Anthropology of Power Study Focus*

*In pilot phase until Winter Semester 2023

The Anthropology of Power Lab offers a study focus in socio-cultural anthropology for master’s research students. Its purpose is, firstly, to provide student researchers with the theoretical and practical training they will need to design and successfully complete a master’s level ethnographic research project within the anthropology of power rubric. A secondary purpose of the study focus is to prepare students wishing to pursue a research career in anthropology or closely related fields with the minimal background needed to apply for admission to a doctoral program.

In addition to the normal CeMIS requirements, students in the Anthropology of Power Study Focus must complete four compulsory modules, for a total of 24 credit units, and a master’s thesis, for 30 credit units, with Dr. Roberts as their primary supervisor. The modules are described below.

Module M.MIS.032: Studies in the Anthropology of Power I: Group-wise Hierarchies

Students acquire a systematic overview of the institutional bases and typical cultural features of inherited group-wise hierarchies. We focus in particular on caste in the Indian context, but comparative examples consider ethno-racial status hierarchies elsewhere in the world. We consider the role of these hierarchies in organizing and stabilizing exploitative economic arrangements. Special attention is devoted to endogamous kinship systems, understood as social structures based ultimately on group-wise hoarding of wealth and social prerogatives, and requiring high degrees of intergenerational sexual control.

Module M.MIS.033: Studies in the Anthropology of Power II: the Social Organisation of Production and Reproduction

This module familiarizes students with the social organization of production, reproduction, and exchange. It draws on studies in the anthropology of inequality and economic anthropology, and uses examples from India and a broad range of social formations, from hunter-gatherer to modern market economies. We cover gendered divisions of labor and the distinctions among wage labor, feudal service, debt bondage, slavery, and domestic production. We also consider different models of exchange, such as generalized reciprocity, redistribution, and negative reciprocity.

Module M.MIS.034: Theories and Methods in Social-Cultural Anthropology I: Ethnography

This module introduces students to the empirical backbone of social and cultural anthropology: the practice of ethnographic fieldwork. What unique reality does fieldwork claim to discover, and on the basis of what evidence? How does ethnographic fieldwork differ from mere “qualitative research”? What are the ethical obligations of the researcher to his or her subjects? And, most importantly, how does one prepare for ethnographic research and what methods does one use? Students who successfully complete this module will receive the basic methodological training needed to begin ethnographic research. They will also acquire some of the tools needed to critically evaluate the use of ethnographic evidence in published research.

Module M.MIS.035: Theories and Methods in Social-Cultural Anthropology II: Anthropology as Social Science

This module introduces students to the major theoretical frameworks of social science, with special reference to social and cultural anthropology. What does it mean to scientifically study society? How does social science differ from natural science? What unique reality does social science claim to discover, and on the basis of what evidence? Students learn to parse arguments in any of the major social sciences; they will be equipped to identify the underlying epistemological framework and implicit social ontologies on which said arguments rest. Major themes include the distinction between methodological individualism and holism, the structure–agency problem, functionalism, explanation versus interpretation, and theories of causation.