AANA18141U Personhood and Selves in the Asia-Pacific: Beyond the Individual and Beyond the Human

Volume 2024/2025

This course explores the rich anthropological literature on the multifaceted dimensions of self- and personhood across the Asia-Pacific region to collectively reflect on what personhood entails from an array of non-western vantage points. The Asia-Pacific region is home to a range of distinct indigenous intellectual traditions that have developed and interacted for millennia, each with their own ideas of self and personhood. This diverse cultural context provides fertile ground for examining how spirituality, kinship, modernity and technology intersect with individual and collective identities.


Notions of personhood in the Asia-Pacific reflects the region’s complex history of trade, warfare and migration and thus requires historicizing ideas about relationality, hierarchy and communalism. In contrast to prevalent western intuition about individuality as self-contained and matters of personal truthful expression, the anthropology of the region offers ethnographic insights into how selfhood and personhood become constituted in relation to the collective and the environment. While western assumptions about personhood tend to extend ideas of personhood only to human beings, in the Asia-Pacific artefacts, technologies, and spirits are typically endowed with their own forms of personhood and agency. This course explores these concepts through a series of comparisons within the Asia-Pacific.


By engaging discussions and comparative readings across the region students will navigate the complexities of identity construction in relation to themes like animism, multiple selves, religion, citizenship and colonialism and examine how variedly communities grant personhood to spirits and monsters, robots and artefacts, animals and nature.

The Asia-Pacific region’s diverse array of cultural practices, belief systems, and social arrangements helps anthropologists enrich our understanding of selves, personhood, and subjectivity and question the distinctions we draw between humans and alter-human beings or between self and other. Through the exploration of this dynamic region (emphasizing a comparison between Japan and the Malay speaking world) students become equipped with valuable insights into what personhood and selfhood entails across diverse cultural landscapes in a comparative investigation of literature that do not implicitly take the West as the norm.

Learning Outcome


At the end of the course, the students will be able to:


  • demonstrate a wide knowledge of concepts of selfhood, personhood and subjectivity within the Asia-Pacific region.
  • explain and understand key elements of the Asia-Pacific region’s modern history and contemporary political conditions.
  • explicate basic features of relevant intellectual traditions (Buddhism, Islam, Shinto, Animism) and their role in the contemporary Asia-Pacific.



At the end of the course, the students will be able to:


  • read anthropological and social scientific scholarship critically and comparatively with regards to regional differences.
  • historicize and contextualize ideas of self, personhood and subjectivity.
  • establish and operationalize regional tendencies through regional history and intellectual traditions.



At the end of the course, the students will be able to:

  • comparatively analyze how Asia-Pacific ideas of self- and personhood are articulated and enacted in both practice and discourse.
  • understand and identify complex concepts of selfhood and personhood in relation to socio-cultural, political, cosmological and historical contexts.
  • reflect upon the importance of socio-historically specific senses of self in understanding societies across the world and relativize western ideas of self- and personhood.

BSc students and MSc students: 500 pages obligatory literature.

The teachers will publish 200-300 pages of supplementary literature.

Course literature will be available through Absalon.

The course assumes familiarity with basics of social scientific theory and experience working with anthropological analysis and methodologies. While we expect some basic conversance about the geography of East and Southeast Asia, no formal knowledge about the Asia-Pacific region is expected.
The course will consist of a combination of lectures and seminars.
  • Category
  • Hours
  • Lectures
  • 42
  • Preparation
  • 100
  • Exam
  • 64
  • Total
  • 206
Continuous feedback during the course of the semester

Ongoing feedback in the teaching process.
We will have ongoing sessions of essay development and feedback throughout the course. Students will be encouraged to write essays in groups in order to collaborate on more comprehensive analyses.

7,5 ECTS
Type of assessment
Written assignment
Type of assessment details
One BA student: 21.600-26.400 keystrokes. For group responses, Min. 6,750 and Max. 8,250 extra keystrokes per extra group member.

One MA student: 27,000-33,000 keystrokes. For group responses, Min. 8,450 and Max. 10,300 extra keystrokes per extra group member.

For groups with both BA and MA students:
A MA and a BA student: 31,900-38,975 (BA: 14.175-17.325 KA: 17.725-21.650)
A MA and two BA students: 38,050 – 46,475 (BA: 11,700-14.300 KA: 14.650-17.875)
A MA and three BA students: 44,525-54,375 (BA: 10.475-12,800 MA: 13.100-15.975)
Two MA and one BA student: 41,000-50,050 (BA: 11,700-14.300 KA: 14.650-17.875)
Two MA and two BA students: 47,150-57,550 (BA: 10.475-12,800 MA: 13.100-15.975)
Three MA and one BA student: 49,775-60,725 (BA: 10.475-12,800 MA: 13.100-15.975)

MA students must include supplementary literature in the exam assignment. The supplementary literature is chosen by the student.

Information of level and contribution
Students must indicate on the first page of the assignment whether they are a BA or MA students. In the case of group assignments, the contribution of each individual student must be clearly marked in the assignment.
All aids allowed

Policy on the Use of Generative AI Software and Large Language Models in Exams

The Department of Anthropology allows the use of generative AI software and large language models (AI/LLMs), such as ChatGPT, in written exams, provided that the use of AI/LLMs is disclosed and specified (i.e., how it was used and for what purpose) in an appendix that does not count towards the page limit of the exam.


If AI/LLMs are used as source, the same requirements apply for using quotation marks and source referencing as with all other sources. Otherwise, it will be a case of plagiarism.

Marking scale
7-point grading scale
Censorship form
No external censorship

1st and 2nd re-exam: A new essay must be submitted. The new assignment must be submitted by the deadline for the re-exam.

Criteria for exam assesment

See learning outcome