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What we will do in class

When you study at the university level, one of the most important things you learn is how to learn and how to discover your own ideas. Also, in the pandemic year of 2020, we have all had to learn to be creative and flexible with how we work, and students especially have had to take on a lot more responsibility for their own learning.

We have set this class up in a way that supports each student taking charge of their own learning as individuals, while also making sure we stay connected throughout the semester so we can share what we are discovering on our own.


Anthropology is vast. Anything people do, anthropologists study. So you could potentially study any number of things about people’s lives and learn to see them as anthropologists do. In this class, we only cover a few of the things that anthropologists talk about. Each topic complements the others, and together they help us to demonstrate the perspectives anthropologists apply to the qualitative study of people’s everyday lives.

The semester is divided into four main topics, each presented in a three-week sequence called a “module.” Each module focuses on a different facet of life that anthropologists have examined:

  • birth
  • childhood
  • cooperation
  • multiculturalism

Anthropologists approach each of these topics by placing it in a comparative, cross-cultural framework, and from this position see their own societies in a new light. We also want each student to rethink how their societies have defined this topic and how it might be defined differently.

  • In the first week of each module, we cover basic ideas anthropologists have developed to understand the topic. Usually there is a chapter from a textbook assigned. In this class, we use Small Places, Large Issues by Eriksen (2015). The full text of the fourth edition (which is where we have taken the assigned chapters) is available online via the library catalogue and the ereserve page. Any recent edition is acceptable for this class.
  • In the second week we discuss these ideas in the context of a single ethnographic case study, a qualitative description and analysis of a single community. The assigned readings present these ethnographic descriptions, and you can get them from the class ereserve page or the library catalogue.
  • In the third week, we examine the topic in a comparative framework, usually by examining a second ethnographic case or another example of anthropological research on the topic. These are also available via ereserve and the library catalogue
  • At the end of the third week of each module, there’s also a writing assignment related to the topic that asks you to make an argument for your own point of view on these ideas. Most of these ask you to reflect critically on your own experiences from the point of view of another way of life.

The weekly checklist

For all these pieces to come together, you have to do something for this class every week for the whole semester. Each week, you will have a series of tasks to carry out in order. You start each week on the Modules page, and go to the first item in that week’s checklist, the weekly reading. After you’ve read and reflected on the week’s assigned readings, you move on to the next item in the checklist, and through a series of videos, recordings, notes. Along the way, we have thrown in two simple multiple-choice questions each week. These are chances to consolidate what you have learned from the week’s material. (And you get a point for each one. See the Assignments page.) Each week’s checklist has a surprise too. Technically, there are no due dates for these checklists. You can work through at your own pace. But it is a good idea to stay in sync with the whole class. Aim to complete each week’s checklist and the two questions by Friday night.

During the week, you will also have an opportunity to talk to the lecturers more about the topic in a live videoconference during our office hours. Also, during the week, you will have an opportunity to work with your tutor in a tutorial section on campus (or online if you have registered for one of the online tuts). If you work through each week’s checklist of tasks, then by the end of the semester you will have constructed an edifice of knowledge rather than collected bits and pieces of information.


Eriksen, Thomas Hylland. 2015. Small Places, Large Issues: An Introduction to Social and Cultural Anthropology. 4th ed. London: Pluto Press. http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt183p184.

1002/2020/what-we-will-do.txt · Last modified: 2020/08/19 02:21 by Ryan Schram (admin)