This course will explore selected peoples and places on the African continent from a variety of anthropological perspectives. The goals of the course are to appreciate and understand the variety of experiences and ways of life found across the continent; to understand the challenges faced by peoples in Africa today; and to think critically both about and with the models used to understand other people.


Africa is a huge continent, with many countries, each of which contains multiple ethnic, religious, and language groups. Each country also hosts considerable diversity from country to city, and in different ecological zones. This course focuses on Sub-Saharan Africa. Anthropology’s insights come from examining the ways complex sets of beliefs, practices, and expectations come together in specific social, economic, and political contexts, to produce a social field filled with tensions and contradictions that people navigate with varied outcomes. To achieve these insights, we look intensively at certain situations, instead of doing broad surveys of differences. This year we will concentrate on peoples living in Nigeria, Niger, (colonial) Sudan, South Africa, and Madagascar (and beyond).

In this course, we examine the family as a social and cultural form. Students should come to understand the variety of ways in which “family” and relationships within families are constructed and understood; how “families” are situated in broader social relations; and how “the family” and its relationships serve is a point of creative reference for social action. In addition, students should learn the variety of ways that anthropologists have dealt with family and social forms and relationships associated with it: household, reproduction, descent, kinship, class, cultural ideas of motherhood, love and intimacy, etc.