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Welcome to anthropology

Welcome to anthropology

Ryan Schram

ANTH 1001: Introduction to anthropology

Monday, February 24, 2020 (Week 1)

Available at http://anthro.rschram.org/1001/2020/1.1.1

Required readings

Thomas Hylland Eriksen “Anthropology: Comparison and Context,” in Small Places, Large Issues: An Introduction to Social and Cultural Anthropology (London: Pluto Press, 2015), 1–11.

Thomas Hylland Eriksen “A Brief History of Anthropology,” in Small Places, Large Issues: An Introduction to Social and Cultural Anthropology (London: Pluto Press, 2015), 12–31.

Acknowledgement of country

Let’s first pay acknowledgement to the Gadigal people of the Eora nation, on whose lands we are meeting, and on which this University of Sydney campus was built.

We pay respect to the knowledge, values, philosophy they created and pass on to the next generation.

More information about Aboriginal peoples of Sydney

Everyone who comes to the University of Sydney changes it

  • I have my own journey to higher education. What is your journey to your university?
  • Your path to university is different from everyone else’s. It’s what you can add to the conversations, and to the university.

You have arrived at anthropology. Welcome!

This class is an introduction to cultural anthropology, a field which aims to understand people’s societies, communities, and ways of life in all of their diversity.

This class will show you what questions anthropologists ask about being human, and what perspective they take on people’s communities and patterns of life.

A big question

Let’s get to know each other.

  • Stand up.
  • Look behind you, in front of you, and in your row.
  • Greet the people around you.
  • Ask each other this question:
  • Is there a single, universal human nature?
  • Listen to what people say. Do you hear anything that you do not expect to hear?

Anthropology has not resolved this question

This question has many different possible answers, and anthropologists continue to debate it.

In this class, I want everyone to listen to what different anthropologists say on this question, and I want everyone to decide where they stand on it.

The plan for the semester

The semester is divided into modules, each one focusing on a different question, and culminating in an assignment.

Module 1: What makes us human?

What do anthropologists, especially “cultural anthropologists,” study?

  • Where did anthropology come from?
  • What do anthropologists mean when they explain people’s lives in terms of culture?

Module 2: Can an anthropologist really leave her culture?

Anthropologists are famous for doing “fieldwork.” We think you have to go to the people you are interested in, talk to them, and develop relationships with them.

  • What does fieldwork involve?
  • What are we observing when we observe people’s behavior?
  • What does it tell us about being a member of a community?
  • What can go wrong?
  • Is this always a good idea?

This leads us also to think more about how anthropologists use the concept of culture to analyze and interpret what they learn about people

Module 3: Is family universal?

This module will introduce the study of kinship and family relationship in anthropology

  • It seems as though every society appears to have something that looks like a “family,” but each society defines who is a family member differently, and sometimes radically differently. Is having a family a human universal?
  • What if families were universal but this universality was not based in human biology? What would it be based on, then?

Module 4: Where is the mind?

In this module, you will learn about what anthropologists call “shamanism,” a general category for a kind of practice found in different forms all over the world.

  • Is a shaman just an example of people’s cultural “beliefs” or is it something more?
  • What if culture was not just differences in beliefs? How different can people be?

The first lecture quiz

In every lecture, we will pause for a moment to take a quiz on the class Canvas site. There will be one single, factual, multiple-choice question per lecture.

These questions are not tests. You can take them as many times as you want. It’s just a chance to pause and reflect on what we have been talking about.

Let’s practice one now. Go to Canvas on your smartphone, your laptop, your phablet, or other device. Go to the Quizzes page, and select “In-lecture quiz question for Monday, February 24 (Week 1)”

What are we not studying in class this semester?

If you are listening to the lecture at home now, press pause and take the quiz!

Postscript: There are tutorials in Week 1

There are tutorials for Week 1, so everyone should go to their tutorial on their timetables.

There’s nothing assigned for this tutorial. This is a chance for you to get to know everyone in your tut, and to talk about what you will be doing in class, and what you want to get out of the class.

Read the first two chapters from Eriksen’s Small Places, Large Issues (2015) over the next week or so. They are useful as background for what we will be discussing in Weeks 2 and 3.


Eriksen, Thomas Hylland. 2015. Small Places, Large Issues: An Introduction to Social and Cultural Anthropology. London: Pluto Press. http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt183p184.2.

Koori Radio. n.d. “Koori Radio 93.7FM.” Koori Radio. Accessed February 15, 2020. https://www.kooriradio.com/.

“Map of Aboriginal Places in Sydney.” n.d. Barani: Sydney’s Aboriginal History. Accessed February 15, 2020. https://www.sydneybarani.com.au/maps/.

Sydney (N.S.W.) Council. 2013. Barani/Barrabugu (Yesterday/Tomorrow): Sydney’s Aboriginal Journey. 2nd ed. Sydney: City of Sydney. https://www.cityofsydney.nsw.gov.au/learn/archives-history/sydneys-history/aboriginal-history.

A guide to the unit

1001/2020/1.1.1.txt · Last modified: 2020/03/01 21:17 by Ryan Schram (admin)