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Theory 2: Anthropology and the Experience of Limits

ANTH 296
Fall 2012 not offered
Certificates: Social, Cultural, and Critical Theory

Theory 1 and Theory 2 are core courses for the major, designed to elucidate historical influences on contemporary anthropological theory. While precise topics may vary from year to year, the overarching goal of the courses remains the same: to familiarize students with the main traditions from which the discipline of anthropology emerged and to explore the diverse ways in which contemporary anthropological practice defines itself both with and against its antecedents. This semester, our topic is anthropology and the experience of limits.

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 the logic of function and utility--that is, of actions and events that, while being 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 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 (through festivals, for example). Ultimately, Bataille sought to formulate a critique of the early 20th-century European political and economic order, which emphasized individualism, rationality, and profit and which, 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 abjection; sex and 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 tourism.
Credit: 1 Gen Ed Area Dept: SBS ANTH
Course Format: Lecture / DiscussionGrading Mode: Graded
Level: UGRD Prerequisites: ANTH101
Fulfills a Major Requirement for: (ANTH)(CSCT)

Last Updated on JUL-21-2024
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