Socio-Cultural & Linguistic Anthropology

Sharing a recognition of the centrality of language in the constitution of social realities, the work of our sociocultural and linguistic faculty intersects in three broadly defined, overlapping areas of inquiry.

Global Circulations and Identities: As ideas and images, migrants and technologies circulate globally, local identities and practices are increasingly shaped through cosmopolitan and vernacular forces. We explore the processes by which new forms of subjectivity and community are created in relation to local, national, and transnational structures of power and inequality.

Knowledge, History, and Critique: Expert knowledge and meanings of the past are increasingly important in contemporary political struggles. We trace trajectories of power and how they shift over time and space as knowledge is created and circulated, rendering particular futures imaginable while foreclosing others.

Governance, Rights, and Justice: Rights have become a dominant language for making claims or challenging injustices in the contemporary world. We study the forms of constraint, subjection, and coercion that appear alongside — or within — projects dedicated to freedom and progress. We also study the limits and failures of these forms of constraint and the new political possibilities that people construct under the political and economic conditions of the present.


The Department of Anthropology’s archaeology program focuses primarily on the precontact and historic periods of the Great Lakes region and riverine Midcontinent.  Ongoing and recent field projects have taken place in central Illinois, Wisconsin, and Michigan, and in Belize.  Program faculty and affiliates continue research worldwide, including southern Africa, western Mexico, California, and England.

The wide-ranging interests of faculty and students are united by a common interest in cultural adaptations to different environmental and social contexts, and changes in the relationships between humans and their natural and cultural environments over time. Graduates of the doctoral program in archaeology teach in colleges and universities in the US and abroad, and work in a variety of settings outside academia, including museums, state and federal government agencies, non-profit organizations, and in cultural resource management.

The Consortium for Archaeological Research (CAR) was founded in 1995 to integrate the use of different disciplines in furthering an understanding of the past. Archaeology faculty from Anthropology join with faculty from Art & Art History, History, Geography, Environment, and Spatial Sciences, and the MSU Museum to facilitate research and dissemination of knowledge about past human societies through the use of written documents and the material remains of past human behavior. The Department of Anthropology hosts the Campus Archaeology Program, which works to mitigate, protect, and communicate the rich archaeological and cultural heritage resources on Michigan State University’s beautiful and historic campus.


The program in physical anthropology focuses on the complex interactions of human biology and culture, particularly the effects of human actions on skeletal anatomy both during life and after death. Graduates in physical anthropology have built careers in academia, in public and private sector organizations concerning health-related public policy, and also law enforcement at the local, state, and federal levels. The graduate program in physical anthropology is particularly strong in skeletal biology, osteology, and forensic anthropology. Physical anthropology faculty and graduate students also work closely with faculty in the MSU medical colleges and in the School of Criminal Justice.

Faculty and students in physical anthropology are actively engaged in research and teaching concerning a variety of issues in human biology, including:

  • The Physiology of Human Bone
  • Dietary Change in Prehistoric and Historic Populations
  • The Effects of Disease, Nutrition, and Trauma
  • Human Biology and Racial/Ethnic Classification Systems
  • Crime Scene Investigation, Including Recovery and Treatment of Human Remains
  • Individual Identification
  • Facial Reconstruction
  • Postmortem Changes

Students and faculty conduct research in the forensic anthropology laboratory in Fee Hall, which also houses the two MSU medical colleges. Graduate students also have access to the autopsy facilities at Sparrow Hospital in Lansing for study, training, and research.

Faculty and students also collaborate with forensic scientists from other units on campus, including the School of Criminal Justice, the College of Natural Science, and the Department of Entomology.


The Medical Anthropology Program introduces students to major theoretical approaches to health, medicine and society. The program is research oriented and emphasizes political economy, post-structuralism, interpretive theory and critical analysis of health care and health policy.

Medical Anthropology at Michigan State University focuses on:

  • Health and Political Economy
  • Health Policy
  • Medical Systems
  • Ethnicity, Class, Gender, and Health Inequality
  • Medicine, Science and Technology
  • Religion, Ritual and Healing
  • Alternative Medicine and Ethnomedicine
  • Culture of Biomedicine
  • Bioethics
  • Psychological Anthropology
  • Anthropology of the Body
  • Environment and Health
  • Health and Subjectivites
  • Geographic Areas: Africa, Asia, Caribbean, Latin America, United States

Training in the program includes graduate seminars in medical anthropology and course work tailored to meet students’ interests. Additional course work includes the department’s requirements in sociocultural or biocultural anthropology.

Graduates hold faculty positions in the U.S. and abroad, while others work in nonacademic settings. The latter include positions evaluating government programs, administering medical services, overseeing the review of medical research proposals, and carrying out research on health. The Medical Anthropology Faculty have specific collaborations with a variety of centers and institutes across MSU including: African Studies CenterAsian Studies CenterCenter for Advanced Study of International DevelopmentCenter for Ethics and Humanities in the Life SciencesCenter for Latin American & Caribbean Studies Julian Samora Research InstituteWomen & International Development Program.