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

Finding Peace

Aaron Hames focuses his research on aging, medicalization, and the roles of institutions in Japan. Aging populations present serious challenges to societies in the provision of care and support for their eldest members. These include increased demands on families for care at home, shortages of professional care workers and facilities, and financial strains on governmental budgets. Demographic shifts may thus effectively erode a society’s support structures for the elderly. Japan is emblematic of all these trends and has a significant population of elderly who are isolated. Although a “lonely death” is widely held as a tragic conclusion to life, it has become increasingly common.

Find out more about Aaron's Research

Marriage at the Margins: Come-We-Stay Relationships in Kibera, Kenya

Ashley Wilson's ethnographic research examines a conjugal form in Kenya known as “come-we-stay,” or long-term cohabitation that is often not seen as legitimate, neither by the law nor by kinship networks. Whereas various opinion leaders, from clergy to feminist organizations, have hailed come-we-stay as an affront to moral decency and women’s rights (respectively), women with whom she has conducted preliminary research in Kibera slum in Nairobi repeatedly emphasize the social, economic, and intimate benefits of their relationships. Her proposed dissertation study builds on this finding and examines the practice of come-we-stay with wider implications for understanding the role of conjugal relationships, informal and otherwise, as they relate to women as well as men living in contexts of urban poverty and informal economic livelihoods.

Find out more about Ashley's Research

The Perils of Resistance: Antibiotic Stewards and Biosecuritization in North American Hospitals

Katharina Rynkiewich's dissertation research is focused on the practices of antimicrobial stewardship in medical institutions. Her research draws on several traditions in medical anthropology, science and technology studies, and the cultural study of institutions. During her fieldwork at two urban inpatient hospitals, she aims to elicit the tensions, conflicts, and struggles of infectious disease practitioners as they aim to implement antimicrobial stewardship protocols and influence antibiotic prescribing habits. This research is funded through The Wenner-Gren Foundation's Doctoral Dissertation Fieldwork Grant and the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences at Washington University in Saint Louis.

Find out more about Katharina'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?