MRK 3534 Economic Anthropology

Norwegian version

MRK 3534 Economic Anthropology

Responsible for the course
Steffen Johannessen, Gillian Warner-Søderholm

Department of Communication and Culture

According to study plan

ECTS Credits

Language of instruction
Norwegian and english


Ethnic and cultural diversity have become part of people’s everyday experience in most parts of the world. At the same time, transnational communication is increasing, and physical distance is becoming less important in many spheres of life. A globalized and constantly changing business world, increasingly affected China and other emerging economies outside the western world, brings about new social, cultural, economic, and political challenges. This demands a heightened sense of understanding anthropological issues of culture and identity-formation in a global economy.

The course will offer anthropological and sociological perspectives for understanding and analyzing culture, identity and social relations, with a focus on economic issues and international business. It will focus on how social practices of trade, reciprocity, tourism, consumerism and shopping contribute to form, confirm and re-shape identity, cultural meaning and social relationships in a globalized world. Through anthropological theory and practice, including fieldwork, students will gain an insight into how cultural values, norms and traditions in a society impact the way people interact and communicate, trade, and relate to one another. They will also gain insight into how people understand themselves and others in a consumer society much influenced by marketing, where successful marketing is much dependent on knowledge about target groups' cultural ideas.

Geographically, the course will include examples from many parts of the world, but has an empirical focus on studies of China and Scandinavia.

Learning outcome
Acquired knowledge
On completion of the course the students should:

  • Be familiar with anthropological understandings of culture
  • Be familiar with an anthropological understanding of identity
  • Be familiar with anthropological theories of economic exchange
  • Understand how we are affected by the region in which we live and how our cultural background influences our understanding of other groups and regions
  • Be familiar with different approaches to understanding people from other cultures, such as cultural relativism and ethnocentrism.
  • Understand qualitative anthropological research methods, and how cultural meanings and practices can be studied by means of participant observation.
  • Be familiar with social and cultural differences between Scandinavia and China, and the importance of this with regard to politics and business behavior in modern China.
Acquired skills
  • Be able to explain central concepts and theories within anthropology and sociology, and to be able to apply these concepts and theories for understanding, discussing and analyzing cultures, sub-cultures, identity and different forms of social interaction within a contemporary world.
  • Be able to use qualitative interview and observation techniques to gain knowledge about other peoples' cultural perspectives and understandings.
  • Develop increased awareness and sensitivity in respect to ethical issues that concern inter-cultural encounters.
  • Acquire modesty, understanding and respect in the approach of other groups’ cultural ideas and practices.

No particular prerequisites.

Compulsory reading
Eriksen, Thomas Hylland. 2004. What is anthropology?. Pluto Press. 180 pages
Lie, Merete, Ragnhild Lund og Gard Hopsdal Hansen, eds. 2008. Making it in China. Høyskoleforlaget. 255 pages

Collection of articles:
Johannessen, Steffen F. (ed.). 2016. Article Collection: MRK 3534 Economic Anthropology. Handelshøyskolen BI. (Can be downloaded from Itslearning)

Recommended reading

Course outline
  • Qualitative research methods and fieldwork
  • Anthropology and ethics
  • Cultural translation and context
  • Globalization
  • Trade and reciprocity
  • Media and visual culture
  • Tourism
  • Identity, ethnicity and nationalism
  • Consumption, shopping and meaning making
  • Introduction to Scandinavian and Chinese cultures

Computer-based tools
No specified computer-based tools are required.

Learning process and workload
The course is comprised of a combination of lectures, group work, and assignments.

During the semester students will work on a term paper. The term paper will be based on qualitative methods and students will conduct one short anthropological field-work. The term paper will be completed in groups of 3-5 students. The students must hand in a project proposal early in the semester and must also be prepared to present parts of their term paper in a plenary session or to the teacher during the course. The term paper will be given at semester start. Feedback and supervision will be given in plenary sessions and/or individually to the groups.

Additionally, students are expected to discuss the various course topics in discussion groups. The discussion groups may be the same as the term paper groups or they may vary.

Recommended use of hours:
Work on term paper, including individual group-supervision
Self-study and discussion groups
Individual examination
Total recommended workload

    Term paper (10 - 15 pages) in groups of 3-5 students, which makes up 40 % of the grade.
    Four (4) hours individual written exam, which makes up 60 % of the grade.

    Both exams must be passed in order to receive a grade for the course, 7,5 ECTS credits.

    Examination code(s)
    MRK 35341 – Term paper, counts 40 % towards the grade in the course MRK 3534 Economic Anthropology, 7,5 ECTS credits.
    MRK 35342 – Written exam, counts 60 % towards the grade in the course MRK 3534 Economic Anthropology, 7,5 ECTS credits.

    Examination support materials
    Term paper: All examination support materials allowed.
    Written exam: One bi-lingual dictionary.

    Re-sit examination
    A re-sit examination is held every semester.
    In connection with a re-sit the project paper can be completed in groups with fewer participants or on an individual basis.

    Additional information