21A.00 | Spring 2022 | Undergraduate

Introduction to Anthropology


Of the 10 prompts for 2-page (double-spaced) reading commentaries, students will select 2 each quarter (4 total). These short papers should address specific passages or sections of the readings (include page numbers for any quotations), and will serve as the basis for discussion throughout the semester. To facilitate discussion this should be submitted by 10 AM for the session listed.

Session 4 Commentary paper

Compare the experiences of cultural contact described in The Dawn of Everything with First Contact. With allowances made for different historical circumstances, what similarities do you notice? Is there evidence of an indigenous critique?

Session 6 Commentary paper

How does the discussion of “political self-consciousness” in The Dawn of Everything apply to the events in Joe Leahy’s Neighbours? What different models of politics and personhood do various parties in the film embrace?

Session 7 Commentary paper

How do the anthropological research methods in described in today’s readings compare to research methods you’ve encountered in other disciplines? What are the distinctive empirical advantages and challenges of these methods?

Student Example

 “Commentary Paper on Anthropological Research Methods.” (PDF)

Session 9 Commentary paper

How do Graeber and Wengrow’s analyses of egalitarianism, autonomy, and private property connect to the events depicted in Black Harvest?

Student Example

“The Complexity of Graeber and Wengrow’s Argument.” (PDF)

Session 11 Commentary paper

Use one or more concepts from Durkheim to explain how internet memes work, as seen in the case of Baby Forklift and/or Pepe the Frog.

Student Examples

“Is a Meme a Totem?” (PDF)

“Memes: Agents of Community Membership.” (PDF)

Session 15 Commentary paper

Conduct a ritual self-inventory. Spend a day keeping track of the formal and informal rituals you engage in. How do you tell the difference between ritual and everything else, and what difference does it make?

Student Example

“Session 15 Commentary Paper, Example 1.” (PDF)

Session 17 Commentary paper

What kinds of theories of culture can you find on display at the Peabody Museum of Archaeology & Ethnology? Do you notice any tensions between competing theories?

Session 19 Commentary paper

Recall Graeber and Wengrow’s discussion (pp. 116–17) of two aspects of ritual: subverting established order and asserting established order. With reference to one or both of this week’s readings, describe how expressive practices (ritual, art, and performance) can function as a mode of resistance. How is that different from political protest?

Student Example

“Rituals and Established Order.” (PDF)

Session 21 Commentary paper

Reflecting on this week’s readings and our conversation with James Shen, discuss why the city is so important for understanding humanity’s past, present, and future.

Student Examples

“Session 21 Commentary Paper, Example 1.” (PDF)

“The Urban Built Environment: A Mirror and a Laboratory Benchtop.” (PDF) (Courtesy of Arbri Kopliku. Used with permission.)

Session 23 Commentary paper

The Dawn of Everything ends on a note of optimism about humanity’s prospects for “getting unstuck” from restrictive/repressive social formations. Does Nomadland reflect that optimism, or does it suggest a bleaker vision?

Student Examples

“Session 23 Commentary Paper, Example 1.” (PDF)

“Nomadland: A Tale of Sharp Contrasts and of Blurry Conclusions.” (PDF) (Courtesy of Arbri Kopliku. Used with permission.)

“Fern Chooses Freedom: The Positivity in Getting Unstuck.” (PDF)

Note: Student examples appear courtesy of MIT students and are anonymous unless otherwise requested.

Course Info

As Taught In
Spring 2022
Learning Resource Types
Activity Assignments
Instructor Insights
Written Assignments with Examples