Department of Anthropology
USEM 54a Ideas of Equality, Systems of Inequality
MW 3:40-5:00 p.m.
Richard J. Parmentier
Brown 221 736-2220
Office hours: M 1-3, Th 11-1
COURSE DESCRIPTION: This university seminar for first-year students examines classic and
contemporary accounts of equality and inequality in Western and non-Western societies.
it is taught by an anthropologist, it is designed for students with no previous background in
We first read influential philosophical texts on human equality and inequality and
then confront these speculative accounts with empirical and cross-cultural evidence from so-called
"egalitarian" and “hierarchical” societies.
In subsequent units we read several historical,
sociological, and autobiographical texts that enable us to compare systems of inequality based on
various combinations of dimensions such as gender, ethnicity, rank, and class. We then locate the
origins of an ideology of individual equality in the Western tradition and examine ways that
obvious evidence of inequality is "naturalized" and "rationalized" in contemporary American
Finally, we consider the issue of equality and inequality in the context of recent debates
about, for example, intelligence testing, affirmative action, gender discrimination, the death penalty,
and the distribution of wealth.
READING ASSIGNMENTS: The readings for each unit are taken from required textbooks and
from PDFs posted on the class website. A copy of each of the textbooks is on reserve at the library.
Please let me know if you are having difficulty obtaining the reading assignments.
l) David Cannadine, Ornamentalism
2) bell hooks, Where We Stand: Class Matters
3) Michael Lewis, Culture of Inequality
4) Richard Lee, The Dobe Ju/'hoansi
5) Jean-Jacques Rousseau, A Discourse on Inequality
6) Irene Silverblatt, Moon, Sun, and Witches
7) Barbara Ehrenreich, Nickel and Dimed
SPECIAL NOTE: If you are a student with a documented disability on record at Brandeis
University and wish to have a reasonable accommodation made for you in this class, please
see me immediately.
REQUIREMENTS AND PROCEDURES: There are four graded requirements for this course: (1)