Introduction to anthropology

Offer semester
1st semester

Lecture time
Monday 15:30 - 17:20

Lecture venue

Course description

SOCI1003 aims to provide students with an understanding of what anthropology is all about; it targets year-1 semester-1 students from the Faculty of Social Sciences, and there are no prerequisites to join except being curious and open-minded. We will begin by looking at anthropology’s four fields: archaeology, bio-physical, linguistic, and sociocultural anthropology. This course focuses mainly on the latter, and we will see what anthropologists do, the role of ethnographic fieldwork, the concept of culture, and some famous theories. Among the “classic” topics, we will explore environmental adaptation, economic systems, kinship, gender, race and ethnicity, political organization, rituals and rites. But we will also look at concepts such as “nation” and “globalization,” and at some specific themes, such as migration, violence and warfare.

This course emphasizes cross-cultural comparison, and I will offer you case studies from all over the world, involving, for example, bands of foragers, small-scale agricultural societies, and industrialized nation-states. The fundamental question that anthropology asks—and I will keep asking you throughout the course—is: what does it mean to be human?

Course learning outcomes

  1. Understand what anthropology is and the questions it asks, acquiring a broad understanding of the main anthropological fields and topics.
  2. Build a starter toolkit to look at the world in an anthropological way, thinking anthropologically.
  3. Critically reflect upon the major sociocultural issues, contemporary and historical, and suggest how they might be addressed.
  4. Experience small-scale ethnographic fieldwork as a group, engaging with the community, and sharing research findings.


After-class Quizzes40%
Ethnographic Project (including a Group Presentation and an Individual Report)40%

Required reading

We will use excerpts from the following books, by no means to be read in their entirety. All key-readings and recommended materials will be uploaded on Moodle.

  • Ember, Carol R., and Melvin Ember. 2014. Cultural Anthropology. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall.
  • Spradley, James, and McCurdy, David W., Eds. 2014. Conformity and Conflict: Readings in Cultural Anthropology. Boston: Pearson.

Recommended reading

  • Harari, N. Y. 2014. Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. London: Penguin Random House.
  • Diamond, Jared. 1999. Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies. New York: Norton.
  • I invite you to check, an online magazine sponsored by the Wenner-Gren Foundation that discusses a broad range of anthropological issues without jargon; we will read a few articles from Sapiens during the course.

Course co-ordinator and teachers

Student view

Introduction to anthropology is a story-telling course. With each story told, you enter a different culture and acquire a new perspective. As exotic and magical as these cultures might seem, you come to appreciate that they are all diverse ways of being human.

– Owen Leung, year 3 undergraduate student, Sociology Major