School: Social Sciences
Academic Unit: Social Anthropology and History
Level of studies: Undergraduate
Course code: SA-102 Semester: 5th
Course Title: Issues in African ethnography I
Independent teaching activities Weekly teaching hours Credits
Lectures 3 6
Course type: Specialised general knowledge
Prerequisite courses: None
Language of instruction and examinations: Greek
Is the course offered to erasmus students: Yes
Course website (Url):


    Learning outcomes: 

    Issues in African Ethnography I extends and elaborates upon the introductory course taught in the 2nd semester and entitled: Introduction to the Anthropology of Africa. It aims at deepening and expanding the knowledge acquired during the 2nd semester. However, students who have not attended the introductory course can still attend the present course.

    Students are introduced to selected classical monographs in the anthropology of Africa which are considered ‘classics’ because they, first: laid down the research framework for the subsequent decade(s), second: were theoretically highly influential and, third: triggered some of the most fruitful discussions in the discipline and the humanities in general.

    By the completion of the course, students will have acquired a deep understanding of the ways these seminal and influential studies – concerned with “small places” – relate to “big issues”; how they contributed to the development of social anthropology and to the dialogue between the humanities.

    General Competences: 

    Search for, analysis and synthesis of data and information, with the use of the necessary technology
    Working independently
    Respect for difference and multiculturalism
    Criticism and self-criticism
    Production of free, creative and inductive thinking

    (3) SYLLABUS

    Section 1: Kinship, descent and lineage theory 1. Kinship: basic concepts a. Short overview of the anthropology of kinship b. Basic concepts and conventions in the anthropology of kinship c. Marriage d. Residence 2. Kinship, descent theory and lineage theory a. A genealogy of the term “descent” in British social anthropology b. What is kinship? c. What is a ‘kinship system’? d. Interpersonal relations and structural principles.

    Section 2: Evans-Pritchard The Nuer 1. Evans-Pritchard and The Nuer: A few words about the book and the author 2. Population distribution and agricultural activities a. Men and cattle b. Nuer ecology c. Dimensions of locality 3. Time and space a. Ecological time, structural time b. Space and structural distance 4. The Nuer as an archetype of lineage theory and the definition of ‘segmentarity’ a. The political system b. Structural relativity, feud and the concept of political segmentation c. An example: Konye village.  

    Section 3: The Nuer and the anthropological community. Issues in anthropological theory. 1. Introduction 2. Readings of The Nuer a. Theoretical bias, analytical erasures a1. Rules, transgressions and the paradoxes of history a2. The political and structural aspect of affinity a3. Uncles, cattle and chiefs b. Agnation, genealogy and the political system: an alternative reading b1. Drawings on the sand: analytical distinctions and indigenous notions b2. Agnation as ideology and practice b3. Aristocracy and the “power of blood” b4. Two systems in one: Structure, hierarchy and the obviation of contradiction 3. The Nuer in historical context a. Colonialism a1. The North/South divide and colonialism a2. British conquest and the colonial administration of Nuerland a3. The interventions of the British administration and its impact on the ideas and practices of feud.

    Section 4: Sharon Hutchinson’s “Nuer Dilemmas” 1. Civil war and feud a. The “Southern Policy” and its contestation b. Sudanese nationalism and the North/South conflict c. The Nuer and the first civil war (1955/56-1972) d. The Nuer and the second civil war (1983-2005) e. Culture, community and manhood in the age of guns 2. Cattle and blood: The changing symbolism of gender, marriage and descent a. Blood and food b. Blood, cattle and food: an example of gender relations b1. Cattle-over-blood b2. Cattle-links: The father-son relation b3. Blood-links: The mother-child relation b4. Blood-links: initiation and the mastery of the (male) self b5. Food-links: Women as mediators c. Cattle-over-blood: An endangered paradigm c1. Paternity, legitimacy and adultery c2. Divorce 3. Blood, cattle and cash: Nuer values commoditized? a. Cattle and cash b. “Money has no blood”: Blood, cash and the human/cattle identification c. Hybrid categories of wealth d. Socio-economic transformations and social relations.


    Delivery: Face-to face
    Use of information and communications technology : Extensive use of the open e-class platform (course webpage)
    Teaching methods:  Activity Semester workload
    Lectures 40
    Autonomous study and exams preparation 40
    Essay 30
    Final exam 10
    Course total: 130
    Student performance evaluation: – Final exam
    – Essay. Students will choose a topic, write and submit an essay of 3000-5000 words at the end of the semester.

    Students will be evaluated according to their ability in:
    – integrating the anthropological concepts examined in the course
    – capacity in coherent thinking and writing
    – understanding the ways in which the ethnography and anthropology of sub-Saharan Africa and the discipline of anthropology overall feeds each other in terms of theories, concepts and methods


    Suggested bibliography:

    • Dumont, Louis. An Introduction to two theories of Social Anthropology. Descent Groups and Marriage Alliance. Berghahn Books.
    • Kuper, Adam. 2005. The Reinvention of Primitive Society. Transformations of a Myth. Routledge.
    • Tsekenis, Emile. 2020. Africa and its anthropologies. Colonial and post-colonial Ethnographies. Athens: Patakis. [in Greek]

    Related academic journals:
    Journal of African History
    Canadian Journal of African Studies/Revue Canadienne des Etudes Africaines
    Cahiers d’Etudes Africaines
    Journal des Africanistes
    African Studies Review