PhD Track in Sociocultural Anthropology

Franz Boas founded Columbia University's Department of Anthropology on the eve of the 20th century, making it the first Anthropology PhD program in the United States. Originally founded on the concept of the “four field approach” to the study of human culture and society, the department now focuses its graduate program on sociocultural anthropology and archaeological anthropology. The Department continues its historical emphasis on rigorous language training and analysis, extended ethnographic research, and cultivating a historically informed and evidence-based form of critical thought about the world.


For information on the PhD track in Archaeology, please click here.

The PhD program in sociocultural anthropology has had a long and distinguished history in generating the doctoral degrees of many of the most important figures in the discipline, ranging from early founders and pioneers in the field, like Margaret Mead and Ruth Benedict, to the newest generation of field-defining sociocultural anthropologists. Noted for its encouragement of interdisciplinary pursuits, its cutting-edge theoretical training, and its emphasis on rigorous language study and fieldwork, the PhD program in sociocultural anthropology combines the rich opportunities within the Department—dissertation writing groups, weekly Boas Seminars with invited guest speakers, proposal writing workshops—with the opportunity to take courses in affiliated programs at Columbia and at many other research universities in the New York area. 

Sociocultural faculty research interests span the range of the domains most critical to contemporary sociocultural anthropology, including continental philosophy, law, political anthropology, semiotics, ecology and ecocriticsm, science and technology studies, native studies, aesthetics, affect theory, and media. Area specializations are similarly diverse, as faculty expertise is concentrated in, but not limited to, the areas of Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, the Middle East, North and South America, and Oceania. 

Each student is supported by careful consultations with the Director of Graduate Studies and the Graduate Committee. After the second year, each student nominates and is supported by a sponsor and dissertation committee, who work with the student to develop grant proposals, craft and complete Admission to Candidacy Examinations, and write a dissertation prospectus. After the student's completion of dissertation fieldwork, the dissertation committee is also responsible for overseeing the dissertation writing process. Sociocultural PhD students from the Department have had great success in securing fieldwork grants, dissertation write-up fellowships, postdoctoral fellowships, and tenure-track teaching positions.

***PhD Admissions Update
The Department of Anthropology at Columbia University will be pausing its PhD admissions process and not accepting applications for the 2021-22 academic year. We will resume our intake of new doctoral applications in Fall 2021. We have made this difficult decision, mindful of the fact that the Covid-19 pandemic has imposed unique economic and social strains on doctoral students. These include the interruption of dissertation field research, restrictions on mobility, care-giving burdens and financial pressures.  In making this decision, the Department is guided by its commitment to nurture its doctoral students and provide them with as much support as possible as they endeavor to complete their programs of study.  We are also committed to maintaining and enhancing departmental activities for students at all levels, and are actively seeking means to do so. We look forward to seeing new faces among our doctoral students in the Fall of 2022. While our doctoral admissions will be temporarily suspended, our MA programs will continue, and we welcome applications to both the Museum and Sociocultural programs as usual, for the 2020-21 academic year. 

The Department will continue its public and in-house intellectual programming through zoom and other platforms. It will also use this pause to reflect critically on the shape and direction of graduate education in anthropology in the US and globally. Please see announcements for events, including our Boas and Scheps seminars and the Boas/Benedict annual lectureship on this website.

See also Graduate Student Life.