Philosophical Issues in the Contemporary Study of Kinship

Graduate Program (& Advanced Certificate) Status

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Course Description: 

This course will provide a sense of some key philosophical issues that arise in the contemporary study of kinship.  Kinship has been a central part of the disciplinary of anthropology for most of its 150-year-old history.  We will concentrate on challenges to the place of the study of kinship in anthropology that originate in the work of David Schneider in the 1970s, culminating in his A Critique of the Study of Kinship (1984), that led many to abandon the traditional study of kinship, as well as the reformulation of kinship in the “new kinship studies” that emerged from Schneider’s critique.  Of particular focus will be the relationship between biological and cultural dimensions to kinship and correspondingly different ways to understand and study kinship.  The weekly readings will begin with several leading figures in contemporary anthropology (Sandra Bamford and Marshall Sahlins) and otherwise will draw on recent work by the lecturer. 

Learning Outcomes: 

By the end of this course, students who have completed all the requirements will be (i) familiar with both the general history of and chief perspectives on the study of kinship in anthropology; and (ii) able to sketch and critically assess arguments for and against those perspectives.


Each student will be expected to submit one term paper of 1000-1200 words on a topic chosen from a set of circulated topics.  The class readings will be assumed, and additional readings will be provided for the essay assessment.  Assessment deadline: 5pm, Thursday, 9th April, 2020 (i.e., just before Easter