History and Theory of Social Anthropology (ANTH 2650b)





This graduate proseminar explores the political economy of anthropological knowledge production. It examines anthropology’s relation to alterity and sociality in different historical contexts, in the colony and in the metropole, in the socialist East and the capitalist West, at the center and at the periphery. Anthropology has long been seen as a quintessentially “Western discourse” problematically aligned with the ideologies of power. Rather than approach the discipline as a unified whole, however, this seminar revisits key moments, figures, and events that demonstrate how important anthropological concepts emerged as expressions of—and reflections upon—complex historical conjunctures. Various attempts to conceptualize society, culture, race, hegemony, value, commodity fetishism, the state, ontology, and alterity have resonated with, but also beyond, their immediate contexts of theorization. Informed by a desire to de-center “the canon” (without losing sight, that is, of the effects of its normative centrality) or to decolonize the discipline, we pursue a set of theoretical and ethnographic detours through and around key anthropological moments and concepts, all along seeking to understand how idioms, objects, and eventsof theoretical and ethnographic attachment shape and are shaped by historical context. Thus, students are encouraged to think anthropologically about anthropology, its concepts, practices, potentialities, and futures. This presupposes not only reading texts closely but also identifying how the assigned readings resonate with one another; what potentialities they have for understanding the present and anticipating the future; and to how such potentialities are to be activated, pursued, actualized.

Syllabus.pdf158 KB