Ways of Humans

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Course TypeCourse CodeNo. Of Credits
Foundation CoreSHS2017034

Course Coordinator and Team: Bibinaz Thokchom & Adjunct faculty from Gender Studies

Email of course coordinator: bibinaz[at]aud[dot]ac[dot]in

Pre-requisites: None


The course attempts to capture some ‘essential’ aspects of human across time and space. Space, time and person, as we know, are vital coordinates within which meaning and practice are socially located through human’s lived worlds. So, how do we study human and their ways of ‘being’ and ‘non-being’ that they contain? The question of being human can be studied and understood through disciplines like sociology, social anthropology and also an outline of their intersections can be studied with the discipline of psychology. Another way of saying is that the concept of human can be viewed from topological, ontological, philosophical and experiential dimensions. So we look at the manner in which people daily organise and populate structures within which an experience happens and even becomes observable. This part of the course will examine what makes an experience and action possible and further oscillate between the construction of structures and articulation of experiences to unravel the contentious question of ‘why do we act as we do’. The course will emphasise more on some selected experiential aspects of being human.


  • To enable us to question the very nature of human that is taken for granted.
  • To recognise the convergences and divergences among the fields of philosophy, social anthropology, feminist perspectives and psychology, especially with reference to sexuality, shame, violence and witnessing.
  • To identify ways in which the larger discourses of the social and physical sciences have shaped or elaborated on central psychological concepts such as the ‘self’.
  • To revisit, familiarise and further question some of the core human life ways that are only articulated at the marginal space of the entire spectrum of human experiences.
  • To open to learners multifarious possibilities human creates for their own sense of continuity of existence.

Brief description of modules/ Main modules:

Module I: Boundaries of the Human

a: Theoretical Framework

We begin by introducing the theoretical framework that we will be using throughout the course with a reading of Sheehan and Sosna who deal with the boundaries of humanity.

Sheehan, James J. and Morton Sosna (Eds). The Boundaries of Humanity: Humans, Animals, Machines. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991.

b: The Animal and the Human

In attempts to define ‘Human’, we resort to elaborating on what is ‘Not Human’. Human distinguishes themselves from animals, or as special kind of animal, by their capacity to organise and articulate experience through well developed meaningful gestures, languages structures and cultures having a history of these constructs. How would it be for a human to think of encountering moments that puts them under the gaze of an animal? Would the gaze be simply a gaze, a seeing or human’s attempt to interpret the gaze through their own looking glasses? Who follows whom, animals follow humans or humans follow them? Or is there even a binary relationship between animals and Humans at all? Such questions will be examined through the text, ‘The Animal That Therefore I am’ by Jacques Derrida who questions the very nature of differentiation made between Humans and Animals.

Jacques Derrida. “The Animal that Therefore I am.” David Wills (Trans.) Critical Inquiry, Vol. 28, No. 2. (Winter, 2002), pp. 369-418.

Haraway, Donna Jeanne. “Introduction: The Persistence of Vision.” In Primate Visions: Gender, Race, and Nature in the World of Modern Science. New York: Routeledge, 1989. Pp: 1-15. (Google Books).

Kafka, Franz. “A Report to the Academy.” Ian Johnston (Trans.) accessed on 20-12-2018.

“A Report to an Academy.” accessed on 20-12-2018.

Suggested documentary film: ‘Animals are beautiful people’ written and directed by Jamie Uys (1974) Fandry. Film.

Module 2: The ‘Others’ in grief: ‘Other’ as a Human Category

Classic traditional anthropologists study cultures by focusing on explaining cultures as outsiders, rather than trying to understand them by being a part of the culture. Is grieving different from culture to culture? Or are the differences only in manifestations having a common underlying rage? Or perhaps, some cultures simply ignore the rage underlying grief? What would sobbing uncontrollably, punching on a wall, rolling on the floor hysterically or going on a drinking binge, mean to an observer? How does one address these questions in order to find ‘the other’ in us? Some of these questions will be addressed in this module through the texts of ‘Culture and Truth: The remaking of social analysis’ by Renato Rosaldo.

Required reading:

‘Culture and Truth: The remaking of social analysis by Renato Rosaldo (1993)

Suggested video: Judith Butler: Speaking of Rage and Grief (2014)

Module 3:


This module will highlight the existence of different forms of sexualities and development of such in different socio-cultural contexts. What are the accepted forms of sexuality/ies? Who accepts particular kinds of sexualities in what contexts, time and space? Do all adolescents across the world have a universal struggle in their attempts to explore sexuality? Some of these pertinent questions will be critically addressed through the texts of Margaret Mead’s ‘Coming of age in Samoa’ by also being mindful about the controversial stance that this particular text have withstood in the history of anthropological studies.

Required reading:

Coming of age in Samoa: A psychological study of Primitive youth for western civilisation, Perennial classics Edition, 2001

The perverts:

This module will explore the social construction of the concept of perversion and the ‘unfathomable’ human desires. Such concepts are often expressed through fictional narratives depicting ‘unhuman’ characters like Gods, aliens, monsters etc. Are these characters emotionally alien to the ‘normal’ human? The story of Aye and Gomorrah by Delaney Samuel highlights the failure of the society to look/understand beyond traditional heterosexual desires and the complications faced by those who resists the norms. However, the module will also critically examine multiple-sexualities that gradually arose post sexual revolution.

Required readings:

Delany, Samuel R. “Aye, and Gomorrah .” in Harlan Ellison. (Ed.) Dangerous Visions. London: Gateway, 2012. First Published in 1967.

“Brief Analysis of “Aye, and Gomorrah.” accessed on 20-12-2018.

Suggested readings:

“Fantastic transmissions E004 – Aye, and Gomorrah… by Samuel R. Delany.” accessed on 20-12-2018.

Rubin, Gayle. “Thinking Sex: Notes for a Radical Theory of the Politics of Sexuality.” accessed on 21-12-2018.

Butler, Judith. Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. New York: Routeledge, 1990. Pp: 1-34.

Module 4: State, politics of sexual violence and death:

Is sexual violence only a gendered issue between a male perpetrator and a female victim? Who really is the perpetrator of sexual violence? Does society and state play a role in violence that is ‘sexual’ in nature? How does state construct ‘women’ as social asset? Violence of any form doesn’t exist solely in the spurt of circumstances; it is largely facilitated by the society and the system that excuses it. However, the state, as the perpetrator often remains invisible at the time of crucial and urgent conversations on nature and conduct of perpetrators? What and how does this happen? These pertinently disturbing questions will be raised and discussed in this module helping learners to unfold layers of systems that operates in the making of individual perpetrators in numerous societal contexts. The module will be transacted by reflecting on the documentary film “The Act of killing” by Joshua Oppenheimer.

Required readings:

‘Are you a man?’ Performing Naked Protest in India by Deepti Misri, The university of Chicago press journals, 2011.

‘Shooting the Sun: A Study of Death and Protest in Manipur’ by Jogendro Ksh, Economic and Political weekly, 2009.

Suggested readings:

‘Life and words: Violence and the descent into the ordinary’ (chapter 1 & 2) by Veena Das.

Module 5: Aesthetics and Human Society: Cultural Capital and Taste

What is considered as ‘art’ in today’s time? And who is an artist? One may even find a piece of art in their homes and an artist in oneself. But what separates an ‘authentic’ work of art than that of a ‘reproduced art, especially in the contemporary time of advanced technology that enables photography (from still to aerial to panoramic) and filming of various types possible? There has been a huge shift in the work of art from historical passing through stages of art developments to modern and post modern arts and the process of art production and reproduction. Walter Benjamin engages with the prevalent question of the place of art in capitalist society. He also discusses how the changing values of systems shapes the social value of the work of art leading to changes in artistic styles. The relevance of some of the debates on art and what is reflects about the human society will be critically examined in this module.

Required reading:

‘The work of the art in the age of mechanical reproduction’ by Walter Benjamin, 1969

Module 6: Virtual vs Real Human:

Why do we need to study virtual being? How strong is the relationship between human and technologies? Artificiality and creativity is natural to human beings. Technology can degrade human life as well as emancipate allowing them to live out their fantasies. So, is real really only real and virtual simply virtual? What happens when the virtual meets the real? In contemporary time, the virtual world is becoming essential to the real world. This module will explore the extended possibilities of human existence beyond their physical and actual interactional domains and how the virtual is gradually dominating the real world allowing technology to absorb us.

Required readings:

‘Personhood: The self-the life course- Avatars and alts-embodiment-gender and race-Agency (chapter-5 from Coming of age in Second life)’ by Tom Boellstorff, Princeton University press, 2008.

‘The Virtual: the virtual human-Culture and the online-Simulation-Fiction and design-The massively multiple- Toward an anthropology of virtual worlds (chapter-9 from Coming of age in second life)’ by Tom Boesllstorff, Princeton University press, 2008.

Suggested readings:

“A Cyborg Manifesto: science, technology and Socialist-feminism in the late twentieth century’ by Donna Harraway, University of Minnesota press. 2016.

Suggested films:

Avatar by James Cameron (2009)

The matrix (Triology) by Lana Wachowski & Lilly Wachowski,


  • 30% home assignment
  • 30% presentation on a chosen theme from the modules
  • 30% end sem (open book exam)
  • 10% attendance and class participation.