Kaisa_2012_3_photo by Veikko Somerpuro

14.5.2020 at 09:00 - 31.5.2020 at 23:59



The course is meant for students in Society and Change Master’s program majoring in the field of Social and Cultural Anthropology and for students in the COS Master’s program. If there is space, other students from the Society and Change MA program or from other relevant MA programmes can be accepted into the course.

On completing this study unit, the student will be able to discuss anthropological theories of personhood as well as analyze conceptions of personhood in diverse types of data. The successful student will also be familiar with key themes in the anthropological study of kinship.

Who – and what – is a person? What constitutes personhood: is it something that all people are born with, something that we acquire via our relationships to others, or something that we merely perform? Is, or can, personhood be extended, entangled, doubled, remade or unmade – or even separated from one’s body? What about bureaucratic, legal or virtual personhood? At what exact moment is a person constituted, and what happens to personhood when a person dies? Are animals ‘persons’ – and if not, why exactly? What is ultimately the link between persons, personhood and our shared humanity – whatever that is constituted of?

This course examines these questions, among others, via classical anthropological theories. It connects its discussion to ethnographic data, thus doing what anthropology does best: taking a concept that in light of much contemporary thought appears as uncontested and self-evident. The language and ideology around human rights offers merely one example.

The course opens up different anthropological perspectives on what constitutes a person: not merely a human individual, but a social being. Anthropologists have approached the person as the subject of socially recognized rights and obligations, as an entity that is constantly made through interactions, relations, and transfers of bodily substance with others, and as an agent with a potential for doing and experiencing things in the world in a particular way. Questions about the person therefore go to the heart of the anthropological problem of what it means to be human. The course explores the gendered and embodied constitution of persons, the question whether persons are necessarily human, the relationship of personal agency to political structures and power, death and the temporality of personal existence, and the transformations of personhood through medical and cosmetic interventions.


  • Lamb, S. (2000). White saris and sweet mangoes: aging, gender, and body in North India. Berkeley, University of California Press.
  • Retsikas, K. 2012. Becoming: an anthropological approach to understandings of the person in Java. London: Anthem.
  • Willerslev, R. 2007. Soul hunters: hunting, animism, and personhood among the Siberian Yukaghirs. Berkeley, Calif.; London: University of California Press.

On a scale of 0 to 5. All completed studies will be taken into consideration, while self-assessment is promoted.

The faculty exam 13.6. will be organised in alternative ways of performance. Registration for the exam ends 31.5. at 23:59 All the information about alternative ways of performance you can find in course pages. Please contact the responsible teacher if you do not find how to conduct the exam.

Lecture course that includes written assignments and group discussions.