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Unit information: Kin, Friends, Lovers and Others in 2020/21

Unit name Kin, Friends, Lovers and Others
Unit code ARCH10019
Credit points 20
Level of study C/4
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Dr. Amy Penfield
Open unit status Not open




School/department Department of Anthropology and Archaeology
Faculty Faculty of Arts


This unit will introduce students to some key ideas and debates around human kinship and relationality; in other words, how humans relate to one another and how relationships are formed, maintained, severed and conceptualised. In this way, the unit will explore what constitutes kin, friends, lovers and others. The study of relationality forms the foundation of both archaeology and anthropology, but also offers fascinating insights into what it means to be human in a range of historical and global contexts. Drawing on both classic and contemporary material from the study of kinship and beyond, the unit will traverse themes of personhood, marriage, reproduction and parenting, friends and enemies, sexuality, transnational families, adoption, and relations with non-humans. Students will learn the wider significance of the topics to the interpretation and analysis of human societies more broadly. Lectures will be delivered by staff from the across the four fields of the department - archaeology, biological anthropology, linguistics and social anthropology – to offer a diverse range of approaches to the study of kinship and relationality.

Unit aims:

  • To introduce students to a range of archaeological/anthropological research on topics relating to personhood, kinship and sexuality.
  • To present research from across the four fields of the department and enable students to appreciate and recognise contrasts and parallels between different approaches.
  • To enable students to recognise both cross-cultural variation and universalities in the practices of personhood, kinship and sexuality.

Intended learning outcomes

At the end of this unit, a successful student will be able to:

  1. Describe some of the key debates within the field of kinship across the four fields of archaeology, biological anthropology, linguistics and social anthropology.
  2. Demonstrate an ability to question cultural assumptions about kinship and relationality.
  3. Apply cross-cultural, evolutionary and historical perspectives to key debates within kinship studies.
  4. Compare and critically evaluate the methods utilised in kinship studies from across the four fields.
  5. Make connections with material covered in other units across the first year.

Teaching details

Weekly lectures, and fortnightly seminars, supported by self-directed activities

Assessment Details

Formative: One 1000w-word essay mid-way through unit (20%), assesses ILO 1-3. Summative: One 2000-word essay at end of unit (80%), assesses ILO 1, 4-6.

Reading and References

Carsten J. 2004. After Kinship. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Edwards et al. 1993. Technologies of Procreation: kinship in the age of assisted conception. Manchester University Press.

Holy, L. 1996. Anthropological perspectives on kinship, London: Pluto Press.

Hrdy, S. B. 2011. Mothers and others: the evolutionary origins of mutual understanding. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Martin, R. 2013. How We Do It: The Evolution and Future of Human Reproduction. New York: Basic Books.

Stone, L. 2018. Kinship and Gender: An Introduction. New York & London: Routledge.

Weston, K. 1997. Families we choose: Lesbians, Gays, Kinship. New York: Columbia University Press.