Social Anthropology

Social Anthropology Graduate Program Overview

The field of social/cultural anthropology is changing rapidly in response to economic and political developments in the post-Cold War world. Harvard's Social Anthropology Program is now focusing on issues of globalism, ethnic violence, gender studies, "new" nationalisms, diaspora formation, transnationalism and local experience, medical anthropology, and the emerging cultures of cyberspace.

Faculty members have built ties to colleagues in the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, Harvard's regional centers (e.g., Davis Center of Russian Studies, Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies, and Asia Center), the Barker Center for Humanities, the Afro-American Studies program, and the professional schools (especially the Harvard Medical School).

Our graduate students (drawn from over 30 countries) expect to work in the worlds of academe, government, NGOs, law, medicine, and business.

Our mission during the next two decades is to develop new methodologies for an anthropology that tracks cultural developments in a global economy increasingly defined by the internet and related technologies.

Social Anthropology Program faculty are keenly aware that material culture is a key element in the study of globalism and the new world economy. Accordingly, we are cooperating with Peabody Museum staff who share our interests in redefining the study of popular culture, art, and the origins of industrial society. Research at the Peabody Museum also makes it possible for us to maintain close ties to our departmental colleagues in the Archaeology Program.

PLEASE NOTE: Inquiries regarding the Social Anthropology Graduate Program should be directed either to the Director of Graduate Studies or to individual faculty members based on their own research and teaching interests.

Graduate Program Outline

Years 1-2-3

Coursework in the first three years includes a minimum of sixteen four-credit courses, twelve of which are in anthropology, including: Proseminar 2650A and 2650B, Research Design and Proposal Writing (A3626), Research Methods (A3628), area-specific ethnography, biological anthropology, and archaeology. Graduate students wishing to integrate media into their research may apply to the Critical Media Practice secondary field for Harvard PhD students.

Scholarly and field language requirements should be fulfilled before going to the field unless the field language can be learned only in the field.

Full-time students must be registered for four four-credit courses per semester. Students should register for A3400 or A3410 (when teaching) to indicate full-time study if enrolled in fewer than four courses. Please note however that neither A3400 nor A3410 is graded and that the department does not count either course toward the 16 four-credit courses required.

First Year
    • Proseminar
    • 3- four-credit courses

    • Proseminar
    • 3- four-credit courses/time

    • Language training
    • General exam reading

Satisfactory Progress:
    • B+ minimum grade in proseminars.
    • Minimum overall grade average of B+.
    • Satisfactory review by first year review committee.

Second Year
    • 4- four-credit courses
    • General exams

    • 4- four-credit courses
    • General exams

    • Predissertation research

Satisfactory Progress:
    • Pass the General Examination
    • Minimum overall grade average of B+

Third Year
    •Thesis prospectus committee members approved by program.
    • Write grant proposals for fieldwork.

    • Thesis prospectus committee meeting held

Satisfactory Progress:
    • Thesis prospectus approved.
    • Minimum grade average of B+. No incompletes.

Years 4-5

    • Fieldwork: Satisfactory progress determined on the basis of student’s reports to the advisor.

Fifth Year and Beyond

    • Write up dissertation: Satisfactory progress determined on the basis of the writing schedule a student arranges with his or her advisor. This program is designed to be completed in six or seven years.

Final Year
    • Inform Graduate Program Administrator of intent to graduate
    • Schedule public dissertation defense with Graduate Program Administrator
    • Give readers chapters for advice
    • Defend, and submit dissertation with signed Thesis Acceptance Certificate

Medical Anthropology

The Department of Anthropology's Social Anthropology program offers a Ph.D. in Anthropology, with a special emphasis on Medical Anthropology.

Students are regular members of the graduate program in social anthropology, and all requirements for the Ph.D. in anthropology pertain to those specializing in medical anthropology. In addition to selecting required and elective courses in anthropology, students join a group of faculty, graduate students, and postdoctoral fellows working in medical and psychiatric anthropology. They participate in a weekly seminar in medical anthropology, take courses offered by the faculty in the program, may participate in specialized research activities with faculty and fellows, and may serve as teaching fellows in courses in medical anthropology.

Medical anthropologists and other faculty at Harvard work on a variety of theoretical and ethnographic issues, including: violence, urban anthropology, mental illness and cross-cultural psychiatry, subjectivity and culture, social suffering, stigma, ethics and bioethics, human rights, pharmaceuticals, substance abuse, infectious disease and epidemics, aging, governmentality, transnationalism and borders, and history of medicine and science. Participants in the Medical Anthropology program are united by a shared commitment to long-term ethnographic engagement with local cultural and social worlds, by a common concern with the practical relations between ethnographic research, medical knowledge, and public health policies, and finally by a common emphasis on the importance of social theory in medical anthropology.

The faculty works in close association with physicians and researchers at the Harvard Medical School and its Department of Social Medicine, as well as with public health practitioners at Harvard and in the community. While most of the anthropologists at Harvard deal in some way with these issues, the Medical Anthropology program is comprised of a group of faculty, post-doctoral fellows, and graduate students, divided between Anthropology and Social Medicine. This group meets once a week for guest lectures by some of the most preeminent thinkers in the field of medical anthropology. At Harvard, the program is directed by Arthur Kleinman, Rabb Professor of Medical Anthropology, Department of Anthropology and Dr. Paul Farmer.

Application to the Ph.D. program in follows usual procedures for application for the Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, including GRE examinations. You should indicate your medical anthropology interest in the statement of purpose when applying to the Ph.D. in Social Anthropology.

Application information is available on the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences website.

Media Anthropology

The Department of Anthropology's Social Anthropology program offers a Ph.D. in Anthropology, with a special emphasis on Media Anthropology.

Students are regular members of the graduate program in Social Anthropology, and all requirements for the Ph.D. in Anthropology pertain to those specializing in Media Anthropology. The Media Anthropology emphasis is designed for students who wish to undertake practice-based research and make substantial ethnographic use of audiovisual media in their doctoral work. In addition to selecting required and elective courses in anthropology, students join a group of faculty, graduate students, and visiting artists working in media anthropology. They participate in regular events in Media Anthropology, such as screenings and lectures by visiting artists and media anthropologists, and work-in-progress critique sessions. They take courses offered by the Anthropology faculty, as well as by faculty in other departments also offering courses in art practice. They may also participate in specialized research and creative activities with faculty and fellows, and may serve as teaching fellows in courses in Media Anthropology.

In addition to all regular requirements for the Ph.D. in Anthropology, including the dissertation, Ph.D. candidates specializing in Media Anthropology must also produce an original creative work, or works, emerging from intensive ethnographic fieldwork, in an audiovisual medium or media such as film, digital video, CD-ROM, DVD, still photography, or phonography. For work in time-based media, this will normally result in a work of not less than 30 minutes’ duration. The work must be supervised throughout by a qualified faculty member from within the department who will also serve on the candidate’s doctoral committee, and in that capacity be charged with evaluating the merits of the candidate’s media work.

The work must be accompanied by a Practitioner’s Statement of two to three pages outlining the intentions of the media work and its relationship to the written dissertation. Exhibitions, installations, and performances will also be considered for the Media Anthropology capstone project, so long as they incorporate a significant media component. In collaborative media projects, the Practitioner’s Statement must be accompanied by a further paragraph detailing the candidate’s role in the work. Collaborative media projects will only be considered when the student not only contributes ethnographic expertise, but also has a primary authorial role in the work.

The work, and the Practitioner’s Statement, must be formally submitted, exhibited, and defended in conjunction with the written dissertation. Students working in site-specific installations or performances must submit detailed documentation of the project. When all requirements have been fulfilled, the candidate will receive, in addition to the Harvard- awarded Ph.D., departmental recognition of degree completion, “with Media.”

Applicants interested in Media Anthropology should apply to the Social Anthropology Ph.D. program and follow the usual procedures for applications to the Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, including GRE examinations. Applicants should indicate an interest in Media Anthropology in the statement of purpose, and submit, whenever possible, a portfolio documenting previous media work, using the Digital Portolio option on the GSAS application; please provide a statement and your role therein.

Additional complementary options for students interested in media and media studies include secondary field certification in Critical Media Practice and Film and Visual Studies offered by the Graduate School in Arts and Sciences.

Anthropology Faculty and Affiliates Associated with the program:

Anya Bernstein
Lucien Castaing-Taylor
Steven Caton
Nicholas Harkness
Arthur Kleinman