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The University of Southampton

HUMA1038 Introduction to Ethnography: Food and Culture

Module Overview

Biological science tells us what items in our world are potentially edible, but culture decides what constitutes food. Culture informs us as to whether a specific item is appropriate, appetising, valued, desirable, prohibited, restricted, staple or medicinal. These and other qualities are products of culture not simply the ‘food’ itself. ‘You are what you eat’ illustrates the social dynamics through which identities, relationships, and hierarchies are created, performed and reproduced. This module examines cultural variation in what constitutes food, drink and medicine in contemporary societies and contexts. We will also look into changing patterns of food acquisition from prehistory into the present. In particular we will examine how our cultural definitions, discourses, values and practices concerning food act to build, sustain and nourish us as biological bodies, as individually specific persons, and as participants in specific social, cultural, ethnic, national and transnational groups.

Aims and Objectives

Learning Outcomes

Learning Outcomes

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • To develop a critical understanding of what constitutes ‘food’ from a cultural and comparative perspective.


Indicative Topics: Section One: Introduction to food studies. What is food? What is an anthropological approach to food? Food and the body: cultural and bio-anthropological approaches. Food and personhood: how food creates and nourishes persons. The role of food in ethnicity, national cuisines, migration and global brands. Section Two: Food through Time. Why did people move to food production in prehistory? How do we know what people ate in the past and why they might have chosen it? Heritage food. Food security in changing worlds: foraging, farming, free-trade, fairtrade. Section Three: Selected themes Spices, simulants, fasting and altered states Proscription, taboos and cannibalism Sharing, abundance and feasting Food banks; food waste

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

Teaching consists of lectures, seminars and workshops. Lectures will deliver an introduction to the week’s topics/themes, key ideas and debates, and relevant literatures. Seminars will be discussion-based and focus on developing a deeper understanding of selected concepts, approaches and issues, by means of engagement with set reading. Workshops will provide opportunities for guided but largely independent learning and practice of ethnographic methods directed to the investigation of food and culture.

Follow-up work24
Practical classes and workshops12
Completion of assessment task40
Preparation for scheduled sessions24
Wider reading or practice26
Total study time150

Resources & Reading list

Hendry, Joy (1999). An Introduction to Social Anthropology. 

Barker, Graeme (2006). The Agricultural Revolution in Prehistory: Why did foragers become farmers?. 

Fardon R., O Harris, T.H.J. Marachand, M.Nuttall, C Shore, V. Strong, and R. Wilson (2012). Handbook of Social Anthropology. 

Counihan, C. & P. Van Esterik (2013). Food and culture: a reader. 

Van der Veen, Marikje (2003). World Archaeology. Luxury Foods. ,34(3) .

Klein J. and J. Watson (2016). The Handbook of Food and Anthropology. 

MacClancy, Jeremy (1992). Consuming Culture: why you eat what you eat. 

Rathje, William and Cullen Murphy (1992). Rubbish: The archaeology of garbage. 



MethodPercentage contribution
Project  (1500 words) 60%
Review  (1200 words) 40%


MethodPercentage contribution
Resubmit assessments 100%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

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