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SOC3077 : Making People: The Anthropology of Personhood from Before Birth to After Death (Inactive)

  • Inactive for Year: 2023/24
  • Module Leader(s): Professor Cathrine Degnen
  • Owning School: Geography, Politics & Sociology
  • Teaching Location: Newcastle City Campus

Your programme is made up of credits, the total differs on programme to programme.

Semester 2 Credit Value: 20
ECTS Credits: 10.0
European Credit Transfer System


Who counts as a person, and how do we know? When does personhood begin, and when does it end? How do the answers to that question vary from culture to culture? And what are the cross-cultural differences in the possibilities of the forms that personhood takes? This module explores, through cross-cultural examples and by looking at different points in the life course, how notions of the person are reproduced and vary substantially through time and space.

Making People will explore the ways in which people are constituted through social relations and practices across the life course. This includes from before birth and during; via childrearing and caretaking practices; through skilled practices such as hunting and animal husbandry; during the pressures on selfhood in old age; at the point of death; and afterwards in regards to burial and remembrance.

The module will also introduce students to recent anthropological perspectives on transitions in the life course via a series of cross-cultural examples.

Finally, this module will develop students’ knowledge of theoretical debates in the social sciences over personhood and relationality, with particular regards to what these social practices reveal about the categories of nature and culture and normative Western ideals of the autonomous individual.

Outline Of Syllabus

This module introduces students to anthropological perspectives on transitions in the human life course and the category of the person. Rather than take an approach that simply describes discrete roles and stages, this module examines the life course via a focus on how people build relations with the world and each other at various crucial points across the life course. Such connections often come into focus at moments of extreme experiences (such as birth, rites of passage and death), but are also achieved through more mundane practices (such as eating, hunting, gardening, caretaking and remembrance). Whether extreme or mundane, all have profound consequences for social life, and this module considers instances of both using a number of cross-cultural case studies. Such transitions can be understood as moments in which cultural meaning is made, personhood is reproduced, social cohesion is maintained and at times challenged. The module explores these themes using theoretical perspectives that unite the biological and the social as well as look beyond ontologies that divide the world into human and non-human realms.

Teaching Methods

Teaching Activities
Category Activity Number Length Student Hours Comment
Guided Independent StudyAssessment preparation and completion1131:00131:00Reading around lectures plus preparation and completion of assignment 1 and 2.
Structured Guided LearningLecture materials51:005:00Non timetabled. Online supported learning material
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesLecture102:0020:00PiP timetabled
Guided Independent StudyDirected research and reading66:0036:008 hrs preparation for each seminar
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesSmall group teaching61:006:00PIP timetabled Seminars
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesWorkshops12:002:00PiP Workshop to support poster assignment preparation
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 (small group teaching) are organised to encourage students to explore via small group discussion and prior reading 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 their poster assessment via Q and A, bespoke reflective discussion of module content, and a short presentation from the ML in order to support their plans for topic choice and strategies for accomplishing the task.

Assessment Methods

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

Other Assessment
Description Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Essay2M602000 - 2500 words
Assessment Rationale And Relationship

There are two forms of assessment on this module: a poster and a 2,000 word essay. The poster deadline will be set after the film series that is part of the module has finished, and the essay is due in the final assessment period at the end of term. The poster will allow students to apply their knowledge gained from the scholarly literature to examples encountered in one of the teaching films (student’s choice of which film) in more depth. The poster will be both visual, representing key aspects of the film, as well as textual, with short explanatory captions and analysis that tie elements of the film back to the academic literature on personhood.

The essay is a traditional 2,000 word assignment which will permit students to explore module topics in some depth, to read around the topic, draw from and organize scholarly sources to develop an argument, and showcase critical analysis.

The assessments will provide evidence that learning has occurred and that learning outcomes have been met.

Reading Lists