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ANTH 4102: The anthropology of mind and experience

Semester 1, 2023

This honours seminar is a survey of different developments within a theory of culture as a system of thought, and considers the influence on and relevance for questions of the contemporary world. The purpose of anthropology is and always has been to expand what people understand to be the nature of humanity. It does this most visibly in its documentation of the diverse ways of life that different communities have created. Yet perhaps more importantly, anthropology has also created a theoretical language with which we can contest and critique the power of normative conceptions of the human and the nature of human society. Furthermore, by claiming a position from which to see all of humanity, anthropology is best placed to see the forms of oppression engendered when a single model of the human, its relationships, and its social life is imposed. In many respects, we are all using anthropology’s vocabulary to talk about the contemporary world, to understand its order, and to formulate possible future, genuinely cosmopolitan orders.

The world today has perhaps never been more skeptical of modernity, at least in the sense of one culture’s narrative of progress. We see more clearly that the present inherits a legacy of European imperialism, and specifically one of mental colonialism. We return then to the ethical impulse on which anthropology itself was founded. Like previous critics of European thought, anthropology dwells in the same paradox. There is no inherent or essential quality that makes people what they are; humans create themselves. And yet, people do not do so as individuals. We each are subject to one specific construction of ourselves as beings and our world. Another world is possible, in fact more than one, perhaps as many as you can imagine. But we all learn to wall off those other possibilities in our minds and instead assume that this is the only world that is possible. This class argues that anthropology exists to ask why that is and, hence, to continually renew our capacity to ask what else it could be.

Coordinator: Ryan Schram

Last updated: February 21, 2023


  • Seminar leadership roles (due weekly as assigned, worth 20%, length n/a)
  • Seminar journal (due weekly before class, worth 10%, length 250 ea.)
  • First essay (due Mar. 31 at 5:00 p.m., worth 30%, length 1500)
  • Second essay (due May. 26 at 5:00 p.m., worth 40%, length 2000)

Weekly plan of topics and readings

Week Date Topic Main reading Other reading
1 February 24 What do you see? Du Bois (2015); Sahlins (2009)
2 March 03 Levi-Strauss, the linguistic turn, and structuralism Hanks (1996); Lévi-Strauss ([1949] 1969), chaps. 1–6; Morgan (1871), preface and chap. 1 is recommended
3 March 10 Elementary structures Continue reading Lévi-Strauss ([1949] 1969)
4 March 17 A machine for making gender Rubin (1975)
5 March 24 Structures of values Dumont ([1970b] 1980), pp. 1–91 (intro. and chaps. 1–3), pp. 239–245 (postface)
6 March 31 Holism and hierarchy Continue reading Dumont ([1970b] 1980)
7 April 07 Caste and race as regimes of hierarchical classification (Special make-up session tba) Berg (2015); Dumont ([1970a] 1980); Visweswaran (2010)
B April 14 Mandatory school closure in honor of Judeo-Christian festivals
8 April 21 The flow of analogies Wagner (1977); Wagner (1974)
9 April 28 Who gets to be one of us? Williams (1995); Williams ([1995] 2013)
10 May 05 Questioning structuralist anthropology’s ontological dualism Strathern (1996); Strathern ([1998] 2013)
11 May 12 An ontological anthropology Viveiros de Castro (1998); Viveiros de Castro (2004); Kohn (2015)
12 May 19 Responses to the ontological turn Bessire and Bond (2014); Hornborg (2017)
13 May 26 What’s next?
14 June 02 Reading week
15 June 09 Final exams period


Berg, Dag-Erik. 2015. “Caste, Hierarchy and Race in a World-Historical Perspective: Louis Dumont and His Critique of Max Weber.” Journal of Intercultural Studies 36 (4): 413–30. https://doi.org/10.1080/07256868.2015.1049982.

Bessire, Lucas, and David Bond. 2014. “Ontological Anthropology and the Deferral of Critique.” American Ethnologist 41 (3): 440–56. https://doi.org/10.1111/amet.12083.

Du Bois, W. E. B. 2015. “The Princess Steel.” PMLA 130 (3): 819–29. https://doi.org/10.1632/pmla.2015.130.3.819.

Dumont, Louis. (1970a) 1980. “Appendix A: Caste, Racism, and ‘Stratification’: Reflections of a Social Anthropologist.” In Homo Hierarchicus: The Caste System and Its Implications, 2nd ed, 247–66. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

———. (1970b) 1980. Homo Hierarchicus: The Caste System and Its Implications. 2nd ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Hanks, William F. 1996. “The Language of Saussure.” In Language and Communicative Practices, 21–38. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press. https://search.alexanderstreet.com/view/work/bibliographic_entity%7Cdocument%7C1677290?account_id=14757&usage_group_id=95408.

Hornborg, Alf. 2017. “Artifacts Have Consequences, Not Agency: Toward a Critical Theory of Global Environmental History.” European Journal of Social Theory 20 (1): 95–110. https://doi.org/10.1177/1368431016640536.

Kohn, Eduardo. 2015. “Anthropology of Ontologies.” Annual Review of Anthropology 44 (1): 311–27. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-anthro-102214-014127.

Lévi-Strauss, Claude. (1949) 1969. The Elementary Structures of Kinship. Edited by Rodney Needham. Translated by James Harle Bell and John Richard von Sturmer. Boston: Beacon Press.

Morgan, Lewis H. 1871. Systems of Consanguinity and Affinity in the Human Family. Vol. 17. Smithsonian Contributions to Knowledge. Washington, D.C.: The Smithsonian Institution.

Rubin, Gayle. 1975. “The Traffic in Women: Notes on the ‘Political Economy’ of Sex.” In Toward an Anthropology of Women, 157–210. New York: Monthly Review Press.

Sahlins, Marshall. 2009. “On the Anthropology of Levi-Strauss.” AAA Blog (blog). July 7, 2009. https://web.archive.org/web/20091108130858/http://blog.aaanet.org/2009/07/07/on-the-anthropology-of-levi-strauss/.

Strathern, Marilyn. 1996. “Cutting the Network.” The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 2 (3): 517–35. https://doi.org/10.2307/3034901.

———. (1998) 2013. “Social Relations and the Idea of Externality.” In Learning to See in Melanesia, 179–205. Manchester: HAU Society for Ethnographic Theory. https://haubooks.org/viewbook/learning-to-see-in-melanesia/front_matter.

Visweswaran, Kamala. 2010. “Is There A Structural Analysis of Racism?: Louis Dumont and the Caste School of Race Relations.” In Un/Common Cultures: Racism and the Rearticulation of Cultural Difference, 103–30. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press. https://doi.org/10.1215/9780822391630-005.

Viveiros de Castro, Eduardo. 1998. “Cosmological Deixis and Amerindian Perspectivism.” The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 4 (3): 469–88. https://doi.org/10.2307/3034157.

———. 2004. “Exchanging Perspectives: The Transformation of Objects into Subjects in Amerindian Ontologies.” Common Knowledge 10 (3): 463–84. https://doi.org/10.1215/0961754X-10-3-463.

Wagner, Roy. 1974. “Are There Social Groups in the New Guinea Highlands?” In Frontiers of Anthropology: An Introduction to Anthropological Thinking, edited by Murray J. Leaf, 95–122. New York: D. Van Nostrand Co.

———. 1977. “Analogic Kinship: A Daribi Example.” American Ethnologist 4 (4): 623–42. http://www.jstor.org/stable/643623.

Williams, Brackette F. 1995. “Beaming Them up: First Blood and Some Views on the Pleasures and Dangers of Fresh Blood in the Making of U.S. Americans.” Identities 1 (4): 427–42. https://doi.org/10.1080/1070289X.1995.9962521.

———. (1995) 2013. “Classification Systems Revisited: Kinship, Caste, Race, and Nationality as the Flow of Blood and the Spread of Rights.” In Naturalizing Power: Essays in Feminist Cultural Analysis, edited by Sylvia Yanagisako and Carol Delaney, 201–36. New York: Routledge. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781315021676.

4102/2023/start.txt · Last modified: 2023/02/20 16:52 by Ryan Schram (admin)