Cave painting

Introduction to the study of the cultural practices of other societies as well as our own

Module details

  • Offered to 1st years
  • Tuesdays 16.00-18.00
  • South Kensington Campus
  • 8 weeks (spring term only)
  • Non-credit only
How to enrol

This module is an introduction to cultural anthropology. Looking at a variety of cultural practices in other societies as well as our own, it explores different ways of thinking about culture and different approaches to the study of social worlds. It offers you a chance to examine your own practices from an anthropological point of view, by comparing them with those of ‘exotic’ societies, and to question your assumptions about ‘normal’, ‘natural’ and ‘rational’ behaviour in a rigorous way.  

Information blocks

Learning objectives

Indigenous man in a canoe

  • Demonstrate knowledge of core themes and problems of cultural anthropology.
  • Develop decision-making skills by selecting some of their own practices to examine.
  • Integrate concepts using self-directed primary and secondary research.
  • Present individual and group work to peers and respond to constructive feedback from facilitator and other learners.
  • Apply key concepts, research, and feedback to write an analytical report.

Indicative core content

  • The nature/nurture distinction. Problems with the distinction between biologically determined and learnt behaviour. Ambiguities in some common applications of it. 
  • Conceptions of culture. Why we need the category of ‘cultural’ practices and how we use to idea of cultural differences to understand one another. 
  • The idea of a ‘primitive’ society. Accounts in early anthropology of stages of civilisation. Assessing the idea of a ‘primitive’ society and of attempts to give an ‘objective’ or ‘non-evaluative’ account of progress. 
  • Themes in social anthropology. Societies considered as organisms. The significance of kinship and the study of kinship systems. The significance of gift-giving and the study of gift economies. 
  • Studying ourselves. Assessing the idea of ‘exotic’ cultures. Examples in more recent an anthropology of studies of our own everyday and specialised practices and competences. 
  • The status of cultural anthropology. Differences between the natural and human sciences. Whether cultural anthropology can or should be regarded as a science. 
  • Methodology. Some problems with the idea of ‘knowledge’ of a culture. Field work and the technique of participant observation. 
  • Language and meaning. The relationship between language and cultural practices. Understanding cultures as systems of meanings. 
  • Cultural relativism. Assessing the idea of a scientific inquiry from an anthropological point of view. Whether anthropology aims at establishing facts about another culture. Other ways of thinking about anthropological studies.


  • Short test on ethnography. Description and analysis of a cultural practice. (40%)
  • Essay. Choice of questions. 2000 words. (60%)

Key information

  • ECTS value: 0
  • Requirements: You must be prepared to attend all classes and to spend about an hour a week preparing for each session
  • This module is designed as an undergraduate Level 4 course. See Imperial Horizons level descriptors [pdf]
"I was very satisfied with the module and content; the teacher was very engaging and I really enjoyed the debates and the content."