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Socio-Cultural Anthropology

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Socio-Cultural Anthropology at University of Virginia synthesizes the Anglo-French and American traditions that extend from the discipline’s beginnings in the late 18th and 19th centuries. Anxious to generate new research and research questions, the faculty, graduate students and undergraduates work to understand their place in the swirls of Western cultural history…for the discipline is part of a human order.

Although anthropology generated its legitimacy by studying non-Western societies, we take from that experience the attempt to understand all human social existence, Western and non-Western, ‘Modern’ and ‘Pre-modern,’ including Australian Aboriginal and contemporary American kinship, Mayan language forms and Hollywood stereotypes, Amazonian mythology and Western ideology. All socio-cultural faculty have primary research interests in specific parts of the world—Melanesia (a part of the South Pacific) and Europe, South and North America, Africa and the Middle East; but everyone is engaged in comparative research broadly or narrowly conceived, and our graduate students and courses have gone and go to many specific places—South Africa, Rwanda, Gabon, Togo, Morocco; India, Nepal, Pakistan, Afghanistan; the former Soviet Union, Macedonia, The Czech Republic, Holland, Spain; Argentina, Ecuador, Brazil, Haiti; Kodiak, Alaska, Richmond, Virginia, New Orleans; Shanghai, Yunnan, Taiwan, the Penghu Islands, Vietnam, Bali, Flores, Highlands Papua New Guinea, Samoa and Australia.

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Our subject matter is human experience across the globe, and we expect our students to learn how to know the specifics of those human places. There are interesting and important anthropological reasons for this pursuit; but there is also a practical necessity to know the limits of cross-cultural realities, a facet of knowledge all too often missing in our public life.


Socio-cultural anthropology is the broadest of the humanities and social sciences and increasingly engages, as active research partners or subjects of study, the natural sciences. So our interests are by their very nature interdisciplinary. Many undergraduates find us as first or second majors (or solid minors), with their second or first interests in Biology, Economics, English, Environmental Science, History, all of the Language Departments, Mathematics, Religious Studies, and all of the Area Studies Programs; students in premed and prelaw trajectories for decades have found Anthropology the excellent Liberal Arts background; increasingly students in commerce, national or international, find our courses important for their futures. Many graduate students take one or more courses in other departments, and will need someone from another discipline to serve on their dissertation committees.  Many faculty have close professional relationships with members in one or more other departments or schools across the University.

Current research interests in the Department include:

  • kinship and the history of kinship studies in anthropology
  • medicine and science studies
  • nationalism, regional systems, and world-systems theory
  • political economy and historical ecology
  • race theory, ethnicity, and identity
  • ritual and religious systems
  • symbolic anthropology
  • chaos and complexity theory
  • climate and culture
  • anthropology of food
  • ethnobotany and classification
  • exchange and production theories of society
  • family, marriage and gender
  • globalism and ‘development’
  • hierarchy, power, and destruction in society
  • history of anthropology

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