Anthropological Theory Syllabus

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 Anthropological Theory Syllabus
Spring 2022

Dr. Richard Chacon


Class meets virtually from 18:00 to 19:20 (Moscow time) on TUE & THU.

The course runs from TUE February 8 to THU March 3, 2022.

Final exam will be on MON March 7, 2022.

Required texts:

All reading materials will be provided by the instructor.

Course description and objectives

This course will cover all of the major past and present Anthropological theories with an emphasis on contemporary theoretical approaches (36% of all lectures focus on modern Anthropological Theory). Since none of these anthropological approaches developed in a vacuum, the course will examine the various socio-political and historical factors which shaped the development of all major theories. Therefore, students will gain a deep understanding of how and why the discipline of Anthropology emerged the way it did. Students will be able to articulate the role of theory in Anthropology. Students will also develop the ability to communicate effectively about the basic concepts and theoretical premises of Anthropology.


Grades will be based on the points earned on one final exam comprised of 4 essay questions (250 points each) worth a maximum of 1000 points.

Grade scale (out of 1000 possible points)

850-1000 = 5

650-849 = 4

500-649 = 3

499 or less = 2

Anthropological Theory topics

Lecture # 1 Historical Foundations of Anthropology

  • Herodotus
  • Polo
  • Fray Ramon Pané among the Taíno
  • Bernabe Cobo and the Inka Empire
  • Valladolid debate
    • Bartolome De Las Casas
    • Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda

Lecture # 2: Historical Foundations of Anthropology (continued)

  • Age of Enlightenment
  • Hobbs
  • Rousseau
  • Locke  
  • Montesquieu
  • Comte
  • Degenerationists
  • Progretionists
  • Linnaeus
  • Prichard
    • Monogenesis
    • Polygenesis
  • Darwin’s Evolution by Natural Selection

Lecture # 3: 19th Century Anthropological Theory

  • Tylor (Unilineal Evolution)
  • Morgan (Unilineal Evolution)

Lecture # 4: Early 20th Century Anthropological Theory)

  • Boas (Historical Particularism)
  • Kroeber (Superorganic)

Lecture # 5: 20th Century Anthropological Theory)

  • Benedict (Culture and Personality)
    • Modern day effects of Benedict’s work

Lecture # 6: 20th Century Anthropological Theory (continued)

  • Mead (Culture and Personality/Culture at a Distance).
    • Samoa and adolescent stress
    • Sex and gender roles
    • Modern day effects of Mead’s work
  • Criticism of Mead’s work

Lecture # 7: 20th Century Anthropological Theory (continued)

  • Steward (Multi-linear Evolution/Environmental Determinism/Cultural Ecology).
  • Rappaport (Cultural Ecology)
  • White (Technological Determinism)

Lecture # 8: Anthropological Functionalism

  • Malinowski (Functionalism).
  • Radcliff-Brown (Structural-Functionalism).

Lecture # 9: Emic Anthropological Theory   

  • Evans-Pritchard
  • Leví-Strauss (French Structuralism) 

Lecture # 10: Modern Anthropological Theory

  • Harris (Cultural Materialism)
  • Nietzsche (Foundations of Postmodernism)
  • Geertz (Symbolic/Interpretive Anthropology)

Lecture # 11: Modern Anthropological Theory (continued)

  • Nature/Nurture controversy revisited
    • Selectional Thinking
  • Wilson (Sociobiology)
  • Symons; Tooby and Cosmides (Evolutionary Psychology-EP)               

Lecture # 12: Modern Anthropological Theory (continued)

  • MacArthur and Pianka (Optimal Foraging Theory-OFT)
  • Dyson-Hudson and Smith (Human Behavioral Ecology-HBE)
  • Hawkes (Showing Off Hypothesis)
  • Hawkes and Bliege Bird (Costly Signaling)

Lecture # 13: Modern Anthropological Theory (continued)

  • Universal Human Nature?
    • Brown (Human Universals)
  • Roscoe (Social Signaling)

Lecture # 14: Modern Anthropological Theory (continued)

  • Janis (Groupthink)
  • Avoiding “Inattentional Blindness” while conducting contemporary anthropological research.
  • Minimizing theoretical bias while conducting contemporary anthropological research.
  • Ethical considerations to keep in mind while conducting contemporary anthropological research.
    • Decolonizing Anthropology
      • Engaged Anthropology

Final exam on: MON March 7, 2022.

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