Introduction to Anthropology

Introduction to Anthropology 2012-2013 – Four Fields

For Introduction to Anthropology spring 2013, I tweaked and revised the Introduction to Anthropology syllabus posted at the American Anthropological Association Teaching Materials Exchange. It’s a four-fields Introduction to Anthropology syllabus using

Update 2014: Please see Introduction to Anthropology 2014 for more suggestions.


In spring 2013 I returned to the full Applying Anthropology book, after trying an e-Book version of articles in fall 2012. The e-Book was still too quirky, especially about page-numbering and fitting readings together. This made it difficult for in-class discussion, and there were also questions about access and opening the files. Despite my attempts to make things more inexpensive, some students never bought the e-Book, perhaps in part because it was outside the usual bookstore channels. So, it may be a bit more expensive, but there are now more used copies available, and it can be bought through the bookstore rather than only with a credit card.

I encourage anthropologists to put a syllabus online at the AAA Teaching Materials Exchange. I was on the advisory board for this project–there is a need for a central high-quality hub of teaching materials. I’ve also posted reviews of the Best Introduction to Anthropology Syllabus 2012 – Four Fields Anthropology and Best Introduction to Anthropology Syllabus – Four Fields 2013.

Introduction to AnthropologyI originally used the Gomberg-Muñoz ethnography in a Peoples and Cultures of Latin America and the Caribbean course. It is short, inexpensive, and quite helpful to confront stereotypes about illegal immigration. This is especially important for Anthropologists Studying Immigration as immigration reform legislation was introduced in 2013.

Labor and Legality gets good reviews on Amazon and this held true for me as well. Using the phrase “undocumented migrants” is still controversial, but in general students responded positively to the book (see the great comment from Ruth Gomberg-Muñoz below and the link to Drop the I-word: No Human Being is Illegal).

Here’s Gomberg-Muñoz on terminology:

I refer to workers who crossed the Mexico-U.S. border without inspection (or government permission) as “undocumented,” rather than “illegal.” This usage is consistent with recent critical scholarship (e.g. De Genova 2005, Ngai 2004), as it better reflects the contingent nature of immigration status and avoids the pejorative connotations of “illegal alien” or “illegal immigrant.” As historian Mae Ngai (2004:xix) notes, “‘undocumented’ is a historically specific condition that is possible only when documents (most commonly a visa) are required for lawful admission, a requirement that was born under the modern regime of immigration restriction.” That is, people are “undocumented” in relation to particular laws in particular places, at particular times in history. Referring to a person as “illegal” glosses the historical and political construction of immigration categories and diminishes the humanity of transmigrant workers. However, the term “undocumented” has its own problems and limitations, and Plascencia (2009) has recently made a compelling case for the more politically sophisticated (if unwieldy) designation “informally authorized migrant.” (2010:x)

Gomberg-Muñoz points out that most undocumented migrants are employed–indeed Mexican migrants have one of the highest rates of employment in the U.S., most are “on the books,” and often contributing payroll taxes. These statistics are borne out in a Pew Research Center report, Net Migration from Mexico Falls to Zero–and Perhaps Less: these are people who are pulled into specific employment opportunities, and if those disappear, so does the migration (see also the 2011 Anthropology on Immigration and the 2013 Anthropologists on Immigration).

In the spring 2013 version of the class, I did more blogging about the articles we read and used some Twitter, following the great Best practices and tips for Twitter in the higher-ed classroom that John Hawks provides. I also point students to What is Anthropology and use the Anthropology sections of the blog as supplemental material.

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