Graduate Program in Sociocultural Anthropology

Why sociocultural anthropology?

Sociocultural anthropology doctoral students at Washington University enjoy a sense of community and wide range of intellectual offerings. Our theoretical and topical interests are diverse, as reflected in the research statements of faculty and current students.

Mentoring and Collaboration

The faculty has a strong ethos of open doors and regular meetings with PhD students, with intensive input coming from primary supervisors and other faculty. Faculty-student interaction is also promoted through several regular forums such as Ethnographic Theory Workshop, Agri-Food Workshop, Writing Group and Culture Club. In many cases faculty and students collaborate in research.

Students also benefit from several institutional collaborations. Our program maintains strong links with the Washington University School of Medicine and we advise MD/PhD students. We also work with Washington University’s Brown School, and students may earn both the PhD and MPH.

The Trans-Atlantic Forum brings together students and faculty at Washington Univ., the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris, and the Univ. of Amsterdam. Students may spend a semester of study in Europe and may take a dual degree.  

Dissertation Research: Sociocultural Anthropology

Cumulative Impacts of Government Policy

Matthew Abel's research focuses on the cumulative impacts of government policy on rural social organization in Brazil's Amazon estuary region, and how smallholder farmers adapt social institutions to manage their relationship to new cycles of state developmentalism. Alongside previous ethnographic work with North American alternative agrifood activists, this project constitutes part of a broader interest in building links between political and environmental anthropology to examine how cycles of state intervention articulate with local social organization to constrain and enable possibilities for collective action over time.

Find out more about Matthew's Research

Legacies of the Plantation in Contemporary Industrial Agriculture

Rebecca Dudley's historical anthropological research focuses on legacies of the plantation in contemporary industrial agriculture in the Deep South, including the racialization of labor, technology, financing, commodity flows, and knowledge on industrial farms. She examines how family networks, institutions of governance, and agricultural practices and technologies intersect to enact, reify, and/or challenge racialized logics of farming and environmental interactions -- and how these enactments, reifications, and challenges produce or restrict possibilities of farm sovereignty and self-determination during the contemporary era of radical climate change and late capitalism. In this research, she uses theoretical lenses from economic and environmental anthropology, feminist science and technology studies, history, and Black studies and experiments with mapping, collage, and ethnographic narrative. Before beginning her dissertation research, Rebecca worked for the U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency.

Find out more about Rebecca's Research

Asylum Seekers

Jacqueline Wagner's dissertation research is situated at an official asylum seeker reception center in Madrid, Spain and examines how recently arrived asylum seekers navigate humanitarian and migration systems to demonstrate that they are “deserving” of protection within the context of rising far-right nationalism and anti-immigrant sentiment. Past research conducted in Northern Ireland and the U.S. has focused on post-conflict mental health, the psychology of social division, and refugee trauma. Jacqueline holds a Master of Public Health in addition to a BA and an MA in Anthropology. Her research interests include migration, humanitarianism, and bureaucracy, and her research incorporates insights from political anthropology, psychological anthropology, refugee studies, and political science.

Find out more about Jacqueline's Research

Program Specifics

The doctoral program has been crafted to facilitate efficient progress from classroom training to designing, funding, and carrying out original ethnographic research. Components of the program are: 

  • First year exploration. First year students take the intensive theory seminar and a selection of courses designed to explore writers, schools of thought, and literatures (both in anthropology and allied fields) to help them frame research questions.
  • Pilot research. Students normally receive a departmental summer grant after their first and second years, and often again after their third year, to support pilot/exploratory research in possible research sites.
  • Second year paper. Third semester students write an in depth literature review focused on key bodies of literature within which their dissertation project will be situated. Readings and themes are worked out in collaboration with committee members.
  • Methods/proposals seminar. Fourth semester students take the co-taught intensive seminar/workshop on ethnographic methods and proposal writing. Proposals are generally submitted by spring or late summer deadlines. Our students have a very strong track record of receiving research grants.
  • Depending on their research interests and fieldwork schedule, many PhD students participate in the Trans-Atlantic Forum in their third year, studying in Amsterdam and Paris.
  • When writing up their fieldwork, students are eligible for a University Fellowship that supports two semesters of writing.

Research in Sociocultural Anthropology

Faculty and doctoral students in sociocultural anthropology at Washington University engage in cutting-edge scholarship across many conceptual themes.  Some of our core research initiatives involve:

Politics, law, and religion
Medical anthropology and global health
Psychology and mental health
Gender and sexuality
Transnational migration and population studies
Science and technology studies
Political ecology and environmental studies
Cognition and culture

Find out more about our research

Professor Geoff Childs: Anthropological demography in Nepal

Geoff Childs, a sociocultural anthropologist, studies in Nubri, Nepal using anthropological demography to ask- what happens to a community when the majority of young people move out for education?