Study-Unit Description

Study-Unit Description


TITLE Anthropology of Moralities

LEVEL 02 - Years 2, 3 in Modular Undergraduate Course


DEPARTMENT Anthropological Sciences

DESCRIPTION This study-unit explores the moral or ethical dimension of culture. It probes different collective cultural constructions of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ action, of good and evil, through recent anthologies of morality in ethnographic studies. It compares different perspectives on morality in anthropological theory – including classical structural anthropology, rational choice theory, 'virtue' theory in the work of MacIntyre, and the Foucauldian theory of ethics in recent anthropology. A wide ethnographic literature is discussed that examines moral language-and-consciousness in different kinds of society. These ethnographic analyses compare different moralities through the perspectives of: Discourse, Gender and Kinship. The unit culminates by looking closely at two cross-cultural syntheses of the language-and-consciousness of morality in a post-modern world – (1) the relevance of marriage systems to different culturally constructed moral codes; and (2) anthropological accounts of the dynamic relation between Self and Other.

Study-unit Aims:

This study-unit is designed, first, to sensitize students to the social processes whereby actions are publicly justified, or legitimated, in different cultures; secondly, to increase students’ capacity to participate in the wide-ranging debates about Ethics in a globalizing world; and thirdly, to equip students of anthropology, sociology, philosophy and theology with the methods for analyzing morality that have been developed in the discipline of social anthropology.

Learning Outcomes:

1. Knowledge & Understanding
By the end of the study-unit the student will be able to:

1. Discuss orally and in written form the main differences between different understandings of 'morality' in the new sub-discipline of social anthropology known as the 'anthropology of moralities and ethics';
2. Write a detailed comparison of moral consciousness in at least two major culture zones, based on specific ethnographies by anthropologists, as a full length essay;
3. Describe evocatively in essay form the potential contribution of different specific cultures to evolving moral debates in a globalizing world society.

2. Skills
By the end of the study-unit the student will be able to:

1. Specify either in speaking or in writing how the speech and action patterns of groups that he/she actually encounters, suggest a particular cultural form of ethical-and-moral consciousness - ie., he/she will be able to penetrate its discursive patterns in such a way as to reasonably suggest its ethics.

Main Text/s and any supplementary readings:

Main Texts:

- Meyer Fortes, Kinship and the Social Order (1969)
- M. Bloch, ‘The Long Term and the Short Term: The Economic and Political Significance of the Morality of Kinship’ in J. Goody (ed.) The Character of Kinship (1973)
- Signe Howell, The Ethnography of Moralities (1997).
- James Laidlaw, ‘For An Anthropology of Ethics and Freedom’, in JRAI (New Series), Vol. 8 No. 2, 2002: 311-332.
- P. Clough, ‘The Relevance of Kinship to Moral Reasoning in Culture and in the Philosophy of Ethics’ in Social Analysis 51(1) 2007.
- T. Evens, Anthropology as Ethics (2008)

Supplementary Texts:

- P. Vardy, P. Grosch, The Puzzle of Ethics (1994): Part I-Theoretical Ethics.
- M. Burleigh, Moral Combat (2010): Chapters 14, 15,and 16.
- E. Durkheim, The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life (1915): Conclusions.
- James Laidlaw, ‘Social anthropology’, Chapter 31 of J. Skorupski (ed.), The Routledge Companion to Ethics (2010).
- S. Lukes, Emile Durkheim (1973): The Division of Labour in Society.
- R. Layton, Introduction to Theory in Anthropology (1997): references to Evans-Pritchard.
- F. Barth, Models in Social Organization (1966): pp. 1-11.
- A. MacIntyre, After Virtue (1985)
- A. MacIntyre, Whose Justice? Which Rationality? (1988)
- D. Parkin (ed.) The Anthropology of Evil (1985).
- I. Linden, A New Map of the World (2003): Chapters on The Dark Underside Of Globalisation; Moral Sentiments in the 21st Century.
- T. Evens, ‘Two Concepts of ‘Society’ as a Moral System: Evans-Pritchard’s Heterodoxy’, Man (n.s.) 17: 205-218.
- M. Weber, Economy and Society (1968): Ch. 1.


Assessment Component/s Resit Availability Weighting
Assignment Yes 100%


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It should be noted that all the information in the description above applies to study-units available during the academic year 2020/1. It may be subject to change in subsequent years.