African Studies and Anthropology Module Summaries

First year

Compulsory Modules

Studying Societies: Social Anthropology

  • 10 credits

This module delivers core study skills for students reading African Studies as a means to help them transition from secondary to higher education. The module provides a basic orientation in the field of African Studies and allows students to familiarise themselves with the key skills necessary for success at university, such as note-taking, essay writing, academic integrity, oral presentation, and the ability to use library resources.

Thinking Anthropologically

  • 20 credits

The module is a broad introduction to anthropological approaches to society and culture. It asks questions about social life to which the answers appear obvious, and examines them in comparative perspective. Examples may include: What is a gift? What is dirt? What is in a name? How universal are experiences of emotions? In the process, students are shown the point of anthropology – to see life through the eyes of other people, and to question one’s own assumptions. It focuses on ethnography, the practice of 'doing anthropology' both in Africa and elsewhere. We use written texts and film to open up and discuss central ideas and debates in anthropology.

Around the World with Anthropology 

  • 10 credits

This module develops students’ knowledge of social anthropology by exploring the diversity of the discipline through a focus on a range of ethnographic regions. Students consider some of the key thematic and theoretical developments that have emerged from the study of particular regions of the world. Alongside this world-tour of anthropological research, students continue to develop the study skills necessary to succeed at university level, building on the work they have done in Studying Societies: Social Anthropology (33707).

Anthropology of Africa

  • 20 credits

Anthropology of Africa introduces a variety of diverse societies across sub-Saharan Africa, enabling students to understand fundamental aspects of social life in Africa. Engaging with key anthropological texts, from the colonial birth of the discipline to contemporary writings, the module encourages students to reflect critically on the different ways in which anthropologists represent African societies. The module covers topics such as: how African societies conceptualise personhood, marriage and gendered relations; how power is linked to religion and witchcraft beliefs; how historical memory is performed; and how political state failure is experienced in everyday life, not least for young people on the continent. Ethnographic texts are used throughout the module to familiarise students with African societies and anthropological methodology, and ethnographic videos are used to support the readings. While the lectures provide background knowledge, students are encouraged to use the seminar time to reflect critically on the module readings.

Optional Modules may include:

Writing Worlds: Ethnography as Craft

  • 20 credits

This module is built around full-length ethnographic monographs. Students are required to read the books in full over the course of the module. Lectures and seminars help to situate and contextualise the texts in relation, for example, to the identity and career of the anthropologists who wrote them; the development of the discipline of anthropology over time; the various scholarly debates with which they engage; and their reception (contemporary and subsequent). Strong emphasis is placed on the craft of ethnographic writing. Students examine ethnographic writing as a genre and consider different ways in which descriptive and analytical writing are woven together to build an argument. This requires thinking carefully about the nature of ethnographic evidence, the methodological underpinnings of anthropological research, the authors’ positionality and related ethical considerations, and the ways in which other forms of evidence are drawn upon to support ethnographic observation. Students engage with broad anthropological concerns, such as the relationship between the particular and the general, and the ethics and politics of representation, through close engagement with the texts.

Urban Encounters: Anthropology in Birmingham

  • 20 credits

This module takes key anthropological concepts and themes in the study of urban environments and asks how we might apply them in order to gain a deeper understanding of the city of Birmingham. Through lectures and seminar readings, students will be introduced to anthropological approaches to topics such as immigration, religious belief, consumption practices, street art, popular culture, inequality, multiculturalism, or food, and will be encouraged to apply an anthropological lens to such topics in the city in which they are studying.

Introduction to African Cultures

  • 10 credits

This module introduces students to the study and appreciation of African cultures. It emphasises diversity, complexity, and dynamism of cultures across the continent, and challenges the often held and overly simplistic assumption that Africa is a homogenous cultural world. By studying the content and form of cultural genres such as (but not limited to) oral literature, performance, masquerade, visual art, photography, and film, students will gain important insights into a range of African cultures. With a focus on how cultural forms are continually adapted to changing tastes, aesthetics, and politics by Africans on the continent and in diaspora, and how guardianship and representations of African culture underpin decolonial debates, the module equips students with the knowledge and skills they need to intelligibly discuss issues pertinent to the study of contemporary Africa.

Introuduction to African Politics

  • 10 credits

This module introduces students to past and present political systems of Africa. Students will learn how African political systems have developed out of and in contestation with the colonial encounter, and will interrogate how African states continue to shape regional and global political structures today. The module pays particular attention to key African issues in contemporary political action and aims to be critical of how politics has been characterised on the continent.

Introduction to African Development

  • 10 credits 

The module aims to provide a broad introduction to development principles, concepts and terminology which can be used as tools to study Africa’s integration into a global political economy and assess its changing place within a globalising world; explain disparities in material conditions in Africa, and between Africa and other parts of the world; and examine regional and local examples within Africa of both planned and 'spontaneous' socio-economic and other change.  

The History of Africa and its Diaspora

  • 20 credits

This module is a survey of the history of Africa and African diasporas. It introduces students to a study of Africa's deep and more recent past, highlighting migrations within, to and from the continent. The module has a broad geographical and chronological reach, locating Africa and Africans in global history. It seeks to widen students' understanding of sources and methods, and to introduce them to key concepts that will strengthen their ability to engage critically with history and memory. The modules covers a wide range of topics such as: early African urbanism, cosmopolitanism and commerce, voluntary and forced migrations, slavery and resistance, cultural exchange, religious beliefs and practices, and the nature and legacies of European imperialism. This broad, introductory survey module provides a foundation for future study of Africa and African diasporas.