PhD in Anthropology: Sociocultural Anthropology

Next admission cycle for Sociocultural Anthropology will be for Autumn 2022 (apply by December 15, 2021).

The graduate program in sociocultural anthropology is designed to train professional anthropologists to work in either academic or non-academic settings. Each student is expected to achieve high levels of competence in the theories and methods of the discipline through successful completion of a series of requirements, as outlined below:

Requirements for the Masters of Arts in Anthropology

The degree of Masters of Arts in Anthropology (MA) is awarded to students who have met all appropriate rules and regulations of the Graduate School and the Department of Anthropology and who have:

  1. Successfully completed the first-year core curriculum, which includes core courses in sociocultural anthropology history and theory, with a minimum grade of 3.5 in each, and met the requirements of the first-year portfolio evaluation.
  2. Completed the second-year sequence in ethnographic methods, and research design with a minimum grade of 3.5 in each.
  3. Completed a research competency paper that has passed review by the student’s pre-Masters supervisory committee by the end of the eighth quarter of full-time work in the program, and completion of 9 ANTH 600/700 credits in conjunction with this requirement.

Requirements for the Doctor of Philosophy in Anthropology

The degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Anthropology (PhD) is awarded to all students who have met all appropriate rules and regulations of the Graduate School and the Department of Anthropology and who have:

  1. Earned an MA degree in anthropology from the University of Washington (or an approved equivalent)
  2. Demonstrated basic competence in a language other than the candidate's native language
  3. Passed the General Exam
  4. Made a formal presentation about the project at a dissertation colloquium
  5. Conducted ethical and methodologically sound dissertation research
  6. Acquired training and experience in teaching at the university level
  7. Completed a PhD dissertation that is approved and signed by the supervisory committee
  8. Passed an oral defense of the dissertation (also called the Final Exam)

Advisors and Supervisory Committees

Upon entry, all first-year sociocultural graduate students are invited to select or be assigned an advisor pro tem who will advise the student until s/he obtains the agreement of a member of a chair for his/her supervisory committee. The chair must be chosen no later than the end of the fourth quarter of full time work in the program.

At the pre-Masters level, the supervisory committee need only consist of the committee chair and one other member of the sociocultural faculty.

The PhD supervisory committee must include: (1) a committee chair, (2) at least two additional committee members, and (3) the Graduate School Representative (GSR). The additional committee members and GSR are chosen in consultation with the student’s committee chair and asked to serve by the student. The committee chair, at least one of the additional members, and the GSR must be members of the graduate faculty of the University of Washington. The committee chair must also be a regular member of the sociocultural faculty or an adjunct member of the Department of Anthropology. The GSR must be endorsed to chair doctoral supervisory committees but must not hold any kind of appointment in Anthropology. According to Graduate School Memorandum #13, any other faculty members who "are identified by their appointing department as productive scholars in the student's major field and/or subfields" can serve as committee members.

Faculty invited to serve on a committee should indicate in writing to the Graduate Program Coordinator that they are willing to serve. They become official members of the committee when (1) the student submits to the Graduate Program Advisor a completed form for establishing a PhD supervisory committee that lists the names and signatures of the committee chair and all committee members, and (2) the Graduate School responds by officially inviting all proposed committee members to serve as members of the supervisory committee.

Sociocultural anthropology requires that a full PhD supervisory committee be in place before the end of the sixth quarter of full-time work in the program.  

Structure of the Program and Standards for Evaluation

First-Year Core Curriculum and Evaluation

  1. Core Sequence in Anthropological Theory.  All second-year students must enroll in a three-quarter sequence offered in fall, winter, and spring (ANTH 565, 566, 567; 5 credits per quarter), which is commonly referred to as the "core theory courses." This sequence consists of lectures, seminar discussion, student presentations, intensive reading of the professional literature, and writing papers. The courses in this sequence are taught in rotation by sociocultural faculty and are organized around intentionally broad topical themes, which may vary year to year.  The purpose of the core sequence is to introduce contemporary debates in the context of their history in the discipline.  

    Core course grades are awarded as follows:
    4.0 - 3.9           outstanding
    3.7 - 3.8           very good
    3.6                   good
    3.5                   satisfactory
    < 3.5                unsatisfactory

  2. 400- or 500- level Sociocultural Anthropology Courses. Students are required to complete four 400- or 500-level courses taught by four different members of the sociocultural faculty within the first two years and taken for a numeric grade. Students should expect to complete at least two such courses during the first year, and at least two more during the second year. This requirement is designed to ensure breadth of training in sociocultural anthropology, and to provide opportunities to establish relationships with faculty with whom they may eventually wish to work as dissertation advisor or supervisory committee members.

  3. First-Year Portfolio. Students are required to submit to the sociocultural faculty a "First-Year Portfolio" not later than the 8th week of spring quarter in their first year of graduate study in the program.The first-year portfolio will provide an overview of scholarly work accomplished during the first year of graduate study, and must include:
    • a brief self-assessment of the first year, and forward-looking plan of study
    • coursework completed during the first year, including at least one 15-20 page paper that examines some material (textual, ethnographic, historical, visual, etc) in terms of a current debate within anthropology, and sets forth an argument.  
    • evidence of teaching (if any)
    • evidence of conference participation or other professional activities (if any)
    • evidence of applications submitted for fellowships, grants or other opportunities (if any)

    Detailed guidelines for the portfolio and its evaluation will be provided to students at the start of fall quarter.

  4. First-Year Evaluation. The sociocultural faculty as a whole will meet at the end of the first year to review each student's progress in the program. In order to continue to the second year of the program, students must successfully pass this first-year evaluation. Any student who does not meet these requirements will not be permitted to continue in the program. The core instructors should alert the student regarding potential problems as soon as possible in the first year so that the student is made aware of any deficiencies.

The following criteria will be used to evaluate each student’s first-year performance.

    • The student has demonstrated careful and critical reading of course materials. S/he is able to state the major points of the reading and make effective connections with other course materials. In cases where the student has encountered difficulties with course content, s/he has sought out the instructor for recommendations for remedial reading or clarification.
    • The student has contributed effectively to class discussions. The student shows a willingness to engage with the course materials and is developing skills of good communication and citizenship in scholarly exchange. In cases where English is a second language or where there are other difficulties inhibiting participation, the student has communicated this to the core course instructors and sought recommendations to remedy the problem or has negotiated accommodations in redefining appropriate expectations.
    • The student has demonstrated the ability to write well or is making significant progress in developing good writing skills. In cases of writing difficulties, the student has pursued recommendations to remedy the problem.

In addition, the student must demonstrate high standards of ethical behavior. Breaches of ethics and/or irresponsible behavior in any of the following areas (at any time in the program) will be considered evidence that the student should not remain in the program.

Ethical conduct in one’s academic life. Students are expected to strictly adhere to the university’s guidelines for ethical academic conduct, including its policies on plagiarism and integrity of research. The university’s code of student conduct is accessible via the web.

Ethical conduct as a researcher. Field research in anthropology requires sensitivity, honesty, and an awareness of the potential ethical hazards of studying the lives of others. Students are expected to adhere to the AAA and HSD guidelines for protecting human research subjects. This includes avoiding deceptive or covert research, behaving with consideration and respect toward one’s research participants and their communities, respecting the laws of the country in which a student conducts research, and taking responsibility–to the extent possible–for the uses to which the research is put.

Ethical conduct as a teacher. A University of Washington Faculty Senate resolution notes that teaching requires “respect for the dignity of others and their right to free speech,” “intellectual honesty,” and “a proper environment for learning.” As a member of the Department of Anthropology, each student is expected to adhere to these and other standards for ethical conduct, including those mentioned under personal ethics.

Ethical conduct toward the discipline of anthropology. Students are expected to fulfill their obligations to funders and sponsors, and to conduct themselves in the field so that their behavior does not have negative consequences for researchers who come after them or for the reputation of anthropology as a discipline. It is also expected that when the time comes to seek employment as an anthropologist and to publish their work, that students will do so with integrity and intellectual honesty.

Annual Evaluations

Once the student has passed the first-year evaluation, her/his progress through the program will be evaluated annually at the end of each academic year by the sociocultural faculty as a whole and the results of that evaluation will be communicated to the student in writing by the student’s committee chair.

Second-Year Sequence 

  1. Core Sequence in Ethnographic Methods and Research Design. During the second year in the program, all sociocultural students must complete the required seminar sequence in ethnographic methods (ANTH 550; 5 credits, autumn) and research design (ANTH 551; 5 credits, winter) and must obtain a minimum grade of 3.5 in each.  The purpose of this requirement is to help students develop the research and writing skills they will need in order to successfully complete a dissertation.

    Core course grades are awarded as follows: 
    4.0 - 3.9 outstanding
    3.7 - 3.8 very good
    3.6 good
    3.5 satisfactory
    < 3.5 unsatisfactory

  2. 400- or 500-level Sociocultural Anthropology Courses. Students are required to complete four 400- or 500-level courses taught by four different members of the sociocultural faculty within the first two years and taken for a numeric grade. Students should expect to complete at least two such courses during the first year, and at least two more during the second year. This requirement is designed to ensure breadth of training in sociocultural anthropology, and to provide opportunities to establish relationships with faculty with whom they may eventually wish to work as dissertation advisor or supervisory committee members.

Demonstration of Research Competency

Prior to the end of the eighth quarter of full-time work in the program, each student must have successfully completed a substantial research paper on a topic that is to be developed in discussions with her/his pre-Master’s supervisory committee and 9 credits of ANTH 600. The research competency paper must demonstrate the student’s ability to do original research, although it need not be fieldwork based. This requirement can also be met by successfully completing an MA thesis in anthropology, and 9 credits of ANTH 700.

If an incoming student has earned an MA in anthropology (or a related discipline) within five years prior to the date of admission, s/he may petition for the MA thesis to be accepted in lieu of the research competency paper. Approval of such a petition is at the discretion of the student's MA supervisory committee.

A copy of the approved research competency paper is to be sent to the Graduate Program Coordinator, who will deposit an electronic file of the paper in the departmental archive.

Basic Competence in a Foreign Language

Each student must demonstrate basic competence in a language other than her/his native language. By no later than the end of the fifth quarter of full-time work in the department or by two years after the date of entry into the program (whichever is sooner), each sociocultural graduate student, in consultation with her/his committee chair and other members of the supervisory committee, must formulate, justify, and submit to the Graduate Program Coordinator, a plan for meeting this requirement. This plan should indicate (a) what the language is, (b) why it was picked, (c) how the student's competence will be determined, and (d) when the student is to complete this requirement.

General Exam

The general exam is the method used to determine whether or not advanced graduate students have the skills and knowledge necessary for undertaking original dissertation research in, and otherwise being a doctoral candidate in, sociocultural anthropology. There are two parts to this examination: (1) a written exam, which consists of either a timed examination (usually 6-8 hours long, but the exact length is to be decided by the supervisory committee in consultation with the graduate student) or a one week take-home exam, and (2) an oral examination.

The examination is to emphasize the sociocultural theories, methods, and ethnographic knowledge that constitutes four areas of the student's primary areas of specialization established by mutual agreement of the student and her/his supervisory committee.

This exam must be attempted no later than the ninth quarter of full time work or no later than five years after the date of entry into the program (whichever is sooner) if the student is to remain in good standing. On the basis of the performance, the supervisory committee will recommend that the student be either:

  1. advanced to candidacy
  2. re-examined after a further period of study; or
  3. dropped from the Ph.D. program.

Dissertation Proposal and Colloquium

Upon advancement to candidacy, each student in the PhD program in sociocultural anthropology must prepare, in consultation with her/his supervisory committee, an acceptable proposal for dissertation research. Usually dissertations are grounded in an extended period of field research. The proposal must follow human subjects protocols and pass review by the Human Subjects Review Committee.

At a time no later than two quarters after passing the general exam, the student must make an oral presentation of the dissertation proposal at a sociocultural dissertation colloquium to be scheduled by the Graduate Program Coordinator. In this context, in a format typical of panels at professional meetings, the student is to indicate the intent of the project and the methods to be used.

Teaching Experience

Before the final oral defense is scheduled, the candidate is required to have training and experience in teaching, preferably anthropology, at the post-secondary level. This experience and training can be gained in various ways, subject to the approval of the supervisory committee. These teaching efforts are to be formally evaluated by methods deemed appropriate by the student and her/his supervisory committee, which usually include student and/or peer evaluations.


The student must complete a dissertation based on primary research, which is judged by the committee members to constitute a substantial and original contribution to anthropological knowledge.

Oral Defense (Final Exam)

Following completion of the dissertation, the candidate must submit it to the dissertation reading committee. Upon the recommendation of this committee, the candidate will schedule the final oral defense of the dissertation, covering any of the relevant issues raised in and by the dissertation. The oral defense must be held within ten years of the date the student entered the graduate program in Anthropology at the University of Washington.