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Anthropology of Difference


Admission requirements

Required course(s):

  • Social Theory in Everyday Life


Each society sets out parameters of difference; these may be based around religious cosmologies, political categories, and administrative classifications. Some aspects of variation are widespread and some are specific; certain categorizations are durable while others come and go. We seek to understand the meaning and significance, the prioritization and investment, in difference: how people get animated by and suffer from social fictions of separateness.

How is social difference expressed, shaped, and challenged? In which way are group membership and community labels made visible or invisible, stabilized or upended, performed in everyday life and imagined as national history? This course, organized as an anthropological exploration of difference, addresses these questions. The course texts and themes probe default assumptions around collective practice, historical mobility, and the body.

This inquiry into difference is grounded in anthropology’s conceptual archive and unfolds through comparative perspective. We emphasize the importance of interpretation and symbolism, ritual and language, and power and psychology. Small-scale and cosmopolitan societies, western and non-western perspectives, and pre-modern and contemporary categories are analyzed together, to understand how the social baseline is made.

Students will discuss a number of issues which pertain to contemporary global society. These include the role of colonialism, urbanization, and modernity in shaping variation; the practices, institutions and worldviews by which communities are differentiated; the governing forms of human belonging and interaction; and the shifting circumstances which produce natives, strangers, and aliens.

Course Objectives

Students will learn how to utilize the conceptual vocabulary within socio-cultural anthropology and apply it to other disciplines. They will enhance their comprehension of interpretive and comparative social science inquiry, and, through their writing, improve their analytical capacities. Finally, an emphasis on class discussion will improve verbal argumentation abilities.
After engaging with the course lectures, discussions, and readings, students can expect to:

  • Become familiar with historic and contemporary anthropological approaches to the study of diverse social forms, as well as to issues of reproduction, exchange, and conflict.

  • Be able to conceptualize the relationship between spatial scales, epistemological representations, and administrative logics that shape cultural difference.

  • Evaluate anthropology in the context of related fields - such as history, geography, sociology, and political science – and be able to analyze its salient differences in approaching community.


Timetables for courses offered at Leiden University College in 2021-2022 will be published on this page of the e-Prospectus.

Mode of instruction

Two weekly seminars over seven weeks comprise this course. The seminars explore the weekly theme through an analysis of assigned readings. Alongside a disseminated set of weekly thematic questions, the seminars highlight key concepts, show anthropological approaches, and apply textual ideas to our world. Participating in the seminar, reflecting on the thematic questions, and conducting the weekly readings is critical for students to write their weekly reflection, due 24 hours before the second session of the week. Seminars are devoted to analysis of the assigned texts, and intensive classroom discussion will explore distinct weekly themes.

Assessment Method

Students are assessed on two parameters that correspond to discrete learning aims.

First, the learning aim of reading comprehension, critical understanding, and conceptual application will be assessed through a portfolio of weekly reflections from Weeks 1-7. Along with a summary statement, this portfolio of reflections is due in its entirety by the final seminar in Week 7. This portfolio is worth 50% of the overall grade. Each reflection will be on the week’s texts. They are to be submitted 24 hours before the second session of the week. These reflections have two components: first, a close reading of the weekly readings, which shows awareness of the author’s argument and reasoning, and second, your own analysis of their claims, and capacity to apply their ideas to today’s world.

Second, a final essay judges analytical and interpretive capacities. It will respond to set questions on the course themes and is due in Reading Week. This is worth 50% of the overall grade. Students will formulate an argument, and empirically substantiate their position, using only course materials. Non-course texts and external references are not permitted in this essay.

Reading list



Courses offered at Leiden University College (LUC) are usually only open to LUC students and LUC exchange students. Leiden University students who participate in one of the university’s Honours tracks or programmes may register for one LUC course, if availability permits. Registration is coordinated by the Education Coordinator,