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First Semester Courses

Course Goals

This course is the first step towards professionalising you as an Ethnographer. The primary goal is to facilitate the development of a dissertation proposal and to equip you to do field Research during the June-July study break. Honours students can expect to conduct four (at a minimum three) weeks of Fieldwork immediately after exams and use the second half of the study break for writing the chapters that will make up your dissertation.

There are three broad goals for the course. By the end of the semester you are expected to:

1. be able to demonstrate project development skills: complete a research proposal for implementation during the June-July study break;

  • develop a comprehensive literature survey on which to base your dissertation;
  • be familiar with database and archival resources that are relevant to your Research;
  • know how to develop a problem statement and a consequent argument.

2. be in dialogue with others working in a similar field:

  • have supportive working relationships with those pursuing similar areas of study;
  • have had several meetings with your supervisor;
  • be researching knowledge in disciples and fields related to your topic.

3. be able to locate your work in relation to key ideas in Social Anthropology:

  • understand key Theoretical Approaches in social anthropology and be able to locate your work in terms of them;
  • be able to critique the concept of objectivity and Mathematical Reasoning in the social sciences and be able to argue where and why ethnographic research methods are more appropriate;
  • have a working knowledge of ethical issues in Ethnographic Research;
  • be able to link Theoretical Approaches with specific methodologies.

SAN1015F Words, Bones, Deeds and Things

Welcome to the SAN1015F course which is a combined introduction to the interrelated disciplines of Archaeology, Linguistics and Social Anthropology. It is administered by the Department of Social Anthropology.


SAN2026S Medical Anthropology

Medical Anthropology is a relatively young but fast-expanding branch of anthropology, Medical Anthropology can be described briefly and broadly as the study of social and cultural beliefs and practices associated with the origin, recognition and management of health and illness. It is concerned with the different ways in which individuals and groups understand health and ill-health. This course encompasses both Sociocultural and Biocultural approaches to examine the multiple human experiences of health and affliction. The course is designed as an introduction to the major theoretical schools and critical issues of contemporary medical anthropology. In it we explore the relationships between culture, health, and illness and diverse sociocultural and political economic perspectives on disease and health. The production of Biomedical Knowledge, symbolism in medical systems, ‘traditional’ healing, religious healing rituals, anthropology of HIV/AIDS and other epidemics, the human body, and human sexuality, and Medical Pluralism are some of the issues covered in the course.


SAN3014F The Challenge of Culture

The course has two central and inter-linked aims. The first is to tackle the intellectual challenge of understanding ‘Culture’, a concept that many Anthropologists treat as central to the discipline. The second is to engage with the various ways that culture is used in a wide range of Political-Economic Endeavours by social actors and Academics other than Anthropologists. We address the first aim by examining, in historical context, the ways anthropologists have conceptualised and theorized culture. One such relates to the post-colonial and globalised situations of the late 20th and early 21st centuries, characterised by the flexible (im)mobility of people, things, ideas, images and desire. It is primarily here that we address our second aim. We consider the challenges that face people as they claim and/or are claimed by culture, and ask what these claims mean for the idea of culture as understood by anthropologists and by those who use the term. An important concern of the Course as a whole is the relationship between popular and academic Anthropological (and other) concepts of culture.


SAN4000F Research Methods

Anthropology is the study of social life in all its complexities, vagaries, and unpredictabilities. It is the study of the way that curious thing called ‘the social’ both shapes and is shaped by such diverse features of life as Economics; Climate; notions of History; by the availability of food and water; questions of health; by architecture; landscape; and bodiliness, and so on. Anthropology, more so than other disciplines, is defined by a particular method of work Ethnography – careful data gathering that never presumes the answer to a question, and does not assume that it has even asked the right questions until the social context has been thoroughly understood. Ethnographic Fieldwork, more than any other data gathering strategy, enables us to find out what processes are affecting people, whether in a horse racing club, a stokvel, an HIV clinic, a farm, synagogue, refugee camp or charismatic church. In doing fieldwork we are interested in the processes and connections that often elude other kinds of Research (questionnaires, internet research, interviews, remote sensing etc) because so much of everyday life and experience is invisible, unspoken, and perhaps unspeakable.

Because Anthropology is about understanding the connectedness of everyday life, Anthropological Work is by definition multi-disciplinary. As an anthropologist your work might lead you to further research on botany, archeology, astronomy, policy, geomatics, economics, history, cartography, education, medicine, media, security, and many others. But as an anthropologist, you will ask questions about the kinds of knowledge that are being presented as truth within a discipline, and to ask questions about the social contexts in which those truths are given, and in which contexts they may or may not apply. You might use a range of research methods, including interviewing, remote sensing, surveying, rapid appraisal techniques and participatory approaches, among many other methods, while proceeding with fieldwork. What makes an anthropologist is the expertise of gathering data by being alongside people, participating in what they do in order to understand more than the readily said; more than the easily observable. That expertise is what this course aims to develop.


SAN4012F The Anthropology of Gender and Sexuality

Anthropological Theories of society and culture and Ethnographic evidence have indicated that the taken-for-granted social categories that enable us to navigate our everyday worlds are deeply rooted within political and cultural grammars of identity and power located within specific time and space.

Theoretical frameworks discussed within the course draw from an international range of research and scholarship. The contextual focus of much ‘case study’ work will be drawn from Southern Africa, Nevis, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, the Bahamas and the United States. Theoretical sections of the course explore key contemporary debates on the relationship between gender, ‘sex’ and sexuality, locating some current arguments within colonial approaches to ‘settler’ identities and values, and others within more complex configurations of debates on rights, ideology, and globalised modernities.

Dr Henderson will convene most of the course. In two seminars, Professor Faye Harrison from the Department of Anthropology and African American Studies from the University of Florida will explore the entanglement of gender, race, rights, and a global regime of stratified sexuality. She will draw on a set of ethnographic case studies highlighting aspects of gendered and sexual subjectivity and agency conditioned by historically- contingent forces of racialization. Dr Henderson will focus on ethnographic work from southern Africa, and in particular will explore everyday practices and gender ideologies that inform the transmission of HIV/AIDS. Readings for the course will be available in a course reader.


SAN5012F Medical Anthropology

This MA Graduate Course explores the discipline of medical anthropology through a number of key Ethnographic Monographs and emerging theoretical perspectives on the body in relation to social suffering, pain, madness, and political economy. For each week, several key texts are listed that must be read by all course participants before the particular session. A number of supplementary and optional readings are also provided.

The overall theme of the course concerns the intertwining of body, sociality and illness. Into each weekly slot ethnographic work from different parts of South Africa relating to people’s experience of living with HIV/AIDS is included. Theoretical themes in medical anthropology are thus discussed alongside ethnographic work to inspire students in the importance of a detailed revisiting of local worlds. Four major themes around which students and the lecturers will hold discussions have to do with:

  1. Interrogating the different styles in which medical anthropologists write and interact with their subjects. Taking embodiment as a key paradigm in the discipline, we will read Ethnography that wrestles with questions of emotion, objectivity, and intervention. We will explore how theories of embodiment link with the phenomenological experience of illness and the experience of phenomenological forms of healing.

  2. Secondary themes have to do with: the social allocation or attribution of “madness” to individuals, and yet the embodied, visceral manifestations of mental affliction; the often marginalization of the afflicted, and the ways in which such states are sometimes linked to social, economic and political histories. The broad-based use of Pharmaceuticals as a means of social control and marginalization is explored in relation to mental illness.

  3. The importance of the evocation of the past, of an appropriation of histories in giving meaning to the outbreak of illness will be explored. We will look at how these contribute to local explanations that are far broader than those narrowly defined in biomedical or physical terms.

  4. The symbolic fecundity of the body through which ordered bodies and social worlds are described, and the ways in which illness disrupts notions of the “proper” body will be considered. Within the play of disruptions of the body image and of social relations that illness precipitates, ideas of pollution will become salient in explanations given for illness and how it is experienced.


SAN5024F Tradition, Science and Environment

Conflicts over knowledge and “the real” are notoriously difficult to resolve. Focusing on debates over environmental knowledge, this course offers the opportunity to explore the contribution of Anthropological Research to science studies, political ecology, critiques of the nature-culture divide, and the arguments of indigenous knowledge movements.