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Unit information: Culture and Mind in 2018/19

Please note: It is possible that the information shown for future academic years may change due to developments in the relevant academic field. Optional unit availability varies depending on both staffing and student choice.

Unit name Culture and Mind
Unit code ARCH30026
Credit points 20
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Professor. Jordan
Open unit status Not open

At least ONE of ARCH20045, ARCH20018, ARCH20005, ARCH20047 or approval of the Unit Director



School/department Department of Archaeology and Anthropology
Faculty Faculty of Arts


In this unit we examine how our enculturated minds have evolved, and how human cognition might be variable across human communities. Are human cognitive abilities different in kind to other species, or shared by other animals? Does culture shape aspects of thinking, feeling, perception and belief? What do we know about human cognition, and how do we know it? We explore the “anthropological critique of psychology“ by surveying cross-cultural diversity in language, cognition, emotion and beliefs. Topics include social cognition and cooperation, linguistic relativism, numeracy, religion, emotion, art, and symbolism, all discussed from interdisciplinary perspectives.

Aims: Students will acquire:

  • Knowledge and understanding of current debates in cognitive anthropology, especially the anthropological critique of psychology and challenges to “universalist” ideas about cognition
  • Knowledge and understanding of current topics in cognition and culture, such as cooperation, emotion, perception, and language
  • Knowledge and understanding of how comparative research (both cross-species and cross-cultural) informs our understanding of human cognition.
  • Critical skills for identifying research questions and an overview of methods used by anthropologists to gather, analyse, evaluate, and interpret empirical evidence.

Intended learning outcomes

At the end of this unit a successful student will be able to:

  1. Assess and critically evaluate empirical evidence and theoretical arguments invoked in current debates in cognitive anthropology.
  2. Explain the “anthropological critique of psychology”, and assess the challenges to “universalist” ideas about cognition.
  3. Describe and evaluate current studies on topics such as cooperation, emotion, perception, and language.
  4. Use case studies to show how comparative research (both cross-species and cross-cultural) informs our understanding of human cognition.
  5. Use critical skills to survey current literature and identify a tractable research question.
  6. Choose appropriate anthropological methods to gather, analyse, evaluate, and interpret empirical evidence that would be appropriate for answering specified research questions.

Teaching details

  • 10 x 2 hr lecture sessions
  • 1 x 4 hr presentation session
  • 9 x 1hr seminars/reading groups

Assessment Details

1. Critical bibliography and research proposal (50%, 3000 words, summative) ILO 1-4

2. Oral presentation on research design (formative, 5 minutes) ILO 1, 5-6

3. Written exam (50%, 1.5 hours, summative) ILOs 1-6

Reading and References

  • Boesch, C. 2012. Wild Cultures: A comparison between chimpanzee and human cultures. CUP.
  • Henrich, J., Heine, S. J., & Norenzayan, A. 2010. Beyond WEIRD: Towards a broad-based behavioral science. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 33(2-3), 111-135.
  • Kronenfeld, D. B., et al. (Eds.). 2011. A Companion to Cognitive Anthropology. Wiley
  • Lende D.H. & Downey G. 2012. The Encultured Brain: An introduction to neuroanthropology. MIT Press
  • Sperber, D. 1996. Explaining Culture: a Naturalistic Approach. Oxford: Blackwell
  • Sterelny K. 2012. The Evolved Apprentice: How Evolution Made Humans Unique. MIT Press.