About the PhD
In a certain sense, we are a department of post-capitalist studies. However, we do not wish to refer to some dreamed-up utopia, nor to a speculative exploration of futuristic scenarios. While we agree with Lewis Mumford on the "importance of building castles in the sky," we see as an even more urgent necessity to study politics of alternatives in the here and now: the need to engage with concrete utopias that are already being built, and to understand other worlds that are already possible.
Together with the activists from many different parts of the world we believe that "another world is possible." The role of the new social movements, we are reminded, 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. Social scientists should leave pessimism for better times. Anthropology, in particular, is well equipped to participate in the "
The practice and technique of activist research
We ask our students to do precisely this: 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, possibilities-as gifts.
This program offers the space and the possibility to engage with many traditions of radical scholarship and emancipatory social science. We believe that anthropologists should
The doctoral program is distinctive for its focus on concrete utopias. What are some of them? 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,
The program is distinctive in its emphasis on:
- Activist research of concrete utopias
- Global social movements and lost revolutionary treasures
- Issues of colonialism, globalization, development
- Anarchist, Marxist, and feminist theoretical perspectives
- Political ecology
- Integration of activism and scholarship: developing research skills in activist research, intercultural translation, and emancipatory thinking
Many classes include a research component, and the doctoral dissertation is based on activist research. Activist research frameworks include participatory and collaborative research approaches as well as more recent research techniques and strategies associated with militant research, oral history, and co-research approaches.
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
PhD Admissions Requirements
Entry into the PhD program in Anthropology and Social Change 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.
The Anthropology and Social Change PhD concentration is a residential program. We are interested in creating a convivial community of scholars, not competitive academics; we believe in educating intellectuals and not professionals. We believe that professors and students are co-learners, and that learning, and knowledge production, is a participatory, inclusive, and horizontal process. Our program is probably not the best fit for those who want to be taught in the vertical space of a traditional classroom. Rather, this is a unique and inspiring place for activist scholars who are passionate about co-creating knowledge that is useful, relevant, and integral.
Applicants must meet the general admissions requirements of the Institute. 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 department. 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 to 15 units of MA-level coursework within the Anthropology and Social Change Program. Students may require an additional year in which to complete these courses.
Once students are admitted, advisors will facilitate the drafting of a tailored curriculum contract that incorporates these additional courses and suggests a timeline. These additional courses include three of the following five courses:
- Ideas for Action: Social Theory for Radical Change
- Global Social Movements
- Unthinking Social Science
- Radical Theory
Radical Political Economy
Students may pursue a part-time course of study in consultation with their academic advisor.