Social Anthropology: An Introduction (Online)

Course details

From £280.00
10 CATS points

Wed 25 Sep 2019 - Fri 06 Dec 2019

Other runs of this course

Social Anthropology: An Introduction (Online)


his course provides an exciting and dynamic introduction to the world of social anthropology. In brief, social anthropology is the study of how humans give meaning to the world through different social norms, values, practices and means of organisation. As such, the role of the social anthropologist is to explore and understand other cultures and societies, and in so doing, to better understand his or her own worldview as well. Through critical, sensitive debate and analysis, students will develop the analytical skills necessary to see the world in an anthropological way  to make the strange familiar, and the familiar strange.

Listen to Dr Patrick Alexander talking about the course:

Over the duration of the course, students will explore a wide range of topics spanning many of the key themes of research in social anthropology. Units will include an introduction to thinking anthropologically, kinship, witchcraft, rituals and rites of passage, gender and identity, personhood, the anthropology of landscape, political organisation and the impact of globalisation on ethnicity.

For information on how the courses work, and a link to our course demonstration site, please click here.

Programme details

1. An introduction to social anthropology: key concepts

  • Culture, society, identity
  • Your culture, your society
  • Dealing with difference
  • Evaluatin human developments and differences
  • Representation and derivation: anthropology of whom, from where, and why?

2. Kinship: given, or made?

  • Understanding kinship: an introduction to key ideas and terminology
  • Kinship diagrams: exploring your kinship
  • Case studies: Australia and the UK
  • Wombs for rent and dead sperm: New reproductive technologies and kinship in the twenty-first century

3. Witchcraft, religion and science: making sense of the world

  • Witchcraft and rationality: how do we make sense of misfortune?
  • Scientific rationality and the rationality of witchcraft
  • Case study: The Azande
  • Structural functionalism: What is the social function of witchcraft in Azande society?
  • Reflecting on your worldview

4. Gift exchange: is there such a thing as a free gift?

  • Gift giving in your culture
  • Understanding the structure of gift exchange
  • Case study: Malinowski and the kula ring of the Trobriand Islands
  • Analysing your own circles of gift exchange

5. Ritual and rites of passage: defining social status

  • Ritual and rites of passage: defining the terms
  • Understanding ritual
  • Circumcision, rites of manhood and coming of age
  • Anthropological theories for understanding ritual: structural functionalism, symbolism and the case study of the Ndembu
  • Analysing your own rites of passage

6. Political anthropology: power, authority and patterns of social organisation

  • Understanding the politics of your society
  • Anthropological perspectives of power and political organisation
  • Case studies: The Nuer and Melanesia
  • Case studies: The Nuer in the present
  • Build-your-own political structure

7. Humans and the environment: the anthropology of landscape

  • An ethnographic view of landscape
  • Understanding Nature and culture: the environment from an anthropological perspective
  • Nature and cultureMultiple meanings of landscape
  • Reflecting on anthropological experiences of landscape Anthropocentricity and consuming the landscape
  • Individual experiences of landscape

8. Personhood: what defines the category 'person'?

  • What makes a person?
  • Understanding personhood
  • Case study: The Gahuku Gama
  • Personhood and human rights: forum debate

9. Sex and gender: biology, identity and society

  • Markers of gender: the ‘female’ form
  • Feminist anthropology and the anthropology of gender
  • Case study: Third genders
  • Discussion: is biological sex also socially constructed?
  • The female form … revisited

10. Ethnicity and globalisation: understanding hyperdiversity

  • Globalisation and ethnicity: defining the terms
  • Understanding ethnicity and globalisation
  • Does globalisation make ethnicity more or less important?
  •  Globalisation: social implications
  •  Reflections on the course

We strongly recommend that you try to find a little time each week to engage in the online conversations (at times that are convenient to you) as the forums are an integral, and very rewarding, part of the course and the online learning experience.

Recommended reading

To participate in the course you will need to have regular access to the Internet and you will need to buy the following texts:

Eriksen, T. H., What Is Anthropology? Anthropology, Culture and Society, (London, Pluto) You can purchase the first or second edition.

Eriksen, T. H., Small Places, Large Issues, 3rd edn (London, Pluto, 2010) OR Eriksen, T. H., Small Places, Large Issues, 4th edn (London, Pluto, 2015)


To earn credit (CATS points) for your course you will need to register and pay an additional £10 fee for each course you enrol on. You can do this by ticking the relevant box at the bottom of the enrolment form or when enrolling online. If you do not register when you enrol, you have up until the course start date to register and pay the £10 fee.

For more information on CATS point please click on the link below:

Coursework is an integral part of all online courses and everyone enrolled will be expected to do coursework, but only those who have registered for credit will be awarded CATS points for completing work at the required standard. If you are enrolled on the Certificate of Higher Education you need to indicate this on the enrolment form but there is no additional registration fee.

Assignments are not graded but are marked either pass or fail.

All students who successfully complete this course, whether registered for credit or not, are eligible for a Certificate of Completion. Completion consists of submitting both course assignments and actively participating in the course forums. Certificates will be available, online, for those who qualify after the course finishes.

IT requirements

This course is delivered online; to participate you must to be familiar with using a computer for purposes such as sending email and searching the Internet. You will also need regular access to the Internet and a computer meeting our recommended minimum computer specification.


EU Fee: £280.00
Non-EU Fee: £300.00
Take this course for CATS points: £10.00


Ben Epstein

Ben Epstein is a final-year PhD researcher in anthropology from London, of British and Italian parentage. He received his BA (honours) from the School of Oriental and African Studies in Social Anthropology and his MScR in Medical Anthropology from the University of Edinburgh. He has recently completed a two-year Japan Foundation Fellowship investigating the role of mental health and psychosocial services in the post-disaster recovery of Tōhoku, northern Japan. He is fascinated by the socio-cultural characteristics of biomedical psychiatry and clinical psychology. Ben has several years experience teaching anthropology at undergraduate level, specialising in the anthropology of medicine and psychiatry, and has also taught the subject at a sixth-form college in London. He speaks fluent French, Italian, and is always improving his Japanese. Ben enjoys international cinema, is a keen swimmer, and loves to travel. 

Dr Stefan Fa

John Loewenthal

John Loewenthal is a social anthropologist working in the fields of education and youth studies. His research explores what young adults want to do with their lives and how such ideas are produced, negotiated, and revised over time. Through a PhD Studentship at Oxford Brookes University he has recently conducted an ethnography of the aspirations and transitions of university graduates in New York City. John previously studied Archaeology and Anthropology at the University of Oxford (BA: First Class Honours) and Anthropology and Education as a Margaret Mead Fellow at Teachers College, Columbia University (MA).

Dr Elizabeth Ann Rahman

Research Associate to the Oxford Department of International Development (ODID) and the Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology (ISCA). University of Oxford


Course aims

This course aims to introduce students to the discipline of social anthropology, presenting key themes, theoretical debates, the historical development of the discipline, and ongoing questions of anthropological inquiry that remain crucial to our understanding of contemporary culture and society.

Teaching methods

  • Guided reading of texts
  • Group discussions of particular issues
  • Questions to be answered in personal folders
  • Students will be directed to websites relevant to each session (occasionally as a requirement, usually as optional additional reading)

Learning outcomes

By the end of the course you will be able understand:

  • An overview of the key fields of research in social anthropology
  • An overview of the historical development of social anthropology, and an awareness of how anthropology related to contemporary society
  • An overview of key theoretical trajectories in social anthropology
  • An overview of the primary methods of anthropological research (ethnography)
  • The strengths and limitations of anthropological research

And you will have developed the following skills:

  • Develop the ability to think 'anthropologically': making the strange familiar, and the familiar strange
  • Develop critical thinking skills
  • Develop the ability to analyse ethnographic data
  • Develop the ability to discuss and debate issues of anthropological significance in a critical but sensitive manner

Assessment methods

Assessment for this course is based on two written assignments - one short assignment of 500 words due half way through the course and one longer assignment of 1500 words due at the end of the course.

Assignments are not graded but are marked either pass or fail.


Please use the 'Book' or 'Apply' button on this page. Alternatively, please contact us to obtain an application form.

Level and demands

FHEQ level 4, 10 weeks, approx 10 hours per week, therefore a total of about 100 study hours.