Contemporary Anthropological Theory

We 4:30PM - 7:30PM / 4801 Wesley W Posvar Hall / CRN 29737
In this course, we review current theoretical trends in cultural anthropology. We read texts published within the past decade that represent various thematic and theoretical foci in anthropology including media, environmental, and medical anthropology, political economy, feminism, critical race studies, and queer studies. Although we mainly discuss ethnographies, we also read texts that are not written by anthropologists but are based on ethnographic fieldwork. These texts are important because they enable us to explore what makes an anthropological approach to the production of knowledge different from the ways in which other disciplines produce knowledge about contemporary conditions. Current ethnographies reveal that it is decreasingly justified to locate that difference in anthropology’s unique method of gathering data: ethnographic fieldwork. Many anthropologists complement fieldwork with analyses of textual sources. Similarly, many scholars in literature, linguistics, and media studies rely on fieldwork—interviewing people— as a key source of data. In this course, we will consider whether we could think of ethnographic fieldwork not only as method but also as theory. We ask how the “datalogical turn” (Clough at al. 2015) affects the ways we think about ethnographic fieldwork. Patricia Clough at al. note that as adaptive algorithmic architectures are learning to collect and analyze information about individuals and social trends with ever-greater efficiency, the observing and self-observing human subject is becoming an obstacle in the way of efficient data collection and analysis. We discuss how growing interest in big data might affect the identity of the discipline and the relationship of anthropology to other disciplines in the humanities and social sciences. An important goal of the course is to inspire students to reflect on what makes a dissertation project innovative (and thus fundable). Equally important, students are also encouraged to think about how to design research projects that scholars in various disciplines find appealing.

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Gabriella Lukacs

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Course Category

Category B: Disciplines and Intellectual Movements

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