Anthropology and Social Change MA and PhD Programs
ABOUT THE DEPARTMENT
Founded in 1981, the Anthropology program offers a critical, advocacy approach to education. In 1997, the program expanded to include a doctoral track. In 1999, the program was re-envisioned to prioritize issues of social and ecological justice in the context of a multicultural, postcolonial world. In 2012, the program was again re-envisioned to support and develop the knowledge generated by contemporary social movements, with a particular emphasis on struggles that engage critically with capitalist globalization and that prefigure alternative practices.
Our understanding of the integral mission of the Institute is distinctive in several key aspects. First, we attempt to integrate worlds of academic and grassroots knowledge. Taking our inspiration for the Popular University of Social Movements (PUSM)** we believe that universities and social sciences are, for the most part, isolated from new practices and new movements, as they keep insisting on concepts and theories that are not adequate to new realities of creation and resistance. On the other side of this gap, activists are in serious need of new theories: theoretical knowledge(s) that can assist them in reflecting analytically on their practices, methods, and strategies for social change. The most important part of this process, we believe, is a construction of situations and contexts of translation and creative dialogue between academic knowledge and the knowledge held outside of higher education. It is only through the process of mutual learning and reciprocal exchange that we can hope to approximate another possible knowledge: one that is integral, relevant, and useful (for more information, see universidadepopular.org).
Second, our program reflects an integration of social, political, economic, and environmental themes and issues. Instead of analyzing them separately, we treat these themes as interconnected.
Third, our understanding of integral relates to a specific research methodology, an activist ethnography that rests on the notion of activist research- a reflective and transformative practice that integrates the community of struggle at every step of the research process. Activist research is a practice of intellectual production that does not accept conventional distinction between researcher and research subjects. Rather, the aim of activist research is an integral relationship that transforms both the researcher and the community into active participants in producing knowledge and in transforming themselves. As contributors to the book "Constituent Imagination" suggest, research is an uncertain process wherein the researcher knows "how to start but not how to end," an "open process that discovers new possibilities within the present, a collective wondering and wandering that is always difficult and never resolved in easy answers."
Finally, our vision of the social sciences is not simply interdisciplinary: instead of antagonistic epistemologies and disconnected disciplines, predicated on a split between "two cultures" (separation of science and philosophy/humanities), and the division of human experience into spheres of state, market, and society, together with our colleagues from the Fernand Braudel Center we support a project of an integral epistemology and integrated social science ( for more information, see http://www.binghamton.edu/fbc/index.html).
** The Popular University of Social Movements or Universidade Popular dos Movimentos Sociais was created at the 2003 World Social Forum (WSF) by the initiative of Boaventura Sousa Santos -- a space for meetings and exchanges among social movements from different parts of the world.
Our Approach to Anthropology
Our relationship to anthropology is defined by our engagement with the ethnographic method. We believe that good anthropology begins and ends in the field. Anthropology and Social Change is a part of the broader movement that seeks to return ethnography to the forefront of anthropology. Together with new Journals like HAU, or contributors to the Insurgent Encounters, Constituent Imagination, and Team Colors book projects, we are interested in ethnographic theory, and share the ambition to rekindle the theoretical potential of (activist) ethnography. As activist anthropologists, we are interested less in the "ruthless criticism of all that exists" and more in what are colleagues from HAU call "ethnography of everyday theory." Going back to the critical concepts we bring from the field, and returning those concepts back to the people we do research with, in a manner of gift, is what makes us activists and anthropologists.
Distinctive Approach to Methodology
In our graduate program we give special attention to research and to what we call activist ethnography. Our signature approach to methodology rests on investigation of different alternative research models and strategies associated with militant and activist anthropology. We emphasize co-research and direct action, horizontality and self-activity, seen as an essential ingredients of collaborative knowledge production. Activist ethnography, our distinct approach to activist research, attempts to combine activist interest in drifts, militant research, co-research, workers inquiry, insurgent investigation, and guerrilla history, with prefigurative and postcapitalist research. In this experimental play with different forms of militant and activist research, we strive to construct a distinct model of a postcapitalist ethnography.
Participatory Approach to Learning
The graduate program in Social and Cultural Anthropology brings together scholars and activists engaged not in teaching but in co-learning. Our approach to co-learning is inspired by a long and beautiful history of education developed in popular universities, modern schools, universities of earth and without walls, and free schools. We find ourselves in the tradition and legacy of educators such as Leon Tolstoy, Paul Robin, Francisco Ferrer, Emma Goldman, Alexander Niell, Ivan Ilich, Paul Goodman, Angela Davis, bell hooks, and Paulo Freire. We are excited to learn from past educational experiences in the Bay Area: Black Panther community schools, San Francisco Liberation School, New College of California, and Berkeley Free School are only some of the exciting traditions that inspire our educational vision. We conceive the classroom as a convivial space of facilitation and consultation, of interactive and horizontal processes of knowledge exchange and production.
Convivial Approach to Communication of Knowledge
We offer several forms of convivia, or convivial spaces of knowledge communication:
Emergency Library is a space that affirms the original meaning of the library as a communal institution: it is a convivial space of exchange of books, poetry, and ideas. In this convivia, we exchange ideas, skills, and organizing knowledge with the communities outside the Institute. We are scholars on call, responding to the emergent needs of the communities in struggle, who might be in need of legal advice, activist companionship, scholarly input, or a media suggestion. We bring this information not as impositions but as gifts, in the spirit of exchange and mutual aid, learning from the communities in the process.
Political Laboratory is held once each semester as a weekend-long convivial encounter of local or international scholars working on a particular project, students, and selected participants from the local community. Together they think collectively about a particular idea, book, concept, or project.
Atelier of Insurrectionary Imagination is a space of occasional magic, where artistic production is combined with political imagination, and subversive creativity. Here, artists inspire students and members of the community to dream collectively and explore the unsettling alchemy of art and social justice.
Autonomous Classroom is an experimental class created convivially by MA and PhD students, a class where the world is turned upside down, students become teachers, teachers become students, and all graduate students autonomously design a class that they teach and self-manage over the course of one semester.
Guerrilla Workshop is an improvised event-space where students, faculty, or students and faculty, present on their current work. This includes papers to be presented at various conferences, report backs from academic or activist events, and dialogues relevant to anthropology, social justice, and critical theory.
Dialogues and Interrogations: Instead of interrogating people, in this public convivia, coordinated by Sasha Lilley, we interrogate ideas. This takes form of a bi-monthly conversation between activist journalists and prominent organizers and activist intellectuals.
Nomadic Cafe: this is where we have nomadic discussions on spaces, places, and non-spaces.
Insight/Incite: our participatory cinema monthly event, in collaboration with Shaping San Francisco and New Nothing Cinema.
Events, Workshops, Research Working Groups, and Visiting Scholars
The program regularly hosts lectures, conferences, and workshops on variety of social justice issues that bring together scholars, activists and artists, both local and international. A one-day political laboratory on Radical Pasts, Radical Futures combined the intellectual and political experience of social movement theorists and activists Selma James, Peter Linenbaugh, Andayie, Gustavo Esteva, George Katziaficas, Ruth Reitan, and Scott Crow. Aymara feminist from Bolivia, Julieta Paredes, gave a workshop presentation of "feminismo communitario." Against the Grain producer Sasha Lilley interviewed Iain Boal on his book on communes in Northern California. Silvia Federici gave a lecture, and organized a political laboratory, around the issue of Reproductive Labor and the Commons. Anarchist anthropologist David Graeber gave a key-note lecture on the first 5000 years of debt. Arturo Escobar presented on anthropology and post-capitalism. Our fist visiting activist scholar was John Holloway. We co-sponsor events such as American Indian Movement conference, The Western Workers Labor Heritage Festival, and the Institute for Social Ecology summer school.