Culture, Embodiment and the Senses

Course Info

Course Number/Code: 21A.260 (Fall 2005)
Course Title: Culture, Embodiment and the Senses
Course Level: Undergraduate
Offered By: Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
Department: Anthropology
Course Instructor(s): Prof. Erica James
Course Introduction:
Syllabus Course Description

Culture, Embodiment, and the Senses will provide an historical and cross-cultural analysis of the politics of sensory experience. The subject will address western philosophical debates about mind, brain, emotion, and the body and the historical value placed upon sight, reason, and rationality, versus smell, taste, and touch as acceptable modes of knowing and knowledge production. We will assess cultural traditions that challenge scientific interpretations of experience arising from western philosophical and physiological models. The class will examine how sensory experience lies beyond the realm of individual physiological or psychological responses and occurs within a culturally elaborated field of social relations. Finally, we will debate how discourse about the senses is a product of particular modes of knowledge production that are themselves contested fields of power relations.

Course Structure and Requirements

The course will be run primarily as a seminar, with approximately 20 minutes of lecture to introduce each new section followed by presentations and discussion of the subject or ethnographic context under review.

Class Participation, Discussion Questions, and Reflection Papers

Students are evaluated on regular attendance and active participation in class. At the start of each class students will be asked to provide one or two questions for class discussion that were prompted by the reading. Over the course of the semester students are also asked to write three, one, two page reflections on the readings. Discussion questions, reflection papers, and active class participation contribute 30% of the final grade.


Each student will submit one short mid-term paper of 6-7 pages (worth 20% of the final grade) and one longer final paper of 12-14 pages (worth 40%). The mid-term paper will address the readings from the first half of the course. For the second paper there is a choice to 1) write an in-depth comparative analysis of three of the ethnographic cases from the second half of the course or 2) to complete a research paper or project on a topic chosen in consultation with the instructor.


Through the course of the semester each student will make at least one presentation of the main arguments contained within that day's readings in order to guide class discussion (in the case of books, the chapters will be divided among more than one student). The presentations are evaluated and will contribute 10% of the final grade.

There is no final exam.

In a nutshell the grading criteria is as follows:

Grading criteria.activitiespercentagesDiscussion Questions, Reflection Papers, and Active Class Participation30%Mid-term Paper20%Final Paper40%Presentations10%