Anthropology is the study of what it means to be human. Anthropologists study humans across time by looking at the origins of our species, how it has changed over millennia to adapt to different environments, and what makes us unique as a species. We study the origins of language, technology, social institutions, world views, and other aspects of what we call “culture” and how they have changed over time. And we study what it means to be human across space, that is, how do humans in different parts of the world organize themselves in order to form families, produce food and other goods, create laws and political systems, produce art, music, philosophy, and conceptualize the relationship between the “natural” and the “supernatural” worlds.

On one hand, then, we are interested in what unites us as a species: what are the universal concerns, social problems, skills, and potentials for creativity that all human societies possess? At the same time, we are interested in the diversity of what it means to be human: how have humans used their creativities in different ways to solve the problems of survival, cooperation, and conflict, and the creation of meaning? Anthropology then is an important field of study for those who want to have a deeper understanding of the diversity of cultures and societies that have existed over time and space, as well as develop tools for critically examining the role that culture plays in many of the social issues facing humanity today.

What Can You Do with Anthropology? 

Taking anthropology courses will prepare you for work in a variety of professional non-academic settings and businesses and for graduate work in a variety of the social sciences such as anthropology, sociology, history  as well as in a number of interdisciplinary fields such as global health, urban planning, development studies, social medicine, public health, social work, education, cultural studies, women’s studies, ethnic studies, American studies, Latin American studies, Asian studies, etc. It is also a good grounding for work in human rights and other social justice organizing, as well as for careers that require working internationally and/or with a diverse population. And finally, an understanding of cultural diversity and a sensitivity to a variety of social settings can contribute to a more rounded approach to all kinds of fields such as medicine and global health, law, education, economic development, business, and many others. Many students who have focused on anthropology courses at SUA have gone on to professional work in these applied fields.

Course Offerings

Anthropology courses at SUA are divided into those that introduce students to a particular topic in anthropology (such as race, gender, poverty) and draw on examples from many parts of the world; and those that focus on a particular “culture area” such as Oceania, Central America, and North America that introduce students to the particularities of those areas in terms of social organization, cultural ideologies, social problems, as well as how they have been impacted by and integrated into global processes. Our hope is to give students a sense of the diversity of human societies, as well as the tools to be able to analyze them through an “anthropological lens.”

This course is an introduction to the sub-discipline of socio-cultural anthropology, which is the study of contemporary human cultures and societies. The course introduces the basic terminology and theoretical perspectives anthropologists use to understand the ways that humans organize themselves and the cultural logic through which they think about the world and their social relations. Course material covers a wide variety of cultural contexts, both familiar and unfamiliar, to help students understand the cultural logic of the beliefs and social practices of others and critically examine the cultural logics and assumptions of their own culture. 

This course introduces students to biological anthropology and anthropological archaeology — those portions of the discipline concerned with human prehistory and continuing human development. The course examines reconstructions of the human record based on fossil and artifact-based evidence of human biological and cultural change overtime. It considers various theories of human biological evolution and the emergence of culture — humanity’s unique ecological niche. The course examines the origins and development of world civilizations, and takes a critical look at theories that try to explain the development of social complexity. 

This course is about the way that Latin American immigration to the US, and often their return back to Latin America, affects the communities, families, racial identities, and even sex lives of both immigrants and the people they leave behind. The course will draw on readings primarily from anthropologists and sociologists who see immigration, not as a linear process of arrival and eventual integration, but as a transnational process of the movement of people, money, culture, and politics back and forth across borders in complex ways that affect both the US and Latin America. Thus, while the course will cover the overall historical trends of Latino immigration to the US, changing demographics, the effects of US immigration laws on immigrants and their families, and the overall economic and political trends in Latin America that explain why people migrate, the real focus of the course is on the effects of these overall trends on communities and families in both the US and Latin America as illustrated through ethnographically rich case studies based on participant observation with migrants, return migrants, and members of the sending communities. 

Cultural anthropology is the comparative study of society, culture, and human diversity. The discipline focuses on the various ways in which social relations, history, politics, and cultural products, like the media, shape peoples’ everyday lives. This course examines ethnographic studies that document the strategies people use to cope with the demands posed by modern urban environments. It also examines some common social problems encountered in urban contexts, such as those involving the historical origins of urban settings, social class and inequality, urban youth subcultures, migration and economic globalization, and public health. 

This course introduces students to the basic histories, social structures, cultures, and current issues facing indigenous peoples in Central and South America. It explores how indigenous communities and identities have been formed, from the conquest and through today, examining a range of processes and events, such as colonialism, integration into the global economy, racism and racial hierarchies, civil wars, indigenous social movements, and migration and exile. It also examines the responses of indigenous peoples to these processes and events, looking specifically at topics such as retreat, revolution, and political activism. The goal of the course is to understand indigenous peoples as products of complex processes through which communities, identities, and inequalities are produced, not as social isolates.

 Central America is often known as a region of rich cultural heritage but also carries a legacy of vast inequalities and forms of violent repression and rebellion. The purpose of this course is to understand the cultural, political, and economic factors that have led to this particular situation. We begin by looking at the process of conquest and colonization in shaping new societies and social structures, then explore the socioeconomic processes that set the stage for many of the conflicts and problems that Central America faces today, and finally, we explore the current situation in Central America as it relates to changing ideas about gender and the role of women, racism and race mixing, immigration and exile, and forms of violence caused by more than 30 years of civil war and economic upheaval. 

This course engages students in an examination of how indigenous peoples of Oceania have been deeply engaged in global, cultural, political, and economic processes since the time of their earliest encounters with representatives of the West. This class incorporates classic and contemporary studies from anthropology and Pacific history, together with the voices and views of islander writers and artists. Social science perspectives are helpful for understanding natural and cultural environments, cultural history and change, language issues, and current socioeconomic and educational issues the Islands face today. Writers and artists can show how islanders are actively shaping their views of themselves and the larger political-economic processes in which they participate. By combining these two points of view, the class will examine the tensions between cultural traditions and globalization and how we, as outsiders and as islanders, come to know and empathize with the peoples of Oceania.

This course uses ethnographic case studies to understand how sex, gender, and sexuality are socially constructed in different societies around the world and how these social constructions generate different identities, social categories, and relations of power. The course uses analytical tools of anthropology to understand the cultural logic behind practices and beliefs that are informed by culturally specific sex/gender/sexuality systems; how those cultural logics and practices are related to relations of power between individuals; how they become embedded in institutions of the state that affect the way rights are distributed and often violated; and what happens when they come into contact through various types of transnational movements of people and ideas. The course will also expose students to debates about how we use these understandings of the cultural logics of gendered practices and ideologies in order to address specific examples of gender/sexuality discrimination, gender violence, and international human rights discourse and policies. 

 In this course we examine “education” by looking beyond the typical setting of the school. Instead, we will consider education in the context of learning and culture. As scholars in history and anthropology have shown during recent decades, learning can be found in classrooms, families, churches, and public places. Learning can be thought of broadly as the process by which people acquire knowledge, attitudes, values, and skills. We will study the past as a deeply constitutive force in the present. Historians call this approach cultural history; anthropologists call it historical ethnography. Specific topics will include prominent and influential theories of pedagogy and learning, as well as the historical and cultural dynamics of race and ethnicity in learning. Throughout the course, we will keep the long history of education reform in mind—including contemporary initiatives. The course is modeled as an intensive reading and writing seminar in which students will be expected to complete an original research paper testing or applying principles discussed in class.

Same as HIST 384

The Americas were populated for millennia before European colonization transformed the hemisphere and the lives of its first inhabitants. Descendants of these first inhabitants live in many parts of North America—including Orange County, California. This seminar explores the histories and cultures of select Native American peoples from Canada, Mexico, and the United States during selected eras, from before colonization and into the contemporary period. Through reading current and classic scholarship on Native Americans, along with writing a research essay on a topic of the students’ choosing, students will acquire an understanding of the historical and cultural processes that have defined Native American lives.

This course engages students in a critical examination of contemporary urban experiences with a focus on peoples living in the margins of large, dense urban communities, both inside and outside of North America. The course will address questions surrounding how the articulation of global and local markets affects the expression of traditional and modern identities, how underground or informal economies shape the creation of urban street life, and how children and adults actively pursue meaningful family life in contexts of extreme poverty. Readings will focus on cities in the Pacific basin.

The goal of this class is to understand the particular forms of violence that exist in Latin America, the causes of these forms of violence, and how they are connected to particular local and national histories, cultural ideologies, and social structures. It is also the goal of this class to understand the meaning of violence: that is, how do people in Latin America make sense of the violence around them? How do they justify and/or condemn it? How is violence sometimes used as a way to make meaning, to protest inequality and impunity, and to assert subjectivity? The course will be based primarily on ethnographic case studies of different forms of violence (structural, institutional, state-sponsored, intra-familial, vigilante, armed resistance, etc.) that look at its socio-economic-political context but also its cultural meaning to the perpetrators, victims, and bystanders. The rationale of the course is that it is by understanding the meaning of violence, the context within which it is carried out, and its cultural logic, that we are best equipped to begin to address it.

This course examines anthropological and sociological perspectives on race and ethnicity. Drawing on studies from many different parts of the world, the course explores the nature of ethnic identity, the cultural construction and social meaning of race, the dynamics of race relations and ethnic stratification, and current theories of ethnic conflict and minority rights. The aim of this course is to develop the theoretical tools for comparing the politics of identity and cultural and racial difference cross-culturally and to be able to think critically about our own common-sense understandings of race and ethnic relations.