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Themes and Topics for ANTH 6916

Why do you do what you do?

  • Why do you choose? To buy fair-trade coffee, for instance.
  • Why do some people listen to Katy Perry and some listen to Lorde?
  • Why do 30% of Australians say religion “is important in my life” while 60% of Americans say the same? (World Values Survey 2014)
  • Why do some societies choose to invest in parks, others in schools?
  • Why do some US parents clamor for early reading kits while the UK contemplates starting formal education at age 7?
  • Why is Indonesia democratic and Singapore authoritarian?

The core concepts of this class

  • The nature of society as a definite order, and thus, necessarily a power relationship, or a relationship of domination.
    • Man is born free, but every where he is in chains.
    • Society is a totality. Individuals just work here.
  • Social facts, what are they and why have they been important in social theory?
    • division of labor and solidarity
    • the sacred, or morality
  • Rationality in social action
    • Types of social action
    • The meaning of social action as a perspective
  • Value, Marx and the commodity
    • Primitive accumulation and private property
    • Labor, wages and commodities
    • It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.
  • Change is a constant, and yet, as societies change, we realize that our own concept of change must also change.

More on value

There are many ways to define value because it has at least two dimensions.

Preference Structure
Ideal good symbol
Material need political economy

When most people think of economics, they think of the theories of systems of goods, where individuals transact in order to increase marginal utility. Marx rejects the material study of how individuals meet needs, associating this purely self-interested behavior with animals who are driven by instinct. Human, for Marx, operate in a world of social relations and structures. Thus he focuses on value as a quantity of human labor power which is invested through social relations into material things, commodities, which possess value only insofar as they are circulated within certain social relations but alienated from others. Cultural anthropology, especially inspired by Durkheim, looks for value in ideal structures, introducing yet another sense of value.


  • Social action can be classified by the type of motivation.
  • Rationality: the arc of history bends toward calculability and control.
  • Religion: What people believe affects how they see themselves as people.
  • The state: So-called modern societies all have a specialised institution of government based on rational order.


Kaplan article on rationality. Selections from textbooks and online sources.


  • Societies differ with respect to their division of labor
  • Social facts are things.
  • Patterns are the function of rules, roles, and statuses.
  • Every society has solidarity, mechanical and organic.
  • A society is a system of total services. (Gifts are a total social phenomenon; Mauss was Durkheim's nephew.)


Rules of the Sociological Method.

Selections from Adams and Sydie.


  • The dialectic of history: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.
  • Capitalism, or a society based on private property and accumulation.
  • Commodities, the opposite of gifts.


Communist Manifesto

Selections from Adams and Sydie.

Imperialism and the world system

  • In order to grow, capitalism must expand.
  • Growth in one society involves decline in another.
  • The global economy has existed since forever.
  • Global economic relations are unequal exchanges.

Selections from Sweetness and Power, or Europe and the People Without History.


Development versus Develop-man, also Humiliation.

Original Affluent Society (may be assigned in other courses).


  • Power, not who does what to whom, but what makes order possible.
  • The limits of my language are the limits of my world; “Modern,” for instance.


Ivan Illich: “disabling professions.”

Pillars of the Nation: Child Citizens and Ugandan National Development (Kristen Cheney, U Chicago Press).

Spiritual Economies: Islam, Globalization, and the Afterlife of Development (Daromir Rudnyckyj, Cornell UP).

Women and postcapitalism

  • J. K. Gibson-Graham is on campus this week.
  • Ester Boserup on female and male farming systems.
  • Women entrepreneurs.
  • Anna Tsing on Walmart.

Other names to conjure with

  • C. A. Gregory and Marcel Mauss and David Graeber
  • Louis Dumont

The cultural genealogy of neoliberalism

I'm still really interested in tracing the concept of development itself back to colonialism, but also linking it to social movements that emerged in the Anglo-American culture of Christianity at this time, namely social reform. These issues also influenced the development of social policy in Western societies in ways that continue to resonate, and continue to link such apparently disparate topics as capacity building in PNG, the NT Intervention, and welfare reform in the US, Australia and Europe. An interesting place to start might be this guy, Alf Clint, who founded Tranby College in Glebe: http://rschram.org/2014/01/01/tranby-college-glebe/.

  • Conservation and climate change.
  • Diaspora and transnational informal economies.
  • Refugees.
  • The responsibility to protect.
  • Indigeneity
  • Tourism

More books

Fischer, Edward F., and Peter Benson. 2006. Broccoli and Desire: Global Connections and Maya Struggles in Postwar Guatemala. 1 edition. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press.

Levitt, Peggy. 2001. The Transnational Villagers. Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press.

Scherz, China. 2014. Having People, Having Heart: Charity, Sustainable Development, and Problems of Dependence in Central Uganda. Chicago: University Of Chicago Press.

Striffler, Steve. 2007. Chicken: The Dangerous Transformation of America’s Favorite Food. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press.


World Values Survey. 2014. “World Values Survey Wave 6: 2010-2014: Online Data Analysis: V.9 Important in Life, Religion.” World Values Survey Database. Accessed June 30, 2014. http://worldvaluessurvey.org/.

6916/2018/themes.txt · Last modified: 2020/01/25 15:28 (external edit)