School: Social Sciences
Academic Unit: Social Anthropology and History
Level of studies: Undergraduate
Course code: W/S - 001 Semester: 5th
Course Title: Aspects of Personhood (Africa, Melanesia)
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: 
    The seminar introduces the students to a fundamental analytical category of social anthropology, which draws its heuristic power from the fact that it is intrinsically related to other – equally fundamental – anthropological analytical categories like: gender, kinship, ritual, body, etc.
    Students come to realize – and, ideally, become familiar with – the fact that the ideas they hold about the self are not inherent to ‘human nature’ but are – to a great extent – products of culture, society and history.
    Through this cross-cultural gaze, students acquire the tools which will allow them to stand critically against the assumptions that shape their worldview(s) and the ideas and practices which follow from this. Finally, participants acquire knowledge of the epistemological issues raised by the practice of social anthropology.

    General Competences: 
    Respect for difference and multiculturalism
    Showing social, professional and ethical responsibility and sensitivity to gender issues
    Criticism and self-criticism
    Production of free, creative and inductive thinking

    (3) SYLLABUS

    The seminar consists of five thematic sections.

    Section 1: ‘Person’, ‘self’, and ‘individual’. Definitions and analytical distinctions.

    The first section offers definitions of ‘personhood’, ‘self’ and ‘individual’. Its aim is, first: to outline a coherent terminology out of the plethora of definitions and analytical distinctions of/between these three terms/concepts found in most of the anthropological writings on the topic; second: to underline the fact that these concepts are – to a great extent – socially, culturally and historically determined.

    Section 2: Personhood, kinship, and gender.

    The analytical category of personhood has it has been used by social anthropologists has led to a renewal of kinship studies. Thus, for example, the focus upon the ways personhood is conceptualized and constituted in different societies triggered a shift from a static, normative view of kinship to approaches underlying the practices of kinship and its processual nature. Conversely, the focus on gender and exchange transformed our view of personhood and self in so-called ‘primitive societies’.

    Section 3: Personhood, ritual/exchange, and gender.

    This section is a sequel to the section 2, with gender as their common denominator. It examines how initiation rituals and exchanges constitute the gendered self in both sub-Saharan and Melanesian societies so as to pinpoint the similarities and the differences between a Melanesian and an African variety of personhood. This gives us the opportunity to juxtapose two anthropological approaches of ritual and show that the theoretical perspective adopted by anthropologists greatly influences the way they define their object.

    Section 4: Cultural encounters: the ‘person’, the ‘self’ and the ‘individual’ in their historical contexts.

    Fourth section places personhood and its derivatives (‘self’ and ‘individual’) into their wider historical contexts so as to examine how they evolved through the historical experiences of the slave-trade, forced labor (under colonialism), and the market economy, all of which have afflicted and still afflict Europe’s African and Melanesian ex-colonies.

    Section 5: Personhood, humanity and Animality: toward a reassessment of the nature/culture divide.

    Section 5 investigates the interrelations between personhood, humanity and animality. More specifically, it examines cases in which the distinction between humans and animals is blurred. Under which circumstances and to what extent can a human substitute for an animal and can animals be vested with attributes of personhood and, therefore, humanity? How does this blurring impinge upon the nature/culture divide? We will draw on ethnographic work from South America, North America and Siberia.


    Delivery: Face-to face
    Use of information and communications technology : Extensive use of the open e-class platform (webpage of the course)
    Teaching methods:  Activity Semester workload
    Sessions (13) 40
    Paper presentation 30
    Paper abstracts 40
    Final essay 40
    Course total: 150
    Student performance evaluation: Each section comprises of four, five or six articles. Students attending the course will present the articles of each section in two sessions (3 + 3 hours). This will be followed by a discussion of each article presented and, at the end of the second session, of the issues raised in the section overall.
    By the completion of each section, students submit the abstracts of the corresponding section.
    In the middle of the semester each student shall pick a topic from a list. Students are encouraged to choose a topic of their own, provided it is compatible with the seminar’s orientations. Students submit the essay (3000-5000 words) at the end of the semester.

    Evaluation is conducted according to:
    – the presentation of the articles
    – participation to the discussions
    – the easy submitted at the end of the semester


    • Carrithers, M., Collins, S. and S. Lukes (eds.), 1985, The category of the person. Anthropology, philosophy, history. Cambridge – London – New York: Cambridge University Press.
    • Bastide, R and G. Dieterlen (eds.). 1973. La notion de personne en Afrique Noire. Paris: Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique.
    • Clifford, J. 1992. Person and Myth. Maurice Leenhardt in the Melanesian World. Duke University Press.
    • De Castro, Viveiros. 1992. From the Enemy’s Point of View: Humanity and Divinity in an Amazonian Society. Chicago-London: University of Chicago Press.
    • Ingold, Tim. 2000. The Perception of the Environment. Essays on Essays on Livelihood, Dwelling and Skill. New York: Routledge.
    • Kohn, Eduardo. 2013. How Forests Think: Toward an Anthropology Beyond the Human. University of California Press.
    • Rosaldo, Michelle Zimbalist. 1980. Knowledge and Passion: Ilongot Notions of Self and Social Life. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
    • Strathern, M. 1988. The Gender of the Gift: Problems with Women and Problems with Society in Melanesia. Berkeley: University of California Press.

    – Related academic journals:

    Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute
    Social Anthropology