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 SSC 231 - Anthropology and the Study of Politics

​Anthropology provides a unique understanding of political process at both the global and local levels. Our discipline offers methodological and theoretical insight into all aspects of power relations, and it does so in a comparative framework. Political anthropology helps us explain, among other things, the sudden transformation of celebrations into riots, multicultural coexistence into ethnic strife, and peaceful public relations into war; and it allows us to better understand the everyday dynamics associated with nationalism, the state, law, and political protest.

Anthropology and the Study of Politics provides students with a firm grounding in the history and development of political anthropology, as well as in some of the issues central to the contemporary anthropological study of politics. In Part One (‘History & Theory’), the course begins with an overview of the field by considering the scope of political anthropologists’ work. Students then focus their attention on the historical and theoretical development of the sub-discipline. They consider some of the pioneering political ethnographies, and, in doing so, they follow a trajectory that leads from the early classics to contemporary accounts, from structural-functionalism to post-modernism. More specifically, we consider how structural functionalism, action theory and Neo-Marxism influenced the anthropologist’s study of politics. Subsequently, in considering ‘power’ as an anthropological concept, Part Two of the course (‘Practice and Application’) focuses in on a number of the important themes that dominate contemporary anthropological accounts of politics. These include: colonialism; resistance; violence and suffering; war and peace; law and dispute settlement; and nations and nationalism.

Political anthropology, however, is about more than just the cross-cultural study of politics. In fact, anthropological studies of politics are, at one and the same time, the study of the politics of anthropology. Thus, throughout the entire semester we will want to swing back and forth between these two anthropological orientations, that is, between the anthropologist’s study power and the anthropologist’s exertion of power. We do so through a critical consideration of our own discipline. 


Dr. John Friedman




One of the following is required in order to take this course:  

  • ​​SSC 111 Introduction to Sociology
  • SSC 131 Introduction to Socio-Cultural Anthropology
  • SSC 151 Introduction to Political Theory
  • SSC 171 Law, Society and Justice
  • Any 200- or 300-level Anthropology course
  • Permission from the instruction