Cognitive Anthropology (Strauss)


Claudia Strauss, Spring 2001
Pitzer College
Class times: M, W 2:45-4:00
Culture is “whatever it is one has to know or believe in order to operate in a manner acceptable to its members”–Ward Goodenough

Cognitive anthropology is the study of thought in cultural context. In this course we’ll consider some of the major questions in this field. In what ways is human thought the same everywhere and in what ways is it different cross-culturally? How is thought related to socially organized activity? What happens mentally when people acquire cultural knowledge? Finally, what is the best way to study culture as Goodenough defined it? These questions are the subject of lively debates in cognitive anthropology today. We’ll read about these debates and try out various approaches for ourselves.

Overview of assignments

It is very important to do the reading, come to class, and participate! Written work will consist of answers to discussion questions (40% of your final grade), a 10-page paper (25%), and a take-home final exam (25%). Attendance and class participation will determine the remaining 10% of your grade. You are allowed two “skips” on answers to discussion questions.

Texts (all books are also on reserve at the library)

Roy D’Andrade. The Development of Cognitive Anthropology.

Lawrence Hirschfeld and Susan Gelman, eds. Mapping the Mind: Domain Specificity in Cognition and Culture.

Dorothy Holland and Naomi Quinn, eds. Cultural Models in Language and Thought.

Lave, Jean. Cognition in Practice.

Luhrmann, Tanya M. Persuasions of the Witch’s Craft.

Strauss, Claudia and Naomi Quinn. A Cognitive Theory of Cultural Meaning.

There is also a course pack (available at Huntley).


1/17 Welcome to the class and overview of topics
1/22 D’Andrade, “The cultural part of cognition” CP
The Old Debate About Universals (With a New Twist): Do Humans Everywhere Reason the Same Way?
1/24 Levy-Bruhl, Ch. 6 in The “Soul” of the PrimitiveCP
1/29 Evans-Pritchard, Selections from Witchcraft, Oracles, and Magic Among the Azande CP
1/31 Sperber, “Apparently irrational beliefs” CP

Persuasions of the Witch’s Craft, pages TBA

2/5 Persuasions of the Witch’s Craft, pages TBA
2/7 Persuasions of the Witch’s Craft, pages TBA
2/12 Peng & Nisbett, “Culture, dialectics, and reasoning about contradiction” CP
The New Debate About Universals: Are we Wired to Think a Certain Way?
2/14 Mapping the Mind, Ch. 1
2/19 Mapping the Mind, Chs 6 & 7
2/21 Development of Cognitive Anthropology, pp. 106-121 on Berlin & Kay
2/26 Development of Cognitive Anthropology, pp. 182-207
Cultural Knowledge as Learned Mental Representations: Part I (Formal Methods)
2/28 Development of Cognitive Anthropology, Ch. 4
3/5 Boster, “Requiem for the omniscient informant” CP
3/7 Exercise in consensus analysis (without statistics)
3/19 Garro, “Remembering what one knows and the construction of the past: A comparison of cultural consensus theory and cultural schema theory”
Cultural Knowledge as Learned Mental Representations: Part II (Qualitative Methods)
3/21 Quinn: “The development of cultural models theory”
3/26 Holland & Skinner, “Prestige and intimacy” in Cultural Models in Language & Thought
3/28 Price, “Ecuadorian illness stories” in Cultural Models in Language & Thought
4/2 D’Andrade, “Some methods for studying cultural cognitive structures”
4/4 A Cognitive Theory of Cultural Meaning, Ch.8
4/9 Cultural models paper due
Connectionist Versions of Schema Theory
4/11 A Cognitive Theory of Cultural Meaning, Ch.3
4/16 Development of Cognitive Anthropology, pp. 141-149

Bloch “Language, anthropology, and cognitive science” CP

Cognition as Situated and Distributed
4/18 Cognition in Practice, Ch. 1
4/23 Cognition in Practice, Ch. 6
4/25 Goodwin, “The blackness of black” CP
4/30 Hutchins, The organization of team performances, CP
5/2 Exercise in situated cognition


Copyright © 2001 Claudia Strauss

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.