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GEC3403 The Anthropology of Contemporary Culture: Home

Course Description

How to be human, and study humanity, in a world where worlds collide? This course introduces students to socio-cultural anthropology, the branch of anthropology that analyses and explains the diversity of peoples’ cultures and behaviors around the world. We will survey a broad range of topics of contemporary interest, such as gender, markets, media, tourism and globalization. Through these topics students will acquire an understanding of the commitments and sensibilities that inform contemporary socio-cultural anthropology. The underlying perspective the course adopts, and which the myriad materials point to, is the dynamic relation between cultural diversity and human nature. Accordingly, the course will give significant attention to fundamental philosophical and ethical questions in the human sciences. Is there an underlying human nature shared by all, e.g., are human beings primarily driven by self-interest and self-maximisation? Is there a singular and over-arching trajectory to human history? How does one account for cultural diversity? How do different cultures pose and resolve these sorts of questions? 

Recommended Books

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures

This book explores the clash between a small county hospital in California and a refugee family from Laos over the care of Lia Lee, a Hmong child diagnosed with severe epilepsy. Lia’s parents and her doctors both wanted what was best for Lia. However, while the doctors used anticonvulsant medication, Lia’s parents believed that symptoms were rooted in spiritual causes (soul loss) but was unable to communicate with the doctors due to their inability to speak English. Lia’s parents turned to traditional Hmong traditional remedies- herbal medicines, massage, and a Hmong shaman. Eventually, Lia had a massive seizure which led her to brain death and on the verge of death.

Conformity and Conflict: Readings in Cultural Anthropology

This book collects materials that demonstrated the nature of culture and its influence on people’s lives. More materials of Western, Northern American cultures are included. This fifteenth edition includes current information and articles by shifting its focusing to the more concerning issues of today. This book consists of 39 essays grouped into 10 parts- Culture and Ethnography; Language and Communication; Ecology and Subsistence; Economic Systems; Kinship and Family; Identity, Roles, and Groups; Law and Politics; Religion, Magic, and Worldview; Globalization; and Using and Doing Anthropology. With several student aids retained in this edition, this book makes understanding more friendly to the student audience.

Beyond the Body Proper: Reading the Anthropology of Material Life

This book collects 47 articles that range from classic works of social theory, history, and ethnography to more recent investigations into historical and contemporary modes of embodiment. This book consists of nine parts- An Emergent Canon, or Putting Bodies on the Scholarly Agenda; Philosophical Studies, or Learning How to Think Embodiment; Fundamental Processes, or Denaturalizing the Given; Everyday Life, or Exploring the Body’s Times and Spaces; Colonized Bodies, or Analyzing the Materiality of Domination; Desires and Identities, or Negotiating Sex and Gender; Bodies at the Margin, or Attending to Distress and Difference; Capitalist Production, or Accounting the Commodification of Bodily Life; Knowing Systems, or Tracking the Bodies of the Biosciences.

Gender Diversity: Crosscultural Variations

This book is an introduction to the subject of sex/gender diversity. It is aimed at students in gender studies, human sexuality, cultural anthropology, and gay, lesbian, and transgender studies. Chapter 1 to 7 are ethnographic chapters that observe the role of religious nature and secular performance in Native North America as it was documented in 1860-1930, India and Bangladesh, Brazil, Polynesia, contemporary Thailand and the Philippines, Indonesia, etc. Chapter 8 summarizes some of the more important concepts discussed in the ethnographic chapters and reiterates some issues described in this introduction, including an expanded section on globalization.

Culture and Truth: The Remaking of Social Analysis

Exposing the inadequacies of old conceptions of static cultures and detached observers, the book argues instead for social science to acknowledge and celebrate diversity, narrative, emotion, and subjectivity. This book argues that a sea change in cultural studies has eroded once-dominant conceptions of truth and objectivity. The agenda for social analysis has shifted to include not only eternal verities and law like generalizations but also political processes, social changes, and human differences. Social analysis must now grapple with the realization that its objects of analysis are also analyzing subjects who critically interrogate ethnographers.

Recommended Databases