Activist Ethnography

Activist ethnography is a practice of intellectual production that does not accept conventional distinctions between researcher and research subjects. Rather, the aim of activist ethnography is an integral relationship that transforms both the researcher and the community into active participants in producing knowledge and in transforming themselves.

The Angeles Arrien Scholarship Fund

The Angeles Arrien Scholarship Fund was established in memory of Angeles Arrien, PhD, to celebrate her life work and commitment to peace. The scholarship is awarded to two CIIS students in the Anthropology and Social Change program whose graduate work is relevant to one of the four key areas of emphasis:

  • Preservation of Cultural Heritage: Supports ceremonial space, creative arts, education, healing arts, language & oral tradition, and environment.
  • Multi-Cultural Bridging and Collaborative Efforts: Supports projects between countries, generations, professions, and faiths.
  • Elder Support: Honors elders as invaluable mentors and wisdom-keepers; supports dissemination of perennial wisdoms.
  • Youth Support: Fosters the development of emerging leaders, educational opportunities, character development, and peace practices.

Angeles Arrien was a cultural anthropologist, award-winning author, educator, and consultant to many organizations and businesses. Among her many achievements, she co-founded the Anthropology program at CIIS.

Throughout her lifetime she lectured and conducted workshops worldwide, bridging cultural anthropology, psychology, and comparative religions; she contributed many practices from perennial wisdoms to medical, academic, and corporate environments. She was the founder and president of the Foundation for Cross-Cultural Education and Research. Her books were translated into thirteen languages and she received three honorary doctorate degrees in recognition of her work in the world.

The Angeles Arrien Scholarship is open to all current MA and PhD Anthropology and Social Change students in good academic standing, and also to students who have been admitted to either the MA or PhD program in Anthropology and Social Change within the award year. All applicants must have demonstrated financial need. Applicants will submit an application stating how their research and professional interests support one of the four areas of emphasis. A faculty selection committee will make the final award decision. The annual awards will be between $2,500 and $5,000 each. International students and applicants are eligible to apply. Please email us for details and deadlines.

Theoretical and Practical Knowledge

Our program offers an opportunity to develop both theoretical and practical knowledge relevant to careers in education and social justice work. Our students work with some of the most prominent activist scholars and progressive organizations in San Francisco Bay Area, as well as with faculty from the program and the wider university. Students and faculty are expected to share scholarly ideas and debates, as well as practical skills in research, organizing, grant writing, policy analysis, legal and environmental work, and media. In addition to theoretical and research seminars, we offer activist media skills (strategic film-making, writing and publishing, internet skills, radical radio), and activist organizing skills (legal skills, policy analysis, environmental skills, campaigning, art-making, and organizing skills). Read more about our MA and our PhD and explore our student research.

Student Research

Some of the examples of the areas where our students do their scholarly and activist work include food sovereignty in California, environmental/climate justice models in Latin America, worker cooperatives in Oakland, social centers in Italy, autonomous systems of justice in Guerrero, community gardens in Detroit, self-managed factories in Argentina, the "good government" of the Zapatistas, buen vivir (good life) and plurinationalism in indigenous 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, marginalized medical practices in South Asia, solidarity unionism in New York City, communal agriculture in Malawi, shack-dweller democracy in South Africa, biodiversity in Brazil, restorative justice in Ohio, digital commons, independent media, and autonomous food systems in Japan.

Benemérita Universidad Autónoma

Our program has signed a specific agreement defining a collaboration with the Graduate Department of Sociology, part of the Institute for Humanities and Social Sciences at the Autonomous University of Puebla (BUAP); it is one of the finest social movement, critical theory-based programs in Latin America. Students in our program who are fluent in Spanish will have the option to continue their doctoral studies in Puebla's flagship social science department. The Institute is a home to some of the most significant theorists and social scientists from Latin America, including Raquel Gutierrez Aguilar, John Holloway, and Sergio Tischler. The agreement include fellowships, faculty and student exchange opportunities, and many other exciting collaborative projects. For more information about this study opportunity, please contact us.

China Studies Program

Our program offers a PhD students a chance to earn their MA with full funding while they study at Zhejiang University (ZJU) in Hangzhou, China.

To apply for the ANTH-ZJU Scholarship, prospective PhD students must demonstrate a desire to integrate an extra intensive China Studies year abroad at ZJU, in addition to 36 units of our program's own PhD coursework. The intensive experience abroad occurs during the student's second year and results in an MA in Contemporary China Studies from ZJU. Travel, tuition, and living costs are covered by the scholarship for the ZJU year abroad only.

Students then return to our program for a third year, where they complete their doctoral coursework before beginning comprehensive exams and doctoral dissertation research.

Course of Study


Fall (9 units)

Activist Ethnography I
Alternative Economic Systems
Elective or TBD China Studies Course

Spring (9 units)

Activist Ethnography II
Other Ways of Knowing: Alternative Epistemologies...
Contemporary Capitalism

Summer (3 units)

ZJU Transitional Seminar


ZJU masters curriculum


Fall (9 units)

Post-ZJU Integrative Seminar
Social Research Methods
Other Ways of Being Human

Spring (6 units)

Directed Seminar in Research
Alternative Political Systems



Comprehensive Examination I


Comprehensive Examination II


Dissertation Proposal and Dissertation Writing 


Do I need an MA to be an eligible applicant for the ANTH-ZJU scholarship?
No. Eligibility to apply for this particular graduate path does not require a master's degree. An MA is built into this program of study before advancing to PhD candidacy.

As an ANTH-ZJU scholar, is my doctoral activist ethnographic research required to focus on social change issues related specifically to China or Contemporary China Studies?
Applicants will need to demonstrate a clear scholarly link between their intended dissertation research and the intensive year at ZJU in their goal statement and be able to articulate this in their interview. Some applicants may have a clear interest in producing original ethnographic research related specifically to China or communities of struggle in China; others may leverage the opportunity abroad to further enrich a postcapitalist scholarly exploration that, while not specifically focused on China, incorporates the experience into their work.

What does the scholarship cover?
The ANTH-ZJU Scholarship only covers the tuition, travel, housing, and limited living expenses for the year abroad. The scholarship does not cover cost of attendance for CIIS coursework. Students may wish to consider financial aid options to fund the CIIS curriculum requirements. Prospective applicants are welcome to contact to connect with a CIIS financial aid counselor.

What does "demonstrating preparedness and potential for success" mean for the ANTH-ZJU scholar-applicant?
We will select students who can demonstrate academic readiness for a demanding doctoral path that includes one intensive year abroad in China. ANTH-ZJU scholars are mature, resourceful individuals who can adapt to a challenging immersive experience in a foreign university and can participate in supporting other cohort members on a similar path. Successful applicants will reflect on these preparedness themes in their goal statement and be able to discuss them during their interview.

Do I need to be fluent in Chinese languages?
Applicants will not need to demonstrate fluency in Chinese languages as an eligibility requirement. The immersive classroom experience with Chinese faculty at Zhejiang University will use primarily English. Students planning to conduct post-coursework activist ethnographic research with a primarily Chinese-speaking community will need to pass a foreign language competency exam to advance to candidacy for doctoral research.

To Apply

Our program seeks applicants for this scholarship who demonstrate a serious academic interest in combining contemporary immersive China Studies with an activist-scholar PhD program. In addition, these prospective students will need to demonstrate preparedness and potential for success during the intensive educational year abroad in China. There are no Chinese language requirements. All other requirements for the PhD program must be met. For more information, please contact us.

Addditional Affiliations

Our program has affiliations with the HAU Network of Ethnographic Theory and the Benemérita Universidad Autónoma in Puebla, Mexico.

HAU Network of Ethnographic Theory

HAU Network of Ethnographic Theory
Anthropology and Social Change is now a member of the HAU Network of Ethnographic Theory (the HAU-N.E.T.). HAU is an international network of research centers and anthropology departments working together to support HAU's flagship journal and its innovative book series.

Currently, HAU-N.E.T. consists of the following institutions:
University of Aarhus (DK) - EPICENTER: The Centre for Cultural Epidemics; University of Amsterdam (NL) - Department of Sociology and Anthropology; University of Bergen (NO) - Department of Social Anthropology; Brown University (US) - Department of Anthropology and Library; California Institute of Integral Studies (US) - Department of Anthropology and Social Change; University of Canterbury (NZ) - Department of Anthropology; University of Chicago (US) - Department of Anthropology; University of Colorado Boulder Libraries (US); CNRS (France) - Centre d'Etudes Himalayennes; Cornell; University (US) - Department of Anthropology; University of Edinburgh (UK) - Department of Anthropology; The Graduate Institute, Geneva Library (CH); University of Helsinki (FL) - Faculty of Social Sciences, Social and Cultural Anthropology; Johns Hopkins University (US) - Department of Anthropology; University of Kent (UK) - Department of Social Anthropology; Lafayette College Library (US); Institute of Social Sciences of the University of Lisbon (PL); University of Manchester (UK) - Department of Social Anthropology; The University of Manchester Library (UK); Max-Planck; Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity at Göttingen (Library) (DE); Museu Nacional - UFRJ (BR) - Department of Anthropology; Norwegian Museum of Cultural History (NO); Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile (CL) - Department of Anthropology; Princeton University (US) - Department of Anthropology; University of Queensland (AU) - Department of Anthropology; University of Oslo (NO) - Department of Social Anthropology; University of Oslo Library (NO); University of Rochester (US) - Department of Anthropology; Universidad Autónoma de San Luis Potosi (MX) - School of Social Sciences and Humanities; University of Sydney (AU) - Department of Anthropology.

The Commons, Enclosures, and Mutual Aid

Below are a selection of videos from Anthropology and Social Change's second annual conference: The Commons, Enclosures, and Mutual Aid. This event took place in Namaste Hall at CIIS on Friday, March 21, 2014.

Photo of raised hands in silouette Second Annual Conference—Part 1 Play Video
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Photo of raised hands in silouette Second Annual Conference—Part 2 Play Video
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Photo of raised hands in silouette Second Annual Conference—Part 3 Play Video
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Photo of raised hands in silouette Second Annual Conference—Part 4 Play Video
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Photo of raised hands in silouette Second Annual Conference—Part 5 Play Video
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