Option Courses 2021-2022




Japanese Anthropology

Roger Goodman

Anthropology of South Asia

David Gellner

Social Anthropology of the Middle East

Morgan Clarke & Zuzanna Olszewska

Themes in the Anthropology of Africa; Ethnographies of Extraction and Extraversion

David Pratten

Key Debates in the Anthropology of Art and Visual Culture

Clare Harris & Elizabeth Hallam

Anthropology and Film

Chihab El Khachab

Anthropology and Difference: Gender and Race in Fiction Film

Lola Martinez

Sensory Experience in Therapeutics

Elisabeth Hsu & Paola Esposito

The Anthropology of Law

Fernanda Pirie

Anthropology of Buddhism

David Gellner

Introduction to Science and Technology Studies

Javier Lezaun

Anthropology of Environment

Laura Rival

Anthropology of Violence and Social Suffering

Ina Zharkevich

Anthropology of Politics and the Political

Gwen Burnyeat

Anthropology, Climate Change and Climate Justice

Jessica Omukuti & Javier Lezaun

Ethics and Mobility: China–Africa as a Case Study

Di Wu

Transnationalism and Diasporas

Manolis Pratsinakis

Migration, Time and Temporality

Madeleine Reeves

Migration and Religion

Lena Rose 

Materials: anthropological explorations Elizabeth Hallam

Objects in Motion: Key Debates in Economic Anthropology

Inge Daniels


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



Themes in the Anthropology of Africa: Ethnographies of Extraction and Extraversion

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 showcases contemporary ethnographic research on extraction and extraversion in Africa. The anthropology of extractive industries (diamonds, coal, oil, timber, rubber, gold, coffee, copper, coltan etc.) offers a critical perceptive on key processes shaping our world: global capital and multi-nationals, labour and migration, temporality and generation, protest and activism. These ethnographies of extraction remind us of the centrality of Africa in the world, and that histories of extraversion place Africans not at the margins but connected, active agents in the relations of dependence that they oppose and facilitate. 

The focus on extraction therefore links the material, intimate, bodily practices of mining, mobility and masculinity via the infrastructures of extraction to the global supply chains of petrochemicals, metals, and the resources of modern production and consumption. Key themes emerge across the lectures and classes. Moving beyond the standard narratives of ‘resource curse’, we examine how extractive enclave economies generate trajectories of migration, belonging, space, and frontier. And historically we show how these terrains of extraction are dynamically set across generational, and epochal temporalities. Overall, we ask how do these spaces and temporalities of extraction, and the epistemic and ecological violence with which they are associated, shape contemporary practice, memory and relations of African societies and cultures. 

  1. Ethnographies of Extraction and Extraversion
  2. Oil Politics and Ethical Capitalism in Kenya (Doris Okenwa)
  3. The arts of oil (David Pratten)
  4. Extractivism in KwaZulu-Natal (Thomas Cousins)
  5. Mangroves and aluminium: resilience on the coast of the Republic of Guinea (Ramon Sarro)
  6. Climate justice in Tanzania (Jessica Omukuti)
  7. After gold in Cameroon (Rosalie Allain)
  8. Film/workshop/presentations.




Gwen Burnyeat



This course explores how anthropology engages with contemporary politics, and the multi-faceted meanings of ‘the political’. We first take stock of how both anthropologists and our ethnographic interlocutors define and delimit the realm of politics and the political, considering in particular politics as opposition or competition over power, politics as the intricate dynamics of relationships between unequally-situated people and groups, and politics as the complex and often contradictory emotions which animate us. We then delve into specific topics, drawing on literature from and about a variety of world regions, such as the state and state-society relations, the role of emotions in the formation of political opinions, how ideologies motivate political action, elections, political parties and politicians, and the digital realm in which so much of our political culture unfolds today. We conclude by thinking about the politics of the anthropologist, and different forms of engagement and solidarity made possible through the ethnographic endeavour.

While ‘political anthropology’ historically referred to the structural-functionalist agenda of mid-twentieth century British anthropology, today, anthropologists across the world and the discipline are studying politics as the lived experience of a variety of social groups. But what do we mean by politics? What do our ethnographic interlocutors in different communities mean when they say something is political, or not political? And how are our definitions and our interlocutors’ definitions and experiences of the political influenced by centuries of Western theoretical canons? As concepts in Western political theory have shaped the production of political forms such as the state, bureaucracies, and elections, each week we read a political theory text in dialogue with anthropological scholarship, and consider how people around the world analyse and reproduce these concepts, appropriate them, and alter them to fit new cultural contexts.

In the wake of the global COVID-19 pandemic, global anxieties abound about the future of humanity in the face of a diverse and interlocking set of issues—from the climate crisis and the rise of polarisation and ‘post-truth’ politics to migration and the increasing socioeconomic inequalities left by decades of neoliberalism. There has arguably never been a more important moment for encouraging renewed anthropological attention to politics. This course offers an entry point to thinking about the scope and role of political anthropology today. Students will learn how to think anthropologically about politics, and think politically about anthropology, and consider how the discipline can contribute to understanding and proposing solutions to the many political problems our world faces.

Workload, Class Format and Expectations


Two hours of contact time per week, a combination of student presentations, short lectures by the tutor, and discussion. Format to be determined depending on number of students.

EITHER: short presentation by the tutor (20 mins), followed by student presentations on one text of choice per required readings (total 20 minutes – could be a group presentation of 20 mins or two individual presentations of 10 minutes, to be divided depending on number of students registered, at least 1 presentation per student throughout the course, 2 if numbers permit), followed by group discussion (70 minutes), followed by concluding remarks and further questions to consider by tutor (10 mins).

OR: 40 min lecture introducing the week’s themes and readings with Q&A at the end, followed by 1 hour seminar later in the week, to be (co-)chaired by a different student each week (divided according to number of students), which they have to prepare by bringing a list of questions and themes to guide the class discussion of the texts.

Students are required to keep a reflexive journal, which will not be shared with the course tutor or anyone else, nor will they be assessed. The idea is to invite them to write on a weekly basis in a personal, exploratory way, about their reaction to each week’s readings and class discussions. Each week, after the class, they should take some time to sit and reflect on what they learned and thought about, and how they relate to their areas of interest, their own lives, and current affairs in the news. It is often said that the personal is political; in line with contemporary feminist theory, this exercise encourages students’ critical self-reflection about their own political positioning as anthropologists and as individuals. It is also useful practice for future field diaries, the ethnographic research data par excellence, as students get used to weaving together theoretical debates, personal experiences, and wider political events and contexts. There are no formal guidelines for this, but it is suggested that students should try to write at least 500 words, at some point after each class, though the journal may also include other non-written elements. The journals of the first four weeks will also serve as material for the reflexive essay – students can select and develop parts of their journal which they are happy to share with the tutor and build it into a more sustained discussion on a topic of their choice which speaks to the themes of one or more of the first four weeks.

Students are also encouraged to attend the departmental seminar, convened by Gwen Burnyeat and David Gellner, the theme of which this year is ‘Political Anthropology’, which will be very complementary for this course.


Formative: 1 reflexive essay, 1000 words, due week 5

Feedback will be given, in the spirit of a dialogue between tutor and student, but this will not be assessed.

Summative: 1 final essay, 5000 words due Week 2 TT. 100% of the grade.

Course Outline

Week 1: Anthropology and ‘the Political’

Week 2: Anti-politics and Not-politics

Week 3: The Social Contract and State-Society Relations

Week 4: Public Opinion and Political Emotions

Week 5: Ideologies and Political Action

Week 6: Elections, Parties, and Political Leaders

Week 7: Digital Politics

Week 8: The Politics of the Public Anthropologist



Elizabeth Hallam


Focusing on materials, this option explores key anthropological approaches and debates across visual, material and museum anthropology. How do anthropologists research and analyse material dimensions of the rapidly changing world? We will engage with anthropological work that shifts attention from material ‘objects’ to the dynamics of materials in wider environments, and which explores material aspects of human bodies, plants and other species, buildings and sculptural artefacts. Examining processes of living, growing, and dying, as well as the design and afterlife of materials, we will consider key questions relating to: the generation of form; dynamics of change and transformation; the interrelation of matter, meaning and knowledge making; and the social, subjective, sensory and affective aspects of materials. How relationships – including those of power and authority – are forged, maintained, disrupted and dissolved through material practices over time, is also a central concern. We will explore these theoretical issues through study in museums and through a hands-on anthropological project involving sketching, digital photography, digital video, and a collective mini exhibition.

We will make active use of collections and displays in Oxford, at the Pitt Rivers Museum, the University Museum of Natural History, the History of Science Museum, and the Botanic Garden.

There will be a 2-hour weekly seminar, when students will give presentations and discuss readings. The option is assessed with an essay of up to 5000 words.

Seminar topics

              1. World of materials

              2. From ‘objects’ to materials

              3. Living  

              4. Growing

              5. Dying

              6. Afterlives

              7. Designing

              8. Anthropology with materials



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 re 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.

  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)


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 communities from around the world. It will begin with an overview of previous and current anthropological approaches to art. We will then focus on more specific issues such as: the critique of distinctions between art, artefacts and organisms; processes of production, circulation and attributions of value; art markets and authenticity; exhibition practices and interpretation; modes for analyzing the burgeoning contemporary transnational artworld; and the importance of pioneering theoretical approaches such as that proposed by Gell’s ‘Art and Agency’ and within the ‘relational aesthetics’ model. Although the course is organized according to conceptual themes and theoretical questions, it is supported by ethnographic case studies from many different regions and students may pursue their own area-specific interests within it. Liz Hallam will lead sessions on sketching as method/analytical tool in anthropological research and the relationship between artists and anthropologists. We will make active use of the museums and galleries of Oxford and students are encouraged to bring their own examples and experiences to bear on the themes of the course.

During the course, students will give presentations in museums, as well as in the classroom. We also plan to make a group visit to London to analyze two exhibitions in the light of the themes of the option course. 


The course is taught in a class format with sessions lasting from 2 - 3 hours each week. These are the topics we will cover.

Week 1: Introduction to the Anthropology of Art                                                      

Week 2:  Art, Artefact or Organism?                                                                                                                                        

Week 3: Exhibitions of Art and the Art of Exhibitions                                 

Week 4: ‘Primitive Art’ and Primitivism                                                          

Week 5: Art markets, Authenticity and ‘Tourist Art’                                   

Week 6: Contemporary Art and Transnational Art Worlds                                      

Week 7: Anthropology and Art in Practice + sketchbooks                                       

Week 8: ‘Art and Agency’ and other recent theories                     



Chihab El Khachab


This option explores the relationship between the discipline of social anthropology and the theory and practice of filmmaking over the past 125 years. Film was co-opted methodologically by social anthropology as a medium of record, which led to the growth and development of the genre of ‘ethnographic film’ and its media presence through television broadcasting and festivals. In parallel, over the past 30 years, anthropologists launched investigations into the meaning and making of commercial cinema across the globe. This option will explore both the use of film in anthropology and the anthropological study of commercial film through a wide range of topics: documentary and ethnographic filmmaking, indigenous media, cinema and nationalism, television audiences, filmmaking labour and technology, and digital visual anthropology. While the class will not include a practical component, participants are expected to present film clips as well as critical readings in their class presentations. The option is examined by assessed essay and it is expected that film clips will be included with the submission as well (as digital files). The option will be taught through a combination of reading/discussion classes and all students will be expected to cover two or three key readings in weekly presentations. 

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

-             have a critical appreciation of film as the product of social interaction

-             critically evaluate film and other modes of representation as ways of conveying ethnographic and analytical insight

-             have a critical appreciation of filmmaking and film viewing in different parts of the world, especially outside Europe and North America


Convened by Dr Morgan Clarke and Dr Zuzanna Olszewska


Taught with Prof. Walter Armbrust (Middle East Centre) and Dr Chihab El Khachab 


 This team-taught option represents a collaboration between anthropologists at SAME and the Middle East Centre, offering broad regional and thematic coverage of the Middle East and research-led teaching. We will include both ‘classic’ and very contemporary issues and focus on the Arab World, but also Iran, Afghanistan and Turkey. The course will consist of eight one-hour lectures in Hilary Term, accompanied weekly by a one-hour discussion class run by the convenors. Students will be expected to lead the discussions by taking turns to give brief presentations and formulate key questions. 

Assessment will take the form of one formative essay, for which feedback will be provided, and a 5,000-word essay in response to pre-set questions to be submitted in Week 2 of Trinity Term.  

Lecture schedule

1.           Gender and Personhood (ZO) 

2.           Kinship (MC)

3.           Popular Culture (ZO)

4.           Contemporary Islam (MC)

5.           Mass Media (CEK)

6.           The State (CEK)

7.           Neoliberalism (WA)

8.           Revolution (WA)  



Dr Lola Martinez


This course takes an anthropological approach to difference and its representation in the films we view each week, with an emphasis on gender and race. In Week 1 there will be a lecture, but for the rest of Hilary, the course is taught through discussion classes. Students will be expected not only to have seen the weekly film, but to have done some relevant reading.  From week 2 there will be student presentations – limited to 20 minutes each -- which should be on a film or film genre related to the week’s topic.  At the end of each class, I will endeavour to cover any ground we have not included in our discussions, but this will not be a formal lecture. 

Course assessment: This course will be examined through a formative 5,000-word essay submitted by the deadline of the Thursday of Week 2 of Trinity Term. A 700-word draft outline will be due in HT Week 5 that should propose a question for the 5,000-word essay, along with a brief discussion of relevant theory, accompanied by a preliminary bibliography (not included in the word count).  This will be returned to students at the start of week 8, with an edited version of their proposed question and comments on the overall proposal.

Course outcomes: In this course students will learn to:

  • Examine the relationship between predominantly Western discourses of race and gender and their portrayal in the mass media.
  • Interrogate the role that mass/global/transnational media play in the construction of a shared concept of ‘modernity’.
  • Apply anthropological analysis ‘at home’ and to global (including Western) ‘popular culture’.
  • Read narratives critically, including the set readings for the course.
  • Construct   -- and become comfortable giving – presentations that present their own point of view.
  • Formulate their own question, assemble a bibliography, and produce an essay that is original.

Classes (2 hours)

Wk 1                    Lecture and discussion

Wks 2-8              Student Presentations and discussion

Wk 1                    Lecture - Narrating difference: modernity, gender, and race.  Metropolis (1927, Fritz Lang, 2010 restored version)

Wk 2                   The Final Girl: Halloween (1978, John Carpenter)

Wk 3                   Monstrous Others: Alien/Aliens (1979, Ridley Scott/1986, John Cameron)

Wk 4                   A Cyborg Manifesto? Blade Runner (watch the 1992 version, Ridley Scott)

Wk 5                   White Saviours in Foreign Places: Dune (1984, David Lynch/2021, Denis Villeneuve)

Wk 6                   Nightmares Made Flesh? Blade (1998, Steve Norrington)

Wk 7                   Possession?: Get Out (2017, Jordan Peele)

Wk 8                    Alternative Futures: Black Panther (2018, Ryan Coogler)



Prof. Inge Daniels 




This option explores key anthropological debates about the production, circulation and consumption of commodities through the lenses of markets, religion, and travel. Drawing on ethnographic examples from around the world, but with a particular focus on Asia, the aim is to critically examine contentious issues surrounding commodification, globalisation and cross-cultural circulation. Topics discussed include the exchange of commodities within gift economies; the impact of commercialisation upon spiritual forms; tourism and notions of authenticity; money, markets and the ethics of global trade; infrastructures of care, disposal and the second-hand economy. All these themes will be explored through a mixture of written texts, photography and film.

The course runs on Tuesdays in Hilary term (but our first, introductory meeting will be on the Thursday or Friday in week 0). It consists of the following two components:

  1. 10.00-12.00 - presentations: key readings will be presented by one group followed by discussion
  2. 13.00-15.00 - film screening: a second group will review a film and lead the discussions after a public viewing.

Students planning to take this option should make sure they can attend both parts of the class.

The course is designed around intense, interactive group work; the idea is NOT to work as individual units (as is usually the case), but for both groups to meet beforehand to discuss the key issues presented in the readings and films, and then decide how to present these ideas to the rest of the group (in an interesting way!). The remaining students are expected to submit a practical assignment online and post on the OiM blog (http://objectsinmotion.ingedaniels.com/).

The course is capped at 10 MSc/MPhil students (7 places are guaranteed for the SA degree and 3 for the VMMA degree). If necessary, students will be selected by a lottery draw.

NOTE: This is a screen-free class (only pen and paper for note-taking, except in special circumstances)

Course Summary

Week 0: Introduction

Week 1: Commodities and Gift Economies

Week 2: Capitalism, Money and Markets

Week 3: Religion, Cosmologies and Commerce

Week 4: Politics, Place and Product

------Exhibition Visit London ----------

Week 5: Challenging Commodification 1: Infrastructures of Care

Week 6: Challenging Commodification 2: The Morality of Consumption

Week 7: Challenging Commodification 3: Crisis, Magic and Occult Economies

Week 8: Challenging Commodification 4: Waste, Materials, and Second-hand Economies


The course is examined by: (1) a 4,000 word long essay, written to a title selected from a list provided and (2) a 1,000 word visual essay for which students apply anthropological concepts discussed in class to a topical or historical event depicted in one of the films shown in the OiM film Programme.




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 Tuesdays from 11 to 1pm. 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.           Colonialism and legal borrowing

              6.           Human rights: theory and practice

              7.           Law in the Islamic world

              8.           Legalism reconsidered: morality and aspiration


Prof Roger Goodman


Eight lectures in Hilary Term; 10 classes in Hilary and Trinity Term

Examination: One-week timed-essay in TT (2 x 2,500 words)

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.



Dr Javier Lezaun


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 
Week 1: Studying Laboratories

Week 2: Experiments

Week 3: Technologies in the field

Week 4: Actor-network theory

Week 5: Cyborgs, robotics, human-machine interaction

Week 6: Health, risk and the environment

Week 7: Postcolonical technoscience

Week 8: Making a difference: STS collaborations



Prof Laura Rival


The purpose of this course is to introduce students to some of the most debated issues within anthropology today regarding the place, role, and functions of ‘Nature’ in relation to ‘Society.’ A wide range of ethnographic materials will be used to illustrate how diverse cultures and societies as well as theorists approach the relations that groups entertain with the biophysical world at various scales and over time. By familiarising students with contrasting environmental knowledge practices, the course will foster a better understanding of how monist and dualist approaches differ. Last, but not least, the course aims to help students navigate the manifold theoretical approaches currently being proposed to make sense of accelerated climate change and guide collective action in the face of unprecedented ecological and environmental crises.

Teaching arrangements:

This option course is taught by weekly lectures and classes during Hilary Term (Wednesdays 10:00­-12:30), Basement Seminar Room, 51 Banbury road. Students are expected to have read assigned materials for each lecture topic. Class presentations will be assigned in Week 2.

Course assessment:

The course is assessed by means of formative and summative coursework. Assessment procedures will be on line with that of other options offered at ISCA. More details will be given to those who sign up for the course.


Dr Jessica Omukuti and Dr Javier Lezaun

Jessica.omukuti@insis.ox.ac.uk, Javier.lezaun@insis.ox.ac.uk   

Seminars over 8 weeks in Hillary Term, Assessment: 5000-word essay

This option will explore the origins of climate justice and how it is represented in contemporary policy debates and actions on climate change. It will be based on seminar sessions that will draw out the history of debates on climate justice through an anthropological perspective. First, this will involve a discussion of the natural and social science of climate change, where students will be encouraged to reflect on key Anthropological perspectives that discuss the nature of climate change, its drivers and proposed solutions. The course will also involve engagement with concepts on climate justice, how these are applied to in different policies and regions to respond to climate change. The course will see learners engage with both theoretical and empirical material on climate change and will enable them to develop their own views on how anthropologists can contribute towards the climate change and climate justice debates.

Climate change is an everyday reality for communities worldwide and climate justice concerns are central to global discussions on pathways for climate action. Anthropologists have played a key role in advancing knowledge on climate change, with Anthropological knowledge contributing critical insights on how communities in different parts of the world are affected and responding to climate change. This optional course offers Social Anthropology students an opportunity to critically engage with literature and thinking on climate change and climate justice. The teaching methods employed in the course will also enable the students to situate their learning within current debates on climate action and climate justice.

The course is divided into three parts, each with 2-4 seminars.  Part 1 (weeks 1 and 2) will focus on an introduction to the science of climate change and discuss the historical basis of climate justice. Part 2 (weeks 3 and 4) will discuss and apply normative theories of climate justice to global climate governance. Part 3 (weeks 5-8) will feature seminar discussions on how climate (in)justice is featured in responses to climate change.

Week 1: Introduction to the science of climate change.

Week 2: The social science and history of climate change.

Week 3: Normative theories of climate justice.

Week 4: The governance of climate change: The UNFCCC and climate finance.

Week 5: The net zero framework for climate action.

Week 6: Climate justice in net zero.

Week 7: Anthropology of climate justice movements.

Week 8: What next for climate (in)justice?



Dr Ina Zharkevich


This option course offers a postgraduate-level introduction to core themes in the anthropology of violence and social suffering. Drawing on insights from political and medical anthropology and linking ethnographic studies of social suffering/violence to critical social theory, it will explore how violence and social suffering are produced, experienced and represented, both individually and socially, paying particular attention to the relationship between individual bodies and the body politic, between the self, state and society. It will engage with some of the major debates in anthropological theory, including on body and embodiment; power and domination; state; sovereignty and politics of life; symbolic/structural/everyday violence. The course will foreground the question around the definition of violence, historically and cross-culturally: why distinct acts are constituted as violence (for instance, suicide, terrorism vs. self-sacrifice, male circumcision vs. female genital mutilation, assault sorcery vs. hate speech) and the role of culture, power and the politico-jural order in defining what acts count as violence.

Through in-depth reading of key ethnographies (and visual material, documentaries), the module will foreground questions of researching (methods), writing and representing violence, which will help student to design their own research projects as well as critically engage with academic literature and media sources on violence in the world of today.

The course will run over eight weeks, comprised of a one-hour lecture followed by a one-hour seminar. There will be at least two film screenings, one of them compulsory. Students will be required to write one formative piece of work, a 1000-word book review on one of the ethnographies of violence. For each class, students will be required to read key readings (two to three):  all students will be asked to pre-circulate short responses towards the required readings on the online group, which will then forms the basis for the discussion in class.

Summative assessment will consist of consists of a 1,000-word book review (selected from a list of designated ethnographies), counting for 20% of the mark, and one long, 4,000-word essay counting for 80% of the mark (selected from a list of nine questions).

Option outline:

1.‘Dark anthropology’ vs. ‘anthropology of the good’: why study violence and suffering?

2. Everyday violence and the embodiment of structures of domination

3. Gendered body: ‘politics of the womb’ in war and peace

4. New wars and disembodied warfare: can conflict become a normal way of life?

5.‘On the banality of evil’: how do ‘ordinary’ people turn to violence?

6. States of terror and exception: Is the ‘camp’ the only space of exception?

7. Violence and memory: how  is violence remembered and/or forgotten?

8. Ethical dilemmas of researching and writing violence: images of violence as a case study



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. It will be taught largely through class presentations by students.

Assessment: one 4,000-word essay, due by the beginning of Trinity Term, plus one 1,000-word book review that compares and contrasts two different ethnographic monographs.

  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



Prof David Gellner and Dr Uma Pradhan
david.gellner@anthro.ox.ac.uk, uma.pradhan@area.ox.ac.uk

South Asia as a region is hugely diverse – religiously, politically, culturally, and historically. The nation-state and most of the provincial units that make it up today (with the exception of Nepal) came into existence only in 1947 or even (as in the case of Bangladesh) later. This means that methodological nationalism (i.e. treating nation-state units as given and unquestionable social facts and as having deep historical roots) is even more inappropriate than in some other parts of the world.

As a region South Asia has given us many fine ethnographic monographs as well as influential anthropological theory (Dumont, Appadurai, Das, Chatterjee). We will read widely across contemporary anthropological and other sources, alongside some of what were formerly considered canonical readings. The aim is to develop an understanding both of social trends within South Asia itself and of diverse traditions of studying them, including a critical perspective on ways of conceptualizing the region. It will be taught largely through class presentations by students.

Assessment: one 4,000-word essay, due by the beginning of Trinity Term, plus one 1,000-word book review that compares and contrasts two different ethnographic monographs.

Week 1: What and where is South Asia?

Week 2: Tribes and ‘tribals’

Week 3: Villages, castes, Dalits

Week 4: Ritual healing and alternative medical systems

Week 5: Marriage, love, family, and queer politics in South Asia

Week 6: Education and the new middle class

Week 7: Politics, the state, and violence

Week 8: Diasporas and homelands



Dr Lena Rose


Religion plays a major role in migrant experiences, motivations, identifications, belonging, and reception, but is often not well understood by migration scholars and policy-makers from secular traditions. The aim of this option course is to explore how religion is mobilised by migrants and societal actors in host societies, as well as managed by states confronted with migration processes – and how religious traditions themselves are transformed by migration. We will explore migrant spiritualities and the influence of religion on migrant agency, as well as religious notions of hospitality, including faith-based refugee assistance. We further ask how religion contributes to the formation of transnational collective identities beyond other types of belonging and examine the role of religion in different notions of ‘integration’ and (especially secularised Western) states’ management of religious diversity. We also explore how religion intersects with gender in the migratory process. Taking a critical perspective, we will come to appreciate the powerful interplay between different universalisms and their modes of inclusion and exclusion in the light of human migration.

The sessions take a from-the-ground-up, ethnographic perspective to enhance our understanding of the lived experiences of migrants, that is complemented by theoretical considerations of different disciplines, including religious studies, anthropology, socio-legal studies, international relations, and political theology. The course draws on a broad array of case studies that include different (and sometimes overlapping) migration experiences of forced and labour migration from diverse areas in the global North and South.

At the end of the course, students will have substantive overview of the potential of religion to undergird, transform, inspire, or complicate migrants’ experiences and states’ responses to migration. They will have the ability to critically analyse, and contribute to, major contemporary debates regarding integration, imperialism, terrorism, citizenship, and race as they intersect with religion.

The course topics are structured as follows:

Week 1: Religion, Secularity, and Post-Secularity

Week 2: Migrant Spiritualities

Week 3: Mission

Week 4: Religious Diasporas

Week 5: Faith-Based Humanitarian Ais and Religious Notions of Hospitality

Week 6: Religion and Asylum

Week 7: Religion and Integration

Week 8: Gender, Religion, Migration



Prof. Madeleine Reeves


Option course for:

MSc Migration Studies

MSc/MPhil Social Anthropology

MSc Refugee and Forced Migration Studies

Time and temporality are intrinsic to the ways that migration is governed, lived, and discussed in public discourse. Time is implicated in administrative categories, bureaucratic determinations and the design of immigration rules. It is integral to the granting and revocation of rights, to the control of migrant labour, to systems of punishment for those who ‘overstay,’ and to state and popular imaginations of ‘development’ through transfers of remittances and expertise. Time is also central to the way that migration is experienced, from the challenges of synchronizing bodily and bureaucratic routines in contexts of economic or legal precarity to the demands of waiting—sometimes indefinitely—for the realisation of future life projects or for an absent family member to return.              

This 8-week course provides an advanced introduction to this vibrant field of scholarly enquiry. It is informed by two guiding principles: first, the value of integrating broadly political economic and phenomenological approaches, attentive to the ways in which the bureaucratic (dis)organisation of time in contemporary systems of migration shape the very rhythms and textures of life; second, the importance of exploring these themes comparatively and transversally, across diverse scales, forms of migration, and ethnographic settings. To this end, students are encouraged to read both for breadth and depth, recognising the centrality of ethnographic monographs to anthropological exposition and critique.

Each week a keyword serves as a starting point for thinking theoretically about time and temporality in relation to migration: impermanence, limbo, transit, hope, endurance, disjuncture, deferral and emergency. Weeks 1-3 focus broadly on the temporal governance of migration; weeks 4-8 foreground the lived time(s) of migration. Seminar discussion during weeks 1-7 is organised around close discussion of 2 key readings and rotating student presentations on the week’s core ethnographic monograph, selected chapters of which will be read by all students. The course will culminate in week 8 with a class debate on migration, crisis and critique, particularly as these pertain to the 2015 ‘refugee crisis’ in Europe and the ongoing reconfiguration of mobilities in the context of the covid-19 pandemic.

1.           Impermanence: Temporariness and the governance of migrant labour

2.           Limbo: Temporal traps and the production of migrant illegality

3.           Transit and finitude: the tempi of migrant journeys

4.           Hope: Migration, imagination, and future-making

5.           Endurance: Immobility and the work of waiting

6.           Disjuncture: managing discrepant temporalities

7.           Deferral: Migration, care, and the time(s) of social reproduction

8.           Emergency: Migration, crisis and critique


Dr Di Wu


Option Course for

  • MSc Migration Studies
  • MSc/MPhil in Social Anthropology
  • MSc Refugee and Forced Migration Studies

Course Overview

This course examines the relationships between ethics and mobility and explores the theoretical issues arising at the intersection of the Anthropology of Morality and Migration Studies. Particularly, contrasting with the dominant political-economic analysis on mobility, we will take the moral perceptions and ethical narratives of people on the ground seriously. On the one hand, we aim to unpack how ethics influence people’s decisions for and trajectories of migration; on the other hand, how mobility shapes people’s understandings and cultivations of ethical self.

This option is research-focused. Academic investigations will draw heavily – although not exclusively - from ethnographic materials on the recent yet controversial topic of China-Africa engagements. Specifically, we will start the course with discussions on how mobility is practised as an ethical project, especially concerning autonomy and freedom. Then, we move on to historicise the ethical dimensions of mobility via the lens of (post)socialist discourse and legacies (ethics to be one) on current China-Africa interactions. Furthermore, we will critically evaluate the issue of ‘ethics across borders’; i.e. how ethical practices could facilitate/hinder intercultural integrations. We will also explore the challenges and potential contributions that the ‘feminist ethics’ - ethics of care (in the form of humanitarianism in particular) – may bring to the study of mobility.

This course is primarily grounded in anthropology. Background knowledge in the Anthropology of Ethics would be helpful but not essential.

Format and Expectations

Sessions will include a brief lecture element on each theme along with a 90-minute seminar discussion with student presentations. You are expected to come to the class having read the week’s readings and formulated two questions that you would like to propose for in-class discussions.

You will join forces with another peer (i.e. a team of two) for presentations. Depending on the size of the cohort, you may need to present twice for the whole term. During the first session, you will be able to sign up for the presentations. Note: while preparing for the presentations, please do not merely summarise the readings. The purpose of presentations is to elaborate consequential observations or tensions that may emerge from the readings. In other words, make an argument!


  • Formative assessment: Starting in Week 2, all students are required to write one formative essay each of 1,500 words (excluding bibliography) in relation to the theme of the signed-up week. Feedbacks will be provided on the essay in the form of written comments and an indicative mark (Distinction – Merit – Good Pass – Pass).
  • Summative assessments: Students will be assessed via 3 short, timed essays, following the formative essay format of 1,500 words, written over 30 hours at the beginning of Trinity term. Students will be asked to answer 3 questions from a pool of questions that draw on both options courses that you will have taken during the term, and your work will be assessed according to the Exam Conventions criteria for exams.

Course Structure

Week 1: Migration as an Ethical Project

Week 2: Socialist Virtues and its Impact on Sino-African interactions

Week 3: Ethics across Borders

Week 4: Membership, Dependency and Work Ethics

Week 5: Practising Care in Africa I: Medical Care

Week 6: Practising Care in Africa II: Buddhist Care

Week 7: Humanitarianism and China Aid

Week 8: The Ethnographic Stance



Dr Manolis Pratsinakis


There is limited availability for this option

The course is an introduction to contemporary approaches to diaspora and transnationalism in Migration Studies. It explores the sociocultural, political and economic aspects of transnational mobility and diasporic formations in an interconnected, post-colonial world. We will discuss the challenges of conceptualising, interpreting and contextualising new forms of transnational mobility and diasporic formations, but also ask if they really are new phenomena. This leads to a critical re- assessment of concepts such as ethnicity, place, space and context, and to reflections on methodological nationalism in social science research on migration. In addition, we will focus on the lived experiences of migrants, refugees and other diasporic people, and ask how they make sense of mobility and displacement and construct senses of belonging. The course is structured around key topics such as identity; gender; transnational mobilisation; diasporas and development; memory and home-making, among others. Adopting a historically- sensitive lens, the course draws on ethnographic examples and case studies from across the world.

At the end of the course, students will have an understanding of current debates about diasporas and transnational approaches to migration and mobility within anthropology and sociology, as well as their historical underpinnings and antecedents. In addition to being able to reflect critically on literature in these fields, students will also gain an understanding of how it contributes to wider social science debates and social policy.

Week 1 |            Transnationalism, context, and the field

Week 2 |            Conceptualising diasporas

Week 3 |            Home: Transnational practices, hybrid identities and hegemonies of nationhood

Week 4 |            Home(land): diasporic memory, homecomings and contestations of belonging

Week 5 |            Gendered hierarchies and transnational families

Week 6 |            Diaspora engagement and development

Week 7 |            Movement: Transnational mobility and transnational mobilisation

Week 8 |            Transnational futures