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Unit information: Anthropological Theory and Practice in 2020/21

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Unit name Anthropological Theory and Practice
Unit code ARCHM0081
Credit points 40
Level of study M/7
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 4 (weeks 1-24)
Unit director Dr. Zhang
Open unit status Not open




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

Description including Unit Aims

This unit offers advanced anthropological training in theory and practice, from classical works to their contemporary applications. The unit will enable students to develop a nuanced and cross-cultural perspective on the challenges that humans face in our fast-changing world. Students then put this understanding into practice through hands-on activities and industry partnerships, with content that reflects the Department’s research strength in adversity, adaptation, and globalisation. Students will explore contemporary social and political issues and think about what a shared, sustainable future might look like by drawing on diverse human experiences and strategies from Europe, Latin America, Africa, and the Asia-Pacific.

The core themes of this unit centre on five inter-related areas: sustainability, technology, engagement, arts and materiality. Beyond an environmental perspective, sustainability is explored as a cultural and economic practice across different global contexts. From indigenous conservation ethos to alternative economies, sustainability explores diverse cultural conceptualisations and social practices that may offer a different pathway to growth and development in late capitalism. Technology covers broad aspects of human exploration and transformation, from biological adaptations to smart applications, as well new opportunities and aspirations. Engagement centres on developing connections and partnerships with the public, especially with industry, NGOs and charities. Media and materiality bring to light the importance of materiality and visuality in an anthropological understanding of human challenges and futures. Topics on media technology, material culture, visual anthropology and museums will cultivate critical thinking through and with texts, voices, languages and images.

The delivery of the unit will be based on the peer-to-peer principle of shared and collaborative learning with the new technological drive in economy and society, building on a concrete engagement with Bristol’s media-tech and creative sector that encompasses the growing tech landscape, experimental art and the animation and film industry. The peer-to-peer dynamic recognizes human agency in the current political and social context, which affords a critical reflection on centralised and top-down social institutions. The innovative peer-to-peer design and delivery methods help to prepare MA students for the thriving sharing economy whilst also developing anthropological knowledge and ethnographic skills.

This unit will be team-taught over two teaching blocks. Part I of the unit, “Theory”, will be taught in TB1 and aims to establish a strong theoretical foundation by reviewing key frameworks and debates in both classic and contemporary anthropology and asks students to think about the role anthropology could play in an emerging economy with new technological development. Part II of the unit, “Practice”, is taught in TB2, with guest lectures and one field visit. Part II focuses on the integration between theoretical foundation and practical skills, highlighting the broader connections between academia and the public via creative approaches and new technological platforms. Guest lecturers with specialized knowledge of public engagement and practitioners from the industry sector (e.g. NGO workers, artists, animators, charity professionals) will teach students how to translate anthropological concepts into practical understanding of real-world issues, and how to communicate these widely through experimental practice. Throughout both parts of the unit, students will be encouraged to take a hands-on approach by engaging with a variety of textual, audio and visual resources—such as curating exhibitions, producing animations, and ethnographic film—and to develop a network and knowledge bank in key areas of their interest.

Intended Learning Outcomes

On successful completion of this unit, students will be able to:

1. Demonstrate critical thinking and clear comprehension on key anthropological theories;

2. Develop essential skills to work with peers in collaborative and flexible ways, and to evaluate other’s work via peer assessment;

3. Demonstrate the capability to review and write about complex issues surrounding social change by synthesising views and materials from academic literature as well as other sources of information.

4. Develop skills to work with text, audio, and images towards expressive, concise, and effective communication.

Teaching Information

Weekly two-hour seminar style lecture plus one-hour tutorial/class activity. Weekly topics will incorporate 2-3 academic readings, and time for class discussions.

Assessment Information


  1. Podcast 20% (ILOs 1, 2, 3, 4)
  2. Theoretical essay 30% (2,500 words) (ILOs 1, 2, 3)


  1. Powerpoint presentation 20% (ILOs 1, 2, 3, 4)
  2. Essay 30% (2,500 words) (ILOs 1, 2, 3)

Reading and References

List of readings and learning materials will be provided upon further consultation with staff and students