Course overview


Online teaching

We are now offering many of our courses online due to the developing Covid-19 situation. Continue learning with us by taking courses remotely via live distance learning.


Why do we identify with some social groups more than others? How do every day activities such as shopping inform our sense of group belonging? Human behaviour, culture and society pose many questions for all of us and through the discipline of anthropology - the study of humans - we can reveal important insights into language, race, marriage, religion, sex and other defining features of our humanity.

As a discipline, anthropology is concerned with understanding what constitutes ‘human nature’ and the social and cultural underpinnings of human behaviour. This course examines some of the ways anthropologists have tried to understand what it means to be ‘human’. You will learn to think like an anthropologist and investigate the social, cultural and evolutionary aspects of our behavioural modernity.

If you are looking to develop a better understanding of human social and cultural difference either for personal intellectual development or in order to increase your career opportunities then this introductory course is ideal for you. We will introduce you to some of the important theoretical and methodological frameworks of social and cultural anthropology, as well as the political and ideological implications of the kinds of theories and knowledge that anthropologists produce. The course will focus on areas including:

  • language and symbolism
  • kinship and marriage
  • sex and gender
  • personhood and collective identity
  • race and ethnicity
  • religion and ritual
  • gift-giving and exchange

Please note this is an introductory course and no previous experience of having studied in this area is required.

Why Study this Course?

  • Learn an anthropological approach to understanding human behaviour, culture and society
  • Gain a cross-cultural perspective and apply this common human social institutions and cultural practices
  • Develop your ability to understand, communicate and empathise with those from different cultural contexts.
  • Develop your critical analysis of contemporary social issues
  • Increase your knowledge of the discipline of anthropology and the range of theories regarding human nature and human behaviour.



Booking information

Disability Support

We are committed to providing reasonable teaching adjustments for students with disabilities that may impact on their learning experience. If you require adjustments, please complete the relevant section on the booking form and also contact us at so we can respond to your requests as soon as possible. 

Please note that our short courses sell-out quickly, so early booking is advisable.

Sign up to be notified when new dates become available.


If you have any questions about this course please contact shortcourses ( .

For information on our upcoming short courses please sign up to our mailing list.


Richard Hoggart Building

Tutor information

portrait of Doctor justin woodman

Dr Justin Woodman

Dr Justin Woodman is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Anthropology at Goldsmiths with over 15 years’ experience in teaching introductory anthropology courses to adult learners. He completed his doctoral research on the concept and the politics of the ‘demonic’ within contemporary occultures in the UK. His current research interests include: esotericism, speculative fiction and popular culture; racism and political extremism within cultures of conspiracy; religion, cognition and the ‘New Atheism’. In addition to this short course, Justin also teaches on Myth, Ritual and Magic: Introducing the Anthropology of Religion


Course structure

Week 1 - Introduction: Key Issues in Social Anthropology

This introductory block explores what the academic discipline of anthropology covers, and examines it aims and scope as well as its methodology. The sessions will also introduce you to some of the key terms used within the discipline, and to some of the approaches that anthropologists have brought to the study of human behaviour. In week 1 of the block, we will investigate the theme of cultural difference and the role played by culture in shaping human behaviour (the nature/nurture debate). In the second part of the session, we will investigate the principles of cultural relativism and how this relates to the concept of ‘ethnocentrism’ in anthropological investigations into cultural difference.

Week 2 & 3: ‘The Natives’ Point of View’ – Participant Observation, Anthropological Methods & Ethics

In these two sessions we will explore how anthropologists gather their data and look at the importance of the fieldwork method of ‘participant observation’ to the discipline. We will also examine how ‘scientific’ this methodology is and uncover its great strengths. We will look at the work of Bronislaw Malinowski (1884 – 1942), a Polish born academic who was one of the founders of modern British social anthropology and who was also the first anthropologist to engage in long term fieldwork. We will also look at some of the ethical issues surrounding the practice of ethnographic fieldwork, and examine these issues in relation to a number of case studies.

Week 4 & 5: What Does It Mean To Be Human? The Theoretical Foundations of Anthropology

These weeks examine some of the ways that ‘humanity’ and ‘human nature’ have been defined by anthropologists, and explore this in relation to how anthropology has used its ‘scientific’ status to define or deny the humanity of others, and to ascribed moral and intellectual superiority to Euro-American industrialized societies (seen as lying at the apex of an evolutionary ladder). Subsequently, much of the work of early European anthropologists was based on constructing hunter-gatherer societies as irrational and superstitious ‘primitives’ supposedly caught in an ‘evolutionary rut’ - a view which allowed Europeans to legitimise the ‘civilising’ project of European colonisation. Alternatively, later studies of hunter-gatherer societies have portrayed them in an idealized light as ‘noble savages’. In the remainder of this session and in the final class, we will examine a range of theoretical positions which anthropologists have applied to further their understanding of culture and society. Central to this examination is the debate concerning the kind of knowledge that anthropologists can hope to acquire, and whether the status of the discipline as ‘a natural science of society’ can be justified. During the session, we will examine some of the 'scientific' perspectives applied by the 'founding fathers' of the discipline including Durkheim, Malinowski, and Radcliffe Brown, as well as claims that anthropology is less a science than an ‘interpretive’ approach to culture. We will also revisit the ‘nature versus nurture’ debate in relation to this (in particular looking at the issue of human violence), and examine the role of contemporary evolutionary theories to an understanding of human behavior, culture and society.

Week 6: Kinship and the Family

A key interest for socio-cultural anthropology has been to try and understand how societies function, and what cultural features or activities bind people together. In this week’s session we will look at anthropological studies of kinship, which has been called ‘the backbone’ of the discipline. Indeed, it is often assumed that blood-relatedness forms the very basis of human sociality; however, anthropologists have also treated kinship as a ‘symbolic’ system of classification. In today’s session we will assess the importance of blood relations, along with claims that the political systems of ‘pre-literate’ peoples are organised primarily around descent and consanguinity.

A key focus of this session will be on the ‘symbolic’ character of kinship systems: we will look at how ‘exploded’, ‘fictive’ and ‘metaphorical’ forms of relatedness demonstrate the fact that blood-relationships and biology do not define the breadth and scope of kinship systems found cross-culturally. As a form of ‘symbolic classification’, kinship systems vary widely and offer different ways of thinking about kinship and relatedness - many of which may challenge our own assumptions about the ‘naturalness’ of blood-ties.

Week 7: Gift-Giving, Exchange & Commodities

It has been argued that processes of exchange and reciprocity are one of the key means by which groups establish and maintain social ties. This week we shall examine one of the classic examples of exchange within anthropology: Malinowski's analysis of the kula exchange in Melanesia, along with the claim that ‘pre-literate’ societies can be characterized by forms of gift-giving in contrast to the more ‘abstract’ use of money and market economies which supposedly characterize ‘civilised’ societies. We will also examine the impact of ‘modern’ forms of commoditization with regard to practices of branding and advertising.

Week 8: Signifying Collective Identity: Personhood, Social Solidarity and Social Boundaries

How and when does an individual become a member of society? What does it mean to be a person? How do we create a sense of collective identity? What is the importance of social institutions and roles in this process and what happens when these are no longer clear or lose their power? How, as members of a social group do we define ourselves in relation to those who do not belong to 'our' group? In this session week we will investigating the importance of ideas about personhood and social identity, and examining how individuals create social bonds and how social groups become organised through various forms of classification such as age, class, caste and gender to understand how our 'personhood' is often defined through these categories. We will also examine some of the ways in which everyday objects and activities – such as food and clothing - are used to signal status and group identity. We will also examine how anthropology can help us to understand the rise of forms of nationalism in the context of debates around the racialized aspects of the Brexit vote and the inauguration of Donald Trump as president of the United States.

Week 9: Constructing Difference: Gender & Race

Ideas about gender and race are crucial to understanding how societies organize themselves with regard to social hierarchies, and how they create and sustain social boundaries. In today’s session, we will examine the varied ways in which ideas about gender and race have, historically, been used to construct and classify difference and ‘otherness’. In the session we explore the ways that encultured conceptions of gender and race are often used to ‘naturalise’ asymmetrical power relations both within and between social groups. In relation to the previous session, we will use a discussion of gender and race to further investigate the ways in which an anthropological perspective can be used to understand processes of social exclusion, and how social boundaries are constructed and maintained.

Week 10: Symbols and Society: Language, Art & Religion

Many of the areas of human life and culture we have previously looked at are considered by many anthropologists to be ‘symbolic systems’. In this session we will focus on what this means and investigate the role of symbolic thinking in human life. In relation to three key symbolic systems which, arguably, define our humanity: art, religion and language. We will examine theories regarding the relationship between art, language and religion in relation to the emergence of the human capacity for abstract and symbolic thought.

Learning outcomes

At the end of this course you will have gained:

  • A rigorous overview of the anthropological discipline and knowledge of what contributions anthropologists can make both in and out of an academic context
  • Knowledge of a range of theories regarding human nature and human behaviour
  • Knowledge about the values, beliefs and worldviews of cultures other than your own and an awareness of the importance of cross-cultural communication
  • The ability to communicate and empathise with the social worlds of other peoples
  • The ability to recognise the relationship between data and theory
  • The skill to critically analyse a range of contemporary social issues

About the department

Our Department of Anthropology was recently named in the top 40 in the world in the QS rankings. We are committed to cultivating a unique and creative approach to this discipline, and seek to encourage originality and apply these theories into the field. Part of this learning process involves “denormalising” or challenging the familiarity our own experiences, which each of consider the basis of normality.

The subject covers a wide range of study areas, such as politics and economics, and as such, embodies the University wide ethos of an interdisciplinary approach. We are especially interested in supporting all students by creating a responsive and collaborative learning environment, encouraging personal and social development both within, and beyond, the classroom. Anthropology pioneers new fields such as visual anthropology and the anthropology of modernity. At the core of this focus is a commitment to employing our theoretical framework into relevant practical areas, and to understanding and engaging with important contemporary global issues. In addition to this short course, the Department hosts a number of exciting courses including:

Related content links

Similar courses

An introduction to the Anthropology of Sport

Is spectator sport ‘just a game’? Or is it one of the principal mass communications channels for reinforcing structures of power and control, and making them appear &ls...

  • £295
  • Suitable for all