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Social Justice/Activist-Oriented PhD Programs in Anthropology


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I will be applying to PhD programs in Sociocultural Anthropology this December to enter in Fall 2021. I'm trying to find programs that would be supportive of activist anthropology, and treat social justice as an important aspect of the graduate program. Not all my research is centered around activist anthropology, but I want to be in a department that won't fault my work as being somehow "lesser" than the more theoretical-based approaches and projects. More specifically, my research interests are in surveillance, policing, Black feminist theory, and violence, with a regional focus on urban cities in Brazil. 

So far, I'm looking at the CUNY Graduate Center, Yale, NYU, University of Michigan, and University of Pennsylvania. Any insight into these programs or others would be very much appreciated! 

Edited by blkfeministanthro
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I'm not sure that you will find any programs that are listed as such; the closest you might come are applied anthropology programs. I think there are a few threads here that list those programs. What I would suggest is looking into the departments where scholars whose work you admire are located. Consider the kind of work they do in the department overall, as well as how welcoming they will be towards your research interests and person. You want to be in a place that will take your research interests seriously and where you can dig deeper into those concepts, so look into programs that have Black scholars in the department, as well as a strong Black/African Diaspora studies department.

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Are you wedded to the East coast/midwest? Highly recommend U of Michigan, and highly NOT recommend CUNY. They are really horrendous to their adjuncts and faculty (and graduate students). California has some very awesome social justice/applied schools. My background: BA, MA, PhD in anthro and tenured faculty member for the past 10 years. Yale anthro is wonderful. If I had to do it all over again, I would honestly choose either Univ of South Florida (excellent faculty invested in social change), Duke, UNC Chapel Hill (I did post-docs at both places and they were wonderful), or Columbia. UMass Amherst is great too. So is Vanderbilt If you’d like to share more about the work you’d like to do I can better advise— good luck to you whatever choice you make!

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@reverend_doctor Thank you so much for the feedback! I really appreciate it. I had no idea about CUNY's treatment of adjuncts and faculty. I initially became interested in the CUNY Graduate School after attending a professional conference and speaking to some of the faculty members from the anthropology department. I also like that the department has very diverse faculty, many of whom have research expertise in my specific areas. I would prefer to be in the Midwest or East Coast, but I am open to applying elsewhere.

My undergraduate thesis was a comparative ethnographic study on Black women's experiences using social media in their antiracist/feminist activism in the U.S. and Brazil. For graduate school I'm interested in using participatory/community-based ethnographic research to investigate the implications of overt and covert manifestations of state violence via surveillance/policing among Black communities in the urban U.S. and Brazil. Currently, I've been researching departments that have faculty with a strong Latin America focus and curriculums that include cross-disciplinary/cross-listed coursework in Black/African Diaspora Studies.

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I'm currently a PhD student at the University of Pennsylvania. Sociocultural isn't my subfield, but I can share some general thoughts. The department definitely has its issues when it comes to social justice, in the ways that the history of the department is full of racist white men and the department is generally still pretty white. That said, there is a lot of younger faculty who, along with the grad students, are really passionate about steering the department toward equality and activism (this is even the topic of our colloquium this year!). Deb Thomas in particular is a big name who does a lot of interesting work with experimental ethnography and also focuses in activism.

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All programs have their problems. However, I have tended to see some activist-oriented work come out of American University, CUNY (see specifically Bianca Williams), and UT Austin (see Christen Smith). Also, depending on what you are doing, maybe Duke. I haven't been to those places, so I can't say if those departments treat (and pay!) those students well and as if their ideas and practices are of (equal) import. I just know the kind of work that comes out of there. 

And I always say: I'm at Rice. I love it. I would recommend looking at the dept at least. We have had Brazilianists here and lots of people do politically-oriented work, but I would very much distinguish that from applied anthropology. Feel free to DM. I'm always down to chat about my experiences at my program.

 

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Current CUNY student and can confirm the above is true. While certain faculty are "nice," they can't help us with basic things like getting health insurance, which about a third of us don't have. And none of the faculty are being sympathetic or supportive during this pandemic, instead supporting budget cuts and other measures that eliminate our (grad students actually do the vast majority of adjunct work in the colleges) teaching positions, force the library staff to work in unsafe conditions, and make it impossible for international students to obtain visas. Very few are answering emails or doing things like showing up to their students' (zoom) committee meetings. At the same, we are being blamed for falling "behind" this year.

Like I said, we have a few really nice people, and the faculty are, as you noted, diverse and working on interesting things. I do feel lucky to have been exposed to such great thinkers. But there is very little in terms of basic structural, financial or emotional support for students.

Happy to message in private if you're still considering it. 

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