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Anthropology of Difference


Admission requirements

Required course(s):

A 100-level course in the CHS Major, Social Theory in Everyday Life is recommended.


Each society sets out parameters of difference. These may be based around things such as religious cosmologies, political ideologies, and administrative classifications. Some aspects of variation are widespread and some are specific; certain categorizations are durable while others come and go. In this course, we seek to understand the meaning and significance of 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 assumptions around collective practice, historical mobility, and social bodies.

This inquiry into difference is grounded in anthropology’s conceptual archive and is framed by comparison. 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 sharpen verbal argumentation skills.

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 2023-2024 will be published on this page of the e-Prospectus.

Mode of instruction

This course utilizes hybrid methods, including audio podcasts and in-person seminars, and has interrelated components for seven weeks. For the week’s first session, there will be, in alternating weeks, either an in-person lecture or a podcast by the instructor. Later in the week, for the second session, the instructor will facilitate an interactive seminar. The first lecture session or podcast provides context, highlights key concepts, shows different disciplinary approaches, and applies textual ideas to our world. Attending the first session, listening to the podcast, reflecting on the thematic questions, and conducting the weekly readings is critical for students to write their weekly reflection, due 24 hours before the in-person seminar of the week.

The seminars are devoted to deeper analysis of the assigned weekly texts. Each of the assigned texts introduces students to varied forms of analysis and argumentation in making sense of humans in their moral, social, and political aspects.

Assessment Method

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

First, reading comprehension and critical understanding is assessed through a portfolio of weekly reflections from Weeks 1-7. This portfolio of reflections is worth 45% of the overall grade. Each reflection will be on the week’s texts and 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, conceptual application and critical self-reflection is evaluated through a summary statement. Each student, by the end of Week 7, writes a reflection on their response to the course themes and texts, and evolution in thought. This statement is worth 10% of the final grade.

Third, a final exam judges analytical and interpretive capacities. It will respond to set questions on the course themes and will occur in Reading Week. This exam constitutes 45% 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 exam.

Reading list

Readings will be available to students once the course commences.


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,


Dr. Ajay Gandhi,