Module Catalogue 2020/21

SOC3092 : Moral Dilemmas, Judgements and Debates: The Anthropology of Rights and Wrongs (Inactive)

  • Inactive for Year: 2020/21
  • Module Leader(s): Dr Sarah Winkler-Reid
  • Owning School: Geography, Politics & Sociology
  • Teaching Location: Newcastle City Campus
Semester 1 Credit Value: 20
ECTS Credits: 10.0
Pre Requisites
Pre Requisite Comment


Co Requisites
Co Requisite Comment



Throughout the world people define and act upon ideas about good and bad, right and wrong in a wide range of ways. The anthropological study of morality illuminates the ways people try to act morally, define what makes a ‘good life’ and try to become better people in their everyday lives (as well as examples of immorality and people doing the ‘wrong’ thing). It also enables a focus on public debates about morality, moral panics and big questions about responsibility, collective values and the future.

This module focuses on anthropological research on morality and ethics, an exciting and rapidly emerging new field in the discipline. Cross-cultural ethnography allows us to explore the pervasiveness of morality in everyday life, the difficulty of knowing the ‘right thing to do’ and experiences of moral dilemma and torment. It also allows us to consider explicit moral rules and regulations and the extent to which people are able to live up to and follow these.

In the first part of the module we will focus on children and young people, and how they learn, negotiate and police moral norms and conduct in their everyday lives. We will explore the ethical dimensions of ordinary, taken-for-granted behaviour, such as bitching among friends, or asking someone out, and consider how this relates to the experience of ‘growing up’.

In the second part of the module, we will use a detailed focus on ethnographic case studies to understand experiences of moral torment and transformation, how people explicitly attempt to make themselves into ‘better people’ in relation to religious moral codes, and/ or how they understand themselves and others as ‘immoral’. These ethnographies will also allow us to consider ‘clashes of values’ and moral relativism.

In the final part of the module, we will apply what we have learnt to contemporary debates, focusing again on young people, and particularly young people in Britain. The 2011 English riots, sexualisation, the teaching of ‘British Values’ in school and anorexia will all be examined through this lens, and we will consider what theoretical frameworks are most useful in helping us to understand the moral dimensions of these phenomena.

Throughout the module, we will consider and critique different theoretical approaches to the anthropological study of morality, and corresponding debates about how best to study the topic. We will also consider our own moral experiences and practice theorising our own data using these frameworks.

1) To introduce students to a range of social anthropological research on morality and ethics, and the cross-cultural variety of moral practice, experience and expectation.
2) To enable students to recognise specific constructions and expectations of morality in ‘the West’ and examine their own moral experience within anthropological frameworks.
3) To provide students the opportunity to apply their anthropological perspectives to current moral debates and articulate what an anthropological analysis might be able to contribute.
4) To introduce students to current anthropological theories of morality and to the practice of theorising their own data in these terms.

Outline Of Syllabus

1. Introduction: How many people have been killed by trolleys? Why the anthropology of morality

Part one - Bitching, making and breaking; young people, morality, relationships and everyday life
2. “Be a good girl/ boy for mummy”: How do young children learn about morality?
3. Girls friendships, bitching, exclusion and moral ordering in school
4. Romantic relationships, love, sexuality

Part two – Becoming a ‘good’ person: religion, moral transformation and torment and clashes of values
5. Becoming a ‘good’ Muslim: The piety movement in Egypt
6. Becoming a ‘good’ Christian (1): Charismatic Christianity in Papua New Guinea
7. Becoming a ‘good’ Christian (2): HIV and Russian Orthodox church

Part three – Moral crisis? Anthropological perspectives on the problem of youth
8. “Twisted moral codes”: morality and the 2011 Riots
9. What are ‘English Values’ and is it possible to teach them in school?
10. Paradoxical virtue? Anorexia, culture, and modernity
11. Sexualisation: Corruption, innocence and adult anxieties

12. Review Lecture

Learning Outcomes

Intended Knowledge Outcomes

At the end of the module the successful student will be able to:
1.       Discuss a range of cross-cultural anthropological research on morality.
2.       Explain and evaluate anthropological theories on morality and critically relate these to the ethnographic literature
3.       Theorise their own auto-ethnographic data using anthropological theories of morality.
4.       Employ cross-cultural perspectives in their analysis of issues and concepts concerning morality.
5.       Apply anthropological analysis to contemporary events and public debates relating to morality and develop an anthropological perspective on these.

Intended Skill Outcomes

At the end of the module the successful student will be able to:
1. Understand, critically evaluate and synthesise texts, in particular ethnographies.
2. Apply theory to data.
3. Critically analyse current events and public debates employing anthropological perspectives.
4. Formulate and communicate scholarly arguments and opinions verbally and in writing.
5. Reflect on their learning and identify practices and processes that enable personal effective learning.
6. Manage time effectively.

Teaching Methods

Teaching Activities
Category Activity Number Length Student Hours Comment
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesLecture122:0024:00N/A
Guided Independent StudyDirected research and reading88:0064:008 hours preparation for each seminar.
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesSmall group teaching81:008:00Seminars, assumes 3 groups of maximum 15 students
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesWorkshops22:004:00Workshops to support students develop their second assignment (the reflexive portfolio)
Guided Independent StudyIndependent study1100:00100:00Reading around lectures plus preparation and completion of assessment 1 and 2.
Teaching Rationale And Relationship

Lectures introduce students to key theoretical approaches and conceptual ideas, ethnographic research and public debates. Seminars enable a more in-depth discussion of these, focused on critical reading, collaborative exploration of the concepts and issues, discussion and reflection. Two workshops will focus on the production of the reflexive portfolio and will provide guidance and support for students as they analyse their data and develop their ideas and arguments.

Reading Lists

Assessment Methods

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

Other Assessment
Description Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Essay1M40Learning Journal - 300 words per journal entry (x6)
Portfolio1M602200 Words Reflexive portfolio
Formative Assessments
Description Semester When Set Comment
Essay1MLearning Journal - Feedback and indicative mark on one journal entry
Portfolio1MTheorisation assignment plan - this feeds into Workshop 2
Assessment Rationale And Relationship

Learning journal (40%)
The learning journal will enable students to record and reflect upon their developing knowledge and understanding of the field of the anthropology of morality and ethics. It will also enable them to reflect on the processes of learning and activities they are undertaking in order to learn.

The learning journal will assess the developing knowledge and understanding of students during the course of the module, and the active steps taken to increase understanding, consolidate knowledge and overcome challenges in relation to learning on the module. Journals are expected to be cumulative, with consideration of how learning from the current entry is building on prior learning. The learning journal will harness work being done by students in preparation for, and during lectures and seminars and will include both substantive and metacognitive content.

Journal entries may include, but are not limited to:
Substantive content:
-       Critical reflection on an aspect of the reading.
-       Excerpt from writing sprint, reading response paper or seminar worksheet.
-       Report and/ or critical reflection on lecture or seminar discussion.
-       Connections made and/ or insights gained, e.g. in relation to prior learning, or between ideas, concepts, ethnographic research or readings etc.
-       Questions raised.
-       Preliminary analysis of current events or public debates using conceptual tool box.

Metacognitive content:
-       Record and reflections on activities undertaking in advance of the sessions or during the sessions.
-       Challenges experienced.
-       Strategies tried in order to overcome challenges and increase understanding.
-       Reflections on effective learning strategies.
-       Consideration of the developing learning journey.

Students will submit a minimum of six journal entries, students may choose to submit up to 10 journal entries (excluding weeks 1 and 12), the six highest marked will be calculated as the final mark. Students will receive written feedback on the journal as a whole. Students will receive formative feedback and an indicative mark on at least one entry. Students will be provided with a tailored marking criteria in advance which recognizes the developing and cumulative nature of this assignment.

Intended knowledge outcomes: 1, 2, 4, 5
Intended skill outcome: 1, 3, 5, 6.

Reflexive portfolio (60%)
The reflexive portfolio will enable independent research and assess the synthesis, critical discussion and application of theories of morality and the analysis of primary data. Data based on an aspect of personal moral experience (past or present) will be collected and then analysed using concepts and/ or frameworks covered in the module. Theory, data and supporting literature will be used to make an argument about the nature of a particular problem, phenomenon or event and assignments will mirror the structure of a journal article. Two 2-hour long workshops will provide support and guidance in writing and analysing auto-ethnographic data, applying theories and developing arguments.

Intended knowledge outcomes assessed: 2, 3, 5
Intended skills outcome assessed: 1 – 5


Past Exam Papers

General Notes


Disclaimer: The information contained within the Module Catalogue relates to the 2020/21 academic year. In accordance with University Terms and Conditions, the University makes all reasonable efforts to deliver the modules as described. Modules may be amended on an annual basis to take account of changing staff expertise, developments in the discipline, the requirements of external bodies and partners, and student feedback. Module information for the 2021/22 entry will be published here in early-April 2021. Queries about information in the Module Catalogue should in the first instance be addressed to your School Office.