Cultural Anthropology Takes You Places

A Glimpse of What You Can Do

A debate about the politics of hydroelectricity in South America. A documentary about Southern music roots. An investigation into the interplay of technology and war in the Middle East. Understanding the importance of care workers in India.

All four projects have been undertaken by cultural anthropologists—and all in just the past few months. Combined, they show the breadth of subjects covered by the field and a glimpse of the careers for which it can prepare you.

Water Politics in Paraguay

What can a hydroelectric dam teach us about inequality, injustice, poverty and the environment? Quite a lot, it turns out, when the dam in question it sits on the border between one of the smaller countries in South America, Paraguay, and the global giant that is Brazil.

Christine Folch, an assistant professor in Cultural Anthropology, has been studying the politics of the Itaipu Dam for the past 10 years, leading to the publication of her first book on the subject in 2019. Since arriving at Duke, she has engaged students in her research in numerous ways, including experiences that allow them to see the real-world impact scholars can have in affecting policy and shaping a national discourse.

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A Disappearing Appalachian Community Shares Its Stories

On Friday nights, the small town of Floyd in southwestern Virginia (population 425) becomes a gathering spot to play and hear American traditional music. Decades ago, the Floyd Country Store started hosting an informal jamboree. Word spread, the crowds grew, and the store now boasts a state-of-the-art performance stage.

“People come from all over the world every Friday night,” says Charles D. Thompson, Jr., professor of the practice of cultural anthropology and documentary studies and a senior fellow at the Kenan Institute for Ethics. A musician himself, he often joins the jamboree.

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Understanding the Importance of Care Workers in India

India’s surge of COVID-19 cases is amplifying the global burden of illness and death and straining the country’s healthcare system.

As treatment supplies of oxygen and medicine run low, the workers caring for patients are increasingly overtaxed.

Care work should be valued as an infrastructure of COVID-19 treatment, and hospital workers and families deserve greater support for their labor, says Harris Solomon, a medical anthropologist at Duke University.

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War in the Smartphone Age

After Israeli police entered Jerusalem’s Aqsa Mosque in early May, following rising tensions in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, news consumers around the globe watched in real time as conflict erupted in the region once again, and social media followed.

Across Twitter, Tik Tok and other platforms, viewers shared videos of Israeli police firing rubber bullets and Palestinian protestors throwing rocks, as well as images of Palestinian rockets and Israeli airstrikes. The conflict unfolding on the ground was paralleled with this online media war, fueled by the proliferation of images captured in the midst of battle and occupation.

Understanding the impact — and limitations — of those images is essential, says Rebecca Stein, associate professor of cultural anthropology and author of the new book "Screen Shots:State Violence on Camera in Israel and Palestine."

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Start Your Own Exploration

Want to see where cultural anthropology can take you? Find out by taking a class this fall.

Our offerings cover all of these topics, plus dozens more, including religion, gender, war, economies, ecosystems, racism, kinship, colonialism, language, performance, digital media and health. In a word: culture.

Two brand new courses and our gateway course will give you a great place to start.

See What Else Is Available

CA 101: Introduction to Cultural Anthropology

Professor Harris Solomon

How are we part of what constitutes society and culture? This course immerses you in the foundations of Cultural Anthropology, and will train you in beginning approaches to reading, interpreting, designing, and implementing anthropology's signature research methodology of ethnographic research. We will consider how everyday cultural practices shape local and global social problems, from struggles for racial justice to viral social media, and from the gig economy to climate change.

CA 185S: African Hashtag Activism

Professor Anne-Maria Makhulu

The technological leapfrogging of the last three decades introduced mobile and smartphone technologies to Africans, radically altering the modes of organizing available to women, members of the LGBTQI+ community, and other vulnerable groups. But beyond giving voice to local concerns, African opinions and perspectives are also directed towards larger conversations about climate change action, resistance to US hegemony, and the role China plays in African development.

CA 273: Amazon and the Cybereconomy

Professor Orin Starn

This course explores the culture and economics of the digital economy, with a focus on the biggest company of them all, Amazon. It examines questions ranging from labor conditions and privacy concerns to network effects, algorithmic marketing, and monopoly practices. Students will gain a new understanding of how e-commerce is changing the structures of our economy, and how it shapes the ways we live.