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Unit information: Africa in 2019/20

Please note: Due to alternative arrangements for teaching and assessment in place from 18 March 2020 to mitigate against the restrictions in place due to COVID-19, information shown for 2019/20 may not always be accurate.

Please note: you are viewing unit and programme information for a past academic year. Please see the current academic year for up to date information.

Unit name Africa
Unit code ARCH20051
Credit points 20
Level of study I/5
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Dr. Carrier
Open unit status Not open




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


Africa has been and continues to be a critical site of disciplinary development for anthropology. Classic research there has left a strong mark on the ethnographic method and anthropological theory, and the region continues to inspire cutting-edge research on themes of much wider relevance, including migration, language, identity, development, urbanisation and globalisation. This unit proceeds by studying themes of contemporary salience while also highlighting the legacy of earlier anthropology. What anthropology can draw from this often problematic legacy will be of major concern to the unit, as will the possible futures for the discipline in a region so important for its past and present form.

Unit aims

This unit will:

(1) Provide a critical overview of the anthropology of Africa and its historical contours and relationship with colonialism

(2) Offer insight into contemporary African societies and the challenges they face, while also considering such societies in a longer time-frame with archaeological and historical perspectives

(3) Introduce key themes in the anthropology of Africa

(4) Introduce key ethnographic work related to the region and demonstrate its importance for the discipline more broadly

(5) Ask how the anthropology of the region (and the discipline in general) might be ‘decolonised’

Intended learning outcomes

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

(1) Critically assess the importance of Africa for the discipline of anthropology

(2) Demonstrate extensive knowledge of key themes in the anthropology of the region

(3) Link these regionally-specific themes to wider anthropological theories and approaches

(4) Evaluate academic writing focused on the region and beyond

(5) Demonstrate a critical understanding of how Africa has been represented, and the need to challenge common portrayals of the continent and its people

Teaching details

2-hour session per week of lecture and discussion, plus a half-day excursion to Africa-related sites around Bristol, and additional film screenings. Students will also give a short (5 minute) presentation on a topic that will form the basis of their second essay.

Assessment Details

Two 2500 word essays (summative, each 50%). Essay 1: ILOs 1, 4 and 5. Essay 2: ILOs 2, 3 and 4.

Reading and References

Besteman, C. (1996). ‘Representing Violence and “Othering” Somalia’, Cultural Anthropology 11 (1) and (1998), ‘Primordialist Blinders: A Reply to I. M. Lewis’, Cultural Anthropology 13 (1).

Fardon, R. (ed.), Localizing Strategies: Regional Traditions of Ethnographic Writing, Scottish Academic Press.

Horst, C. (2006), Transnational Nomads: How Somalis cope with refugee life in the Dadaab camps of Kenya, Berghahn.

Lienhardt, G. (1961), Divinity and Experience: The Religion of the Dinka, Oxford University Press.

McIntosh, J. (2009), The Edge of Islam: Power, Personhood and Ethnoreligious Boundaries on the Kenya Coast, Duke University Press.

Mudimbe, V.Y. (1989), The Invention of Africa, Indiana University Press.

Ntarangwi, M., Mills, D., and Babiker, M. (2006), African Anthropologies: History, Critique and Practice, Zed.

Wainaina, B. (2005), ‘How to write about Africa’, Granta 92.