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Review of the class

Review of the class

Ryan Schram

October 30, 2017


Mills 169 (A26)

Available at http://anthro.rschram.org/1002/13.1

With help from Terry Woronov, Emma Young and the ANTH 1002 tutors.

Note: These lecture notes are from 2015, and will be revised for the 2017 class.

An introduction

This class is an introduction to cultural anthropology. Anthropology is a study of humanity in all of its diversity.

Cultural anthropology examines this diversity through the lens of culture.

To understand many contemporary issues, you need to understand culture and how culture influences how people think and act.

Anthropology, the major

Major requirements are:

  • ANTH 1002 and 1001 (next offered in Summer 2014 and Sem 1 2015).
  • At least one unit (six credits) in each of the areas of the major, regional, thematic, and theoretical-methodological.
  • A total of 36 credits of senior units (6 senior units).
  • One of the 3000-level units, Reading Ethnography or Contemporary Theory.

Students intending to take honours must have a 70 average and also take both 3000-level units.

Your major pathway commences here: http://sydney.edu.au/arts/anthropology/undergrad/major.shtml

Thinking about culture

Culture is a system of ideas and values which people acquire from their social environment. It shapes how they see, think and act. It surrounds the person. Culture is like water for a fish.

  • What is normal for me, is strange for someone from another culture.
  • To understand someone's cultural system, we have to see it from their viewpoint, not ours.

Learning to see culture is hard

Many people make a few big mistakes about the concept of culture

  • “Everyone else is influenced by their culture, but I am not.”
  • “Most cultures of the world have already died out, for better or worse.”
  • “Every culture eventually loses its distinctive traditions and becomes modern.”

All of these ideas are wrong.

Culture is everywhere and everything

Anthropologists believe everything we do is determined by our implicit cultural background.

  • Gift economies are a type of culture. Capitalism is another type of culture.
  • Basket-weaving is a cultural practice. Post-Fordist flexible labor is a cultural practice.
  • Wearing a headscarf is a cultural practice. Wearing sunglasses is a cultural practice. Wearing a T-shirt is a cultural practice. Buying secondhand clothes is a cultural practice.

Put another way

As Terry Woronov said in her 2013 review of this class:

“Globalization does not wipe out difference–it produces new dynamics that sustain difference, and enables the ongoing reproduction of difference.”

And another thing

Terry also says:

“Globalization and many kinds of social changes are made possible by the fact that we all live in societies which have a cultural coherence.”

The themes of this class

  • Circulation
  • Commodification
  • Production
  • Modernity
  • Moral and utilitarian domains


Circulation: If the world is globalizing, what are the things that move from place to place? What roles do they play in shaping and giving an order to the lives of people in specific places, and how do the structures of local societies influence global circulation.


Commodification: What is the commodity? If the exchange of commodities is not a natural law, then what are the other kinds of economic systems besides capitalism? How is capitalism instituted and established? What kinds of tensions and contradictions exist within capitalist systems; that is, where can we see the persistence of alternative kinds of value in the market-based society?


Production: If labor is a commodity, what kind of a social relationship does a worker have to a boss? If production can be globalized in the shift from Fordism to post-Fordism, what changes in this social relationship enable this to happen?


Modernity: Most people think modernity is easy to define. It's the opposite of tradition. Well, we hope we have convinced you that it's much more complicated. You cannot define modernity as an either-or proposition.

If that is so, and modernity is not simply progress, then we must ask what it is. What are the kinds of social relationships and forms of personhood that we can find in the global city, in the post-Fordist factory, in churches or mosques, or in the shopping centre or movie theatre? What are the cultural traits that most people call 'modern'?

Moral and utilitarian domains

Moral and utilitarian domains: Talking about modernity, capitalism and globalization often feels like a morally-charged debate. Everyone wants to take a stand. What stances do people take? (Consider the polar opposites that our culture teaches us to use to define modernity.) Based on readings about actual people's lives, we saw that these stances actually represent different spheres of life, or moral and utilitarian domains. And based on these readings, we also saw that most people really live in between moral and utilitarian domains and constantly have to manage the conflicts and make compromises.

Everything is mixed

Categories are not dichotomous; Many opposites are actually co-present.

  • Tradition / modernity
  • Developed / undeveloped
  • Custom / rationality
  • Gift / commodity
  • Love / money

The snake and the mongoose

Once upon a time there was a snake and a mongoose…

Many opposites - values, ideas, institutions - are not binary, either-or. They are contradictions and they exist in an ambiguous tension which is both a source of conflict but also creativity.

Over to you

What questions do you have for me?

What items do you want me to present on Wednesday?


Lacock, Hennie. 2013. Cobra and Mongoose. Caters New Agency. http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/photo/2013-10/29/132841640_11n.jpg.

A guide to the unit

1002/13.1.txt · Last modified: 2017/07/11 19:03 by ryans