UCD: Social Anthropology

Lecture, Seminar
  • Course description

    This module introduces the role of anthropology in humanitarian crises. From an anthropological standpoint, disasters represent radical disruptions that challenge the existing social and cultural orders, including those of the helpers. Attempts to understand the lives of societies and, in the present sphere, the activating mechanisms and effects of conflict and catastrophe, are expressed through very different approaches. Some favour a specific theme, based on specific technical knowledge, whether in a legal, economic or medical dimension. Other approaches, however, endeavour to unite these sectorial methods through a principal concern to emphasise the sequences, causal relationships and consequences of such phenomena.
    For anthropologists, knowledge should be gained regarding a reality which is situated on the level of locality, the place where individuals, as social beings, live their daily lives. These individuals are not necessarily aware of the forces and structures which influence their decisions, their way of thinking or their behaviour, but these make an impression upon their daily lives, their idea of the world, their family relationships, their neighbourhood, their environment and beliefs, their perceptions and influences operating in their societies. Disruptions (wars, disasters, forced population movements), which humanitarian aid attempts to alleviate, tear apart the invisible social fabric which surrounds the victims and gives meaning to their lives. It is this social fabric which requires better understanding, with its distinctive features within a certain culture, a certain society. For when a humanitarian operation is launched, it does not find itself faced with a mass of isolated individuals, cut off from all relationships (except in extreme cases), but with people who are suffering, not only physically, but also as a result of the dismantling of their social and cultural world. Their struggles for survival are accompanied by another struggle which is often in vain and which requires assistance and attention, that of rebuilding this social fabric around themselves. To be unaware of this is to run the risk of dangerous simplification, as has indeed been demonstrated by the failure and unnatural effects of some aid programmes.
  • Main themes

    Introduction to Social Anthropology
    Anthropology and Humanitarian Action
    Anthropology of Violence and War
    Anthropology of Aid & Gifts
    The Logic of Intervention
    Anthropological Theory & Method
    The Context of Humanitarian Action
    Responding to and coping with crises
    Representation & Signification practices
    Critical issues in Humanitarian Action: Development & Repatriation
  • Learning outcomes

    On successful completion of the course students should be able to:
    1. Show an articulated understanding of the importance of identifying underlying economic mechanisms, social structures, ideas and values related to different groups and societies.
    2. Demonstrate the relevance of specialist ethnographic knowledge and how this applies for instance to landscape, causes of natural disasters, the importance of common vs. codified law; kinship vs. citizenship; health/disease models predicated on moral notions of evil/goodness vs. allopathic medicine.
    3. Have the key skills necessary for empowering beneficiaries by supporting local participation.
    4. Demonstrate the skills to understand and communicate with beneficiaries, authorities and donors from different cultures and social and political levels and/or different pre-established situations.
    5. Appreciate of the delicate subtleties and difficulties in working in multicultural and multidisciplinary teams.
    6. Demonstrate the capacity to communicate with audiences in an ethical manner and beyond description.
    7. Demonstrate a good understanding of social relationships in HA intervention situations at various levels.
  • Assessment methods and criteria

    Group assignment (20%)
    Individual assignment (20%)
    Exam (60%)

Last updated: 15 November 2016

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