Amazonian Social Worlds: Past, Present, Future - ANTS5790

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This module is not currently running in 2022 to 2023.


Throughout the five hundred years of contact between Europe and the Americas, Amazonia has captivated the political, scientific and popular imagination of industrialized nations. To many people in our society, "the Amazon" epitomizes the mysterious, the wild, the uncivilized -- an image that anthropologists have variously exploited and criticized. Either way, they usually describe Amazonian societies as being either isolated from or opposed to "civilization" (i.e. the capitalist state). As Amazonians are incorporated into the nation-state and the global economy, however, it has become impossible to view them as either isolated or silent. Today, there is increased interest and concern relating to the place of humans in the environment and the future of indigenous peoples and the areas in which they dwell.
This course will employ several classic ethnographic studies of South America – by anthropologists, such as Claude Levi-Strauss, Pierre Clastres, Philippe Descola, William Fisher, Neil Whitehead and Michael Taussig – to examine how the Amazon has inscribed itself on the imagination of anthropologists, as well as how anthropologists have used their experiences in non-Western societies to contribute to broad debates in Western philosophy. Ethnographic case-studies will provide the basis for discussing issues of theoretical and topical importance, such as environmentalism; political ecology, ethnogenesis, shamanism, gender relations, kinship and exchange. Ultimately, this engagement challenges some of the most basic categories of our discipline: "the state," "society," and "culture."This module covers themes relevant to human geography such as indigenous urbanisation, the 'demographic turn around', notions of space and place and cultural landscapes.


Contact hours

Total contact hours: 27

Private study hours: 123

Total study hours: 150


BSc Anthropology and associated programmes
BA Social Anthropology and associated programmes
BA Environmental Social Sciences
Also available as an elective Module

Method of assessment

Essay (3000 words) (80%)
In-Course Test (20%) 45 minutes, based on key points from lectures and seminars. This is a multiple-choice, True/False short answer test.

Reassessment Instrument: 100% coursework

Indicative reading

Clastres, Pierre 1987 [1974] Society Against the State: Essays in Political Anthropology. NY: Zone Books. La soci?_ contre l'etat. Editions de minuit.
Fisher, William H. 2000 Rain Forest Exchanges: Industry and Community on an Amazonian Frontier. Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press.
Hill, Jonathan 1988 Rethinking History and Myth: Indigenous South American Perspectives on the Past. Chicago: University of Illinois.
Kohn, Eduardo. 2013. How forests think: toward an anthropology beyond the human. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Kopenawa, Davi, and Bruce Albert. 2013. The falling sky: words of a Yanomami shaman. Boston: Harvard University Press.
Levi-Strauss, Claude 1984 Tristes Tropiques. New York: Penguin.
Londoño Sulkin, Carlos David. 2012. People of substance an ethnography of morality in the Colombian Amazon. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
Overing, Joanna y Alan Passes (eds) 2000 The Anthropology of Love and Anger: The Aesthetics of Conviviality in Native Amazonia. London: Routledge.
Taussig, Michael 1987 Shamanism, Colonialism, and the Wild Man. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

See the library reading list for this module (Canterbury)

Learning outcomes

On successfully completing the module students will be able to:

8.1 Develop a detailed understanding of the cultural diversity of Lowland South America.

8.2 Demonstrate knowledge of the countries of the region and their important ecological and geographical features.

8.3 Critically evaluate the principal ethnic groups and their livelihoods, kinship organisation, gender relations, epistemologies and broader social changes.

8.4 Acquire a detailed knowledge of how ethnography contributes to theory and how anthropologists form questions about ethnographic material.

8.5 Critically discuss key issues and debates in the Lowland South American ethnographic literature.

8.6 Develop a detailed understanding of Lowland South American groups and their communities in terms of social changes in the region.


  1. ECTS credits are recognised throughout the EU and allow you to transfer credit easily from one university to another.
  2. The named convenor is the convenor for the current academic session.
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