Anthropology and Social Change MA and PhD Programs

California Institute of Integral Studies

Program Description

Anthropology and Social Change MA and PhD Programs

California Institute of Integral Studies

Anthropology and Social Change MA and PhD Programs

The Anthropology and Social Change is unique among graduate programs in the United States due to its focus on activist anthropology.

We believe that anthropologists should analyze, discuss, and explore the possible; that they should research alternative institutions; that they need to collectively reflect and debate the dilemmas of other possible worlds. This collective effort of understanding "real utopias" takes the form of analytic and ethnographic study of existing alternatives in the present.

Together with the activists of the World Social Forum, we believe that "another world is possible." The role of the new social movements, we are reminded, is not to conquer the world, but to make it anew. What, then, is the role and responsibility of anthropology and other social sciences? In a world riddled with so many crises, few things appear to be more relevant than systematic research of counter-hegemonic knowledge and practices. Social scientists should leave pessimism for better times. Anthropology, in particular, is well equipped to participate in the "nowtopian" task of constructing social scientific knowledge that looks beyond inequality, hierarchy, and ecological disaster.

About the MA Program in Anthropology and Social Change

The master of arts program in Anthropology and Social Change is unique among graduate programs in the United States due to the its focus on activism and social justice. We recognize social movements as a key location of knowledge production alongside that of the university. The mission of the MA program is to generate a dialogue among agents active in these two locations of knowledge production. Our intention is to establish a particular kind of institutional space where social movement activists immersed in organizing would meet scholars primarily engaged in theoretical work. The program, inspired by the vision of the Popular University of Social Movements, created by the initiative of Boaventura de Sousa Santos, is envisioned as a space of translation of academic and grassroots knowledge and experiences, produced in the encounter among social scientists, artists, and activists from the Bay Area.

Students will work with some of the most prominent activists in San Francisco Bay Area, as well as with core faculty from the department and the Institute. In this process of encounter and co-learning, students and faculty are expected to share ideas, debates, and practices of radical politics and social movements, as well as practical skills in research, organizing, campaigning, policy analysis, legal and environmental work, and activist media.

The MA in Anthropology and Social Change provides students with an opportunity to simultaneously engage with the world of prefigurative social struggles and with the world of social science and radical theory. As our program is located in an area that is unique in terms of diversity and richness of social struggles, we encourage students to establish a relationship with local social justice groups, organizations, movements, and campaigns. Activist ethnography with a focus on postcapitalist research makes this investigative experience rewarding both for students and for the local community.

Our MA program focuses on creating contexts and spaces of encounter among social scientists, theorists, artists, and activists (for a more detailed elaboration of this educational vision, visit universidadepopular.org). We welcome students interested in becoming activists and scholars. The program offers three interrelated sets of courses. Required theoretical courses include ideas for action, global social movements, radical political economy, radical theory, and unthinking social science. Research courses include activist ethnography I and activist ethnography II. Activist skills include media skills (strategic filmmaking, writing and publishing, Internet skills, radical radio), and organizing skills (legal skills, policy analysis, environmental skills, and campaigning and organizing skills). Students are expected to choose three out of the five activist organizing skills courses (organizing, analysis, campaigning, environmental, or legal) and three out of four activist media skills courses (radical radio, filmmaking, web, or activist writing).

A key aspect of the MA program is a research-based portfolio. In the first year of the program students are expected to begin to make contacts or seek out appropriate material for the completion of a research portfolio. Students are encouraged to do an activist research practicum with a community group or organization in order to undertake original research. This work culminates in an integrative seminar that students are expected to take in the last semester of their graduate study. The portfolio is comprised of a project based on activist research (this could be a campaign report, research report, website, video, or radio document), a collection of essays from core courses in the program, and one shorter integrative essay.

Career Outcomes

The MA in Anthropology and Social Change offers an opportunity to develop research, theory, and skills that are relevant to careers in education and social justice work. Our program has been structured to respond to two related aims: the first is to provide a particular experience in training for research in education; and the second is to provide relevant knowledge and skills required by social movements, networks, and nonprofit/non-governmental organizations. Like our sister programs in Leeds, Maynooth, and Exeter, the program will offer students extensive knowledge of critical theory and activist anthropology; academic skills needed for continuation of their graduate studies; engagement with the important debates in anthropology and other social sciences; experience in working with networks and community groups; competence in various activist research techniques; organizing and media skills appropriate for employment in a range of progressive and social justice professional environments.

About the PhD Program in Anthropology and Social Change

The Anthropology and Social Change PhD is unique among graduate programs in the United States due to its focus on exploring counter-hegemonic alternatives, postcapitalist cultures, and prefigurative practices. In a certain sense, we are a department of postcapitalist studies. However, by this complicated word, postcapitalism, we do not wish to refer to some dreamed-up utopia, nor to a speculative exploration of futuristic scenarios. While we agree with Lewis Mumford on the "importance of building castles in the sky," we see as an even more urgent necessity to study politics of alternatives in the here and now: the need to engage with postcapitalist cultures that are already being built, and to understand other worlds that are already possible.

Together with the activists of the World Social Forum, we believe that "another world is possible." The role of the new social movements, we are reminded, is not to conquer the world, but to make it anew. What, then, is the role and responsibility of anthropology and other social sciences? In a world riddled with so many crises, few things appear to be more relevant than systematic research of counter-hegemonic knowledge and practices. Social scientists should leave pessimism for better times. Anthropology, in particular, is well equipped to participate in the "nowtopian" task of constructing social scientific knowledge that looks beyond capitalism, hierarchy, and ecological disaster.

The practice and technique of ethnography provides an important model of a possible "postcapitalist" social science. As one contemporary anthropologist, a friend of our program, recently noted, when one "carries out an ethnography, one observes what people do, and then tries to tease out the hidden symbolic, moral, or pragmatic logics that underlie their actions; one tries to get at the way people's habits and actions make sense in ways that they are not themselves completely aware of."

We ask our students to do precisely this: to look at those who are creating viable alternatives, to try to figure out what might be the larger implications of what they are already doing, and then to offer those ideas back, not as prescriptions, but as contributions, possibilities-as gifts.

This program offers the space and the possibility to engage with many traditions of radical scholarship and emancipatory social science. We believe that anthropologists should analyze, discuss, and explore the possible; that they should research alternative institutions; that they need to collectively reflect and debate the dilemmas of activist anthropology. The collective effort of understanding "real utopias" takes the form of analytic and ethnographic study of real historical alternatives in the present. This, in turn, requires a serious engagement with social movements involved in the production of alternatives. Students are expected to have an excellent command of history, debates, and perspectives of contemporary social movements. These movements exist in the historical, social, and epistemological context of colonization, development, and globalization. As contributors to the book Contesting Development remind us, more then one in six humans now live in slums, over one billion in a world of jobless growth, or no growth. Solutions offered by mainstream social science are often the source of the problem, and our students are expected to have a good understanding of intertwined historical processes of colonization, development, and liberal modernity.

The doctoral program is distinctive for its focus on alternatives. What are some of them? Worker cooperatives in Oakland, social centers in Italy, autonomous systems of justice in Guerrero, community gardens in Detroit, occupied self-managed factories in Argentina, "good government" of the Zapatistas, buen vivir (good life) and plurinationalism in Bolivia, participatory democracy in Kerala, solidarity economics of Mondragon, participatory economics in Winnipeg, pedagogy of the block in African-American communities, alternative environmentalism in Afro-Colombian river regions, legal pluralism, autonomy of migration, marginalized medical practices in South Asia, solidarity unionism in New York City, communal agriculture in Malawi, shack dweller democracy in South Africa, Copwatch in LA, biodiversity in Brazil, restorative justice in Ohio, knowledge commons and globalization, independent media, and autonomous food systems in Japan, are only some of the examples of postcapitalist possibilities. There are so many more, and one of the responsibilities of our students is to discover them.

The program is distinctive in its emphasis on:

  • Postcapitalist analysis of historical alternatives in the present

  • Global social movements and lost revolutionary treasures

  • Issues of colonialism, globalization, development

  • Anarchist, Marxist, feminist theoretical perspectives

  • Political ecology

  • Integration of activism and scholarship: developing research skills in activist ethnography, intercultural translation, and emancipatory research

Many classes include a research component, and the doctoral dissertation is based on activist ethnographic research. Activist ethnographic frameworks include participatory and collaborative research approaches as well as more recent research techniques and strategies associated with militant research and co-research approaches.

This school offers programs in:
  • English


Last updated January 29, 2016
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Professor Andrej Grubacic on Anthropology and Social Change