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, Center for Middle Eastern 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.

Coursework

The course of study in Social Anthropology requires a minimum of sixteen four-credit courses, twelve of which must be in anthropology. The twelve required four-credit courses include the proseminars, Anthropology Proseminar I 2650a and Proseminar II 2650b: History and Theory of Social Anthropology, and the two methods courses, Anthropology 3628: Anthropological Research Methods and Anthropology 3626: Research Design/Proposal Writing; and a two-credit course, Anthropology 3636: Pedagogy in Anthropology. A four-credit course on the ethnography of one’s area of specialization is strongly recommended, and a four-credit course in archaeology is also recommended but not required. First-year students must attain at least a B+ in each of the proseminars.

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

Fall:

  • Anthro 2650a: Proseminar I
  • 3 four-credit courses.

Spring:

  • Anthro 2650b: Proseminar II
  • 3 additional courses; students are encouraged to take Methods (A3628) as one of these additional courses.
  • Form General Examination Committee in consultation with advisor.

Summer:

  • 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

Fall:

  • 4 four-credit courses; students are encouraged to take relevant courses or do 1-2 independent studies over the course of their G2 year to prepare general examination fields and write the field essays.
  • General exams.
  • Establish fields of intellectual endeavor and create reading lists.

Spring:

  • 4 four-credit courses; if 1-2 relevant courses or independent studies have not yet been taken to prepare field essays, these can be taken this semester.
  • Anthro 3636: Pedagogy in Anthropology
  • Methods (A3628) required if not already completed.
  • General exams.
  • Additionally, students are encouraged to submit field essays.

Summer:

  • Predissertation research.
  • Start actively working on a grant proposal to prepare for the Research design/proposal writing course in the fall.

Satisfactory Progress:

  • Pass the General Examination.
  • Minimum overall grade average of B+.

Third Year

Fall:

  • Thesis prospectus committee members approved by program.
  • Anthro 3626: Research Design/Proposal Writing.
  • Write grant proposals for fieldwork.
  • Field essays must be submitted by the beginning of the semester.
  • Form Dissertation Committee.
  • Research design/proposal writing course (A3626) required.
  • Schedule the oral defense of the general examination.
  • Teaching.
  • Grant proposals for funding due.
  • Begin writing prospectus.

Spring:

  • Thesis prospectus committee meeting held.
  • More grant proposals.
  • Teaching.

Satisfactory Progress:

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

Languages

Prior to admission to doctoral candidacy (i.e., before beginning field research), all PhD students in Social Anthropology must meet the Departmental requirement of demonstrating competence in a language other than English. The requirement can be met by taking a university administered placement exam (placing into the third year or above), by completing with a grade of B+ or better the fourth semester of a language sequence at Harvard, or by ad hoc arrangement in consultation with the primary student's advisor and the Director of Graduate Studies. There are no exemptions to or substitutions (e.g., a programming language or other specialized skill) for this general requirement. 

Social Anthropology PhD candidates are also required to demonstrate competence in the language they will need to speak in the field. When it is impossible to learn a field language at Harvard, the candidate must make the arrangements necessary to do so elsewhere. The field language requirement is fulfilled when approved by the student's advisor. In special circumstances candidates may fulfill this requirement by taking a course in anthropological linguistics, or another appropriate field. The student's primary advisor will identify the specific language requirements appropriate for the student's dissertation research.

During the first year, students must submit a plan indicating how they expect to fulfill the language requirements. In all cases, students are strongly encouraged to demonstrate competence in at least two languages other than their native language.

Fieldwork

As part of the program, most students complete one or several extended period of fieldwork as a part of their dissertation research. In doing so, students are expected to comply with the following:

  • Harvard University guidelines for conducting research.
  • Institutional Review Board (IRB) requirements laid out to ensure all human subjects research conforms with ethical principles.
  • University travel guidelines and those issued by the US State Department and appropriate international agencies.
  • Immigration policies of the country in which research is conducted.
  • Maintenance of regular contact with departmental advisors according to a prearranged schedule.

Advisory Meetings

Each student shall be assigned an advisor or advisors and, for the first five semesters, an advisory committee. The student shall meet with the advisor(s) on a regular basis, minimally at the beginning of each term of residence before submission of the study card. The student shall also meet with the advisory committees at least once during each of the first two years of residence, generally before or during the first week of classes in the Fall term.

The purpose of these meetings is to review proposed plans of study, completion of the language and other requirements, and overall progress in the program. The advisory committee normally will comprise the student’s advisor, the Director of Graduate Studies, and one additional faculty member.

General Examination

Normally, at the end of their first year, the student will form a General Examination Committee consisting of three faculty members (one of whom may be from outside the department). After completing the general examination in the fall of the third year, students will form a Dissertation Prospectus Committee. Students may choose to keep the same members from their General Examination Committee or choose new members.

The General Examination has five parts, including four sets of written documents and an oral examination. Each of these is discussed in more detail just below.

  • Part 1, Theory Requirement
  • Part 2, Reading Lists
  • Part 3, Field Essays
  • Part 4, Research Plan Overview
  • Part 5, General Examination Oral Defense

PART 1. THEORY REQUIREMENT

The theory requirement is fulfilled by successful completion of two semesters of the proseminar in the history and theory of Social Anthropology (A2650a & A2650b). The proseminar is taken during the fall and spring semesters of the student’s first year in the program.

PART 2. READING LISTS

Guidelines: In consultation with their General Examination Committee, students will develop two reading lists that pertain directly to their research interests. Ordinarily, one will be regionally focused, the other thematically focused. The latter might be defined theoretically, or in terms of specific content or topics of interest.

These lists are not meant to be comprehensive overviews of fields of research. Nor are they meant to be uniform or standardized. Instead, they should be organized around the student’s particular research concerns and created to serve the student’s unique scholarly objectives.

One way for students to proceed is to first boil down their research interests to one page, and then ask themselves: what literatures, regional, theoretical, and/or analytical, do they need to master in order to successfully carry out this project? Reading lists should focus on contemporary work but anchor it in older traditions.

Aims: The reading lists serve important goals that students should keep in mind as they create their lists. The most fundamental, of course, is to ground the student’s PhD research. These lists will serve as the basis for the field essays, the prospectus, and later, the dissertation itself. At the heart of every good dissertation will be carefully constructed reading lists. The reading lists will also serve as a vehicle by which students can begin identifying the fields of intellectual endeavor in which they will claim expertise and by which they will define themselves intellectually. Many students will eventually teach in these sub-fields; creating the reading lists will serve as an exercise in constructing meaningful sets of readings from which they can later draw in developing syllabi for their own courses.

Scope: No more than 75 to 100 entries per list.

PART 3. FIELD ESSAYS

Aims: In consultation with their advisor and/or committee members, students will prepare two field essays that are based on close and selective engagement with key works on the previously submitted reading lists. The task of the field essays is to delimit a field of inquiry that is interesting and position the student’s project in relation to it. The two essays jointly constitute an important first step in the student’s process of defining his or her doctoral dissertation research topic.

Guidelines: The style and content of the field essays will vary from student to student. Regardless of the specific style and format, like the reading lists, the field essays should engage with ethnographic as well as theoretical work, and they should emphasize contemporary work, but link it to earlier traditions of scholarship. Students are encouraged to begin by engaging with relatively current work, mapping out the state of the field now (identifying the key questions, central issues and debates, core figures, and so on) and clarifying how they will productively engage with and contribute to this body of work. They should then trace the historical roots of important strands in contemporary scholarship, showing how today’s research has developed out of, and often in reaction to, earlier work. By tracing out earlier intellectual precedents, lineages, and/or genealogies, the essays will demonstrate an understanding of the historical contexts within which contemporary work has emerged.

Length: The maximum length for each field essay is 15 pages, double-spaced.

PART 4. RESEARCH PLAN OVERVIEW

Guidelines and Aims: The research plan overview is a brief, synthetic statement that brings together the two field essays and explains the student’s research purpose to the committee. It might be thought of as a preliminary sketch of the student’s planned dissertation research. This document will be presented at the general examination oral defense along with the reading lists and field essays.

Length: No more than 2 to 3 pages.

PART 5. GENERAL EXAMINATION ORAL DEFENSE

The Graduate Program Administrator will maintain a file or dossier for every Social Anthropology graduate student. Students are responsible for submitting their reading lists, field essays, and research plan overview to the administrator for inclusion in their file. Faculty members teaching the proseminar are responsible for submitting copies of the students’ paper (or papers), in graded form, to the Graduate Program Administrator for inclusion in the file.

When all the documents required for the General Examination Oral Defense are available in the file, the Graduate Program Administrator, in consultation with the student and committee, will schedule the Oral Defense. Two weeks before the defense is held, the Graduate Program Administrator will distribute the full set of documents to the student’s General Examination Committee.

Due Dates for General Exam Requirements

  • Part 1, Theory Requirement: Fulfilled by successful completion of two semesters of the proseminar, year 1.
  • Part 2, Reading Lists: Due ideally by the end of the fall semester of the G2 year.
  • Part 3, Field Essays: Due ideally by the end of the G2 year, but no later than the beginning of the G3 year.
  • Part 4, Research Plan Overview: Due with the field essays, ideally by the end of the G2 year, but no later than the beginning of the G3 year.
  • Part 5, General Examination Oral Defense: Normally to be scheduled by the end of the G2 year but no later than the end of the fall semester of the G3 year.

Dissertation Prospectus

A dissertation topic is developed in consultations among the student, their principal advisor and other appropriate scholars. The dissertation prospectus comprises a proposal for carrying out the research on which the dissertation will be based. It should include a statement of the problem(s) and topic(s) to be addressed and detail how the student intends to address them.

It normally should be no longer than 20 double-spaced typewritten pages of text and include relevant visual and bibliographic materials as well as details on possible funding sources. With the approval of the student’s advisor, the prospectus may be in the form of a proposal to the National Science Foundation for a dissertation improvement grant.

Following the special examination, a final dissertation prospectus must be prepared if the examining committee deems the preliminary prospectus inadequate. The final version of the prospectus should be circulated for comment and approval to the prospectus committee at least two weeks before being placed on file with the Department's Graduate Program Administrator.

The prospectus examination shall take the form of a defense before the student’s advisory committee. Following the defense, the final version of the prospectus should be circulated for comment and approval to the prospectus examination committee (or to the dissertation committee, should said committee have been constituted by that time) at least two weeks before being placed on file with the department’s graduate program administrator.

Approval of a dissertation prospectus, including any revisions, is expected by the beginning of the seventh term in residence. Failure to gain approval by the end of the seventh term may be grounds for dismissal from the program.

Students ordinarily may not apply for outside funding for dissertation field research until they have successfully defended their prospectus. Any application to a funding source outside of Harvard University for either fieldwork or other research funding for dissertation research must be approved by the student’s advisor(s), and it is expected that students shall first submit all research proposals to their advisor(s).

Dissertation Committee and Defense

The dissertation committee will be composed of at least three members, two of whom must be Anthropology program faculty members. The chair of the committee must be a member of the Anthropology program faculty.

Normally, the General Examination committee and the dissertation committee will be composed of the same individuals, although it may be appropriate that substitutions or additions be made.

A complete draft of the dissertation must be received by all members of the dissertation committee at least two months before the approved dissertation is due at the Registrar's Office.

The text of the dissertation, exclusive of charts, figures, and appendices, ordinarily may not exceed 250 typewritten double-spaced pages.

At least one month before the dissertation is due at the Registrar's Office, the candidate must pass a dissertation defense. Dissertation committee members must receive copies of a completed dissertation eight weeks before the scheduled date of the dissertation defense. The dissertation defense consists of an oral presentation for a general audience, including other faculty members (public defense) as soon as possible after a successful private defense. 

After successful completion of this examination and the incorporation of any revisions required by the dissertation committee, signatures of the committee members must be obtained on the dissertation acceptance certificate, which is submitted with the dissertation to the Registrar's Office. Note that the above timetables are estimates. The candidate should discuss timetables with the chair of the PhD committee.

The final manuscript of the dissertation must conform to the requirements described in The Form of the PhD Dissertation, available from the Registrar’s Office.

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 Portfolio 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

 

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.

M.A. Medical Anthropology

The Department of Anthropology offers an M.A. in Anthropology, with a specialty in Medical Anthropology. The program is intended to provide a basic education in medical anthropology for physicians or other health professions with clinical work experience and prior graduate work, and in exceptional cases, we may consider undergraduates who have superior backgrounds and are committed to careers in medicine or other health professions. The program can be completed in an intensive 12 months. Applications follow the the same procedure and schedule as to the Ph.D. program. Requirements for the program include one year of full-time residence and course work (8 courses), the proseminar in anthropological theory taken by all first year graduate students in social anthropology, participation in the medical anthropology program, and completion of an M.A. thesis.

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 M.A. program in Medical Anthropology 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.