Focus in Politics, Policy & Law

statue representing justice is blind, and a wooden gavel on an open book on a table in a library room with a large table and chairs in the background
Anthropology of Politics, Policy, Law.

Why Focus on Politics, Policy & Law

If you are interested in engaging with some of today’s most pressing challenges, the Politics, Policy & Law (PPL – pronounced “People”) focus is for you. This focus forms part of UTM Anthropology’s HBA programs (specialist, major, minor) and provides students with an entry point into critical understandings of global challenges, such as armed conflict, inter-state wars, peace-making, global regimes of surveillance and border enforcement, the refugee crisis, energy politics, the environment, and climate change.

Anthropology is built on ethnography. Ethnography’s long-term engagement with real-world practices and lived experience makes it especially well-suited to examining the world problems’ multi-layered and multi-scalar aspects. Anthropological research also benefits from drawing on ethnographies from across the globe. The courses offered under this focus address many critical global issues and mobilize anthropology’s unique comparative perspective, bringing together ethnographies from different world regions and scholars who conducted long-term ethnographic fieldwork on issues of global importance. 

After completing this focus, students will be able to analyze the political, social and cultural complexities that comprise today’s world; read, synthesize and critically assess social science articles, reports and books; use varied forms of social and cultural analysis; write in different genres; and make persuasive arguments supported by empirical evidence.

Students in the Politics, Policy & Law focus will learn key skills and bodies of knowledge they need for careers in public policy, law, rights advocacy and social justice, among others. 

Undergraduate Programs

UTM undergraduate students who focus in the anthropology of Politics, Policy & Law ordinarily enroll in one of the following programs:

  • Specialist Program in Anthropology (Arts) ERSPE1775
  • Major Program in Anthropology (Arts) ERMAJ1775
  • Minor Program in Anthropology (Arts) ERMIN1775

Anthropology of Politics, Policy & Law Courses

Most of our recommended courses for the focus in Politics, Policy & Law are Anthropology Arts (Social Science) credits. Through detailed case studies and in-depth ethnographic research from around the world, anthropology of Politics, Policy & Law courses explore a wide range of contemporary concerns. The PPL focus has two required courses – ANT217H5 and ANT468H5 – which serve as the gateway and capstone courses. 

ANT217H5. Anthropology of Law

The course is designed to introduce the key concepts, issues, and methods of legal anthropology as a specific field of study in relation to the larger history of the discipline. The course will explore how anthropological works understand and examine the legal and social orders, political and normative authorities, frames of rights, regimes of crime and punishment, and forms of justice-seeking. Accounting for different understandings of law and everyday legal practices, the course readings include canonical texts of legal anthropology as well as recent ethnographies of law. 

ANT207H5. Being Human: Classic Thought on Self and Society

The question of what it means to be human has been at the core of anthropology for over two centuries, and it remains as pressing now as it ever was. This course introduces students to some classic attempts at addressing this question with specific reference to the nature of personhood and social life. By engaging with the writings of Marx, Weber, Freud, and DeBeauvoir among other great thinkers of the modern age, students will develop deeper knowledge of the major theories guiding anthropological research. We will pay close attention to how arguments are constructed in these texts and focus on the methodologies that these pioneers of social thought developed in their inquiries. The course covers enduring topics ranging from the production of social inequality, what it means to be an individual, how collective life is shaped by economic markets, and the role of religion in shaping human experience, to develop an understanding of central issues facing the world today. 

ANT209H5. War, Trade and Aid: The Anthropology of Global Intervention

This course explores how anthropology approaches the study of various interventions into human life and society. These forms of intervention--nation building, human rights, and development--differ in the scale and scope of their projects and in what they hope to accomplish. They also have much in common. Each is explicitly concerned with improving the conditions under which people live, and yet each has also been criticized for making things worse rather than better. This course will explore why this might be the case by focusing on examples taken from around the world. 

ANT216H5. Racketeers, Smugglers and Pirates: Anthropology of Illegality

This course will explore anthropological approaches to the study of various forms of illegal activities. Denaturalizing the state-imposed categories of legality and illegality, the course will examine how the legal-illegal divide is constructed contingently, and unpack moralities, inequalities, precarities, and forms of politics that illegal activities both rely on and make possible. The course will bring together recent ethnographies of racketeering, gang violence, piracy, human trafficking and contraband smuggling from different world regions. 

ANT310H5. Political Anthropology of Ancient States

Today most people live in state-level societies. But 8,000 years ago, no one did. Why such a dramatic change? This comparative analysis of ancient, complexly organized societies is focused on understanding the processes involved in the functioning of states, examining how various political, social, economic, and religious orientations affected state information, cohesion, maintenance and dissolution. What were the range of alternatives explored in the earliest and later complexly organized societies that developed around the world? 

ANT350H5. Globalization and the Changing World of Work

The course uses ethnographic material to examine ways in which global forces have changed the nature of work in different sites since World War Two -- North America, Europe, and countries of the Global South are selectively included. 

ANT351H5. Money, Markets, Gifts: Topics in Economic Anthropology

Sociocultural anthropology has, since its inception, questioned the assumption that "the economy" ought to be understood as a domain distinguishable from other fields of human interaction, such as religion and kinship, or from power, politics, affect, and morality. This class offers a set of introductory readings that range from the analysis of non-Western forms of exchange and value to the study of capitalism; from stock-markets to the anti-globalization movement. 

ANT352H5. Protest, Power and Authority: Topics in Political Anthropology

This course explores ethnographically the social and cultural practices through which the exercise of power is legitimized, authorized, and contested, examining such topics as nation-building, non-governmental activism, human rights, and the global "war on terror." 

ANT354H5. Capitalism and its Rebels

This class explores different forms of rebellion, insurgency, protest and political mobilization from an anthropological perspective, focusing specifically on anti-capitalist mobilizations. Grounded in ethnographies that range from studies of piracy, hacking, and the occupy movements, to struggles against the privatization of water and social movements organizing for "the commons," this course offers key insight into contemporary social movements, their deep groundings in the past, and the implications they might have for the future. 

ANT365H5. War, Peace, and Revolution in the Middle East: Anthropological Perspectives on Political Conflicts

This course will explore political violence and social change in the modern Middle East. What forms of loyalty, authority or rivalry have accompanied political violence? What economic activities and relations have been shaped by political conflict and peace in the region? What are the historical origins of nation-states, political regimes, and social movements in the region? By taking a historical and anthropological look at political conflict and change, this course will examine the transformations of the region in the last two centuries.

ANT357H5. Nature, People and Power: Topics in Environmental Anthropology

This course examines anthropological approaches to the environment and environmentalism. Through key readings on indigenous peoples and conservation, traditional ecological knowledge, community-based natural resource management, ecotourism and the human dimensions of climate change, the course explores the complex social, cultural and political encounters that produce 'the environment' as a resource in need of management. 

ANT358H5. Field Methods in Sociocultural Anthropology

This course investigates how sociocultural and/or linguistic anthropologists collect data, conduct fieldwork, and interpret research results. The course will benefit students who want to gain an appreciation of research design and practice and those considering graduate-level work in anthropology or another social science. 

ANT370H5. Environment, Culture and Film

Our present environmental challenge constitutes of the most pressing areas of contemporary social, cultural, ethical and ecological concern. Acid rain, poisoned air, forest clear-cutting, ozone depletion, global climate change, toxic waste sites--the list goes on--all weigh heavily on our personal and intellectual lives. This course introduces students to both the scope and seriousness of present ecological concerns, as well as some core principles and concepts in the field of the intersection of environment and culture, through the lens of feature films. Themes such as the precautionary principle, urban/rural dualisms, ecofeminism, deep ecology, and the overwhelming burden placed on poor populations by environmental destruction are but a few of the areas which will be examined through the use of feature films, both classic and contemporary. We will do this in part by touching on some of the major writers and classic essays in the field. Lectures will be supplemented by audiovisuals, guest lectures and class discussions.

ANT371H5. The Natural City: Cultural Approaches to Urban Sustainability

Since 2007, for the first time in human history, more than half the world’s peoples live in cities. It is estimated that by 2030 over 60% will be urban dwellers. This demographic shift suggests that for many (if not most) people, their primary encounter with “nature” will be urban-based. This course explores "the city" through a multispecies lens and challenges assumptions about the human-centeredness (anthropocentrism) of urban places. Students are invited to utilize a variety of approaches, including arts-based ethnography, journaling, archival research, photography, sound-scaping, et al., as we ask: How do ideas about nature-culture shape our interactions with nonhumans in cities? How do built environments structure human-nonhuman relationships in urban spaces? How have human-nonhuman interactions changed over time in cities? How can we foster more compassionate and caring relationships with nonhumans in cities - and how might we do this in the context of social-ecological injustices and climate change? What might a thriving multispecies city of the future look like?

ANT463H5. Anthropologies of Water: On Meaning, Value, and Futures

This class delves into the topic of water from an anthropological perspective by thinking of water not only as resource but also as meaningful substance, symbol, and mediator of human and non-human relations. Class will consist mainly of discussions of ethnographic readings but also of hands-on class exercises, field-trips, and auto-ethnographic work. In some years, students may additionally have the option of participating in an international learning experience during Reading Week that will have an additional cost and application process.

ANT455H5. Toxicity and Environmental Injustice

The presence of toxic chemicals is a defining feature of contemporary life. But while toxicity is everywhere, it is not everywhere the same. Considering toxicity through medical and environmental anthropology, science and technology studies, and environmental justice, we will gain new perspectives on the politics of evidence, the nature of health, and the nature of nature. Creative, hands-on assignments will help us understand the toxic worlds around us at UTM.

ANT467H5. Are Media Turning Humans into Cyborgs?

The contemporary world is profoundly shaped by mass media. We might even ask if media technologies have changed what it means to be human. Democratic politics, globalized economic flows, and new religious practices all depend on modern technologies of communication, as does the discipline of anthropology. How might we make sense of how social media, television, radio, and film have shaped our lives from an ethnographic perspective? In this course, we will pursue this question through a series of studies of media use, production, and circulation in a wide range of cultural contexts, including the exploring centrality of media to the production of anthropological knowledge. Developing some of the themes that students might have been exposed to in ANT102H5 (Introduction to Sociocultural and Linguistic Anthropology) and ANT204H5 (Sociocultural Anthropology), students will also be guided in pursuing their own research interests in this upper-level seminar.

ANT468H5. Anthropology of Troubled Times

Rising sea levels, unnatural disasters, global displacements, energy shortages, poverty, racism, mediated mass-surveillance, conspiracies, populism, pandemics – all provide unsettling markers of our times. As chroniclers and theorists of the contemporary, anthropologists have been keen to diagnose and engage the moment. Their efforts have yielded dividends: key insights into some of today’s most pressing problems, as well as new analytic tools with which to capture them. This fourth-year capstone seminar will enable students to survey a range of pressing contemporary concerns from an anthropological perspective, while consolidating skills and knowledge from previous courses in the Politics, Policy & Law focus.