What Is Social Anthropology? by Alan Macfarlane

I found the following video quite good – rather like getting to sit down in a tutorial and listen to a master speak. Your tutor is Alan Macfarlane, professor in the Department of Social Anthropology at the University of Cambridge.

If you’re interested in comparing the master class to the group document, here’s the Wikipedia entry on social anthropology.

Macfarlane’s most recent book is Letters to Lily: On How the World Works, where he brings together his work as historian and anthropologist to answer his granddaughter’s questions, What is love? Why are families so difficult? How do we get justice? How well does democracy work? Who is God? What makes us individuals? And why are we here in the first place?

You can get the full list of questions and some background and a taste of how he answers the questions at Macfarlane’s website.

Macfarlane has written many books, including The Glass Bathyscape: How Glass Changed the World (publishing in the US as Glass: A World History), written with Gerry Martin. The two published a synopsis of the book in Science, Beyond the Ivory Tower: The World of Glass. Macfarlance has also provided us a set of video clips on glass, its making and uses, which highlight the conclusion to the Science piece:

“The different applications of glass are all interconnected–windows improved working conditions, spectacles lengthened working life, stained glass added to the fascination and mystery of light and, hence, a desire to study optics. The rich set of interconnections of this largely invisible substance have made glass both fascinating and powerful, a molten liquid that has shaped our world.”

Also, with a hat-tip to Kerim at Savage Minds, Macfarlane has interviewed an extraordinary range of social scientists in his “Ancestors” page, from Frederick Barth to Roy Wagner, with full audiovisual files available.

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