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 the way in which society is subdivided into different groups – specifically in relation to class, age, race and gender. This is further explored by a focus on the themes of culture, socialisation and identity. Most of the literature used in the module originates from South African research, but it 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.

Coordinator: Dr Handri Walters

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, and has the key objective of further introducing 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 also to provide some insight on how South Africans understand and deal with social issues. It features a comparative analysis of social issues across different historical periods, and in relation to social groups according to 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 will have a more distinct understanding of how both the methodological and the socio-theoretical basis of the two disciplines differently inform an understanding of social issues in South Africa. Accordingly, students will be able to make a more informed decision about selecting either Sociology or Social Anthropology as a major from the second year onwards.

Coordinator: Dr Handri Walters

Sociology & Social Anthropology Second Year Modules

Sociology 212 - Poverty, Inequality and Development

Poverty and inequality are pressing social challenges in most parts of the world, including South Africa.  The course will explore the three major concepts of poverty, inequality and development.  It will adopt a global historical approach to show how these concepts are closely intertwined and crucial to an understanding of contemporary society.  What is poverty and how does it manifest? Why is inequality deepening?  And how can we rethink development in a time of ecological crisis?  The course will explore these and other questions, introducing some of the most pressing social issues across the globe with a particular focus on how they materialise in South Africa.

Learning objectives

By the end of the course, students will be able to: 

  • Define core concepts in the study of poverty, inequality and development
  • Apply those concepts to specific case studies within South Africa
  • Discuss crucial themes in the sociological debates about poverty, inequality and development

Lecturer: Dr Ilse Eigelaar-Meets

Social Anthropology 212 - Social Anthropological Themes

In this course, we explore common anthropological concerns related to what it means to be human, including the exercise of political power, the meanings of symbols, the structure and form of rituals, the way in which kinship is constructed and economic exchange is organised, and the role of pop culture and emotions. We explore these concerns and topics through the lens of the Anthropology of Death. The focus of 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 contemporary popular culture. Geographically the course includes 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.

Lecturer: Co-Professor Ilana van Wyk

Sociology 222 - Social Identity and Inequality

The introduction of this module is motivated by concerns to promote ‘transformation’ by encouraging students to think critically about the world around them and not simply to take differences and divisions between them for granted. A key aim of this module is to open up race, class, gender and sexuality, as well as their intersections, as topics for discussion, and to encourage students to reflect on the significance they attach to such topics in their own lives as sources of identification or disidentification, and dimensions of power or otherwise. The course engages with literature and research which disrupts race and sex categories and binaries, and questions the very ways sociologists use concepts of race, gender and sexuality. Drawing on a range of sociological literature, theoretical texts, empirical research and published student autobiographies, as well as documentaries and movies, the course challenges students to think about race and gender as verbs rather than adjectives, and to analyse ways in which race, gender and sexuality may be implicated in power relations and produced through forms of othering. We will also engage with the racialization of social and sexual relations and spaces under apartheid and in contemporary SA. Students will be encouraged to reflect critically on ‘transformation’ discourses and practices in South African education.

Lecturer: Prof Dennis Francis

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 to provide an introduction to the concept of medical anthropology, and 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. Students’ critical thinking is also enhanced through the writing of essays about interventions aimed at bringing together TCAM and Western biomedicine.

Lecturer: Dr Efua Prah

Sociology 242 - Sociology of Communication

We are currently living through a pandemic and a global economic crisis. This is an extraordinarily challenging period in our history, and we can expect major social changes in the months and years ahead. We are also increasingly dependent on remote communication, using a variety of digital technologies and devices. While the pandemic has disrupted our lives, it also provides us with an opportunity to contemplate our “new normal” and to (re-)imagine our lives in a post-COVID-19 future. In this module I hope to facilitate such a process by using the pandemic as a context for thinking about communication, as well as the past and present mediating role of communication technologies.

In this module we are principally interested in the social implications of these technologies, as well as 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) in the course of the past two hundred years.

In this module you will be encouraged to think critically about: (1) the complex relationship between communication (and other) technologies and social change; and (2) the particular role that digital technologies play in the mediation of ideas about “our” present and the projection of such ideas into the future.

Lecturer: Dr Lloyd Hill

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 as well as international theoretical literature.

The objectives of the course are to provide an introduction to the concept of public anthropology, and to facilitate the critical reading and analysis of anthropological texts which deal with the public and ethical roles of anthropologists as well as issues of policy, politics and the nature of the state. Furthermore, we strive to cultivate students’ skills in writing for the media on the cultural dimensions of critical public affairs, and to advance their critical thinking through the writing of essays on debates in relation to anthropologists’ public ethical obligations.

Lecturer: Dr Handri Walters

Sociology 252 - Industrial Sociology

In this module the central concepts, debates and themes within the broad field of industrial sociology are introduced. The module begins with a short historical and theoretical survey of how work has changed through different eras, and how it has been interpreted by different theorists. We will use these lectures to explore how COVID-19 has influenced the working world. After this the impact of economic globalisation will be explored, before we move on to a more in-depth analysis of the ways in which global powers have restructured and transformed the working world. Finally we will study the way in which the power of trade unions has been influenced by these powers, and how management’s approach to labour relations has been affected by this. We will also conduct a lecture devoted to exploring how COVID-19 has influenced the trade unions and what the future might hold for trade unions after COVID-19. Finally we will study how these tendencies influence gender relations and employment, as well as problems surrounding unemployment and inequality.

Lecturer: Mr Jantjie Xaba

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 the region across different times.

The focus of this course is on social anthropological approaches that help to understand social relationships, group interactions and the creation of cultural meanings within southern Africa. The history of this region was largely shaped by group interaction which was often violent, and which 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 are still found in southern Africa today. In this module we will look at the ways in which social anthropologists conducted their studies in southern Africa at different times, and how these studies provided insight into the social, political and cultural dimensions of societies on the subcontinent.

Lecturer: Dr Shaheed Tayob

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 is organised around thinkers and texts rather than problems and issues. You are expected to engage with major theoretical frameworks that attempt to make sense of social processes across different centuries and localities. In studying sociological theory, we are studying both the object of sociological thinking (society, social processes, change, power) as well as the lens, or the mode through which analysis is undertaken.

In the first half, students are introduced to some early sociological thinkers like Ibn Khaldun (14th Century), before studying 19th-century theorists like Emile Durkheim, Adam Smith, Karl Marx, Max Weber and Friedrich Nietzsche, who have played influential intellectual roles in the institutionalization of contemporary sociology. Texts are located within their historical perspective. The second half of the module focuses on modern and contemporary social theory, ranging from theories of modernity through late modernity to postmodernity and postcolonial theory. Students can expect to read any of the following, depending on the year: Pierre Bourdieu, Sigmund Freud, Michel Foucault, Simone de Beauvoir, Frantz Fanon, Amilcar Cabral, Aimé Césaire, Bernard Magubane, Samir Amin, Archie Mafeje, Peter Ekeh or Ifi Amadiume or Vivek Chibber. These theorists and their theories are selected for study based on the insights they provide on individuality, culture and modern society, as well as the critiques they offer of these concepts and phenomena, such as capitalism, colonialism and issues related to gender. 

The purpose of both sections of this module is to develop students’ reading comprehension and their ability 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.

Lecturer: Dr Claire Lester

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.

By the end of this module, students should understand what ethnography is and what its place is within anthropology. Students should also understand the essential connection between theory, ethnography and praxis within anthropology, and be familiar with some of the major trends, theoretical approaches and representational strategies surrounding ethnography over the past 100 years. Finally, students should be able to identify key debates and disputes in the practice of writing ethnography, have conducted their own ethnographic fieldwork and produced an ethnographic representation of their research.

Lecturer: Dr Handri Walters

Sociology 324 - Political Sociology

Political sociology entails the sociological analysis of political phenomena ranging from the state and civil society to the family, and explores topics such as the sources of social power, citizenship, social movements and political conflict. It is quite a broad field, and in this module we look at four broad themes. The first section focuses on theoretical explanations of the nature and distribution of power within society; the second on the regulation of power in relation to the state, government and civil society; the third on the struggle between state power, social movements, political protest and the root causes of violence; and the fourth section on power outside the rules, such as terrorism and war, and the effect of this on society, specifically on women. In this module we apply theory to practice, and use everyday examples to contextualise the topics under discussion. 

The aim of this module is to expose students to different theories of how power relations in society can be understood on a local as well as a global level; to equip them to differentiate between the characteristics of the different government systems, and to evaluate the regulation of power as well as the role of civil society and citizens to bring about political and social change by putting pressure on the state; to evaluate the role and influence of social movements to bring about social and political change; and to understand the causes of protest and political violence. Finally, the course aims to evaluate the underlying causes of terrorism, armed conflict and war, and the consequences of these phenomena for society, particularly for women.

Lecturer: Prof Lindy Heinecken

Social Anthropology 324 – Culture, Power, Identity

Course Outline: Social Anthropology 324

Culture, Power, Identity


Aim of the module:

This module is an introduction to contemporary theory and ethnographic writing relating to the study of culture, power and identity. Through lectures and course readings, you will learn how notions of culture have often been tied to colonialism. You will also be taught to identify the writing of culture as a form of representation, and to think about discourse and power in terms of anthropological knowledge production. This course will engage with theoretical works on power and culture, and how the ethnography of otherwise powerless people can offer important insights into how we imagine and theorise the world. Students will be required to engage critically with course material in order to formulate their own unique arguments and analysis of the contemporary world. Critical thinking, analysis and argumentation are skills which will be emphasised and honed during this course. The aims of the course are to introduce students to a range of anthropological concepts and debates; to explore contemporary theories of culture, power and identity; to improve students’ academic reading, analytical and writing skills; and to improve their ability to develop convincing arguments through writing and debate.

Lecturer: Dr Shaheed Tayob 

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 so-called “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 recognise 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 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.

Lecturer: Dr Khayaat Fakier

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.

Lecturer: Prof Ilana van Wyk

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 “community-based” 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 simultaneously 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.

Lecturer: Mr Jacob du Plessis

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 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; and to critically engage with ethnographic studies that raise questions about the assumptions that conventional approaches to development, governance and population categories in development narratives take for granted. We also aim 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. The aim is also to make the anthropological literature accessible in order to understand the everyday practices and consequences of ‘development’ projects as they unfold in a variety of localities.

Lecturer: Prof Steven Robins

Sociology 364(12) - Social Research (compulsory module)

Welcome to the Social Research module. We are currently living through a pandemic and a global economic crisis. This is an extraordinarily challenging period in our history, and we can expect major social changes in the months and years ahead. The pandemic also provides us with a unique context for learning about quantitative and qualitative research methods. We are confronted – on a daily basis – with updated national and global statistics on COVID-19 infections and other information on the pandemic. This information feeds into local, national and global debates on how the health, economic and political implications of the pandemic ought to be managed.

The first section of the module will therefore use the pandemic as a context for exploring fundamental questions relating to social research. The module is divided into two parts, of which the first focuses on theoretical issues in social research and qualitative research, and the second on quantitative, mixed-method research and discourse analysis.

Lecturers: Dr Lloyd Hill and Dr Ilse Eigelaar-Meets

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