Social & Cultural Anthropology

The Social and Cultural Anthropology faculty conduct research and offer courses on a wide variety of methodological, theoretical, and ethnographic topics.  Students are trained in methods of collecting and analyzing data, research design, and proposal writing. In geographical terms there is particular emphasis on South and East Asia and the Pacific and on Latin America. Cultural anthropologists collaborate with cognitive and medical scientists, linguists, historians, sociologists, political scientists, and scholars in urban, legal, and women's studies (among others) in other departments and schools in the University. Faculty research can be organized into four broad clusters:

Medical Anthropology, STS, Health and the Environment 

We examine how “health,” broadly construed, is mediated by culture, politics, and power. What is “healthy living,” a “healthy body,” or a “healthy body politic”? And, in turn, how do dominant conceptualizations of health shape the ways that bodies come to be gendered, sexed and raced? Through an interdisciplinary interest in medical anthropology and Science and Technology Studies, our department approaches such questions from a variety of angles. We explore alternative systems of healing and the relationship between illness narratives, gender, and culture. We examine the role that power and capital play in shaping desirable (and undesirable) physical and mental states, particularly as health is exported from one locale to another via NGOs, multinational corporations, and international agencies. We examine the ways in which concerns about health include biocultural dimensions, and also extend beyond the human, as biopolitics and biosecurity begin to include animal, plant, and microbial worlds, transforming healthy personhood as well as healthy nationhood. Finally, as climate change and natural disasters reconfigure health as a matter not just of distinct organisms but entire systems, we are also exploring how anthropology can and should respond in the age of the anthropocene. 

Labor, Precarity, Politics

We share an interest in precarity, a social, economic, and even existential condition we examine as a prominent effect of neoliberal globalization. We explore precarity through a variety of lenses: how increased mobility across national boundaries has created new conditions of vulnerability in the realm of work, relationships, and access to rights; how a growing interest among young people to build DIY careers facilitates the dismantling of job security and labor protections; how various social institutions and practices (e.g., psychology) mediate as well as reproduce the local damages and social costs of political and economic transformations. We consider how governance regimes, and state and non-state institutions (including law, medicine, finance, and science) contribute to precaritization. We consider how notions of deservingness, vulnerability, ethics, and morality figure in such forms of precarious citizenship. We also explore everyday expressions of solidarity, such as practices of volunteerism that aim to compensate for the failure of governments to maintain viable systems of healthcare, education, and welfare. In diverse social contexts, we investigate new forms of political engagement that ask what qualifies as the good life and how access to it could be distributed more equitably. 

Mobility, Migration, and Citizenship

Our department has expertise in global and local mobilities, including movements of refugees and asylum seekers, gendered patterns of migrant labor, marriage and family migration, and the underlying political-economic factors that fuel such migration. Movements of people are tied closely to analyses of gender, class, ethnicity/race, nationality, geopolitical borders, systems of law and bureaucracy, and ideological boundaries. In attending to mobilities that underpin the movements of people, we explore the political-economic and institutional infrastructures that channel global “flows” in some directions and not others, as well as effects that the resulting broad shifts at the level of citizenship, intimacy, and belonging have on daily life. We also consider how transnational and state-based regimes of policing, securitization, human rights, and humanitarianism respond to, interact with, and manage these mobilities.

Language, Media, and Circulation

Faculty members working in linguistic and media anthropology examine how language, media, and other semiotic practices shape and are embedded within institutions, infrastructures, and other regimes of circulation. We observe how the production, reception, and transmission of analog and digital media facilitate economic exchanges, political possibilities, and other social transformations. Looking at a variety of media—spoken language, texts, images, biosemiotic processes, or typographic styles—we explore how circulation shapes and maintains social relationships at scales ranging from the local to the transnational. We attend to how everyday exchanges of ideas and objects are guided by linguistic and semiotic ideologies—discourses that connect media use to political, economic, and ethical positions.