Ant 128A: Syllabus

Bruce Winterhalder
Anthropology & Graduate Group in Ecology
218 Young Hall
[; phone 754-4770]

Course Description back to top

This course takes up one of the major organizing features of human social life: kinship. Among the topics encompassed within this term are sexual relationships, incest, marriage, family, inheritance, and of course, the complex web of expectations and responsibilities we maintain with that more-or-less extended group we recognize as kin. We will consider these features of social life in relation to the broader issue of evolution among the various types of social systems that anthropologists have identified (bands, tribes, chiefdoms and states, in one popular categorization).

The course will provide you basic concepts with which anthropologists and other scholars attempt to understand human behavior and society. And, it will immerse you in a variety of ethnographic case studies emphasizing evolutionary interpretation of the human condition.

Three conceptual themes will guide our study. They are: (i) diversity; (ii) evolutionary analysis, and (iii) contemporary relevance. The empirical or descriptive materials in the course, generally case studies, will document some of the great variety of ways in which humans have organized their social life. Our diversity is remarkable and fascinating. The interpretive materials will examine several, sometimes incompatible, types of evolutionary theory that have been used to try to understand this diversity, especially its origins and its persistence. These materials entail the claim that an evolutionary approach is necessary (this is not to say, sufficient) for understanding human variability. Finally, throughout the course we will take note of the relevance of the ethnographic record and its evolutionary explanation for our own lives and ways of doing things. We will be trying to place ourselves, our beliefs and behaviors within the broader range of the human condition.

Goal and Objectives back to top

By the end of the course you will understand how anthropologists attempt to understand societies of non-industrial and, for the most part, non-European peoples through the application of evolutionary methods in ethnographic study. You will come to know a variety of ethnographically studied societies. The San foragers of the deserts of southern Africa, the Inka of highland Peru, the Taitou peasant agriculturalists of China, and the Tsembaga Maring horticulturalists of New Guinea are among them. You will be prepared, critically and empirically, to scrutinize some received wisdom of western culture on matters personal and societal. You will be able to:

- apply the concepts and methods of social anthropology to analyze and appraise the role of evolutionary processes in peoples’ lifeways; 

- distinguish and compare several different theoretical perspectives which are used in this subfield of anthropology;

- identify the basic types of kinship and social systems, and apply anthropological concepts used in their analysis; 

- appreciate the holistic and generally adaptive nature of human social life; and,

- use this information to think critically and constructively about some western beliefs fundamental to our own social relationships.

Reading Materials back to top

Four books comprise the bulk of the reading required of everyone in this course. The books are listed immediately below. They are available in the textbook department of the UC Davis Bookstore.

Stockard, Janice E. 2002. Marriage in Culture: Practice and Meaning across Diverse Societies. Fort Worth: Harcourt College Publishers. [106 pp.]

Fox, Robin. 1967. Kinship and Marriage: An Anthropological Perspective. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. [208 pp.]

Stone, Linda (ed.). 2001. New Directions in Anthropological Kinship. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc. [200 pp.]

Johnson, Allen W., and Earle, Timothy. 2000. The Evolution of Human Societies: From Foraging Group to Agrarian State, 2nd ed. Stanford, CA: Stanford U Press. [390 pp.]

One additional book is recommended to graduate students in the class:
Trigger, Bruce. 1998. Sociocultural Evolution: New Perspectives on the Past. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers.
Trigger's book can be obtained from your local bookstore (most likely by special order), or on-line [e.g., BookfinderAbebooks].

Attendance and Participation back to top

This class is a student-based learning experience. Discussion of readings and course themes, and student presentations, make up most of the sessions. I will keep roll. You will be graded on your informed participation and that requires careful, timely preparation and regular attendance.

Readings should be completed by the class period which follows the date of their assignment. The class requires an average amount of reading (30-40 pages per session). It requires greater than usual care in reading. And it requires greater than usual participation.

Course Format & Expectations back to top

The thirty class sessions include the following kinds of activities:
  • Lectures (6) or Visiting Speakers (2)
  • Discussion (in class; 5)
  • Team Presentations (17)
  • Plus, two Holidays
Note that discussion or team presentations predominate, and that these components of the course require your informed, verbal participation.

There are four kinds of written assignments:

a) Two short essays (3-5, double-spaced, printed pages) on a topic handed out approximately two weeks before the due date;

b) Five short readings quizzes (these will be given during the Friday discussion section; see “Discussion Section” for dates);

c) An outline and annotated bibliography for each of your team-based research presentations; and,

e) A written final exam. This exam will be cumulative and will be based on questions handed out approximately a week before the scheduled time for the final (Tuesday, March 21st, 4:00 - 6:00 PM).

Team Research Presentations back to top

During the second or third class (when enrollment has stabilized), I will divide you into teams of approximately 3 individuals. Each team will be responsible for one or two, 40-minute, in-class presentation, based on original scholarship drawn from the research literature. There will be 10 minutes for questions. See "Team Projects" for a more detailed description of this assignment.

Grading back to top
The UC-Davis honor code is to be observed in this class. Except for the team research project, you are solely responsible for your work. I grade on a ‘fudged’ curve. The curve is necessary to accurately reflect differing degrees of effort and comprehension. It will be fudged, that is adjusted upward or downward, depending on overall class performance. For instance, if everyone does very well, the curve will be moved upward to reflect that.

Grading of these assignments will be weighted as follows:
24 % Short essays (2)
16 % Quizzes (4)
30 % Team Presentations (2)
15 % Final 
15 % Discussion Participation

Content & Skills back to top

The organization of this class is meant to give balanced pedagogical attention to mastery of content and development of skills. By content I refer to the subject matter in both its empirical and analytical aspects. What have you learned about kinship and social structure, and their analysis? By skills I mean your ability to research a topic as a small team, distil out its most salient elements, and then to effectively present that information in written, verbal and visual formats to the class. An effective presentation is both informative and memorable.

Content in this sense largely is specific to anthropology and this subject matter (although relevant well beyond these contexts). Skills are not specific in this way, but likely will be basic to the work that you do throughout your career, whatever the subject matter.


Course Schedule back to top

Class # & Date


Class Activity

 Introduction (3)

1.  W  4 Jan 

Stockard Chs 1, 2 & 3

L: Course outline and mechanics

2.  F 6  Jan

Stockard Chs 4 & 5

D: Who we are; relevance of issues

3.  M  9   Jan 

Fox Ch 1

D: Diversity (Stockard)& discussion


Evolution & neo-evolutionism (3)

4.  W  11   Jan

Fox Chs 2 & 3

L: Spencer

5.  F 13   Jan

Fox Ch 4

L: Engels

6.  W   18 Jan

Fox Ch 5

L: Service


Kinship: structural principles & concepts (3)

7.  F  20 Jan

Fox Ch 6

D: Kinship basics

8.  M 23 Jan

Fox Ch 7

V: AY, Case Study

9.  W   25 Jan

Stone, Chs. 4 & 5

D: Kinship basics


Social Structure and Behavior: Sex (3)

10.  F     27 Jan


L: Darwinian basics

11.  M    30 Jan

Stone, Ch. 7

T: Who is available? (incest)

12.  W      1 Feb

Stone, Ch. 8

T: Who is desirable? (mate choice)


Social Structure and Behavior: Marriage (4)

13.  F      3 Feb


T: How many wives?  (polygyny)

14. M     6 Feb

Stone, Ch. 9

V: MBM, Case Study

15.  W     8  Feb

Stone, Ch. 10

T: How many husbands? (polyandry)

16.  F     10  Feb


T: Marriage & its discontents (divorce)


Social Structure and Behavior: Family (4)

17.  M    13  Feb

Stone, Ch. 11

T: How many children? (demographic transitions); Paper #1 Due

18.  W    15  Feb

Stone, Ch. 12

T: Boys or girls?

19.  F     17 Feb

J&E Chs 1 & 2

T: How many mothers? (alloparenting)

20.  W    22Feb

J&E Chs 3 & 4

T: How many fathers? (multiple paternity)


Social Evolution (9)

21.  F      24Feb

J&E Chs 5 & 6; Stone, Ch. 13

T: Case: The !Kung San

22.  M     27Feb

J&E Chs 7 & 8

T: Topic: HG Egalitarianism

23.  W    1Mar

J&E Chs 9 & 10

T: Case: The Tsembaga Maring

24.  F      3Mar

J&E Chs 11 & 12

T: Topic: Warfare [Note, Friday 26 Nov is Thanks-Giving Break]

25.  M     6Mar

J&E Ch 13

T: Case: The Inka

26.  W    8Mar

Stone, Ch. 14 & 15

T: Topic: Evolution of religion & ideology

27.  F   10 Mar

J&E Ch 14

T: Case: Taitou

28.  M   13  Mar

No assignment

T: Topic: Intensive agriculture households
Paper #2 Due

29.  W    15 Mar

No assignment

D: Summary, conclusions & course review


Conclusion (1)

30.  F      17  Mar

 No assignment

No class

Discussion Sections:back to top

1. 6   Jan


D: Continue Introduction

2. 13 Jan   D: Kinship in the News
3. 20 Jan
Reading Quiz #1
D: Evolutionism & Neo-evolutionism
4. 27 Jan   D: Class materials & Neo-evolutionism
5. 3 Feb
Reading Quiz #2
D: Stone, Chs. 4 & 5
6. 10 Feb   D: Stone, Chs. 7 & 8
7. 17 Feb
Reading Quiz #3
D: Stone, Chs. 9 & 10
8. 24 Feb   D: Stone, Chs. 11 & 12
9. 3 Mar
Reading Quiz #4
D: Stone, Ch. 13 & 14
10. 10 Mar   D: Stone, Ch. 15

Web-based Resources and Extra Credit back to top


I encourage you to explore web-based resources related to the materials being covered in this class. For instance, the following is a web-based tutorial on the basic terms and concepts used in kinship studies:

A more advanced, challenging (and, if you get into the subject, useful) web-based resource is:

I also hope you will watch for media examples of the ways in which kinship and social structure are important in the contemporary world. I will give a small number of 'extra-credit' points (cumulatively, up to 5% of your grade) for especially interesting examples.