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Anthropology and the Experience of Limits
CHUM 310
Spring 2011
Section: 01  
Crosslisting: ANTH 310

This course considers the possibilities of an anthropology of transgression, excess, and unreason. This would be an anthropology of all things cultural that work outside of the logic of function and utility, that is, of actions and events that, while eminently social, exceed reason and rational explanation. We will take as our point of departure the work of Georges Bataille and his notion of "profitless expenditure" (dépense), with which he worked to develop a political economy that no longer has production and rationality as its core principles but rather consumption, excess, and waste. For this "general economy," as he called it, in opposition to a "restricted economy" focused on utility, he drew from the anthropology of his time and its study of so-called primitive societies organized around complex systems of gift-giving, collective ritual, and periods of wasteful consumption (festivals, for example). Ultimately, Bataille sought to formulate a critique of the early 20th-century European political and economic order that emphasized individualism, rationality, and profit and that, he believed, was breeding disenchantment with liberal democracy, fostering totalitarian impulses, and leading to war and calamity.

Class readings and discussions will be organized around topics such as dépense and the festival; gift-giving and sacrifice; taboo and transgression; formlessness and adjection; erotism; and subjectivity, excess, and the experience of limits. Students will develop research projects on these and other topics of their interest, which could include theoretical and ethnographic explorations of, for example, particular festivals, games of chance, religious experience, the writing of poetry, nonreciprocal giving (organ donation, surrogate motherhood), and the experience of extreme sports and high-risk adventure tourism.

Essential Capabilities: Interpretation
Students will use research methods of anthropology as an interpretive discipline.
Credit: 1 Gen Ed Area Dept: SBS CHUM
Course Format: SeminarGrading Mode: Graded
Level: UGRD Prerequisites: None
Fulfills a Major Requirement for: None
Past Enrollment Probability: Not Available

Last Updated on MAR-04-2024
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