Anthropology at UT
The Department of Anthropology of the University of Texas at Austin offers a broad program of research, teaching and community engagement that builds upon the historical strengths of archaeology, folklore and public culture studies, linguistic anthropology, biological anthropology and social anthropology in order to understand and address the challenges of a culturally diverse, increasingly globalized and rapidly-changing world.
The world is constantly changing in extraordinary ways, and the aim of the Department of Anthropology is to research and teach toward a better understanding of the world; a world in which the articulation of local cultural forms and identities with global processes is increasingly complicated and consequential; one in which the relationships among all types of social groups, from individuals to governments to multi-national corporations, are evolving and taking new forms; one in which race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexuality, and other aspects of cultural identity are forever shifting in form and significance; one in which the relationship of human beings to both the natural and constructed environment is at an increasingly critical stage.
In approaching the world Anthropology builds on its historical strengths while at the same time it engages in new interdisciplinary initiatives. Each of the five subfields (or ”sub-disciplines”) of Anthropology offer valuable perspectives on the contemporary world by facilitating broad comparisons over time and space, in-depth cultural analysis and imaginative alternative visions. Archaeology and historical anthropology explore the human past, including the pasts of those who left no written record of their own, examining the cultural and ecological encounters that have given rise to the complex cultural mosaics and disparate social arrangements of the present. Like archaeology, biological anthropology is interested in major historical shifts, but the interests of this sub-discipline extend even further back in time, including human origins, biological and cultural evolution, and the genetic and behavioral ways in which humans and other primates transform and adapt to their environments.
Social and cultural anthropology explore contemporary human diversity, particularly through the methodology of participant-observation. The department is particularly strong in research on the fluid ways in which local cultural forms and identities engage with global processes, and in social inequalities arising from differences in race, class, culture, sexuality and broader political-economic forces. Linguistic anthropology concerns the social use of human language and symbolism in all of its communicative practices, including the use of new technologies; while the study of Cultural Forms focuses on representational and expressive forms that include narrative, performance, material culture and contemporary media.
Each of the subfields has an applied dimension. Applied anthropology and activist anthropology, while differing somewhat in their philosophies, both employ anthropological knowledge in attempts to alleviate human problems such as poverty, disease and inequality in ethical and humane ways. The department has distinctive programs in Africa and the African Diaspora and the Mexican-American Borderlands. Other regional specializations include Texas, Mesoamerica, Latin America, the indigenous peoples of the Western hemisphere, U.S. public culture, South and Southeast Asia and the Middle East.
Because the Department of Anthropology focuses on the study of human diversity, its faculty provides a foundation in theory and method as well as a global cultural awareness that contributes in substantive and positive ways to interdisciplinary departments and programs dealing with regional areas and diverse cultures. These include African and African American Studies, American Studies, Asian American Studies, Mexican American Studies, Asian Studies, European Studies, Latin American Studies, Middle Eastern Studies and South Asian Studies. The Department of Anthropology also has close relationships with the schools of Art History, Classics, Ethnomusicology, Geography, Geology, History, Linguistics, Law, Museum Studies, Social Work, Women's and Gender Studies, Science, Technology and Society. Because of their wide-ranging background in cultural and regional studies, it is not an accident that members of the Department of Anthropology have served as leaders of many of these programs.
Anthropology is an essential component of the Liberal Arts and Sciences, but it is unique in the ways it blends perspectives and methodologies from the arts, sciences, humanities and social sciences. The Department offers a wide variety of courses aimed at expanding global and multicultural awareness on the part of our students and community while at the same time providing training in ethical and critical thinking that will enable students to make informed, reliable and principled contributions in an increasingly globalized but fragmented world. While faculty, graduate students and undergraduate students typically specialize in a sub-discipline and a region, the department as a whole attempts to offer the following to our students:
- a broad background in anthropological theory and methodology, i.e., how to study and analyze human societies, past and present, using systematic methods including fieldwork, laboratory research and textual analysis;
- tools for creative thought, cogent argumentation and clear, persuasive writing;
- an understanding of contemporary human experience in a broad evolutionary and historical context;
- preparation for interacting in a world which increasingly requires successful engagement with people from diverse cultural traditions;
- the ability to engage in critical social analysis and identify ways of addressing critical problems in the world today;
- preparation for careers in academia as well as the many governmental and non-governmental organizations in which these skills and knowledge are needed.
The department’s faculty and student body are diverse and engaged in addressing many of the critical problems facing the world today. While many of our graduate students gain employment in academia after obtaining their degrees; others (both graduate and undergraduate) take up employment in governmental and non-governmental institutions that include the legal system, medicine, social service agencies, corporations, museums, cultural heritage organizations, media organizations and social movements. The department has an excellent record of placing students in a wide variety of careers and has specifically designed programs for students interested in careers as practicing or activist anthropologists in cultural resource management, cultural heritage sites and museums, social service agencies and non-governmental organizations.