About Us

Anthropology (literally, ‘the study of humankind’) is born of a fascination with what it means to be human – in every dimension. Among the multitude of themes involving human thought and action, it is concerned with: human origins and evolutionary processes; how humans organise and regulate their social lives based on sex/gender, ethnicity and race, age, kinship, marriage alliances and other forms of group membership; spiritual/religious beliefs, rituals and symbols; aesthetic, expressive and embodied practices;  politics, legal and judicial systems; ethics and morality; conflict and its resolution; economics, the distribution of resources, how resources and technologies are utilised and regulated; human-nature relations and global environmental integrity; human migration (forced or voluntary) and adaptation; illness and healing; knowledge, communications and media; material culture and other forms of heritage; work and leisure (including tourism); food and its preparation ......and much more.

While contemporary small-scale societies and social groups are the main focus in anthropology, wider, more complex and even ‘imagined’ communities receive attention, and historical factors are regarded as essential for understanding people’s present realities. Anthropology also seeks to compare and identify similarities between cultures, across space and time, to explain differences and to understand socio-cultural change. What makes anthropology unique is its insistence on long-term intimate participation in the lives of the peoples it studies in order to understand their life-worlds, as much as possible, from within.

The Department of Anthropology at Rhodes University embraces these broad dimensions of social, cultural and physical (biological) anthropology. First year modules provide an introduction to the broad scope of anthropology, while selected themes and topics are offered in the second and third years of study depending on areas of staff interest and fields of expertise. Current interests and expertise in the department include Indian Ocean and Western Pacific  Ocean Island peoples and ethnographies; multiculturalism and ethnic politics; environmental anthropology including maritime communities, marine common-property resource use, and bio-cultural diversity; indigenous peoples and their knowledge; transnational migration, the African Diaspora, and immigrant communities; resettlement and refugees; urban anthropology; medical anthropology including HIV/AIDs in Africa; altered states of consciousness and the anthropology of extraordinary experience (especially relating to dreams and healing); the anthropology of childhood; the anthropology of performance.

The anthropology department has a proud history and has been home to a number of staff members who were internationally renowned anthropologists. These include A.R. Radcliffe Brown, Monica Wilson (nee Hunter), Jack and Eileen Krige, Philip and Iona Mayer, and David Hammond-Tooke.

Our Physical Home – Selwyn Castle

Anthropology is housed in the historic ‘Selwyn castle’, a Gothic style mansion built in 1836 by Captain Selwyn who was commandant of the British Royal Engineers. It served as the government house and was once the official residence of the Lieutenant General of the Eastern Cape, Sir Andries Stockenstrom.