About the Department

The University of Chicago’s Department of Anthropology is one of the leading centers of socio-cultural, linguistic, and archaeological research in the United States. Faculty and students pursue knowledge in areas such as archaeology, linguistic anthropology, human rights, indigenous groups, globalization, the politics of race, gender, sexuality, mass media, visual culture, and the study of science and technology. In research seminars, workshops, conferences, and weekly colloquium, MAPSS students have the opportunity to interact with senior scholars and doctoral students in a collaborative and supportive environment. The diversity of the intellectual conversation in the Department of Anthropology can be found in the work of current faculty and graduate students. Beyond the Anthropology Department, many MAPSS Students also work with anthropologists and archaeologists in the Divinity School, Oriental Institute, and the Harris School for Public Policy.

MAPSS Support for Anthropology

MAPSS has long enjoyed a close and collaborative relationship with the Department of Anthropology. Approximately 40 MAPSS students concentrate in Anthropology each year. Preceptors provide advice on course selections, faculty advisors, and thesis projects. Dr. Francis Mckay is our Earl S. Johnson Instructor in Anthropology in MAPSS. His research is largely interdisciplinary, situated at the intersection of medical and moral anthropology; science and technology studies; ancient, modern and continental philosophy; and contemplative studies. He offers courses in Ethnographic Methods, Ethics & Morality, and Empathic Methods in Cultural Psychiatry.  Morrie Fred, a Senior Lecturer in MAPSS, holds a PhD in Anthropology and a JD in Law. He teaches courses in Ethnographic Methods, the Anthropology of Museums, the Anthropology of Disability, and the Anthropology of Law. Recent MAPSS graduates have gone on for the Anthropology PhD at NYU, UC-Irvine, UChicago, and Stanford, to name a few.

Sample Courses

37201. Language in Culture-1. This is a two-quarter sequence to introduce some of the central theoretical issues involved in the semiotic, cognitive and sociopolitical study of language in its contexts of communicative “use.” By developing and using semiotic concepts, the first quarter concentrates on two major problems that organize a vast literature and diverse theoretical approaches. The first problem is to understand interpersonal communication is carried on in-and-by the medium of language. Such communication manifests itself both in an orderly, or at least ‘(non-in)coherent’ unfolding of information and in the structured and culturally consequential social action that is accomplished in-and-by that unfolding. The second problem is to understand how language is a medium of and factor in so-called ‘conceptual’ representations or mental “knowledge.” There are various sources of such knowledge ‘coded’ in the forms of language, and this diversity reveals the modes of semiosis of which language is composed at its various planes. We concentrate in particular on the semiotic characterization of dialectially emergent “cultural knowledge” or “cultural conceptualization,” the nature of which is a current research frontier between social and cognitive sciences, between modernist and post-modernist humanities.

52725. Epistemologies of Health, Medicine and Science. This graduate seminar will review theoretical positions and debates in the burgeoning fields of medical anthropology and science and technology studies (STS). We will begin this seminar by reading Georges Canguilhem’s The Normal and the Pathological as a starting point to explore how “disease” and “health” in the early 19-century became inseparable from political, economic, and technological imperatives. By highlighting the epistemological foundations of modern biology and medicine, the remainder of this seminar will then focus on major perspectives in, and responses to, critical studies of health and medicine, subjectivity and the body, humanitarianism, and psychological anthropology.

42225. Colonial/Postcolonial Intimacies: African, Indian, and European Encounters. This class examines marriage and family in the formation of European liberalism. The basic premise is that nation and family have long been intertwined, and that the particular norms of intimacy that emerged in the context of Western modernity did so over the course of the colonial encounter. The class starts with foundational texts on the role of marriage in liberal thought and then examines how colonial expansion and the encounter of different modes of intimacy became central to how Europeans imagined their own modernity. We also consider other modes of imagining and practicing love and marriage found in both Africa and India, respectively. Finally, we explore how in the context of recent social and economic changes, especially migration from the former colonies to former metropoles, love, marriage and correct gender relations have become central to the policing of European borders, and what it means to be European, once again.

45620. Anthropology of Migration and Travel. This is not a survey course about the current state of “the Anthropology of Migration and Travel.” Rather it considers how this field and its objects of study might be re/built out of the fragments of an eclectic group of scholarly interventions, only some of which claimed to have anything to do with the study of “migration” or “travel” as we have come to know it (read: push-pull, territorial nation-based, rights-oriented). The course proceeds by examining constituent elements or basic techniques for how one might go about assembling something that could pass as part of an “Anthropology of Migration and Travel” without falling into its various disabling conceptual traps. The goal is to provide a kind of DIY kit for dreaming up and animating a future object of study that could shake up the field to your liking and likeness (hint: new cyborgs and monsters are welcome…). Readings will consist of a mix of ethnography, history and theory and be organized into three parts: 1) Routes, Zones, Contact, 2) Planes, Trains, Automobiles and 3) Stranger, Guest, Enemy. The final session will be run as a design lab for discussing student works-in-progress.

46100. Archaeology and Politics of the Past. This seminar explores the use of the ancient past as a symbolic resource by modern communities and the social situation and responsibilities of archae­ologists in this process. Case studies from a variety of contexts are used to show how archaeology has been implicated in the politically charged con­struction of ethnic and regional identities and nationalist and colonialist mythologies in modern history. Current debates about the authority of competing interpretations of archaeological evidence, the right to control public representations of the past, and the contested ownership of archaeo­logical materials and sites are also discussed.

54825. Radical Ecologies. This seminar explores issues in environmental anthropology through the conceptual, methodological, and ethical challenges posed by speculative philosophies at the edge of reason and the intersection of nature, technology, and science. In so doing, it seeks to develop a mode of radical ecology that complicates recent material, ontological, and multispecies responses to the crisis of the anthropocene. Its aim, as such, is also to elaborate the implicit possibilities born of thinking not only in terms of relation but also in relation to a politics and ethics of process. Of particular concern will be a number of questions, such as: how to (re)imagine the conceptual currency of nature as an analytic category or even object of inquiry; how ethnography might reshape nature; and what sort of social transformations might this reshaping render imaginable.


Semiotics: Culture in Context Workshop
This workshop seeks to advance research based on a semiotic framework. Presentations will come from a variety of fields including but not limited to linguistics, psychology, sociology, political science, literary theory, and anthropology. By not limiting the topic of research by area, period or discipline, the workshop encourages discussion to center on how to study social and cultural phenomena as embedded in a meaningful context. By building on many seminal studies that have used semiotic approaches, the goal of the workshop is to continue to develop the rigorous analytic framework that provides the method for clearly defining linkages between the object of analysis and its context.

Latin America and the Caribbean Workshop
The Workshop on Latin America and the Caribbean is an interdisciplinary forum and intellectual community for graduate students and faculty who are interested in the academic problems and literature pertaining to the region. The workshop hosts regular presentations of works in progress by students, faculty, and invited guests, as well as special events and gatherings. Participants come from a wide range of disciplines from across the social sciences and humanities, enabling an interdisciplinary conversation and exchange around questions of common interest to those whose work focuses on the region. We welcome any and all who share an interest in the history, literature, politics, culture, and social life of Latin America and the Caribbean.

African Studies Workshop
The African Studies Workshop (ASW) is an interdisciplinary group made up of students and faculty researching the peoples of Africa and its diasporas, past and present. One of the workshop’s primary goals is to elucidate Africa’s dynamic relationship to a wider world and to chart the effects of these processes in various spheres of African life.

Theory and Practice of South Asia Workshop
This workshop is an important part of the fabric of intellectual activity in South Asian studies at the University of Chicago. The TAPSA talks are scheduled to coordinate with the South Asian Seminar, to provide regular interdisciplinary intellectual events, including papers by graduate students, faculty, and visiting scholars. For students, the benefits of TAPSA include the opportunity to present their work in progress to an interdisciplinary audience of peers and teachers, and to experience intensive interaction and feedback.

United States Locations Workshop
US Locations explores ethnographic research in Canada and the United States within social scientific fields engaging core cross-disciplinary anthropological problems. In a world of global interconnections, we provide a forum for anthropologists and other social scientist’s crafting rigorous approaches to locating America as a cultural and sociological entity within, across, and outside the geographic boundaries of North America. Critically analyzing the burgeoning literature on ethnographic practice and theory, and focusing on carefully formulated empirical studies in particular locations, this workshop aims to locate the theoretical position of North America within the field of anthropology and related disciplines.

Interdisciplinary Archeology Workshop
The IAW seeks to bring together archaeologists from various departments across the university to share in a common conversation about archaeological practice, theory, and the nature of archaeological knowledge. As always, we strive to create a constructive and creative conversation between archaeologists of different disciplinary persuasions, one that encourages new questions, new interpretive frameworks, and invigorates both our common concerns as archaeologists as well as our ties to our various ally disciplines, including socio-cultural anthropology, history, art history, geography, and area studies.

Medicine and Its Objects
Medicine and Its Objects is a new interdisciplinary workshop exploring medicine and the objects that become salient within its extended social reach. Our goal is to engage therapeutic, bodily, and ontological matters across disciplines bringing the humanities, social sciences, and life sciences together in new dialogues.

Human Rights Workshop
The Human Rights Workshop provides an interdisciplinary forum for faculty and graduate students to engage in serious discussions of new human rights scholarship.

Centers and Institutes

The Pozen Family Center for Human Rights

Chicago Center for Contemporary Theory

The Franke Institute for the Humanities

Related Departments of Interest to MAPSS Students

Art HistoryComparative Human DevelopmentDivinity School,  East Asian Languages and CivilizationsEnglishHistorythe Human Rights ProgramLawLinguisticsNear Eastern Languages and CivilizationsPolitical ScienceSociologySouth Asian Languages and Civilizations