Graduate Study at Duke
Cultural anthropology today is marked by the dynamism of the times. No longer just the study of remote societies, the field explores how people produce, inhabit and make sense of all corners and aspects of today's globalized world. This Department at Duke is committed to studying the politics of culture, power, and history and the complex questions of theory, method, and interpretation that this project demands. We offer both a doctoral program leading to a Ph.D. in Cultural Anthropology, and a smaller JD/MA program for incoming law students wishing to pursue an MA in Cultural Anthropology. We do not have a stand alone MA program.
Graduate students have consistently received prestigious national and international grants for their fieldwork and the department has an almost 100% placement record in tenure-track teaching jobs for Ph.D.’s. The department also hosts a regular colloquia series, in which outstanding national and international anthropologists present their work. Faculty are closely connected to many other departments and programs on campus, including African and African-American Studies, the Global Health program, Women’s Studies, Music, History, Latin American and Caribbean Studies, the Latino/a Studies Center, the Asian Pacific Studies Institute, Center for South Asian Studies, Documentary Film Studies, and the Franklin Humanities Center.
The Doctoral Program
Our doctoral program prepares students to meld grounded field research with theoretical sophistication in doing anthropology sensitive to the challenges and complexities of making sense of human experience. Our department is on the cutting edge of new debates about globalization and diaspora, popular culture and mass media, nationalism and identity, race and sexuality, and the politics of tradition and modernity. We explore these issues through a range of theoretical orientations that include postcolonial and Marxist theory, feminist and critical race theory, psychoanalysis and psychology, political ecology and science and technology, and much more.
Students in our program receive a strong training in theory as well as in contemporary research methods and proposal writing. They may choose to work in areas where the faculty has strengths (Latin America, Africa, the US, Europe, the Caribbean, the Middle East, East Asia) or elsewhere. They may also pursue interconnections between places through flows of various kinds—media, culture, labor, capital, pop culture, advertising—or study the construction of ("imaginary") places and identities through, for example, movies, fiction, virtual reality. Recent dissertation projects include those on African American churches in North Carolina; strip clubs in Atlanta; tourism in Cuba; miners in Romania; Turkish militarism; the sex trade in the Black Sea area; Palestinian refugee camps in Syria and Lebanon; soap operas in Japan; a Christian development organization in Canada and Somalia; rural militias in Sierra Leone; migrant domestic workers in Kuwait; skateboarding youth in Japan; Pentecostalism in Ghana.
While believing that students must have a firm foundation in cultural anthropology, we also recognize that our discipline is connected, more than ever today, to related fields across the humanities and social sciences. We thus encourage an interdisciplinary outlook and expect our students to engage with other departments across the campus—History, Literature, Law, Psychology, Religion, African and African American Studies, Women's Studies, area centers such as the Asian Pacific Studies Institute (APSI), Duke Islamic Studies Center (DISC), Center for South Asian Studies (CSAS), and European Studies—and with the many interdisciplinary and global initiatives and reading groups for which Duke is well-known.
We also offer the Anthropology and History Certificate Program. The certificate requires two core courses and two courses in the history department, and can be completed in the normal course of the Ph.D.; it allows students to explore the intersections between anthropology and history, including the theoretical debates that have shaped work and the methodological challenges of melding archival and ethnographic research.
The Ph.D. program is designed primarily to provide the knowledge and skills necessary for an academic career in anthropology, but is flexible enough to accommodate students interested in bringing their training to careers outside the discipline. In the course of their studies, students gain familiarity with theoretical perspectives and appropriate methodologies, spoken and/or written competence in a foreign language relevant to their research, and teaching experience as part of their professional training. All complete a doctoral dissertation based on significant and original research.
We admit a small number of carefully selected applicants each year, and our policy promotes close contact between faculty and graduate students. Each student designs a plan of study with the supervision of his/her adviser(s). The plan of study enables each student to develop particular interests, to acquire general competence through exposure to classic paradigms and current trends within the field, and to meet departmental and university requirements.
Our program is unique in that it does not culminate in written or oral exams. During their three years in residence prior to fieldwork, each student instead develops a portfolio, based on the three broad fields of interest she or he has developed in coordination with her adviser. The completed portfolio contains research papers, short essays, book reviews, annotated reading lists, course syllabi, an intellectual statement of interest, and a dissertation prospectus; all of these materials are developed in consultation with the student’s faculty advisers over the course of their first three years. This system gives students preparation in the basic skills and literacies required of a professional anthropologist and also ensures sustained intellectual engagement between students and faculty in the course of study, as opposed to mad crashing for nerve-wracking exams at the end of the third year. There is a comprehensive exam in anthropological and social theory at the end of the first year, based on the two-sequence theories course all students must stake. But once this is completed, the student’s work centers around working towards the completion of the portfolio, culminating with a portfolio workshop with all members of the student’s committee at the end of the third year.
Admission to the program does not necessarily depend on an undergraduate major in anthropology, and many of our students received their degrees in other fields. However, students are expected to have taken course work in anthropology and related subjects or at the very least to be familiar with some of the questions and debates that currently animate the discipline.
The Program leading to the PhD does not require a master's thesis or an Anthropology undergraduate degree.
Students can apply to receive a Master's degree after successful completion of their 3rd year Portfolio Workshop.
The JD/MA Program
Students in this program complete their regular coursework in the Law School as well as an advanced program of study in Cultural Anthropology; their work in Cultural Anthropology gives them a solid grounding in the field as well as anthropological perspectives and methods applicable to the law. Click here for more information on the JD/MA Program.
The Guidelines for Graduate Students in the Doctoral Program in Cultural Anthropology and those for Graduate Students in the JD/MA Program, respectively, fully describe these and additional requirements and the detailed steps in the student's graduate career.