and illustrative readings
Week  1: Studying Laboratories

  • Bruno Latour (1983). Give Me a Laboratory and I Will Raise the World. The Science Studies Reader. M. Biagioli. New York, Routledge: 258-275.
  • Michael Lynch (1988). Sacrifice and the transformation of the animal body into a scientific object: Laboratory culture and ritual practice in the neurosciences. Social Studies of Science, 18(2), 265-289.

Week  2: Experiments

  • Collins, H. M. (1974). The TEA set: Tacit knowledge and scientific networks. Science studies, 4(2), 165-185.
  • Shapin, S. (1988). The house of experiment in seventeenth-century England. Isis, 373­404.

Week  3: Technologies in the field

  • Marianne de Laet and Annemarie Mol (2000). The Zimbabwe bush pump: mechanics of a fluid technology. Social studies of science, 30(2), 225-263.
  • Peter Redfield (2015). Fluid technologies: The Bush Pump, the LifeStraw® and microworlds of humanitarian design. Social Studies of Science

Week  4: Actor-network theory

  • Michel Callon (1984). Some elements of a sociology of translation: domestication of the scallops and the fishermen of St Brieuc Bay. The Sociological Review, 32(S1), 196-233.
  • Bruno Latour (1999). Circulating reference: Sampling the soil in the Amazon forest. In B. Latour, Pandora’s Hope: Essays on the Reality of Science Studies (Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press).

Week  5: Cyborgs, robotics, human-machine interaction

  • Donna Haraway (1991). "A Manifesto for Cyborgs." In D. Haraway, Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature (New York: Routledge)
  • Gusterson, H. (1998). Nuclear rites: A weapons laboratory at the end of the Cold War. Univ of California Press. Chapter 5: “Bodies and Machines.”

Week  6: Health, risk and the environment

  • Mary Douglas (1992) Risk and Blame (London: Routledge): Chapter 6 "The self as risk taker: A cultural theory of contagion in relation to AIDS.” and Chapter 14 “A credible biosphere.”
  • Steve Rayner and Clare Heyward (2013). The Inevitability of Nature as a Rhetorical Resource. In K. Hastrup (ed) Anthropology and Nature. (Abingdon: Routledge).

Week  7: Postcolonical technoscience

  • Gabrielle Hecht (2002). Rupture-talk in the nuclear age: conjugating colonial power in Africa. Social Studies of Science, 32(5-6), 691-727.
  • Adriana Petryna (2005). Ethical variability: drug development and globalizing clinical trials. American Ethnologist, 32(2), 183-197.

Week  8: Making a difference: STS collaborations

  • Ana Viseu (2015). Caring for nanotechnology? Being an integrated social scientist. Social studies of science
  • Alex Wilkie, Mike Michael and Matthew Plummer-Fernandez (2015). Speculative method and Twitter: Bots, energy and three conceptual characters. The sociological review, 63(1), 79-101.
  • Nick Shapiro (2015). Attuning to the chemosphere: Domestic formaldehyde, bodily reasoning, and the chemical sublime. Cultural Anthropology, 30(3), 368-393.


Prof. Laura Rival


Course Description

Human-environment engagements are at the heart of anthropological concerns with how humans live and relate with their physical surroundings. Anthropology of environment is a recognised sub-field, which has long reflected core disciplinary questions and challenges, and contributed to the development of anthropology and its relevance to other disciplines and the world at large.

This option course offers a postgraduate-level introduction to core themes in anthropology and environment. It addresses key theoretical concepts and empirical topics that will be useful to students planning anthropological fieldwork in different geographical regions and speaks to relevant and timely concerns in anthropological theory and practice, including questions of nature and culture, resource politics, feminist and postcolonial political ecology, interdisciplinarity, and diverse ways of knowing and experiencing environments.

Content and structure

The course will outline core arguments and authors in environmental anthropology, exemplifying theoretical topics and concepts through the analysis of empirical case studies from around the world.

  1. Environment, culture and society
  2. Making and managing resources
  3. Conservation and development
  4. Environmentalisms
  5. Knowing and representing environments
  6. Embodied and engaged environments
  7. Infrastructure and the built environment
  8. Environmental futures and the Anthropocene

Course aims and objectives

By the end of the course students will:

  • develop familiarity with core theories, debates and case studies in environmental anthropology in the context of developments in other disciplines and the world at large
  • improve their ability to critically discuss, analyse and evaluate theories and concepts in relation to ethnographic texts
  • improve abilities to present written/oral information and argument, and to aid peers’ learning
  • enhance their capacity to use concepts and methods in environmental anthropology to inform future fieldwork/thesis research and extra-disciplinary engagements (policy, activism, etc)
  • gain ability to explore course themes and ideas in further theoretical and empirical detail, for example applying them to contemporary socio-environmental issues and concerns.

Teaching arrangements

The course comprises 8 weekly sessions which each include a 1hr lecture followed by <1.5hr discussion class. Each student will be expected to make a significant contribution to discussions based on their readings, and to submit written work for formative and summative assessment.

Summative Assessment

One 4000-word essay (80%) and one shorter case study essay of 1000 words (20%), due by noon on Tuesday of TT 2nd week.

Indicative introductory readings

  • Barnes, Jessica (ed). 2016. Environmental Futures. Special issue of Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute
  • Biersack, Aletta, and James B. Greenberg. 2006. Reimagining Political Ecology. New Ecologies for the Twenty-First Century. Durham: Duke University Press.
  • Dove, Michael R., and Carol Carpenter. 2008. Environmental Anthropology: A Historical Reader. New Malden: Blackwell.
  • Fairhead, James, and Melissa Leach. 1995. ‘False Forest History, Complicit Social Analysis: Rethinking Some West African Environmental Narratives’. World Development 23: 1023–35.
  • Ingold, Tim. 2000. The Perception of the Environment: Essays on Livelihood, Dwelling and Skill. London: Routledge. (Chapters 11, 12, 13)
  • Moore, Amelia. 2016. Anthropocene anthropology: reconceptualizing contemporary global change. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 22:1
  • Robbins, Paul. 2011. Political Ecology: A Critical Introduction (2nd edition). Oxford: Blackwell.
  • Tsing, A. 2004. Friction: An Ethnography of Global Change. Princeton: Princeton UP.

Additional resources


Dr Di Wu


This course examines mobility and migration through the lens of socialism and postsocialism. It understands socialism and postsocialism not only as markers of historical periods or regimes of governance, but also of ways of seeing the world that invite attention to geopolitical and ideological shifts after the end of the Cold War.

The course begins with a discussion of what were/are socialism and postsocialism and how can they be used as critical lenses for thinking about the present. It continues with an examination of practices and governance of mobility and migration in the context of Cold War political orders marked as socialist— for example, the former Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, and parts of Asia. The course then moves to consider shifts in practices and governance of mobility and migration after the collapse of the Soviet Union and Eastern European socialisms. It covers themes, such as rebordering after socialism, changing political regimes, forms of statehood and citizenship, displacement, migration governance, and postsocialist diasporas. In the end, the course invites students to think about how the collapse of actually existing socialisms—and the end of the Cold War more broadly—has affected political imaginaries in relation to mobility and beyond.

The course is primarily grounded in anthropology, but also includes texts from history, political theory, geography, and sociology.

Week 1: Socialist and postsocialist perspectives

During the first week, we will discuss what was socialism as a theory and an actually existing historical formation, as well as how to think about postsocialism as a space-time after socialism, but also as a global condition and a conceptual space. Can socialism and postsocialism be used as analytical lenses for the present? This discussion will go beyond the topic of mobility and migration, but will conclude with a consideration of whether and how analysis of mobility and migration in socialist and postsocialist contexts can contribute to a rethinking of theoretical approaches to the study of mobility and migration.

Week 2: Socialist modernity and internal mobility/migration

This week’s readings examine how “actually existing” socialist regimes governed the internal movement of people, while restricting external migration. Readings focus on state-based organised movement of people, such as deportations and labour movement, as well as on less organised forms of movement that took place in the interstices of state policies. The discussion will pertain to the role that mobility and migration played in the construction of socialist modernity.

Week 3: Socialist modernity and international mobility/migration

Despite the widespread assumption that it was nearly impossible to leave socialist states, there was considerable international movement within the “Second World”. Moreover, mobility and migration—of people, resources, and ideas—played a significant role in forging a socialist sphere of influence beyond the “Second World”, especially in postcolonial contexts, and thus in shaping geopolitical divisions and conflicts during the Cold War. In this week, we consider how and to what effect mobility and migration construed relations between the “Second World” and the “Third World”. How did “actually existing socialisms” shape and continue to shape political spaces and ideological spaces in other parts of the world?

Week 4: (Post)socialist shifts: capitalist displacements and mobility

This week’s readings trace how socialism turned into postsocialism via reconfiguration of the movement of capital and people. What forms of capitalism and political power did the collapse of actually existing socialist regimes enable? How did mobility facilitate these transformations and/or emerged as an actual or desired response to them? Moreover, how did the past socialist mobility shape the present capitalist mobility?

Week 5: Postsocialist shifts: borders, statehood, forms of citizenship

This class continues with the examination of how socialism turned into postsocialism by zooming in on shifts in political forms, such as the state, borders, and citizenship. What did it mean to establish borders where there were no borders before? How were former socialist subjects repositioned in the world and in relation to each other? What new forms of belonging and hierarchies emerged in the context of postsocialist mobilities and migrations?

Week 6: Displacement and Emplacement

This week’s readings examine displacement that has occurred either as a result of postsocialist political reconfigurations or shifts in the patterns of movement of capital and people. Readings demonstrate that emplacement and displacement do not necessary involve moving from or to a place, but are conditions that emerge from frustrated expectations or as a result of things—such as borders—moving instead of people.

Week 7: Politics of migration/refugees in former socialist contexts

The collapse of socialism and the end of the Cold War order not only lifted previous restrictions on movement, but also propelled the postsocialist states to devise new regulatory frameworks. How did the former socialist states reimagine the politics of mobility after socialism? What were the specific practices of governing migration that the former socialist states adapted in legislation and in practice? Is it accurate to understand the shift in regulation of migration as a shift from totalitarian to liberal forms of governance? Moreover, is it really the case, as has been widely accepted, that former socialist states, especially in Eastern Europe, are more nationalistic and therefore anti-immigrant than Western European states?

Week 8: Afterlives of socialism?

The final class turns to the afterlives of socialism in people’s memory, understandings of the present, political practice, and imaginations of the future. How have former socialist subjects repositioned themselves in the world, whether in their home countries or new destinations? What kind of subjects have they become and what kind of solidarities and politics are they forging? Are there any traces of socialism or postsocialism in their practices, and, if so, what can they tell us about the current historical moment?