Undergraduate Studies

Undergraduate Sociology and Social Anthropology modules are taken as part of a degree programme; each programme prescribes the specific modules that the student enrolled within that programme must take. For more information on how programmes are structured and what their module requirements are, see the university website for prospective students.

General InfoModules

Undergraduate modules

In order to obtain a major in Sociology or Social Anthropology a student must take the required set of discipline-specific modules available in each of the three years of study. Below are descriptions of the various undergraduate modules offered in the Department. For more technical aspects, such as subject codes and credit values, see the Calendar Part 4 Faculty of Arts & Social Sciences

From the second year, students can follow both Sociology and Social Anthropology in the BA Social Dynamics and BA Humanities. This is an excellent combination for pursuing postgraduate studies in the social sciences and for a future career.

Sociology & Social Anthropology First Year Modules

Sociology 114 – Introduction to Sociology and Social Anthropology

Sociology 114 is the orientation module to the subject areas of Sociology and Social Anthropology as two distinctive, but also complementary, social science subjects offered by the Department. After an introduction to the disciplines, students are also introduced to research methodology (the toolkit that social scientists use to generate knowledge) and social theory (the knowledge base of the disciplines). The content focus of the module is around the concept of social stratification – broadly seen as how society is divided into different parts through subdivisions – and specifically in relation to classagerace and gender. This is further explored by a focus on the themes of culturesocialisation and identity. Most of the literature used in the module originates from South African research, but also includes classical texts by key social theorists. The acquisition of academic skills, especially in relation to reading and writing, is a key priority of this module.

Sociology 144 - Social Issues in South Africa

Sociology 144 is presented in the second semester of the first year. This module builds on Sociology 114, which has the key objective to further introduce students to the disciplines of Sociology and Social Anthropology. The main theme of this module is social issues – broadly seen as matters that can only be explained by factors outside an individual’s personal control and immediate social environment, which affect many individuals in a society. The central aim of this module is to also provide some insight on how South Africans understand and deal with social issues. It features a comparative analysis of social issues across historical periods and social groups by gender, race/ethnicity, social class, and culture. The sociology focus is presented in the third term, followed by the Social Anthropology focus in the fourth term. Both sections introduce students to key South African social issues as selected by the particular lecturers from year to year, and might include themes around education, health, HIV/AIDS, religion or other issues. After completion of the module, students would have a more distinct understanding of how both the methodological and social theory basis of the two disciplines differently inform an understanding of social issues in South Africa. Students would accordingly be able to make a more informed decision about selecting either Sociology or Social Anthropology as a major from the second year onwards.

Sociology & Social Anthropology Second Year Modules

Sociology 212 - Poverty, Inequality and Development

Debates on the causes and meaning of poverty, inequality and development; critical thinking on underdevelopment and ‘sustainable development’; development initiatives in South Africa today.

1st semester Language option: T
3 lectures
 and 1 tutorial per week
Prof. C. Walker (424)

Social Anthropology 212 - Social-anthropological Themes
In this course, we explore common anthropological concerns with what it means to be human, with the exercise of political power, the meanings of symbols, the structure and form of rituals, how kinship is constructed and economic exchange organised, and the role of pop culture and emotions. We explore these concerns and topics through the lens of the Anthropology of Death. The course is historically very broad and veers from the first hominids that buried their dead, Egyptian pyramids, and kingly deaths during the Middle ages to the central role that corpses play as infotainment “commodities” in popular culture today. Geographically, the course has readings from every continent in the world while the topics we will cover range from death and mourning in the animal world to sex and fertility, war, regicide, the funeral industry and South Africa’s past. While death links all of these topics, the course is not morbid; it introduces second-year students to the wonderful diversity and richness of human culture.
Sociology 222 - Race

Sociological understanding of race. The contemporary significance of race in South Africa. Race and social identities. Race and inequalities

1st semester Language option: E
3 lectures
 and 1 tutorial per week
Prof. R. Pattman (402)

Social Anthropology 222 - Medical Anthropology

“This module is aimed at increasing students’ understanding of anthropological literature which deals with the diverse healing beliefs and practices in South Africa. It also seeks to generate perspectives on the cultural nature of these South African beliefs and practices by means of generating transnational comparisons. These two goals will be reached through a critical, comparative reading of relevant, recent ethnographies of Western biomedicine and Traditional, Complementary and Alternative Medicine (TCAM) in South Africa, India, China, Egypt, Puerto Rico and the United Kingdom.

The objectives of the course are as follows:

  • To provide an introduction to the concept of medical anthropology;
  • To facilitate the critical reading and analysis of texts which deal with key themes in medical anthropology such as: the transmission of healing knowledge; divination and counselling; the relationship between food and healing; infertility and its social consequences; and, childbirth-related beliefs and practices.
  • To expand students’ skill-sets by conveying methods of writing using visual sources, including artefacts, to explore healing beliefs and practices;
  • To cultivate students’ skills in writing for the media in relation to cultural dimensions of critical public issues;
  • To advance students’ critical thinking by means of writing essays on interventions aimed at bringing together TCAM and Western biomedicine”.

Language option: T
1.5 lectures
 and 0.5 tutorial per week

Sociology 242 - Sociology of Communication

In this module we explore the social implications of successive waves of “communication technologies” and other processes associated with human communication. More specifically, we will explore how communication technologies and communication-related ideas / ideologies have infiltrated and helped to shape ‘societies’ (and other group constructs) during the course of the last two hundred years.

2nd semester Language option: T
3 lectures
 and 1 tutorial per week
Dr. L. Hill (418)

Social Anthropology 242 - Public Anthropology

“This module is aimed at understanding anthropological literature which has been addressed to wider audiences and which has dealt with issues of policy, politics and the nature of the state in South Africa. This goal will be reached through a critical reading of relevant ethnographies of post-apartheid South Africa and international theoretical literature.

The objectives of the course are as follows:

  • To provide an introduction to the concept of public anthropology;
  • To facilitate the critical reading and analysis of anthropological texts which deal with the public and ethical roles of anthropologists and issues of policy, politics, the nature of the state;
  • To expand students’ skill-sets by conveying methods of writing using visual sources to discuss issues of governance;
  • To cultivate students’ skills in writing for the media in relation to cultural dimensions of critical public issues;
  • To advance students’ critical thinking by means of writing essays on debates in relation to anthropologists’ public ethical obligations

Language option: T
1.5 lectures
 and 0.5 tutorial per week

Sociology 252 - Industrial Sociology

Central concepts, themes and debates within the field of industrial sociology, including an assessment of how work has changed through different eras; different interpretations of work and the impact of globalization on the transformation of work; workplace restructuring, employment practices; trade unions and the management of conflict within the workplace in South Africa.

2nd semester Language option: T
3 lectures
 and 1 tutorial per week
Mr J. Xaba (412)

Social Anthropology 252 - South African Anthropology

An overview of ethnographical work in South Africa, with specific attention paid to the changing theoretical and contextual dimensions. In this module we aim to understand the social and cultural dimensions of southern African society. This goal will be reached through a study of ethnographic as well as theoretical work done in different times in the region.

The objectives of the course are as follows:

  • An introduction to southern African ethnography;
  • The reading and analysis of ethnographic and theoretical texts;
  • The development of an understanding of the most important theoretical changes in the development of the discipline in southern Africa;
  • An understanding of the influence of the changing social, political and economic contexts on the way in which social anthropologists work; and
  • An understanding of the social and cultural dimensions of changing southern Africa.

The focus of this course is on social anthropological approaches that help to understand social relations, group interactions and the creation of cultural meanings in southern Africa. This subcontinent has a rich diversity of people with different languages, physical characteristics and historical positions. The history of this area has largely been shaped by group interaction that was often violent and that has led to the stratification of society. The historical phases of colonialism, segregation, apartheid and post-apartheid, as well as the reactions to these, have also shaped many of the relationships and social contexts within which people in southern Africa are found today. Studies done by social anthropologists in these areas have largely been influenced by the social contexts within which they had to work. In this module, we will look at how social anthropologists at various times did their studies in southern Africa, and how these studies gave insight into the social, political and cultural dimensions of societies on the subcontinent. We will also look at how these insights relate to the practical field of development interventions.

Language option: T
1.5 lectures
 and 0.5 tutorial per week

In 2013 a new tutorial system was introduced in the second semester and in 2015 this system will again be used in both semesters. Key features of the new tutorial programme include more tutors and smaller tutorial classes. The purpose of the new system is to focus particular attention on academic writing. In order for the new system to work, students will need to sign up promptly for a tutorial group and remain in this group for the rest of the semester. Please see the module outlines for more information on the tutorial system.

Lecturers will be aided by tutors and assistants. The tutors and assistants for the modules will be announced by the lecturers.

This department has adopted the “T” specification in most of its modules. Please study the Course Outline for each module to see whether the ‘T’ specification applies or not. All module material developed by lecturers will be provided in both English and Afrikaans. However, excerpts from articles, books, and Internet sources are not translated.

Sociology & Social Anthropology Third Year Modules

Sociology 314 - Sociological Theory

As an introduction to sociological theory, the module offers students a taste of such theory, as it were, inviting them to take its study seriously and to pursue it in the future. In general, the module is focused on major theoretical frameworks that develop a groundwork for understanding modern life in general and for sociological thinking in particular. In the first half, students are introduced to primarily 19th century theorists (Comte, Durkheim, Smith, Spencer, Marx, Weber, Simmel, Pareto, Mead, and Nietzsche) who have played influential intellectual roles in the institutionalization of contemporary sociology. The second half of the module focuses on modern and contemporary social theory, ranging from theories of modernity through late modernity to postmodernity, with the main emphasis on mid to late 20th century theories (Berger and Luckmann, Archer, Goffman, Bourdieu, Freud, Marcuse, Gorz, Elias, Foucault, Homans, Habermas, Luhmann, Beck, Giddens, Baudrillard, and Rorty). These theorists and their theories are selected for study based on the light they shed on individuality, culture and modern society, as well as the critiques they offer of these concepts and phenomena. The purpose of both sections of this module is to develop students’ reading comprehension and abilities to decipher texts by key theorists (rather than summaries and secondary reflections on these theories), and to enhance their ability to connect theory to contemporary life. The module is taught in the belief that the study of sociological theory can shed light on important contemporary issues, and that such knowledge can make a difference to those who study theory and to the societies in which the study and application of social theory is taken seriously.

Language option: T
2 lectures
 and 0.5 tutorial per week

Social Anthropology 314 – Reading and Doing Ethnography

This module is an introduction to reading and doing ethnography. In anthropology, ethnography refers both to what we do (conducting ethnographic fieldwork) and to what we write (ethnographies) after we return from “the field”.  The aim is to understand how ethnographic research is conducted, analysed and written up. Through lectures and other course readings, you will learn about the different approaches to ethnography that have developed over time as well as some of the key debates and issues that have emerged within anthropology around the practice of ethnography.

Aims and objectives: 

By the end of the course, students will:

  • Understand what ethnography is and what its place is in anthropology,
  • Understand the essential connection between theory, ethnography and praxis in anthropology,
  • Be familiar with some of the major trends, theoretical approaches and representational strategies to ethnography over the last 100 years,
  • Be able to identify key debates and disputes in the practice of writing ethnography, and;
  • Have conducted their own ethnographic fieldwork and produced an ethnographic representation of their research.
Sociology 324 - Political Sociology

In this module students learn about how power is used within society and how this affects their everyday life. Students will consider how much freedom and independence they really have; who is exercising power and control over them, why and how; and whether they can do something about this. The point of departure is that, ultimately, all aspects of social life are based upon power and for this reason it is vitally important that students are exposed to how power works within society. Thus, a key outcome of this module is to determine how power is used within society, in whose interests, and how this is regulated. As there is a relationship between power and politics, a central interest of political sociologists is to analyse how the state exercises power over society and how civil society strives to curb this through the courts, media and various other means, such as non-goverenmental organisations and social movements. The question is, how effective are their actions in bringing about political and social change, and what happens when governments try to suppress these voices of protest? What happens when the state loses control, and political violence spirals out of hand? When do people start using power outside the law and form revolutionary movements and/or embark on acts of terrorism? At what stage does this lead to civil war and what are the effects on society? These are some of the central themes this module strives to address. In doing so, a balance is struck between theoretical explantions that help us make sense of these issues, and the application to contemporary, real-life examples.

Language option: T
2 lectures
 and 0.5 tutorial per week

Social Anthropology 324 – Culture, power and identity

Nation-building and ethnicity. Assimilation, pluralism, multiculturalism in comparative perspective. Global inequalities and human rights. Difference and diversity in civil society.

Sociology 344(12) - Sociology of Work and Employment (usually students choose between this module and 354)

The central theme of this module is the transformation of work and employment over the past few decades, the growth in “atypical” or “flexible” or “non-standard” work and employment and the socalled “feminisation” of work. Economic restructuring and the transformation of work often result in a vicious circle of poverty and economic insecurity for many workers in high as well as low income countries. While changes in the nature of work and employment are driven by global economic changes, we must recognize that ideology, legislation and social organisation also have an impact in shaping these changes. In the South African case the transition to political democracy has coincided with the rapid integration of South Africa into the global market. This meant that the establishment of a new regulatory regime in the sphere of labour relations coincided with the formal adoption of policies of trade liberalisation. The externalisation of work and employment raises important questions regarding the social protection and the extent to which vulnerable and insecure workers are able to access social protection through labour legislation. The module will also explore important concepts, theoretical perspectives and arguments to assist us in understanding the transformation of work.

Language option: T
2 lectures
 and 0.5 tutorial per week

Social Anthropology 344 – Theories and Debates in Social Anthropology
In this course, we look at the broad historical development of a number of anthropological schools of thought, the controversies they inspired and how these developments have marked very particular conversations about social structure, cultural change and the position of the individual (and bodies) vis-à-vis society. We move from the first fieldworkers and anthropologists working in colonial contexts to the anthropologies of a postcolonial age that increasingly undermined grand theories as they embraced feminist, literary and phenomenological analyses.
Sociology 354(12) - Community Development (service-learning module)

The objective of this module is to equip students with the essential knowledge, insights, skills and mindset in the context of participatory, human-centred and sustainable micro-level development in South Africa. The theoretical focus is strongly supportive of work done in “rural sociology” and the “sociology of development”, as well as in the interdisciplinary field of “community development”. This is intrinsically linked to ideas of social theorists who wrote on community, social cohesion and development or social change. The methodological approach and applications focus strongly on qualitative- and action research. The learning process is directed by a service learning approach, which aims to amalgamate social- and community development theory, as well as “communitybased” research methodology, with practical experience. In short, service learning aims to give students the opportunity to apply abstract academic concepts and principles to a real life situation while learning new skills, developing new values and attitudes and at the same time providing a service to a group of people, based on the idea of a reciprocal learning experience for both students and the particular community members they are engaging with.

Language option: T
2 lectures
 and 0.5 tutorial per week

Social Anthropology 354 – The Anthropology of Development

The course aims to develop a critical anthropologically informed understanding of the ways in which the ideas and practices of ‘development’ have shaped, and continue to shape, the lives of people living in the Global South.  

The aims of the course are the following:

  • To provide an ethnographically informed understanding of the global discourses of development and its critiques since World War II – with a focus on more recent critiques.
  • To critically engage with ethnographic studies that raise questions about the taken-for-granted assumptions of conventional approaches to development, governance, and population categories in development narratives.
  • To develop a critical analysis of the ways in which experts and expert knowledge are deployed to frame the ‘problem of development’ and how ‘target populations’ in turn respond to these interventions
  • To engage with the anthropological literature in order to understand the everyday practices and consequences of ‘development’ projects as they unfold in a variety of localities.
  • To rethink and reconsider the applicability of existing development discourse in a rapidly changing world.
Sociology 364(12) - Social Research (compulsory module)

This module will introduce students to both theoretical debates in social research methodology and practical issues associated with planning and doing research. The lectures and tutorials will explore both “what” questions (e.g. what is epistemology?) and “why” questions (e.g. why do some researchers prefer this research strategy over that one?). The module will provide students with a context in which they will be expected to make a number of research-related choices: the choice of a focused topic to research; the choice of a broad research strategy; and the choice of a more focused research design. Finally, the module will provide students with an opportunity to explore “how” questions and to develop specific skills associated with research design and the drafting of a research proposal.

Language option: T
2 lectures
 and 1 tutorial per week

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