Political Anthropology, introductory course

Course content

Political Anthropology is concerned with the distribution of resources, power and authority in different societies. More specifically, it explores people’s negotiations of social possibilities and limitations, constructions of social categories and positions, as well as broader processes of differentiation and discrimination. From studies of close-knit communities to global constellations, political anthropology investigates people's attempts to realize, uphold, or change communities, societies and networks. Hence, political anthropology is concerned with local, national and global levels, as it considers national policies and political decisions as well as unofficial connections, international networks and illegal organizations. The ethnographic approach of anthropology illuminates the official "visible" policy and its consequences as well as unofficial and "invisible" political positions and processes. In this way, political anthropology deepens our knowledge and understanding of the world's political diversity and constructions of power.


The aim of this introductory course is to present and discuss key theoretical and thematic developments in the subfield of political anthropology. The course is divided into two parts. The first part provides a genealogical history of classical political anthropological studies of stateless societies, while situating these foundational studies in relation to relevant themes in political philosophy. It then engages with themes such as state power, national identity, globalization, colonialism, post-colonialism, global capitalism, neo-liberalism, violence and conflict. In the second part, the course explores the social, economic, historical and cultural dimensions of the development, implementation and experiences of the use of biometric technologies in migration and development settings - contextualised with a view to the use of biometrics in various other settings. We critically explore how biometric technologies have, over the past 20 years or so, been used by a wide range of actors in a range of policy fields as a form of collective answer - or imagined silver bullet - to a diverse set of challenges within the migration and development sector as well as beyond: from border control, anti-piracy and anti-terror tools to the gathering of votes during elections in the Global South. At the same time, we examine the experiences of the people these technologies are applied to, such as asylum seekers or refugees in Europe and the Global South.

A crosscutting subject throughout the entire course will be the ways in which political forms and practices are situated in local as well as global contexts, as well as a focus on how anthropology legitimates its own role as a critical discipline in the world outside of academia.


From summer 2022 the course is also offered to students at the

- Bachelor and Master Programmes in Sociology

- Master Programme in Social Data Science

Enrolled students register the course through the Selfservice. Please contact the study administration at each programme for questions regarding registration.

Learning outcome


  • To demonstrate an understanding of classical contributions, key debates and standpoints in the field of political anthropology.

  • To reflect on how political anthropology is distinct from and how it relates to studies of politics and power in other academic fields.



  • To be able to apply anthropological concepts in the analysis of current political issues.

  • To be able to compare political systems, power relations and forms of political organization across time and space.

  • To be able to account for the different ways that power is distributed in society, from processual, action based forms of power, to hidden, structural forms.



  • To choose, apply and transfer relevant theoretical concepts and ideas from anthropology in the analysis of political issues, conflicts and phenomena in other contexts.

  • To be able to base normative claims on descriptive and analytical arguments drawn from anthropology, in order to nuance, qualify and enlighten political debate.

The course will be based on a combination of lectures and interactive seminars where students contribute actively through group work, discussions, readings and oral and written presentations.

BSc students and MSc students: 500 pages obligatory literature.

The teacher will publish 200-300 pages of supplementary literature.

Course literature will be available through Absalon.

Continuous feedback during the course

Feedback on portfolio assignments from student groups, as well as general feedback from the teacher

7,5 ECTS
Type of assessment
Portfolio, -
Type of assessment details
Length: The portfolio exam can be taken individually or in groups of maximum four students. The portfolio exam consists of 2-7 submissions. The number of submissions is set by the lecturer. The total length of all of the submissions must not exceed 30,000 keystrokes for a single student. For groups of two students the maximum is 40,000 keystrokes. For groups of three students the maximum is 45,000 keystrokes and for groups of four students the maximum is 50,000 keystrokes.
For groups writing together it must be clearly indicated which parts of the assignment each of the students has written.
All aids allowed
Marking scale
7-point grading scale
Censorship form
No external censorship
Criteria for exam assessment

See learning outcome

  • Category
  • Hours
  • Lectures
  • 42
  • Preparation
  • 100
  • Exam Preparation
  • 64
  • English
  • 206


Course number
7,5 ECTS
Programme level
Bachelor choice
Full Degree Master
Full Degree Master choice

1 semester

See timetable.
Department of Anthropology, Study Council
Contracting department
  • Department of Anthropology
  • Social Data Science
  • Department of Sociology
Contracting faculty
  • Faculty of Social Sciences
Course Coordinators
  • Anja Simonsen   (13-65726e6532776d717372776972446572786c7673326f7932686f)
  • Matthew Alexander Halkes Carey   (13-716578786c697b32676576697d446572786c7673326f7932686f)
Saved on the 29-04-2022

Are you BA- or KA-student?

Are you bachelor- or kandidat-student, then find the course in the course catalog for students:

Courseinformation of students