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ANT 128A: Short Description

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Anthropology 128A
Kinship and Social Organization (4 units)
Winter Quarter 2006
(11:00-11:50 MWF, & 1:10-2:00 F, 192 Young Hall; CRN #73430


Short Description


Headlines from the Sacramento Bee: 
Experts ponder which comes first: Love or marriage (28 June 2003)
Dowry fracas: India abuzz (18 May 2003)
US Supreme Court refuses to hear case of paternity fraud victim (n.d.)
Bush seeks gay marriage ban (25 February 2004)

Each of these articles is about the subject matter of this course. Anthropology 128A takes up one of the major organizing features of human social life: kinship. Among the topics covered are sexual relationships, incest, marriage, family, inheritance, and of course, the complex web of expectations and responsibilities we maintain with that more-or-less extended group we recognize as kin. We will consider these features of social life in relation to the broader issue of evolution among the various types of social systems that anthropologists have identified (e.g., bands, tribes, chiefdoms and states).

Three conceptual themes will guide our study. They are: (i) diversity; (ii) evolutionary analysis, and (iii) contemporary relevance (those headlines). The empirical or descriptive materials in the course, generally case studies, will document some of the great variety of ways in which humans have organized their social life. Our diversity is remarkable and fascinating. The interpretive materials will examine several, sometimes incompatible, types of evolutionary theory that have been used to try to understand this diversity, especially its origins and its persistence. These materials entail the claim that an evolutionary approach is necessary (this is not to say, sufficient) for understanding human variability. Finally, throughout the course we will take note of the relevance of the ethnographic record and its evolutionary explanation for our own lives and ways of doing things.

The organization of this class is meant to give balanced pedagogical attention to mastery of content and development of skills. By content I refer to the subject matter, empirical and analytical. Content largely is specific to anthropology and this subject matter (although relevant beyond these contexts). By skills I mean your ability to research a topic as a small team, distil out its most salient elements, and then to effectively present that information in written, verbal and visual formats to the class. Skills are not specific to a discipline or even to social science, but likely will be primary in the kinds of work that you do throughout your career, whatever the subject matter.

For further information, please contact:
Bruce Winterhalder (754-4770; or,