Undergraduate Study

Anthropology is the study of cultural differences and similarities in a globalised world. As a field of study anthropology is uniquely placed to interpret the widest range of contemporary social phenomena – from migration to religious fundamentalism, online communities and new social movements, contemporary indigenous cultural expression and identity politics, consumption and commodification, and many changing forms of social relationships. The ANU offers a diverse range of undergraduate courses which cover these themes and more.

The discipline’s distinctive methodology, long-term ethnographic fieldwork, provides anthropologists with finely grained and in-depth understandings of complex social phenomena. With a commitment to a comparative and holistic framework, anthropologists’ treatment of cultural diversity provides insights into the different ways people comprehend their place in the world and relationships to each other, as well as new ways for us to think about our own relationships and society. It is an ideal foundation for a contemporary liberal-arts degree. Students of non-English languages can find anthropology especially useful.

Undergraduate training in Anthropology is conducted primarily through the School of Archaeology and Anthropology in the College of Arts and Social Sciences as part of a Bachelor of Arts degree program. There are also courses run from the School of Culture, History and Languages in the College of Asia and the Pacific. An Honours program in Anthropology is also offered in both schools.


Relevant Degrees:

Bachelor of Arts

The Bachelor of Arts is the most diverse, most flexible, and most popular degree at The Australian National University. An arts degree is the perfect choice if you have interests in humanities, creative arts or social sciences. If you choose to major in Anthropology this can be coupled with more than seventy minors and specialisations to broaden or deepen your study. In particular, you might want to minor in Asian and Pacific Anthropology. Regardless of your choices, your Arts degree will provide you with core skills in critical analysis and in written and oral communication, while developing your adaptability and ability to help shape change and prepare you for a multifaceted career or further study.



Bachelor of Asian Studies

With Asia’s influence on Australia and the world ever increasing are you ready to be a leader in “the Asian century”? Enquire now to find out how the Bachelor of Asian Studies will deepen knowledge of the Asian region’s history, politics, economies, environment, languages and cultures. You’ll graduate as an expert in Asia ready to capitalise on the career opportunities this century brings. Subject areas available in the Asian studies program range from religion to K-pop, Chinese politics to Japanese manga, US security policy to Indonesian democracy, media in the region to war and conflict, past and present. Your deep contextual knowledge will be complimented with language training in an Asian language.

Combine this degree with almost any other degree at ANU – including law, international relations, engineering, commerce or economics – and your Asian studies specialisation will ensure you are recognised ahead of your peers when starting your career in Australia or overseas. In particular, we recommend taking up the Asian and Pacific Anthropology minor, to give you deep insights into how the region is changing and where it has come from. This minor covers key debates that are central to the changing social and cultural landscapes of Asia and the Pacific with a specialist focus on social ideologies, political institutions and everyday practices. It brings to life the ongoing struggles of the region with regards to modernity and exclusion, environmental change, development, technology, and the enduring cultural traditions across Asia and the Pacific.

Central to the Asian Studies program is the opportunity to truly engage with the region through dedicated in-country study programs. Our in-country programs are offered in a number of countries and range in length from a couple of weeks to an entire year. You’ll experience complete cultural and language immersion (non-language options are also available) – as well as having the adventure of a lifetime. And because we know adventures don’t come cheap, we will give you a minimum of $3,000 to help fund your study and travel overseas.

Read our Bachelor of Asian Studies publication (3.54 MB) to find out about core courses and the typical program outline.



Some of the classes taught by our staff include the following:
Spirit Rising: Religious Resurgence in its Local Context (ANTH2004)

This course explores some fundamental questions about the role that religious institutions, practices and commitments play in shaping contemporary social, cultural and political life. Attention to the diversity of human religious practice has been central to anthropology and remains a topic of considerable interest and continuing research in anthropology and development studies. The course will consider a variety of religious phenomena found throughout the world and the theoretical and methodological approaches that anthropologists use to account for them. It will particularly focus on religious resurgence not only in the world religions but in countless local religious expressions. Emphasis is given to the analysis of religious forms of representation, symbolic settings and social action, understanding how religious experience is perceived and interpreted by adherents, and highlighting the way in which individual and group identities are constructed, maintained and contested within religious contexts.


Traditional Australian Indigenous Cultures, Societies and Environment (ANTH2005)

From the moment of Australia’s discovery by Europeans the history, life and culture of Aboriginal people has been a subject of intellectual fascination. In the nineteenth century their social and cultural practices were widely believed to open up a window onto the origins of religion and European social institutions. More recently they have become a sociological, evolutionary and ecological prototype of the hunting and gathering way of life. This course will examine the details of traditional life, including subsistence economy, land ownership, social organisation, marriage arrangements, religion, magic, art and totemism and consider its impact on the European imagination and the production of social theory


Gender in Cross-Cultural Perspective (ANTH2025)

Anthropology is uniquely situated to look into concepts and theories of gender, sex and sexuality through its concern with the culturally-specific character of human categories and practices. This course explores gender, sex and sexuality across a range of cultural settings seeking, in the process, to question most of what we – including most theorists of sex/gender – take for granted about the gendered and sexed character of human identity and difference. Topics explored include: the saliency of the categories man and woman; the relationships between race and gender; the role of colonialism and neocolonialism in the representation of gender, sex and sexuality; the usefulness of the notion of oppression; the relationship between cultural conceptions of personhood and cultural conceptions of gender; and the ethnocentricity of the concepts of gender, sex and sexuality themselves. To assist these explorations we will make use of cross-cultural case studies in a number of areas including rape, prostitution, work and domesticity, the third sex and homosexuality.


Foundations of Chinese Society: Friends, Family, Connections (ASIA2099)

A large body of scholarship now addresses a range of questions about social relatedness in China: What does kinship consist of in China and how is it changing?  How have patrilineal kinship imaginaries shaped the place of women in Chinese families?  What is the relationship of love and practicality in romantic relationships?  How are relationships formed outside of the family in business and politics and how do these types of relationships draw on the form and content of kin relations?  How have urbanization and new communication technologies shaped practices of relationship formation?  China is an important reference point for the study of social relationships both because of scholarly debates about the uniqueness of the practices used to form social relationships there and because Chinese society is changing so rapidly. This course will introduce sociological and anthropological methods and analytics for the study of social relationships while examining the cultural forms of relatedness in Chinese social worlds.  The place of kinship imaginaries in everyday ethics and social practice will be emphasized.


Crossing Borders: Migration, Identity and Livelihood (ANTH2129)

Introducing the Anthropology of Migration. Crossing Borders covers the core theories and key case studies students will need to make sense of the complex terrain of contemporary international and domestic migration, both voluntary and forced. Beginning with a focus on international migration from developing to developed nations, we ask: Why do people migrate? Why do they go where they do? What are their experiences of resettlement, work and community in their new host nations? How do migrant communities form distinctive identities as a result of their migration experiences? How do host nations react to flows of legal and informal migrants in terms of policy and in terms of ideologically driven responses? How do host nation policies and social ideologies, especially around race, shape processes of migrant and refugee identity formation? What relationships do contemporary international migrants maintain with their homelands?

We then move to a focus on labour migration, both international and domestic, in developing nation contexts. Here we take a special focus on feminised labour migration for factory and domestic work in Asia and the Middle East. In this context, we enquire: What experiences of marginalisation and exploitation do female labour migrants experience in host nations and cities? How do they negotiate and resist harsh labour regimes and gendered and racist stereotyping? What kinds of long-distance family relationships come into existence as a result of the migration of these women? How do ‘cash, communications and care’ circulate in transnational families? What development effects might the economic and social remittances sent by labour migrants back to home communities have?


Violence and Terror (ANTH2130)

This course weighs up the kinds of insights that anthropology has to offer in understanding violence, and therefore emphasises ethnographic accounts that explore the manner in which social life is shaped through different forms of engagement with violence. Considering violence from an anthropological perspective foregrounds concerns of meaning, representation and symbolism—understanding violence as expression as much as instrument. We will be approaching violence as usually meaningful and always culturally mediated, a phenomenon that is not outside the realm of human society.

A key theme to be explored is the contention that violence, rather than necessarily signifying a breakdown in social existence, often plays a part—perhaps even a fundamental one—in the maintenance or creation of particular forms of social order. To this end, we will be concerned with analysing not only the explicit acts of bodily harm that occur in violent conflict but more subtle forms of violence perpetrated by the nation-state and global institutions. In this sense, a vital aspect of the course involves engaging with the ‘anthropology of state practices’ through considering the relation of state and society as this shapes occurrences and expressions of violence. Finally, we consider the relation of anthropology and anthropologists to debates about universal human rights and reflect on the position of the anthropologist in witnessing, theorising and writing about violence, as well as the methodological challenges, ethical dilemmas, dangers and responsibilities involved.


Anthropology and Technology in India (ASIA2280)

This course introduces students to the most urgent issues in India today, looking at the remarkable impact of technology on Indian culture and society, from infrastructure to media and digital. It uses the anthropological lens to bring technology alive, as it is encountered in everyday life by people and institutions. The course begins with an examination of key institutions in India: its social system and cultural practices. It draws on the history and ethnography of South Asia, and the major concepts that framed the discipline of anthropology, as inseparable from the colonialism in Asia. The first part of the course will  primarily focus on the foundations of Indian society, its social, cultural and political make up, before moving to main part of the course which focuses on technology.

The second part of the course investigates the multiple effects of technological schemes and innovation in India and their implications for social life. What do we mean by technology? What is the relationship between technology and social order and cultural values? How has technology, as part of India’s embrace of economic reforms, reshaped society and the politics of identity? What is the role of the state and private enterprise in promoting technological innovations? These are some of the question we will cover. The final part of the course will focus on the effects of neoliberalism on both private and public spheres, in promoting policies and ideologies that continue to be key drivers in shaping ideologies and everyday practices in India and its vast diaspora. While the course will focus primarily on India, readings and classes will also cover aspects related to other countries in South Asia.


Indonesia Field School: Contemporary Change in Indonesia (ANTH3014)

The course will introduce students to life in Indonesian villages. The locations over previous years have included urban low income settlements and mountain villages in Java, and fishing villages in North Halmahera. Each year the location is determined in discussion with our partner university in Indonesia. ANU participants work in team with Indonesian students to explore social issues within the community where they are based. The fieldschool offers valuable experience in cooperating cross-culturally with the Indonesian students. ANU participants will attend an introductory workshop over several weeks in May before travelling to Indonesia to meet up with Indonesian counterparts. After an initial workshop at the Indonesian university participants will live as teams in the Indonesian villages for three weeks, conducting research and development projects there in collaboration with local residents. Living conditions will be basic but comfortable.


Airlines in Asia and the Pacific (ASIA3026)

While aviation continues to inspire our imaginations, the traveling public is often eluded by the geo-political, technical, and cultural complexities of this massive industry in the Asia-Pacific region (and beyond). This course consists of three major sections: human-machine relationships, aviation labor, and finally aviation consumers/passengers. Drawing upon engineering history and human-machine relationships, this course will discuss how aviation developed in relation to other forms of transportation and surveillance, as well as how “human factors” discourses are used to assess aviation disasters. Next, it will examine aviation labor: from the highly sexualised icon of the flight attendant to the air traffic controller or the outsourced customer service representative, their interlocking roles, and the ways in which they are subject to security regimes as well as neoliberal pushes for flexible labor. Finally, the consumers of aviation: passengers and cargo. How has the container revolution changed our tastes in foods? How have the demographics of the flying public changed? How have marketing strategies and loyalty programs sought to segment elites? Following a general history of the industry and selected case studies from the Asia-Pacific, this course will explore the histories, laws, economies and cultures as they come together in the machines, labor, and consumers that form the aviation industry today.


The Death of God in the Asia-Pacific (ASIA3053)

The idea that gods are dying or already dead has been used in compelling but competing ways. For some, the symbolic death of a god creates the possibility of new life, as in traditional Polynesian rituals of chiefly installation and the Christian narrative of the crucifixion. For others, gods’ (or God’s) death marks the loss of spiritual force in the modern world; the famous phrase “God is dead” is Nietzsche’s, but scholars from many disciplines have contributed to “modern, Western” visions of life and society as sites whose spiritual spark is extinguished. This course follows both paths in investigating God’s death, examining the conjunction of religious and political authority in the modern Asia-Pacific, a region of intense negotiation over religion’s place in local and national contexts.