doctoral programs

Careers: Visual anthropology as a field of study?

An undergraduate in Canada recently wrote me asking whether visual anthropology was a valid field of study for an M.A. or Ph.D. I won't post her original letter here, but here is an excerpt of my response (from which you can deduce her queries):

Dear XXX -Thank you for your e-mail. I apologize that I will not be able to reply at length as I am about to leave for the field. I took the opportunity to look at your website. Your photographs are quite well done, evocative and emotional....What is ethnographic photography? As with regular print ethnography, there is no single type. However, as with written ethnography there is a purpose. Look through the print ethnographies that you have found particularly evocative (one of my favorites is Lila Abu Lughod's Veiled Sentiments) and ask what the author is trying to do in the work. Then ask yourself how you would do this in the medium of your choosing.To answer your other questions in brief: 1 2 Visual anthropology is on the margins of the discipline. Few programs offer degrees in it and there are even fewer jobs. 3 It is my own belief that photography or film work that isn't backed by participant-observation research is weaker than that that is. If your goal is to fly in, take photos, and fly out, then you might want to pursue a degree in journalism. 4 There are dwindling grants for visual social science research. You would most likely apply to standard anthropology grants -- which means that your work should speak to the discipline of anthropology in some way.Explore the reading lists posted on my course website for further direction.Warmly,Karen Nakamura

The question of visual anthropology is one that I struggle with daily. I received my PhD and was hired in my first two positions on my strengths as a regular ethnographer. My first book is remarkably non-visual for a book on deafness and sign language. Retrospectively, I think I was trying to pass or to "cover" (to use
Kenji Yoshino's term) as a cultural anthropologist.

Now that I'm engaged in visual anthropology head-on (with both still and motion photography), I keep permuting my concept of what visual anthropology means for me. Right now, this is an issue that I can't answer in just a few words (supposedly I'm presenting a paper on this topic this summer, so I need to at least figure out how to say it in 15 minutes).

Anyone have anything to add?

By museumfreaktypepad_logo on May 29, 2006 10:16 AM
I'm assuming you let her know about SVA & GAVA and in particular their conferences, yes?
I would seriously refer her to the University of South Carolina if she has overlap with faculty interests (Latin America, linguistic anth, visual anth, archaeo, public anth, cultural theory, and globalization are real strengths, but there are other areas they could support too; I would not recommend going for physical anth). I'm biased, but that's like the best department ever because they give a lot of attention, there's good community and it's really drama-free. It may not be prestigious, but it has a new viz anth certificate and good film program besides the great MA program and new PhD program (which is all word of mouth right now). If I don't get in anywhere else next year, I'm going home. If you're motivated, they'll mentor you a great deal and you'll be able to do quite well for yourself as far as publications and presentations, and IMO that matters more than the name of the university.
My favorite photoethnography book is Corinne Kratz's The Ones Who Are Wanted, although I can't in good conscience recommend coming here.

Careers: How to get into grad schools

April is the time for rain, taxes, and decline letters from grad schools. How can you improve your odds of getting into the program you want to next year?

When grad schools evaluate candidates for their masters and doctoral programs, they generally focus on things such as:
  1. Fit. Are there several faculty members or topical/regional concentrations that make you appealing to the department, and vice versa?
  2. Preparedness. Do you have field experience and know the local language, and have you taken some anthropology classes before? Why are you interested in this site and topic, and will your project have legs?
  3. Intellectual ability. This is generally gauged through the transcripts, letters, and statement of purpose.
How can you improve your strengths in each of these areas?
  1. Fit. Go through the department websites, see how the department describes itself and its topical / regional strengths. Make sure there are several faculty at differing ranks that might be interested in your work, and contact them.
  2. Preparedness. Summer field schools, MA programs, language study.
  3. Intellectual ability. Work on the statement as much as possible. Make sure your letters of recommendation are written by faculty who know you well, think positively of you, and have plenty of time to craft a good letter.

Comments and thoughts more than welcome!

Careers: Programs in Visual Anthropology

Prospective graduate students have been writing me for advice about doctoral and masters programs in visual anthropology. Since my previous entry on this topic is outdated, I've decided to update it to the best of my current knowledge.

M.A. Programs

Ph.D. Granting Institutions with Visual Anthropology Programs/Faculty
* Italics = denotes junior faculty member who may or may not be taking on graduate students.

Note that the wikipedia entry on
Visual Anthropology also has a very useful list of visual anthropology programs.
I'll keep updating this list, if you have any suggestions, additions, corrections, feel free to e-mail me or drop a comment below.
Last updated: 2009/10/23

Careers: Programs in Japan anthropology

A prospective doctoral student interested in the anthropology of Japan recently inquired about what schools I'd recommend. I started this way back in 2006 and last updated it in 2007, 2012, 2015:

Ph.D. Granting Institutions with Japan Faculty)
  • Canada: University of British Columbia - Prof. Millie Creighton
  • USA-CA: Stanford University - Prof. Miyako Inoue
  • USA-CA: UC Berkeley - Prof. Karen Nakamura
  • USA-CA: UCSD - Prof. Joseph Hankins
  • USA-CT: Yale University - Prof. William Kelly
  • USA-HI: University of Hawai'i (Manoa) - Prof. Christine Yano
  • USA-IA: University of Iowa - Prof. Scott Schnell
  • USA-IL: University of Chicago - Prof. Michael Fisch
  • USA-MA: Boston University - Prof. Merry White
  • USA-MA: Harvard University - Prof. Theodore Bestor
  • USA-MO: University of Missouri at St Louis - Prof. Laura Miller
  • USA-NC: Duke University - Prof. Anne Allison
  • USA-NY: Columbia University - Prof. Marilyn Ivy
  • USA-MI: University of Michigan (Ann Arbor) - Prof. Jennifer Robertson
  • USA-PA: University of Pittsburgh - Prof. Gabi Lukakcs

Note that you should not feel compelled to only apply to schools that have a scholar with the same regional specialty. Graduate students can and do work with faculty who aren't specialists in their regional area, but instead have stronger ties along theoretical or methodological concerns.

M.A. Programs

I'll keep updating this list, if you have any suggestions, additions, corrections, feel free to e-mail me or drop a comment below.

Also, Duke University library has a list of great resources for Japan anthropology:

Careers: "Areas of interest" bloat

In the last few months, I've now gotten letters from prospective graduate students with CVs  that suffer from what I would call "Areas of Interest" bloat.   One had twenty-five (25!) areas of interest and the other was also well over a dozen.

This is just too much. Yes, you are young and the whole world looks like a giant oyster -- but too many raw oyster can give you really bad indigestion.

As a general rule, try to keep your areas of interest to less than six or so.   Since I (rarely) try to practice what I preach, here are my "Areas of Interest:"

  • Region 1 (general world region): East Asia
  • Sub-region (country or local area): Japan
  • Topic 1: Disability Studies
  • Topic 2: Politics of Identity and social movements
  • Sub-discipline: Sociocultural and Visual Anthropology

OK, I cheated on the last two bullet points...... anyway, you get my point.

Try to go through your areas of interest with a very fine tooth comb and make sure it's as concise and focused as possible.  Use it as a way to find out which departments might be interested in what you study and vice versa.

I also tell my graduate students to perfect their
elevator speech, but that's a topic for an entirely new blog entry.

Careers: Doctoral programs in Deaf Studies and Disability Studies within Anthropology

This page supersedes my previous blog entry from 2006 on the topic and was last updated 2011.12.04; 2015.07.19; 2015.11.17; 2018.03.09.


I've received quite a few e-mails over the years from people interested in graduate programs in Deaf Studies or Disability Studies within Anthropology. I've come up with the following list to help people narrow down their choice of schools. It's still very tentative and I would greatly appreciate feedback from people who know of other programs.

Note that for the most part I have only listed places where there are faculty active in Deaf Studies or Disability Studies. However, most of us are first generation scholars -- we received our PhDs at programs where there was nobody who focused in Deaf culture or disability. I do not think we are yet at the second generation of scholarship yet -- where people will be studying more or less in specialized programs. Thus, you should not narrow your focus to only the programs listed, but also look for programs that are strong either in your areal specialty (geographic region) or topical specialty (such as language ideology; biomedicine and social institutions; etc.). You can always ask one of the people listed below to serve as an external committee member or dissertation reader.

Deaf Studies within Anthropology

There are schools with strong deaf studies programs (Gallaudet, RIT/NTID, Cal State Northridge) as well as more traditional anthropology programs. The advantage of mainstream programs is that they are usually better funded -- tuition waivers and stipends are available, for example. This list focuses more on the mainstream programs and is derived from one originally created by Leila Monaghan.

The majority of people in Deaf Studies approach it through Linguistic Anthropology. The Society for Linguistic Anthropology (SLA) has been extremely supportive and the annual meetings of the American Anthropology Association usually host at least two sessions on Deaf culture or sign languages.

At this stage, because of the paucity of scholars interested in deaf studies at doctoral programs, I would encourage students to think broadly and not limit themselves only to the programs listed here. Any good doctoral program in sociocultural anthropology should be willing to support studies in a deaf community formation, and any good linguistic anthropology program should be able to accommodate sign linguistics. Look for overall excellence rather than specific topical specialization.

  • Gallaudet University (Linguistics): Ceil Lucas, Deborah Chen Pichler, Paul Dudis, Robert Johnson, Susan Mather, and Kristin Mulrooney. See web site for more information.
  • Stonybrook University (Health and Rehabilitation Sciences): Pamela Brook (see department website) - faculty has growing strength in Disability Studies
  • University of Arizona : Has tradition of supporting Deaf studies in their anthropology program.
  • University of Chicago : Has just hired Michele Friedner (Deaf Studies in India / South Asia)
  • UC Berkeley Karen Nakamura (previous work in Japanese deaf communities, Web page) and Lawrence Cohen (strong history of supporting Deaf doctoral students)
  • UCLA Has strong tradition of supporting Deaf studies in their linguistic anthropology program.
  • University of California, San Diego: Dr. Carol Padden (ASL, American Deaf community Web page).
  • University of Texas, Austin Elizabeth Keating (ASL, American Deaf community, Micronesia. Web page).

Masters Programs in Deaf Studies / Anthropology

Barbara LeMaster reminds me that one other strong option is to pursue a terminal M.A. in deaf studies and then to transfer to a doctoral program in anthropology. She notes that at CalState-Long Beach, "students can go for an MA on the way to the PhD or for a terminal degree. We offer applied anthropology and applied linguistics, and students can work on sign language and broader Deaf issues. We often get students who are either not ready to pursue a PhD and want to see how they do in graduate school, or students who choose a terminal MA degree, or students who get the MA on the way to a PhD. I know there can be problems with that - some PhD granting institutions will not accept MA degrees from other universities - but this is an option for some who want to pursue Deaf studies or disability studies within anthropology. (We have students doing both in our department right now.)"

Gallaudet University Masters program in ASL and Deaf Studies. See web site for more information.
California State University Long Beach Barbara LeMaster (hearing) Irish Deaf communities, gender, Irish Sign Language. Web page

Disability Studies within Anthropology

The majority of people studying disability and culture are medical anthropologists. Thanks to "M.F." for pointing me to the key scholars. See also this interesting issue of Disability Studies Quarterly on disability and anthropology. As with the list above, few of the scholars below have a visible or claimed disability (although some have children with disabilities).

Harvard University Arthur Kleinmann Chronic illness, social suffering, depression, disabilities. China (PRC and Taiwan). Web page .
New York University Rayna Rapp Genetics, gender, and disability. Web page.
Faye Ginsberg Reproduction, abortion, social movements. Web page.
Stanford Matthew Kohrman Disability, social institutions, China. Web page.
Tanya Luhrmann Psychiatry. Experiences of mental illness. Web page.
Stonybrook Pamela Brook Disability Studies. Department web page.
Temple University Temple offers some undergraduate and graduate courses in Disability Studies. See program details here:
University of California - Berkeley Karen Nakamura Physical and psychosocial disabilities, deafness, social movements, technology, Japan. Web page.
Lawrence Cohen Aging, senility, medicine, India. Web page.
Paul Rabinow Biopolitics. Web page.
Nancy Scheper-Hughes Medicine, psychiatry, and the body. Web page.
University of Chicago Michele Friedner Deaf/Disability Studies
University of Illinois at Chicago UIC offers both an MA and PhD in Disability Studies itself. Check the faculty list and see PhD/MA program details here:
Note: As far as I can tell, they are pretty rehabilitation focused and don't have anyone working in Deaf Studies or anthropology.

Conclusions: Applying to Programs

Again, I would suggest that you don't limit yourself only to the programs listed but only use it as a starting point for your investigations. I would also encourage you to contact scholars at schools you are looking at. It is always helpful to both have an advocate on the admissions committee as well someone to help you decide if their school is the right place to be.

More than finding a faculty member who does work exactly like your own, you should think about finding faculty members who are interested in the same type of theoretical questions but will bring different perspectives to bear on your issue. Try to understand what would be interesting about your project to specialists outside your particular subfield. For example, if you wish to study deaf communities in the United States -- what would attract the attention of a senior faculty member who specializes linguistic anthropology in South Asia? Is there something about language ideologies or diglossia that might cause them to notice your proposal? Or if you want to study deaf schools in Beijing, what would a China sociologist find attractive? Could you link it to issues of other minority pedagogies?

One caution: junior faculty (i.e., untenured assistant professors and term associates) have a tendency to move and they are not always able to bring their graduate students with them. For that reason, it's best to choose on the basis of the entire receptivity of the program to your field of study.

Note: I have a similar list for doctoral programs in Japan Anthropology.

[Read other articles on Careers in Anthropology on]

Previous comments

By nasukaren on August 27, 2006 3:46 PM What is striking to me when I created this list is that there are no scholars who are Deaf or disabled at anthropology programs in the various doctoral degree granting institutions, with the exception of Gallaudet University.
All of the Deaf / disabled scholars that I know are at colleges that only grant B.A. degrees or are "independent scholars." I'm not sure what this says about the discipline of anthropology, but it isn't good.
DPI's slogan is: Nothing about us without us. Sigh.
By museumfreak on August 28, 2006 9:35 PM what's also striking about the list is that the majority of those people (with the exception of Leila and you, and maybe Elizabeth Keating though I'm not sure about her) AFAIK are not involved in the academic disability studies community or the disability anthropology caucus of the AAAs, which says something important about how they see themselves as scholars.
alas, none of those programs are places i could get in for anthro . . .
although i am now a bit tempted to apply to Yale SPH--i had heard Nora Groce was leaving so hadn't thought of it, but I'm guessing now she's not? Do you know anything about Yale's program in chronic disease epidemiology's emphasis in social and behavioral sciences?
By nasukaren on August 28, 2006 11:28 PM
Well, you have to unpack things a little bit - and also be kind to all involved. Many people in Deaf Studies see what they do as distinct from Disability Studies. This is because of the greater emphasis on linguistic community and quasi-ethnic minority identity within the Deaf community itself. When I was more involved in Deaf Studies in the mid-90s, I didn't see myself as part of disability studies per se and didn't find the Disability Research Group particularly interested in Deaf issues at the time.
(And I should remind you that many people in disability studies continue to be remarkably Deaf unaware -- the lack of foresight in provisioning terps at the last meeting as a case in point).
The issues around the disability caucus seem similar to the tensions within SOLGA -- i.e., whether it's an organization of lesbian and gay anthropologists (who may be doing work on non-queer topics and setting aside T/B/L/Q for the moment) or an organization that supports lesbian and gay anthropology. If it is the former, then one has to ask what role non-disabled people should have in the group. SOLGA has very few straights, which is why I guess Gil Herdt has now set up a competing group.
And parenthetically I think unfortunately one of the ways you become a tenured professor at a major research university is by focusing on your own work and not getting involved. That's not the type of scholar I want to be, so be sure to kick me if you see me leaning that way. But I won't throw stones at others because I'm definitely in a glass house myself.
I don't know about Nora Groce's plans nor much about the EPH program at the school for public health, so I won't comment on that.

By amy moore on October 19, 2006 5:46 PM I was happy to be referred to this blog (right word?) referring to Anthropology of Deaf studies. I too find it interesting that the majority of our PhD students (Deaf) are only focusing on the linguistic aspect of things. Also I am finding a challenge when I deal with my professors (hearing)to explain that it's not to say I am focusing on the disability of the Deaf but the actual social structures of the Deaf community. Any one who is still in their undergraduate level studies planning graduate level training is welcome to contact me. Or if you have other suggestions...please do.

By nasukaren on October 19, 2006 8:19 PM
Thank you Amy! Good luck in your studies as well.
By nasukaren on September 15, 2007 6:11 AM
SDS has a list of disability studies program that seems to be intermittently updated:
By Heidi Rose on December 13, 2010 10:11 PM
I just found this blog while searching for some other information. I've been away from ASL and Deaf culture/identity research for a while but am getting back into it. My area of research was in sign language poetics--do you know if any linguistic anthropology scholarship looks at ASL or other sign language poetics?