Graduate Studies

On this page: Development Anthropology | Cultural, Symbolic and Cognitive Anthropology | Anthropological Archaeology | Medical Anthropology


Our Department places high priority on research and on maintaining a distinguished graduate program. Each year, we admit only a small number of very highly qualified applicants for studies leading to the MA and PhD degrees in Anthropology. Thus, our students benefit from close supervision by their committee and from peer exchange of high quality. By maintaining a high staff/student ratio, we are able to offer our graduate students an unusual degree of flexibility and personalized attention in designing their programs according to their speical interests. There are no comprehensive examinations and the program is particularily congenial to students who are self-directed.

Our Department has four concentrations: DEVELOPMENT ANTHROPOLOGY includes study and research on modernization, development and underdevelopment, ethnicity, inequality, ethnohistory and applied anthropology. Several staff members and students are engaged in development studies with reference to Canada, Africa, Asia and Latin America. CULTURAL, SYMBOLIC, AND COGNITIVE ANTHROPOLOGY emphasizes semiotics, cognition, interpretation, and ideology. Cultural analysis is also a major dimension in our other fields of concentration. PREHISTORIC ARCHAEOLOGY includes studies in the history of archaeological theory, the origins and nature of early civilization, palaeotechology, settlement studies, nutrition, and palaeotechnology, especially in Canada, Africa, and East Asia. MEDICAL ANTHROPOLOGY, with special reference to cultural aspects of health and illness, is offered jointly with the Department of Social Studies of Medicine of the Faculty of Medicine in a special MA program and is offered in collaboration with the Department at the PhD level.

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Development Anthropology

Development anthropology studies problems of poverty, resource depletion, population pressure, environmental deterioration, and the misdirected "development" strategies pursued by national governments and international agencies. Development anthropology also studies indigenous strategies of resistance, organization, resource management, and grassroots development -- which have been pursued with varying degrees of success.

It should be mentioned that we do not offer graduate training in applied anthropology. Though a number of our former graduate students have gone on to successful careers in applied fields, our training is oriented toward academic research and intellectual achievement.

The anthropological character of our work on development derives from our emphasis on ethnographic case studies involving a detailed understanding of daily life at the local level. Even so, development anthropologists often collaborate or engage in vigorous debates with specialists in other disciplines, and we have long played a major role in international development studies at McGill.

While pioneering the field of development anthropology, Richard Salisbury and his students contributed their expertise to help the James Bay Cree reach a tolerable agreement in 1975 with Hydro Québec and the provincial government. One of Salisbury's students, Colin Scott, now a professor in our department, continues to do research on and for the Cree, as they confront the Great Whale project. Another of his students, Donald Attwood, has studied how farmers in western India created their own path to development by organizing cooperatives and voluntary associations. Philip Salzman has studied change and development among nomadic peoples: indeed, he and others made McGill known throughout the world for its research in this area. As a case in point, John Galaty is completing a lengthy study of changing land tenures among the Maasai cattle herders of Kenya. Laurel Bossen is a specialist on women and development in rural China, and Carmen Lambert is studying change among native peoples in urban Quebec. All this work is based on ethnographic field research, involving lengthy residence in local communities.

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Cultural, Symbolic, and Cognitive Anthropology

Cultural/symbolic anthropology studies how members of different cultural groups perceive and respond, emotionally and intellectually, to the world around them; how their perceptions shift in response to regional, national and global change; and how they create and modify rituals and other public performances in order to express their reactions to the changing world. At McGill, much of this work seeks to understand how people respond to change by modifying their own ethnic identities, as in the research by Jerome Rousseau (on the Kayan and other peoples of Borneo), John Galaty (on the Maasai of Kenya), and Kristin Norget (on the peoples of southern Mexico). Philip Salzman has studied how changing job markets affect the culture of nomadic pastoralists in Iranian Baluchistan, and Kristin Norget studies popular religion in southern Mexico and how this shapes people's responses to the political crisis in that region. The medical anthropologists also play a role in joining cultural/symbolic to development issues. Thus we continue to exchange ideas with cultural studies in general while retaining our core commitment to the study of socio-cultural change and development.

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Anthropological Archaeology

Anthropological archaeology studies the whole of human prehistory and the rise of early civilizations. Along with the rest of anthropology, it emphasizes the comparative analysis of human societies, adding the dimension of comparison over long time periods. With their interest in the evolution of prehistoric societies, archaeologists contribute an essential perspective to the study of socio-cultural change. Unlike some of the larger Canadian departments of anthropology or anthropological archaeology (for example, at Toronto, Calgary, Simon Fraser, and Alberta), there is a considerable sharing of interests and active collaboration among our archaeologists and other anthropologists. (The latter are loosely referred to as ethnologists.) Michael Bisson has been active in the African Studies program; and Jim Savelle shares an interest in ecological anthropology with several of the ethnologists.

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Medical Anthropology

Medical anthropology studies indigenous or "folk" conceptions of health and illness in various cultures; it studies the ideas and behaviour of health practitioners in various cultural settings, including hospitals and clinics in developed and less developed countries; it studies the construction of scientific knowledge in western medicine; and it compares the complex beliefs, practices and ideologies underlying Western and non-Western medical (and psychiatric) systems, such as those found in Japan, China, India, Africa, and the Islamic world.

Our department benefits from the cross-appointment of two anthropologists in the Faculty of Medicine as well as two full-time medical anthropologist in the Department of Anthropology, Professors Sandra Hyde and Lisa Stevenson. Between the two departments, we train first-rate graduate students in medical anthropology -- the applicants for this program being among the best students anywhere.

Our training program (see below) is fully multidisciplinary, involving active contributions from anthropologists, sociologists, historians, and medical practitioners, including psychiatrists. (There is only one other program of this sort in North America.) Moreover, in terms of team research projects, the medical anthropologists collaborate extensively not only with colleagues in the Faculty of Medicine but also with anthropologists at the Université de Montréal.

In terms of their theoretical orientation, medical anthropologists resemble the cultural/symbolic anthropologists. However, because they and their graduate students study the application of western medical beliefs and practices in developing countries, among other topics, they share many interests with development anthropology.

More information is available from the Department of Social Studies of Medicine.

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