Leading and Participating


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Contemporary Issues in Anthropological Theory

ANTH 521 - Spring 2018 - Frey's section


Welcome to your graduate seminar, Contemporary Issues in Anthropological Theory.  The following faculty of the department will serve as your facilitators: Philip Stevens, Rodney Frey, Don Tyler and Mark Warner.  Each faculty member is responsible for his segment of the seminar (see Seminar Schedule below).  Their offices are in Phinney Hall, with hours posted.

The seminar prerequisite is:

  • ANTH 420 – Anthropological Theory and History, or equivalent course, or permission of the instructor.

Class Days/Times and Location:

  • Tuesday and Thursday 3:30 to 4:45

  • TLC 140

To go to:

Seminar Description:

This seminar is designed to explore the current trends, issues and challenges facing the field of anthropology and its related disciplines, especially archaeology (prehistoric and historic), ethnography, and physical anthropology.  Presented as a graduate seminar, students and faculty will engage in an exchange of ideas and concerns.  We will consider many of the critical debates revolving around various key theoretical issues.  Such debates include, but are not limited to: ethical issues in ethnography and archaeology; an ideational versus materialistic approach to culture; culture defined in terms of objectivity and the etic approach versus a subjectivity and emic approach; the possibility of universal values in a discipline of cultural relativity; the "crisis of representation" of culture; applied and reflexive versus more formal research paradigms; ethical dilemmas and challenges; the relevance of "culture" and of the "four-fields" approach; and the future prospects for anthropology.

The anthropology faculty within the department are responsible for identifying and initiating the discussion topics within their field of expertise, while the seminar participants will then "explore" with these topics and consider their theoretical and practical implications and challenges for the future of anthropology and themselves.  There will be four 3-week sequential blocks of the seminar, led in order by the faculty, concluding with the "state of the art" student presentations.  Typically, the first two-three sessions of each block will be led by a faculty member, who will present on a topic or on research he or she had/is conducting.  The next three-four sessions will be led by the graduate students, with assigned responsibility for a section of the readings. 

Seminar Schedule:

  • Our seminar will begin on January 11 and 16, with an overview of seminar and assignments, led by Philip.

  • Rodney Frey (Session #1 - Jan 18, 23 & 25, 30 & Feb 1, and Feb 6). Required readings for all seminar participants:

    • Carry Forth the Stories: An Ethnographer's Journey into Native Oral Tradition (Washington State University Press 2017)

    • Anthropology and Humanism articles: 1. Maynard and Cahnmann-Taylor, and Searles; 2. Narayan, and Glass-Coffin;  3. Mickel, and Simonelli (PDFs)

      Session Discussant Leaders by Session:

      • Jan 18: Carry Forth the Stories pp. ix-82, 136-155 - Rodney

      • Jan 23: Carry Forth the Stories pp. 83-135, 151-155 - Cynthia, Kody and Zenna

      • Jan 25: Carry Forth the Stories pp. 156-226 - Alleah, Joe Ben and Nathan

      • Jan 30: Anthropology and Humanism #1 - Alexa and Emma

      • Feb 1: Anthropology and Humanism #2 - Diane and Jonathan

      • Feb 6: Anthropology and Humanism #3 - Crissy, Marci and Muyuanya, and Carry Forth the Stories pp. 227-253 - Rodney

  • Mark Warner (Session #2 - 2/8-2/27)


  • Philip Stevens (Session #3 - 3/1-3/27)


  • Don Tyler (Session #4 - 4/3-4/19)


  • Your "State of the Art" presentations are scheduled for April 24 & 26, May 1 & 3, and May 9 (at 3:00-5:00 during Finals Week). 

    • Each student will give a 20 minute synopsis of his or her "State of the Art," followed by approximately 5 minutes of questions and answers, and discussion.  NOTE: class may run over a few minutes during these sessions.  The presented synopsis is based on the student's last journal entry.  That entry will explore, in extended detail (4-6 pages), the student's own current theoretical and methodological positioning within anthropology, i.e., a sort of "state of the art."  The student should also attempt to articulate the particular intellectual and theoretical paradigm(s) out of which his or her position emanates.  Ethical, applied, and other issues of importance to the student can also be explored in his or her "state of the art."

      • April 24:

      • April 26:

      • May 1:

      • May 3:

      • May 9 (3:00-5:00 during Finals Week; Phinney 102):


Course Requirements: 

This is a seminar in participation. The student can not assume a passive observer's role, viewing the subject matter from afar. To successfully engage these activities, each student will be expected to complete the following learning activities: an academic journal and lead and engage in seminar presentations.   The grading will be based upon Journal Entries, worth 45% of your grade, Leading Discussion, worth 45% of your grade, and Seminar Participation, worth 10% of your grade.  Attendance at all seminar sessions is expected.  Repeated unexcused absences will lower your grade.

A.   Journal. The first learning activity will for each student to maintain an academic "journal."  The journal will include not only the student’s summaries of readings and class presentations and discussions in his or her own words, but also reflections on the implications and significances of topics considered.  

To reflect, i.e., to be "reflexive," is not to summarize but to seriously and critically think about and consider the assumptions and implications of a position, idea or expression, and your relationship with those assumptions and implications in an anthropological context.  Students are encouraged to link the themes conveyed in the readings and lectures with personal experiences and previous academic study in anthropology, incorporating these insights into the journal entries.  To reflect is not to react and simply articulate one's opinion.  Ground your thinking in the text itself, and the intellectual assumptions and implications it espouses.

Think of reflection as a dialectical process.  First thoroughly engage and explore the nature and assumptions of your past experiences and knowledge.  You have to know yourself.  Then thoroughly engage and explore the nature and assumptions of the newly encountered text, be it an experience, body of knowledge, some articulated theory as expressed in a written text.  You need to really know the text at hand.  With these two distinct bodies of information and knowledge, form and articulate a new synthesis, be it an original understanding, new interpretation, a revealed implication on the issue at hand, and/or new questions to be asked.   Integrate and create.  This new knowledge, the synthesis, is fundamentally distinct in nature from either your own past experiences and knowledge base and the newly encountered text at hand.  But to get to this new level of knowing, of reflection, it takes considerable and deliberate effort.  You need to fully and completely engage the texts and your own reflexive process.

The last journal entry will explore, in extended detail (4-6 pages), the student's own current theoretical and methodological positioning within anthropology, i.e., a sort of "state of the art."   The student should also attempt to articulate the particular intellectual and theoretical orientation out of which his or her position emanates.  Ethical, applied, and other issues of importance to the student can also be explored.  A synopsis of this this entry will be the basis of your student presentation in during the conclusion of the seminar. 

The student is expected to make a minimum of fifteen (15) entries, each on a different topic discussed in the seminar and/or in the readings (assigned textbooks), with a minimum of three (3) entries for each of the four blocks of the seminar (a minimum of three each for Camp, Frey, Sappington, and Tyler).  Each entry should be no less than a page in length.  The selection of the particular topics (and thus journal entries) is at the discretion of the student, though they must correspond to the topics concerned in the seminar as covered during class and in the reading assignments.  The entries must be word-processed.  The journal will be reviewed periodically throughout the semester by the instructors, and turned in at the end of the semester for grading.

Grading criteria:

  1. The journal includes both written summaries (clearly and accurately articulating the position of the author) and, most critically, reflective discussions (exploring the implications of the topic and linking them with the student's experiences and previous academic study in anthropology) that have fully engaged the topics considered.  

  2.  It is written in a legible and well-organize style with concepts and illustrative examples clearly articulated.
  3. The journal has a minimum of fifteen (15) entries (3 for each of the four blocks; a minimum of one page each in length with the last entry, the
    "state of the art," 4-6 pages in length).

B.   Seminar Presentations and Discussions.  As this course is presented in a seminar format, the second activity involves student presentations, leading discussion on various reading assignments, and effectively articulating, critiquing and/or advocating for particular theoretical and/or research positions. The specific number of presentations and readings will be assigned at the beginning of the semester, depending on student interests and the total student enrollment in the seminar. 

When presenting a particular topic and set of readings, focus on specific texts and passages from the assigned textbooks that are representative of the key ideas or positions you are considering. The texts should be from the actual writings of a theorist or writer you are representing and assigned to you. With the pages of the text referenced in the textbook, the text can then be considered and interpreted by all the seminar participants.  

  • Isolate, engage and explore the various meanings of key passages and sentences within a text.   What is being stated?  

  •   What might it revealed about the author and the cultural and intellectual contexts from which he or she is writing?    What are the implications of what is being stated for anthropology and its varied theoretical and methodological issues?   What are the implications of what is being stated for your own subfield, if different from that of the author?  To whom is the text being addressed?   What is the cultural context from which you are drawing meanings and interpretations of the text?    In addition, who is the author and from which intellectual paradigm or theory is she or he primarily oriented?Has the article spawned unanswered questions and what might they be?

It is critical that we engage and dwell in the actual texts of our books.  It is also critical that we try to get everyone in the seminar to engage and participate in the interpretation of the text passages isolated for discussion.

In additional to being prepared to give your own presentations, you are excepted to have all the appropriate reading assignments read on the dates they are assigned and be ready to respond informatively to the seminar presenter's questions.

 Grading criteria:

  1. Accurately summarize the thesis, positions, and/or arguments presented by the author(s) of the article(s) or chapter(s) in the assigned readings.

  2. Provide additional background information to better contextualize the thesis or issues of the article(s) or chapter(s), including but not limited to culturally, economically, educationally, historically, politically, intellectual paradigm or theory, etc. contexts.

  3. Primary: Provide reflective, anthropologically-relevant questions based upon the assigned article(s) or chapter(s).

  4.  Primary: Successfully lead academically-constructive seminar discussions that result in wide-spread participation by seminar members

    All seminar participants must be prepared to discuss all the articles and chapters on the dates they are assigned.


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