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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Threshold Concepts in Social Anthropology: Literature and Pedagogical Applications in a Bridging Project

Published Web Location Commons 'BY-NC' version 4.0 license

This article considers what UK-based higher education researchers Jan Meyer and Ray Land describe as “threshold concepts,” asking how these concepts might apply to the field of social/cultural anthropology. This is explored in relation to the practical pedagogical project of constructing a curated online resource kit to support students who are “bridging” into social anthropology from other disciplines. In this article, we review the literature on threshold concepts in social anthropology as well as some adjacent writings on “key,” “core,” or “signature” anthropological concepts. The potential value of boundary work and troubled/troubling knowledge as a generative space emerge as useful points of consideration. We then present findings from our own surveys and focus groups with University of Otago students, summarizing their emphasis on “felt” and applied levels of understandings, the significance of ethnography, and a “hidden curriculum” of values. We explain how the lens of threshold concepts helped us interpret these responses, evaluate possible resources to meet their needs, and shape the content and structure of the online resource kit we called “AnthNav.” We conclude that while the threshold concepts framework is not the only way to understand anthropological education, it can be a valuable discussion-starter for those teaching in complex institutional settings.


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