Module Catalogue 2015/16

SOC1027 : Comparing Cultures

  • Offered for Year: 2015/16
  • Module Leader(s): Dr Emma Clavering
  • Owning School: Geography, Politics & Sociology
Semester 1 Credit Value: 20
ECTS Credits: 10.0
Pre Requisites
Pre Requisite Comment


Co Requisites
Co Requisite Comment



This module combines anthropological and sociological perspectives on culture and comparison. The module introduces students to the concept of culture and debates surrounding the term, and to a number of issues in comparison. The module will work through themes such as:

•How have the disciplines of anthropology and sociology conceptualised culture, and how have individual social theorists used the concept of culture?; How has the idea of culture changed over time? ; In what diverse cultural ways have we lived (over the last two centuries) and do we live today? ; The challenge of understanding cultural diversity, and some key approaches and concepts; The dynamics of asserting and reproducing cultural difference.

• The construction of Otherness and the problem of ethnocentrism; Why compare? What do we mean by comparing and why is comparison a core social scientific task? ; Problems of comparison: translation and understanding in ethnography and other intensive methodologies; Ways of thinking about the social, political, spatial and temporal relations of culture.

A range of methods for analysing different cultural media and forms will be studied - including museums, festivals, films, music, television. Students will also learn ways of understanding the cultural constitution of selves and others.

The module takes as a substantive focus certain fundamental institutions of social life: different forms and conceptions of family, household and kinship; social differentation; social classification; language; the social life of things; and religion and the body.

This module therefore introduces students to the ways in which anthropologists and sociologists have analysed and compared the cultural. The module asks what is meant by 'culture' and how that has been answered in different ways at different times, as well as laying out the intellectual and theoretical basics of anthropology and sociology for university study.

Outline Of Syllabus

The module will be organised around linked anthropological and sociological strands, in which students are introduced to the analytical task of making comparisons between cultural contexts, defined in terms of both time and space. The substantive focus on the family, household and kinship; social differentiation; social classification; language; the social life of things; ritual; religion and the body provides a framework for these explorations.

As indicated under ‘Aims’, the syllabus encompasses the following issues:

How have the disciplines of anthropology and sociology conceptualised culture, and how have individual social theorists used the concept of culture?

How has the idea of culture changed over time?

In what diverse cultural ways have we lived (over the last two centuries) and do we live today?

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

What is the construction of Otherness and the problem of ethnocentrism?

Why compare? What do we mean by comparing and why is comparison a core social scientific task?

What are ways of understanding the cultural constitution of selves and others.

Learning Outcomes

Intended Knowledge Outcomes

This introductory module will give students an initial understanding of: (a) why culture is an important concept for anthropologists and sociologists; (b) why an awareness of the historical dimension of cultural phenomena is central to the making of good social scientists; and (c) why comparison is a core analytical purpose of sociology and anthropology. The module will give students an initial understanding of the value and difficulties in making comparisons. Students will finish this module with:Knowledge of a number of ways to conceptualize culture;
Knowledge of how anthropology and sociology developed distinctive trajectories and questions about culture;
Knowledge of the relationship of culture to questions of power and social structure and the state;
Knowledge of what sociological and anthropological comparison means;
Knowledge of particular case material from ethnography and other sources;
Understanding of the global diversity and historical changes in forms of family, kinship, household and life-course;
Understanding of the place and purpose of ethnography in anthropology;
Understanding of a range of methods for analyzing different cultural media and forms;
Understanding of the cultural constitution of selves and others.

Intended Skill Outcomes

To teach students to think critically about the world of culture:
To build students’ capacity to analyse comparatively:
To enable students to apply theoretical and analytical insight to ethnographic evidence and popular cultural forms; and
To develop critical analytical reading and writing skills.

Graduate Skills Framework

Graduate Skills Framework Applicable: Yes
  • Cognitive/Intellectual Skills
    • Critical Thinking : Present
    • Data Synthesis : Present
    • Active Learning : Present
    • Literacy : Assessed
    • Information Literacy
      • Source Materials : Present
  • Self Management
    • Self Awareness And Reflection : Present
    • Personal Enterprise
      • Innovation And Creativity : Present
      • Initiative : Present
      • Independence : Present
      • Problem Solving : Present
      • Adaptability : Present
  • Interaction
    • Communication
      • Oral : Present
      • Interpersonal : Present
      • Written Other : Assessed
    • Team Working
      • Collaboration : Present
  • Application
    • Social Cultural Global Awareness : Present

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/surgery40:000:004 x1 hr for assessed feedback.
Guided Independent StudyIndependent study1159:00159:00N/A
Teaching Rationale And Relationship

Lectures are utilised to introduce students to the scope of 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 popular cultural form. The workshop is designed to enable students to prepare for the module assessment through groupwork and discussion.
Ethnographic films are used to help make more vivid the students’ experience of what anthropology is, what participant observation entails, and how the business of making sense of unfamiliar practices has been done. These play an important part in making anthropology’s comparative goals apparent, and in demystifying the process of doing anthropology.
Assessment surgeries are opportunities for students to have one to one meetings with the lecturers and discuss the feedback on their essays and on their exams so as to build on experience gained and improve future performance.
Office hours are an important form of contact with students seeking clarification on a range of teaching and learning issues including clarification on material covered in lecture, structure of module, content of independent reading, and preparation for assessment.

Reading Lists

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

This module involves three methods of formal assessment.
The unseen exam obliges students to think on thier feet and produce succinct arguments answering two essay questions.
The essay requires student to apply thier understanding of sociological and anthropological perspectives on culture to specific questions on module content of their choice. It also permits students to explore two topics in some depth by requiring them to read around the topic as well as draw from and organise resources to develop an argument.
The seminar reading synopses are short (250 word) reflective summaries of the seminar reading materials that students will be required to submit to their TAs before attending seminar. This is to encourage students to prepare in advance for seminar discussion and to develop their analytical thinking of sociological materials. The assessment also aids the development of critical writing skills and the chance to 'try out' their understanding of complex academic materials in advance of essay and exam preparation. Finally, this assessment strategy will enhance the in-class seminar experience as students will be able to speak more confidently about the seminar reading materials, having aquired first-hand knowledge of them in advance. Of the eight seminars students will be offered the chance to choose which 4 seminars they will produce synopses for. Each of them will be worth 6.25% of the final mark.
The resit will be 100% formal examination - duration 3 hours.


Past Exam Papers

General Notes


Note: The Module Catalogue now reflects module information relating to academic year 15/16. Please contact your School Office if you require module information for a previous academic year.

Disclaimer: The University will use all reasonable endeavours to deliver modules in accordance with the descriptions set out in this catalogue. Every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information, however, the University reserves the right to introduce changes to the information given including the addition, withdrawal or restructuring of modules if it considers such action to be necessary.