Study Abroad and Exchanges



SOC1027 : Comparing Cultures

Semester 1 Credit Value: 20
ECTS Credits: 10.0


This module introduces students to the ways in which anthropologists and sociologists have analysed and compared culture/s. It explores the concept of culture and debates surrounding the term, and introduces a number of issues in comparison. It starts by asking what is meant by 'culture' and explores how that question has been answered at different times by the cognate disciplines of sociology and anthropology. It combines perspectives on culture, the exploration and representation of 'others' and the method of comparison from these two disciplines. The module will work through themes such as:

• The conceptualisation of cultural change and continuity; the challenge of understanding cultural diversity; and the dynamics of cultural difference; the construction of Otherness and the problem of ethnocentrism;

• Comparison as method and a core social scientific task; problems of comparison: understanding and translation in ethnography and other intensive methodologies

• Ways of thinking about the social, political, spatial and temporal relations of culture; the cultural constitution of selves and others

A range of cultural phenomena and media will be studied - including museums, festivals, ritual, films, music, television.

The module takes as a substantive focus certain fundamental institutions of social life: family, household and kinship; social differentiation; social classification; political organisation; language; the social life of things; and religion and the body.

Outline Of Syllabus

The module is organised around key institutions of society and culture in which students are introduced to the analytical task of making comparisons between different cultural contexts, both historically and spatially. The substantive focus on the family, household and kinship; social differentiation; social classification; political organisation; language; the social life of things; ritual; religion, and the body provides a framework for these explorations.

The syllabus encompasses the following questions:

How have the disciplines of anthropology and sociology conceptualised culture at different times?

What do we mean by cultural diversity and where or when is it?

What are the challenges of understanding cultural diversity, and what are some key approaches and concepts to assist with that?

How is otherness constructed, and what is ethnocentrism?

What do we mean by comparing and why should comparison be a core social scientific task?

How can we understand the cultural constitution of (our)selves and others?

Teaching Methods

Teaching Activities
Category Activity Number Length Student Hours Comment
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesLecture241:0024:00N/A
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesSmall group teaching81:008:00Seminar
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesWorkshops91:009:00Film showing in second hour of one of the lecture blocks
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesDrop-in/surgery41:004:004 x1 hr for assessed feedback.
Guided Independent StudyIndependent study1155:00155:00N/A
Teaching Rationale And Relationship

Lectures are utilised to introduce students to the subject, theoretical perspectives, and empirical evidence. They provide the narrative thread around which students’ own reading should take place. Seminars are organised to encourage students to explore their developing understanding of the cultural field, and to discuss how this understanding might be applied to analyses of a specific cultural phenomenon or popular cultural form.

Ethnographic films are used to exemplify particular phenomena under exploration and to visualise what the anthropological method of participant observation entails. Simultaneously they make anthropology’s comparative goals apparent, and demystify the process of getting to know and making sense of unfamiliar cultural practices.

Assessment surgeries are opportunities for students to have one to one meetings with the lecturers and discuss the feedback on their essays and exams so as to build on experience gained and improve future performance.

Assessment Methods

The format of resits will be determined by the Board of Examiners

Description Length Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Written Examination901A50N/A
Other Assessment
Description Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Essay1M251,000 words
Written exercise1M254 seminar reading short synopses
Assessment Rationale And Relationship

The unseen exam tests knowledge and understandings of the core concepts explored in the module testing learning outcomes. It obliges students to think on their feet to produce succinct arguments answering two essay-style questions.

The essay tests understanding by allowing students to create a reasoned argument regarding their chosen questions on module content. It allows practice of research, critical reading, synthesis of literature and the development of a sustained argument on the chosen topics.

The seminar reading synopses are short (250 word) reflective summaries of the reading set for a seminar. Students will be required to submit their write-up to the seminar leader when attending the relevant session. They have a choice of four topics from eight seminars. This exercise encourages students to prepare in advance for seminar discussion and facilitates the development of their critical reading skills. It furthermore aids their continuous development as it is a chance to 'try out' their understanding of complex academic materials in advance of essay and exam preparation. Each synopsis is worth 6.25% of the final mark.

The resit will be 100% formal examination - duration 3 hours.

Reading Lists