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Wits Anthropology: Writing African Worlds

Two things make anthropology stand out among the other social sciences and humanities.

  • First, anthropology emerged from the aim of recording and understanding the great diversity of human life and experience. This still informs the attention anthropologists pay to the politics and problematics of difference, and one of our main goals in teaching anthropology is to give students critical orientations for grappling with difficult questions about diversity and its politics—especially against the backdrop of colonialism, racism, and other kinds of prejudice and oppression.
  • Second, modern anthropology has developed a unique approach to social research, called ethnography. Ethnographers explore social issues through in-depth personal fieldwork that gives us a basis for documenting and analysing how an issue takes shape within the context of a particular human lifeworld, which we work to portray in richly concrete detail.

Wits curriculum 

The anthropology curriculum at Wits encourages critical and informed debate about the ways that vital social issues—problems of inequality, power, justice, violence, health, identity, intimacy, or ethics—have taken shape and been argued about in modern African lifeworlds.

In the first year of our undergraduate programme, we investigate how questions about humanity, diversity and identity have been framed and debated in modern African thought.

In the second year, we introduce the experience of fieldwork as a technique to explore both the lifeworlds of African cities, such as Johannesburg, and the ways in which our bodies become so important to our experiences of social life.

In the third year, we explore the global history of modern anthropological thought, examine critical concepts for thinking through questions of race and racism, survey important sub-fields such as medical or legal and political anthropology, and introduce students to the practice of presenting social research in public fora, such as our own Anthropology Museum.

Most of our undergraduate courses are also writing-intensive, our main aim being to cultivate students’ abilities to write about the insights that they develop in their reading, discussion, and thinking. 

Postgraduate study

Our postgraduate programme has one-year degrees by a combination of coursework and research at both the Honours and the Masters level, and a three- to five-year research-only degree at the doctoral level. A two-year research-only degree is also offered at Masters level, but we generally discourage this option in favour of the rich training in our coursework-and-research Masters.

Our postgraduate courses lead students through the challenging but formative process of formulating, undertaking, and writing up an in-depth individual research project, alongside training in sociocultural theory and the ethnography of Africa, and advanced courses on an annual selection of disciplinary sub-fields, such as medical anthropology, visual anthropology, economic anthropology, or legal and political anthropology. Doctoral study usually involves extended work with one or two individual supervisors on an advanced fieldwork project that contributes to the development of anthropological knowledge.