The Catholic University of America


Department of Anthropology
ANTH 200 – Core Perspectives in Anthropology (3 credits)
(Fall 2013) Mon-Wed 3:40-4:55 HANN 105
Dr. Jon W. Anderson (
Office Hours: Wed 1-3 (10 Marist)

ANTH 200 is an introduction to core perspectives in Anthropology and how they guide research to specific data and frame questions. Further steps – research design and conduct – are the subject of ANTH 201, taught in the Spring semester. ANTH 200 is concerned with the movement from what is interesting to what is necessary to know, specifying relevant data and all the steps in between. It is not a survey of anthropological theories but a critical explication of perspectives that define anthropology as a discipline, and not just as a topic.  It deals with changing notions of what makes an analysis whole and what constitutes objectivity.
Goals of the course are to teach how anthropologists think, and so how to think like an anthropologist, about integrating data about social structure, meaning and action, from small-scale societies to today’s global networks. Students will learn the whys and wherefores of wholistic analysis and its multiple respecifications for studying communities, meaning and practice and contemporary phenomena of globalization through a mix of critical and empirical analyses, including a pair of model ethnographies and a selection of articles.
Readings will include 4 books,

  • E.E. Evans-Pritchard, The Nuer (1940)
  • Pierre Bourdieu, Outline of a Theory of Practice (1977)
  • Karen Ho, Liquidated: An Ethnography of Wall Street (2009)
  • Biao Xiang, Global Body-Shopping: An Indian Labor System in the Information Technology Industry (2006)
plus a textbook (written for students as surveys and guides),

  • Stanley R. Barrett, Anthropology: A Student’s Guide to Method and Theory (1996)
Students will read, discuss, and write papers about these books and a group of articles, which are available on an electronic BlackBoard for this course. These are what scholars write for each other – in other words, primary material that you need to become familiar with and able to read anthropologically.
Recommended for Majors: Thomas Barfield, ed. The Dictionary of Anthropology (1997). Majors should keep this book as their master glossary and prep for senior comprehensives.

Grades will be based on notes on the readings (5% each) and three comparative papers (15% each). Templates for the notes and instruction on how to construct them are available on the course Blackboard, along with other study guides and all readings not contained in the books. There are no exams or major term papers for this course. 

Schedule of Readings & Assignments (Fall 2013)

August 26:  What are core perspectives? Introduction to the course, aims and procedures.

Overview of Wholism, Community Study, Agency and Meaning, and Networks and Globalization.
ASSIGNMENT: Make a list of issues that Barrett identifies (in Chapter 1) as “meta” issues and frames for anthropology. Bring to next class (Sep 1) and keep for preparation of notes on readings.

I. Wholism – the perspective on objectivity that differentiates anthropological research from sociology’s or economics’ search for unit causes, how local settings matter more than universal types in accounting for cultural data, and how to complete description in anthropological research.

READ: Barrett, Chapter 1.

August 28: Methodenstreit: Nature/Culture, Universal/Particular, Primitives in the Victorian Imagination.

READ: F. Boas, “Limitations of the Comparative Method.” 

September 2:  Holiday (Labor Day)


September 4: How to write notes on the readings.  Think of these notes as exercises, or like problem sets in a science course.  They are not the notes you take while reading but something you write about a reading, and they must include 5 points:

(1)  What is the reading about (in terms of Barrett’s ‘tensions’ in anthropological explanations)? 

(2)  How does the author identify or characterize his or her problem (author’s terms)? 

(3)  How does the author position or relate his or her treatment in relation to others’?  

(4)  What does the author identify as data that are central or crucial? 

(5)  What is the author’s conclusion (not where s/he starts but where s/he ends up)?

Your notes must address each point (number them) briefly; and a note should be about one page, or one-to-two paragraphs.  These will then provide the basis for comparative papers, which you already know how to write (e.g., compare A and B with respect to C).

ASSIGNMENT DUE (Sep 4):  Write a note on Boas’ article on limitations of comparative method to these specifications.

September 9:  Objects and Subjects. READ: Winch, “Idea of a Social Science,” and Geertz, “Thick Description.”
ASSIGNMENT DUE (Sep 9): Write a comparison of Winch’s and Geertz’s arguments as implementations of ‘wholistic analysis’ as envisioned by Boas. (1000 words, 3 pages double-spaced.)


September 11-16: Analytical Objectivity and Actor Subjectivities

READ: Leach, “Concerning Trobriand Clans” and Anderson on “Rhetorical Objectivity.”
ASSIGNMENT DUE (Sep 16): Write a note on Leach’s conception of what is a proper description, what are data to be included in an account of action.

- remainder of the syllabus is on Blackboard for enrolled students -