Draft: Dates and a Few Details Subject to Change

Draft: Dates and a Few Details Subject to Change


Spring 2018

Draft: dates and a few details subject to change

Introduction to the Comparative Study of Human Societies

Class:Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday 11:00-11:50 (Block D)

Instructor:Janet McIntosh, Brown 226, email:

Office Hours:Mondays and Wednesdays 12:30-1:30, or by appointment

TAs:Celia Burke

Zhiduo (“Jude”) Cheng

Maya Dworsky

Adam Gamwell

Ashlee Moser

Jessica Priestley

Hui Wen

TA Offices:Office hours will be posted on LATTE. TA mailboxes are in Brown 223

Course description:

This course introduces the principal ideas and methods of social and cultural anthropology, the comparative study of human societies in all their remarkable complexity and diversity. A special mandate of the field is to discover new and less harmful ways of perceiving and understanding the different experiences, practices, histories, and values of people and communities from all parts of the world. This course is designed to examine the ways people within a range of societies—including African, New Guinean, Amazonian, Native American, South Asian, and U.S. American—make sense of and order their lives. It emphasizes that other possibilities, beyond the ones we are most familiar with, exist for solving problems and for achieving meaningful lives.

The course serves to introduce the beginning student to several primary domains of social-cultural anthropology, including the concepts of culture and fieldwork; kinship and social organization; economic systems; gender and sexuality; symbols and language; religion and ritual; death and mourning; sickness and healing; and cultural contact and change. The course will also consider the often pernicious effects of class, caste, ethnic, racial and gender hierarchies in human societies, and will explore the theme of globalization, from the period of European colonial expansion, when anthropology first came into being, to the current “global era,” when many societies have become increasingly part of a world-embracing political, economic and cultural community.

This course serves as a core requirement for majors in Anthropology and in International and Global Studies. It also satisfies the University Studies requirements for the School of Social Sciences and Non-Western and Comparative Studies.

Required readings: There are three required books, available at the bookstore and on reserve in the library. Additional articles will be available through LATTE; full citation information for each article is included in the syllabus. Films will be viewed in class (& most are not available on reserve). The books are:

  • Podolefsky, Aaron and Peter J. Brown, eds. 2012. Applying Cultural Anthropology: An Introductory Reader, 8th or 9th ed. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill. [Note: the 8th and 9th editions each have chapters the other one lacks. I will post all such chapters to latte as a backup so you will be covered regardless of which edition you have.]
  • Conklin, Beth. 2001. Consuming Grief: Compassionate Cannibalism in an Amazonian Society. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press.
  • Fadiman, Anne. 1997. The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures. New York, NY: Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux.

Course requirements:

2 short 4-5-page papers 40%. 30% of this grade will come from the paper with the highest grade; 10% from the lowest grade.

 Midterm exam (in-class, 50 mins)15%

 Final exam (3 hours)25%

2 observation exercises (5% each)10%

Attendance and participation 10% under typical circumstances, but note that the instructor reserves the right to weigh this portion of the grade much more heavily for students who are not fulfilling their end of the bargain by showing up. Egregiously low attendance rates may result in failing the class.

All written work must be submitted BOTH to a LATTE drop-box *and* in person in class or section (depending on which is scheduled on the due date of a paper). We often use the submission date/time stamp on LATTE as evidence that you have submitted on time. This comes in handy when there is any ambiguity about the paper copy, or when you don’t quite have time to print before rushing to get to class on time.

Papers: Topics for the two 4-5-page papers will be handed out at least two weeks before the work is due (due dates are specified in the syllabus).

Observation exercises: These will be two short (rather informal and engaging) exercises in which you will be asked to observe particular kinds of social-cultural practices in the environments surrounding you, and to write up brief descriptions and analyses of the phenomena, drawing on course concepts.

Late work: Work submitted after the due date and time will be lowered by one third of a grade for each day (or fraction of a day) late, except in documented cases of illness or emergency. Work submitted later than the start of class (at 11:00 am) will be considered one day late. As noted above, you are to submit all written work by LATTE as well as in person, and your LATTE submission will provide the critical evidence that you have submitted on time.

Exams: The midterm and final exams will consist of some IDs and multiple-choice questions, single-paragraph answers, and short essays. Both will be based on the readings, lectures and films. It will be difficult to do well on the exams if you do not keep up with both readings and lectures. The lectures often cover material not duplicated in the readings and crucial to the exams, so attending class is very important. Students do best on these exams if they go beyond accurate-yet-minimalist answers, offering expansive, detailed evidence of knowledge of the lectures and readings, and thoughtful engagement with these. Exam dates are specified in the syllabus.

Please note that if you miss an examination and you have not provided advance documentation of a legitimate reason for doing so, you will not receive credit for that exam. Set two alarm clocks if necessary!

Attendance and participation: 10% of your grade comes from your attendance and, where possible, thoughtful contribution to class discussions. Smaller discussion sections led by the TAs will sometimes be held during the regular class period, and participation in these discussions is particularly important. At the start of each lecture, please find your designated TA and they will note that you are in attendance. You’ll need to find your TA at the end of class if you come in late- and recurrent lateness is taken into consideration in this portion of your grade. As part of your academic honesty and good citizenship, please do not sign in for others in lecture. Your own designated TA will also take attendance at your small group discussion sections. As noted above, the instructor reserves the right to weigh this portion of the grade much more heavily for students who are not fulfilling their end of the bargain by showing up. Egregiously low attendance rates may result in failing the class.

Timely arrivals: Please be in your seats by 11:00 so that the lecture can begin on time and the instructor is not distracted by the door opening and closing, opening and closing, opening and… I can see you, you know! ;) As noted above, recurrent lateness counts against your attendance/participation grade.

Excused absence policy: Attendance is important to your grade and missing classes can make a dent, both in your final grade and your grasp of crucial lecture material important to the exams and essays. Each student, however, is allowed two excused absences. To apply for an excused absence, please email your TA at least 2 hours before class begins, documenting the reason for the absence to the best of your ability.

If you have to be absent beyond your 2 excused absences, the best way to mitigate this is to contact your designated TA (your discussion section leader, in other words) to arrange to write a 3-page response paper that summarizes and thoughtfully responds to the readings for the day in question. This make-up exercise must be handed in to your TA within a week of the missed class, barring exceptional circumstances. You should also get lecture notes from someone who was in class, given the central importance of the lecture content to the papers and exams.

Grading: The TA who leads your discussion section will grade your papers and observation exercises, whereas your exams will be graded by other TAs and the Professor. Professor McIntosh and your TA will jointly determine your attendance/participation grade based on your attendance and participation in section and the lecture meetings (obviously participation in section will be weighted more heavily because there will be much more opportunity to speak up).

Paper retrieval and re-write policy: Your TAs will endeavor to hand back your papers approximately 2 weeks after you hand them in. If you miss the class when your TA hands back the papers, it is your responsibility to contact your TA to retrieve your paper.

You have the option of re-writing your 4-5 page paper(s) if (and only if) you received a grade of a B- or below. (A “B/B-” split grade does not qualify for the rewrite option.) There is no rewrite option for the short observation exercises, which are graded on a check plus, check, check minus basis and count for only 5% of your grade each.

To qualify for the rewrite option, you must contact your TA via email within one week of receiving your paper grade, and submit to them a one-page discussion of how you plan to improve your paper in response to their comments. You must then establish a new deadline for submission of the rewrite, and that deadline must fall within one week of your sending that email. Your rewrite, then, must be submitted within two weeks of receiving your original paper grade. The original paper grade and the grade for the rewrite will be averaged to determine the ultimate grade that the paper receives. Please be aware that there is always the possibility that, in the unfortunate event that your rewrite goes off course, a rewrite could actually lower your ultimate paper grade—but this is unusual and hopefully will not be the case!

Academic Integrity and Plagiarism: You may only submit your own original work in this course; this includes exams, observations, written papers, and other media. Please be careful to cite precisely and properly the sources of all authors and persons you have drawn upon in your written work. Plagiarism (from published or internet sources, or from another student) is a serious violation of academic integrity. Please take special care to indicate the precise source of all materials found on the web, indicating the correct URL address of any material you have quoted or in any way drawn upon. Remember, you must indicate through quotations and citation when quoting from any outside source (internet or print). Your papers may be run through digital originality checking services such as Turnitin, though instructors have other means of recognizing plagiarism. Past instances of academic dishonesty in ANTH 1a (in both papers and exams) have been subject to formal reports to the Assistant Director of Student Rights and Community Standards.

Accommodations: If you are a student with a documented disability on record at Brandeis University and wish to have a reasonable accommodation made for you in this class, please furnish me (Professor McIntosh) with the appropriate documentation from Academic Services as soon as possible.

**Note: Except in cases of demonstrated need, laptops are not allowed in class—and please refrain from using hand-held communicative devices during class time. One of the responsibilities of course TAs is to remind students in lecture of this policy when it’s violated. Thank you!**

Schedule of classes and assignments:

I. Introduction to Cultural Anthropology

Wed Jan 10th —Introduction to the central tenets of cultural anthropology I

  • James Spradley, 2009. “Ethnography and Culture” [No need to pay close attention to the diagram on p. 12], in Conformity and Conflict: Readings in Cultural Anthropology, James Spradley and David W. McCurdy, eds.. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall. Pp. 7-14. (LATTE)
  • “Introduction: Understanding Humans and Human Problems” (ACA): pp. 1-4.

Thurs Jan 11th —Introduction II: Strange, familiar/Familiar, strange…and cultural relativism

  • Horace Miner, “Body Ritual Among the Nacirema” (ACA)
  • Laura Bohannan, “Shakespeare in the Bush” (ACA)
  • Bettina Shell-Duncan, “Why Some Women Choose to get Circumcised”
  • (Supplementary) Corinne A. Kratz, “Circumcision, Pluralism, and Dilemmas of Cultural Relativism” (ACA)
  • (Supplementary) Judith Allen, “Good Intentions- a review of ‘Genital Gutting and Transnational Sisterhood’”
  • (Supplementary) Carla Obermeyer, “Female Genital Surgeries: The Known, The Unknown, and the Unknowable”

Mon Jan 15th: MLK day; no classes

Wed Jan 17th — Fieldwork: culture shock, context, interpretation, subjectivity

  • Lila Abu-Lughod. 1986. “Guest and Daughter,” from Veiled Sentiments: Honor and Poetry in a Bedouin Society. Berkeley: University of California Press. (LATTE)

Thurs Jan 18th —Fieldwork: reflexivity and ethics

  • Claire E. Sterk, “Tricking and Tripping: Fieldwork on Prostitution in the Era of AIDS” (ACA)
  • Janet McIntosh, 2004. “Maxwell’s Demons: Disenchantment in the Field.” (ACA or link on LATTE)

II. Economic Systems

Mon Jan 22nd - Economic Systems 1: Intro to economic anthropology, and: Subsistence and social values among hunter-gatherers

  • Richard Lee, 2009. “The Hunters: Scarce Resources in the Kalahari,” in Conformity and Conflict: Readings in Cultural Anthropology, James Spradley and David W. McCurdy, eds.. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall. Pp. 88-103. (LATTE)
  • Jared Diamond, “The Worst Mistake in the History of the Human Race” (ACA)
  • Richard Lee, “Eating Christmas in the Kalahari” (ACA)

Wed Jan 24th- Discussion sections meet during class time

Thurs Jan 25th —Social change and economic systems

FILM IN CLASS: “N!ai: The Story of a !Kung Woman” (by John Marshall, Adrienne Miesmer & Sue Marshall Cabezas, 1980.)

Mon Jan 29th — Economic Systems II: Reciprocity and Possessive individualism

  • Janet McIntosh, 2009. “Blood Money in Motion,” Chapter 2 in The Edge of Islam: pp. 89-120; no need to read pp. 120-125. (LATTE)

Wed Jan 31st —Structure, agency, and consumption in capitalist systems

  • Phillipe Bourgois, 2009. “Poverty at Work: Office Employment and the Crack Alternative,” in Conformity and Conflict: Readings in Cultural Anthropology, James Spradley and David W. McCurdy, eds.. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall. Pp. 227-239. (LATTE)
  • Barbara Ehrenreich, 2001. “Introduction: Getting Ready,” and “Serving in Florida,” in Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America. New York, NY: Henry Holt and Company. Pp. 1-49. (LATTE)

III. Cultural Constructions of Kinship, Marriage, Gender, and Sexuality

Thurs Feb 1st - Introduction to kinship

  • Melvyn C. Goldstein, “When Brothers Share a Wife” (ACA)
  • Meredith F. Small, “How Many Fathers Are Best for a Child?” (ACA)


Mon Feb 5th - Gender I: Intro to the anthropology of gender; gender among the !Kung (otherwise known as Dobe Ju/’hoansi)

  • Marjorie Shostak, “Women and Men,” from Nisa: The Life and Words of a !Kung Woman: pp. 213-233. (LATTE)

Wed Feb 7th- Discussion Sections during class time

Thurs Feb 8th — Gender II: Gender and sexuality across cultures

  • Will Roscoe, “‘Strange Country This’: An Introduction to North American Gender Diversity” (ACA)
  • Donald Donham, 2002. “Freeing South Africa: The ‘Modernization’ of Male-Male Sexuality in Soweto,” in Anthropology of Globalization, eds. Jonathan Xavier Inda and Renato Rosaldo. Blackwell. (LATTE)

Mon Feb 12th — Constructing manhood, ritualizing male and female roles among Sambia

FILM EXCERPT IN CLASS: “Guardians of the Flutes: The Secrets of Male Initiation” (Gilbert Herdt, 1996)

  • Herdt, Gilbert. 1984. “Semen Transactions in Sambia Culture,” in Ritualized Homosexuality in Melanesia. Berkeley: University of California Press. Pp. 167-210. (LATTE)

Wed Feb 14th -- Gender III: Sociocultural change and models of womanhood

  • Scheper-Hughes, Nancy. “Mother’s Love: Death without Weeping,” in Conformity and Conflict: Readings in Cultural Anthropology, James Spradley and David W. McCurdy, eds.. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall. Pp. 176-186. (LATTE)
  • McIntosh, Janet. 2001. “‘Tradition’ and Threat: Women's Obscenity in Giriama Funerary Rituals,” in Gender in Cross-Cultural Perspective, Third Edition. Caroline B. Brettell, Caroline and Carolyn F. Sargent, eds.. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall. Pp. 409-422. (LATTE)

IV. Social Inequalities

Thurs Feb 15th — Social Inequality I: Status, inequality, caste, pollution beliefs

  • Sarah Lamb, 2005. “The Politics of Dirt and Gender: Body Techniques in Bengali India,” in Dirt, Undress and Difference: Critical Perspectives on the Body’s Surface. Adeline Masquelier, ed. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press. Pp. 350-383. (LATTE)


Mon Feb 19 - Fri Feb 23rd: FEBRUARY BREAK; NO CLASSES

Monday Feb 26th —Social Inequality II: Colonialism, race

  • Thiong’o, Ngugi Wa. 1997. “Detained: A Prison Writer’s Diary,” in Perspectives on Africa: A Reader in Culture, History, and Representation, Roy Richard Grinker and Christopher Burghard Steiner, eds.. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing. Pp. 613-623. (LATTE)
  • Marks, Jonathan. “Black, white, other: Racial Categories are Cultural Constructs Masquerading as Biology.” (LATTE)

Wednesday Feb 28th —Discussion sections during class time

Thursday March 1st –On “Othering”

FILM IN CLASS: “First Contact” (by Bob Connolly and Robin Anderson, 1983)

Monday March 5th --Speech styles, cultural collisions, and power dynamics

  • Keith Basso, “‘To Give up on Words’: Silence in Western Apache Culture” (ACA)
  • Tannen, Deborah. 1990. “Who’s Interrupting? Issues of Dominance and Control,” in You Just Don’t Understand. New York: Morrow. Pp. 188-215. (LATTE)

V. Ritual, Religion, and a Case Study on Islam and Social Hierarchy on the Kenya Coast