New Social Movements

In a certain sense, we are a program of postcapitalist studies. However, by this complicated word, postcapitalism, we do not wish to refer to some dreamed-up utopia, nor to a speculative exploration of futuristic scenarios. We see as an even more urgent necessity to study politics of alternatives in the here and now: the need to engage with postcapitalist cultures that are already being built and to understand other worlds that are already possible.

We believe that the role of the new social movements is not to conquer the world, but to make it anew. What, then, is the role and responsibility of anthropology and other social sciences? In a world riddled with so many crises, few things appear to be more relevant than systematic research of counter-hegemonic knowledge and practices that looks beyond capitalism, hierarchy, and ecological disaster.


The practice and technique of ethnography provides an important model of a possible postcapitalist social science. We ask our students to look at those who are creating viable alternatives, to try to figure out what might be the larger implications of what they are already doing, and then to offer those ideas back, not as prescriptions, but as contributions and possibilities—as gifts.

Our PhD program offers the space and the possibility to engage with many traditions of radical scholarship and emancipatory social science. We believe that anthropologists should analyze, discuss, and explore the possible; that they should research alternative institutions; that they need to collectively reflect and debate the dilemmas of activist anthropology. The collective effort of understanding "real utopias" takes the form of analytic and ethnographic study of real historical alternatives in the present. This, in turn, requires a serious engagement with social movements involved in the production of alternatives. Students are expected to have an excellent command of history, debates, and perspectives of contemporary social movements. These movements exist in the historical, social, and epistemological context of colonization, development, and globalization. Solutions offered by mainstream social science are often the source of more problems, and our students are expected to have a good understanding of intertwined historical processes of colonization, development, and liberal modernity.

Focus on Alternatives

Our doctoral program is distinctive for its focus on alternatives. Worker cooperatives in Oakland, social centers in Italy, autonomous systems of justice in Guerrero, community gardens in Detroit, occupied self-managed factories in Argentina, "good government" of the Zapatistas, buen vivir (good life) and plurinationalism in Bolivia, participatory democracy in Kerala, solidarity economics of Mondragon, participatory economics in Winnipeg, pedagogy of the block in African-American communities, alternative environmentalism in Afro-Colombian river regions, legal pluralism, autonomy of migration, marginalized medical practices in South Asia, solidarity unionism in New York City, communal agriculture in Malawi, shack dweller democracy in South Africa, Copwatch in Los Angeles,  biodiversity in Brazil, restorative justice in Ohio, knowledge commons and globalization, independent media, and autonomous food systems in Japan, are only some of the examples of postcapitalist possibilities. There are so many more, and one of the responsibilities of our students is to discover them.

Many classes include a research component and the doctoral dissertation is based on activist ethnographic research. Activist ethnographic frameworks include participatory and collaborative research approaches, as well as more recent research techniques and strategies associated with militant research and co-research approaches.

Please contact us for more information,

Course of Study

36 required units of coursework

Alternative Political Systems

Activist Ethnography I

Activist Ethnography II

Alternative Economic Systems

Other Ways of Being Human: Alternative Sexualities, Family, and Kinship Systems

Other Ways of Knowing: Alternative Epistemologies, Rival Knowledges, and Justice Systems

Autonomous Seminar (1 unit, taken three times during the course of study)

Social Research Methods

Directed Seminar in Research

9 units of advisor-approved general electives

Two Comprehensive Exams

Dissertation Proposal

Dissertation Seminar

Admissions Requirements

Entry into the PhD program requires a master's degree. Students with an MA from another school or from another department at CIIS may require up to one additional year of coursework as part of their PhD program. Students with an MA in Anthropology and Social Change from CIIS do not require additional coursework.

Our PhD is a residential program. We are interested in creating a convivial community of scholars, not competitive academics; we believe that professors and students are co-learners, and that learning, and knowledge production, is a participatory, inclusive, and horizontal process.

Applicants must meet the general admissions requirements of the university. In addition, two letters of recommendation, one from an academic advisor or someone familiar with the applicant's ability to do academic work, and one from a supervisor in a recent professional or volunteer setting, are required. Applicants are also asked to include a recent sample of scholarly writing. The required autobiographical statement should describe significant events in the applicant's life that have led to the decision to pursue admission to this program. A goal statement that includes areas of academic interest should be included.

Admission to the PhD Program without an MA in Anthropology from CIIS
Students entering the PhD program without an MA in Anthropology and Social Change from CIIS are required to take an additional 12–15 units of MA-level coursework within our program. It may take an additional year to complete these courses.

Part-Time Curriculum
Students may pursue a part-time course of study after consulting their academic advisor.

Stay Connected to CIIS