English   Danish

2021/2022  KAN-CIBCV1518U  How to Think About Culture: Theories of Meaning; Theories of Motion

English Title
How to Think About Culture: Theories of Meaning; Theories of Motion

Course information

Language English
Course ECTS 7.5 ECTS
Type Elective
Level Full Degree Master
Duration One Semester
Start time of the course Autumn
Timetable Course schedule will be posted at calendar.cbs.dk
Study board
Study Board for Master of Arts (MA) in International Business Communication in English
Course coordinator
  • Daniel Souleles - Department of Management, Politics and Philosophy (MPP)
Main academic disciplines
  • Cultural studies
Teaching methods
  • Face-to-face teaching
Last updated on 15-02-2021

Relevant links

Learning objectives
  • Students will demonstrate an understanding of the development of the culture concept in Anthropology.
  • Students will demonstrate an understanding of the critique and limitations of the culture concept, as articulated in anthropology.
  • Students will demonstrate an understanding of the use of various social theories to explain culture change through time.
  • Students will demonstrate an ability to make use of exemplary literature from Anthropology to make analytic and empirical arguments.
How to Think About Culture: Theories of Meaning; Theories of Motion:
Exam ECTS 7,5
Examination form Home assignment - written product
Individual or group exam Individual exam
Size of written product Max. 20 pages
Assignment type Written assignment
Duration Written product to be submitted on specified date and time.
Grading scale 7-point grading scale
Examiner(s) One internal examiner
Exam period Winter
Make-up exam/re-exam
Same examination form as the ordinary exam
If the student has not handed in at the ordinary exam, the retake will be as the ordinary exam.

If the student has not passed the ordinary exam the re-take exam is constituted by the same portfolio of cases as the ordinary exam. If a student fails the ordinary exam, the student submits a revised version of her own contribution to the case portfolio at the re-take exam.
Description of the exam procedure

The examination for this course is an individually written home assignment to be submitted at the end of the course. The home assignment is a portfolio of three assignments that students will have an opportunity to work on over the course of the semester. The whole portfolio must be handed in at the exam-deadline. An explanation of the three portfolio assignments follow. All assignments should be in 12 point font, double-spaced, with one inch margins.


1. Critical Book Review


Students will select one of the books excerpted on the curriculum, or one of the books from the list of important stuff that could not fit, or an academic book of their choosing and write a 4-6 page review of the book, summarizing the argument; assessing, analyzing and critiquing the analysis; and situating the author in a specific intellectual and historical context. Students should reference at least three (3) sources from the syllabus.


2. Self-assessment


Students will complete a self-assessment of between 3-4 pages in which the inventory the way in which their approach to analyzing social life has or has not changed due to specific reading in the course. Students should cite and engage with at least five (5) readings from the syllabus.


3. Final Paper


Students will complete a 8 to 12 page paper on one of the following topics that they have selected:


1. Making an argument for the intellectual approach they think is most appropriate to the social sciences and against those that they feel are inappropriate.


2. Drafting a proposal for a future topic of research, which departs from some topical area of the course and takes into account independent research on whatever the state of the are of the student’s chosen topic. The research proposal should have a background, answerable research questions, and explanation of methods and sampling, an explanation of what data the researcher will collect, as well as speculation as to the contribution of this research.


3. Selecting one older piece on the curriculum and conducting an annotated bibliography of all the academic discussions it has precipitated and reviewing their contours.


4. A topic of the student’s choosing that makes use of something from the curriculum. Students should get the instructor’s approval for this one. Proof of approval should be an email confirmation.


Whatever the topic, the final paper should make use of at least three (3) sources from the class, and at least three (3) sources from beyond the class. This is a minimum. Please, cite as much as you need to make a good argument.


Options ‘1’, ‘3’, and ‘4’ should all have thesis statements, a clear, evidence-based argument, as well as a conclusion.

Course content, structure and pedagogical approach

Culture is likely the most complicated concept people encounter in the university. It’s both an academic term of art as well as a common-sense way we understand the world. Any one of us could rattle off a number of plausible definitions of the term (a way of life, traditions, common sense notions, special values, all our technology, and so on). These common-sense definitions of culture are also joined by just about every single academic discipline’s use of the term (Organizational Cultures, Cultural Psychology, Cultural Economics, and so on). Each discipline puts culture to work in its own way, to solve its own problems. Taken together, getting any baseline sense of the term amidst all this noise seems impossible. After all, what could culture possibly mean if it’s simultaneously a latent variable in an economic analysis, the context in which a psychological phenomenon makes sense, and the rules about being polite and motivated in an office?


This course aims to cut through all this noise and will propose an anthropological understanding of the culture concept. Simply put, this course will suggest that cultures are learned patterns in group life. Moreover, people tend to understand these processes semiotically. People live their lives in multiple overlapping cultural worlds. Moreover, cultural worlds only make sense when you use social theories to explain how culture changes through time.


In order to make this argument and illustrate the use of this approach to culture, the course will do a few things. First, it will work through a number of exemplary contemporary works in anthropology to show the power of using culture to analyze social life. Second, the course will show the evolution of the concept within anthropology. Third, the course will review the critique the limitations of the culture concept. One problem with many common-sense uses of the term, as well as many other discipline’s use of culture is that these uses perpetuate the significant harm that misuse of the culture concept can lead to. After all, cultural description is a way to generalize about groups of people—this can provide no small space to stereotypes and prejudice. Fourth, this course will show how culture can only be meaningfully interpreted with the help of other social theory to give a sense of how culture changes through time. Finally, this course will end, again, examining exemplary work in cultural anthropology, showing the use and power of cultural analysis.


Description of the teaching methods
Course meetings will be a mix of lectures, discussions, and activities.

Students should read and be prepared to discuss all readings prior to class.

Students should attend class as they’re unlikely to understand course material otherwise.
Feedback during the teaching period
Students will have the opportunity to submit drafts of all portions of the exam packet over the course of the semester. The professor will also offer ample class time to workshop this material. What this practically means is that students will be able to hand in drafts of their exam papers. The professor will read, comment on and critique them. Also, there will be workshops in class to discuss assignments.
Student workload
Teaching Hours 30 hours
Preparation Hours 135 hours
Examination Hours 40 hours
Further Information

The primary discipline for this course is Anthropology.

Expected literature

1. Introduction


Luhrmann, Tanya. 2012. When God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationships with God. New York: Knopf


2. Theories of Meaning


Positive Theories of Meaning


Geertz, Clifford. 1973. “Thick Description: Toward an Interpretive Theory of Culture.” In The Interpretation of Cultures. Pp. 3-33. Perseus Books Group.


Geertz, Clifford. 1973. “The Impact of the Concept of Culture on the Concept of Man.” In The Interpretation of Cultures. Pp. 33-55. Perseus Books Group.


Geertz, Clifford. 1973. “Deep Play: Notes on the Balinese Cockfight.” In The Interpretation of Cultures. Pp. 412-455. Perseus Books Group.


Paidipaty, Poornima. 2020. “‘Tortoises all the way down’: Geertz, cybernetics and ‘culture’ at the end of the Cold War.” Anthropological Theory 0(0):1-33. DOI: 10.1177/​14634996198899747.


Roseberry, William. 1982. “Balinese Cockfights and the Seduction of Anthropology.” Social Research 49(4):1013-1028.


Sahlins, Marshall. 1987. Islands of History. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.


Benedict, Ruth. 1934. Patterns of Culture. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.


Frake, Charles O. 1964. “How to Ask for a Drink in Subanun.” American Anthropologist 66(6):127-132.


Conklin, Harold C. 1949. “Bamboo Literacy on Mindoro.” Pacific Discovery 3:4-11.


Radcliffe-Brown, A.R. 1951. “The Comparative Method in Social Anthropology.” The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. 81(1/2):15-22.


Lévi-Strauss, Claude. 1966. The Savage Mind. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.


Sahlins, Marshall. 1976. Culture and Practical Reasons. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.


Stocking, George W. Jr. ed. 1988. Malinowski, Rivers, Benedict and Others: Essays on Culture and Personality. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.


Stocking, George W. Jr. ed. 1996. Volksgeist as Method and Ethic: Essay on Boasian Ethnography and the German Anthropological Tradition. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.


Writing Against Culture


The concept of culture, particularly it’s unexamined and lazy application has come in for well-deserved crirticism. This week will survey some of that criticism.


Abu-Lughod, Lila. 1991. “Writing Against Culture.” In Recapturing Anthropology: Working in the Present, Richard G. Fox ed. Pp. 137-162. Santa Fe: School of American Research Press.


Anderson, Mark. 2019. From Boas to Black Power: Racism, Liberalism, and American Anthropology. Stanford: Stanford University Press.


Asad, Talal. 1973. “Introduction.” In Anthropology & the Colonial Encounter, Talal Asad ed. Pp. 9-21. Ithaca Press.


Baker, Lee. D. 2010. Anthropology and the Racial Politics of Culture. Durham: Duke University Press.


Clifford, James and George E. Marcus. 2010. Writing Culture: The Poetics and Politics of Ethnography. Berkeley: University of California Press.


Murphy, Robert. 1971. The Dialectics of Social Life: Alarms and Excursions in Anthropological Theory. New York: Basic Books.


Obeyesekere, Gananath. 1992. The Apotheosis of Captain Cook: European Mythmaking in the Pacific. Princeton: Princeton University Press.


Said, Edward. 1978. Orientalism. New York: Pantheon Books.


Shange, Savannah. 2019a. Progressive Dystopia: Abolition, Antiblackness, and Schooling in San Fransisco. Durham: Duke University Press.


Shange, Savannah. 2019b. “Black Girl Ordinary: Flesh, Carcerality, and the Refusal of Ethnography.” Transforming Anthropology 27(1):3-21.


Trouillot, Michel-Rolph. 2003. Global Transformations: Anthropology and the Modern World. London: Palgrave.


Week 4


Culture Replacement Theories (and some Weasel Words)


Bourdieu, Pierre. 1977. Outline of Theory of Practice. Richard Nice, trans. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


Carrithers, Michael, Matei Candea, Karen Sykes, Martin Holbraad, Soumhya Venkatesan. 2010. “Ontology is Just Another Word for Culture: Motion Tabled at the 2008 Meeting of the Group for Debates in Anthropological Theory, University of Manchester.” Critique of Anthropology 30(2):152-200.


Cerwonka, Allaine and Liisa H. Malkki. 2007. Improvising Theory: Process and Temporality in Ethnographic Fieldwork. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.


Gershon, Ilana. 2019. “Porous social orders.” American Ethnologist 0(0):1-13. DOI:10.1111/amet.12829.


Keane, Webb. 2018. “On Semiotic Ideology.” Signs and Society 6(1):64-87.


Ong, Aiwa and Stephen J. Collier. 2004. Global Assemblages: Tehcnology, Politics, and Ethics as Anthropological Problems. Wiley Blackwell.


Weller, Susan C. and A. Kimball Romney. 1986. Systematic Data Collection. Sage.


3. A Bridge


Zelizer, Viviana. 1994. Pricing the Priceless Child: The Changing Social Value of Children. Princeton: Princeton University Press.


Levy, Jonathan. 2014. Freaks of Fortune: The Emerging World of Capitalism and Risk in America. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.


Estes, Nick. 2019. Our History is the Future: Standing Rock versus the Dakota Access Pipeline, and the Long Tradition of Indigenous Resistance. London: Verso


Ignatieve, Noel. 1995. How the Irish Became White. London: Routledge.



4. Theories of Motion


Theories of Lots of People (Societies, perhaps?)


Durkehim, Émile. The Rules of The Sociological Method. Steven Lukes, trans. Springer.


DuBois, W.E.B. 2002. The Souls of Black Folk. New York: Penguin


Fanon, Franz. 1967 [2008]. Black Skin, White Masks. Richard Philcox trans. Grove Press.


Mauss, Marcell. 2000. The Gift: The Form and Reason for Exchange in Archaic Societies.


Turner, Victor. 1996. The Ritual Process: Structure and Anti-Structure. London: Routledge.


Weiner, Annette B. 1992. Inalienable Possessions: The Paradox of Keeping While Giving. Berkeley: University of California Press.


Graeber, David. 2001. Toward and Anthropological Theory of Value: The False Coin of Our Own Dreams. Palgrave Macmillian.


Maybe Society Doesn’t Exist


Latour, Bruno. 2007. Reassembling The Social: An Introduction to Actor Network Theory. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


Strathern, Marilyn. 1990. The Gender of the Gift: Problems with Women and Problems with Society in Melanesia. California: University of California Press.


Theories of Interaction


Butler, Judith. 1988. “Performative Acts and Gender Constitution: An Essay in Phenomenology and Feminist Theory.” Theatre Journal 40(4):519-531.


Foucault, Michel. 1995. Discipline & Punish: The Birth of the Prison. Alan Sheridan, trans. Vintage Books.


Goffman, Erving. 1959. The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. Doubleday.


Garfinkel, Harold. 1991. Studies in Ethnomethodology. Polity.


Valentine, David. 2007. Imagining Transgender: An Ethnography of a Category. Durham: Duke University Press.


Silverstein, Michael. 2004. “Cultural” Concepts and the Language-Culture Nexus.” Current Anthropology 45(5):621-652.


Mattingly, Cheryl. 2014. Moral Laboratories: Family Peril and the Struggle for a Good Life. Berkeley: University of California Press.


Theories of Class


Marx, Karl and Friedrich Engels. 2014. The Communist Manifesto. New York: International Publishers Co.


Marx, Karl. 1994. The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte. New York: International Publishers Co.


Weiss, Hadas. 2014. “Homeownership in Israel: The Social Costs of Middle-Class Debt.” Cultural Anthropology 29(1):128-149.


Gramsci, Antonio. 1971. Selections from the Prison Notebook. Quentin Hoare and Geofferey Nowell Smith, ed. and trans. New York: International Publishers.


Hall, Stuart. 2019. Essential Essays, Volume 1: Foundations of Cultural Studies. Duerham: Duke University Press.


hooks, bell. 2000. Where We Stand: Class Matters. New York: Routledge.



5. Outro


De León, Jason. 2015. The Land of Open Graves: Living and Dying on the Migrant Trail. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Last updated on 15-02-2021