Full Vision Statement

Guama fruit
Guama fruits, Vaupes, Colombia
(Photo/Paul N. Patmore)

Anthropology is the study of people, both ancient and modern, in their cultural, biological, and environmental contexts. The discipline incorporates a wide range of theoretical and methodological traditions, drawing on and contributing to approaches in the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences.

Increasing specialization within such a diverse discipline has led to intellectual tensions that some scholars believe threaten to fragment the field along the science-humanities divide. We strongly reject this position. Instead, we assert that the diversity of anthropology is the source of both itsuniqueness and its greatest strength as a discipline. As the only field to address all aspects of the human experience - cultural, biological and historical -anthropology provides both a broad vision of what it is to be human as well as creative synergies unavailable to other disciplines within the human sciences and humanities.

Hale Science Building
Hale Science Building

The Department of Anthropology of the University of Colorado at Boulder is committed to building a top-ranked program based on an integrated vision of anthropology. At present, we are a mid-sized department with scholars in three of the four subdisciplines traditionally defined within the field: cultural anthropology, archaeology, and biological anthropology (the fourth subdiscipline, anthropological linguistics, is housed in the Linguistics Department).

We view the subdisciplines as an important foundation of our program because of their well-defined fields of study. Yet we also believe that recent trends in Anthropological thought offer creative new directions that cut across and bridge the subdisciplines. We see our long-term vision as a department coalescing around one of these synergistic themes: local/global dynamics.

By local/global dynamics, we mean the relationship between the small-scale of the lived lives of our subjects of study as cultural and biological beings, and the large-scale patterns of society and history.  While addressed from different theoretical orientations and methodologies, all anthropologists struggle with the problem of understanding the relationship of the local to the global. For example, research on human and non-human primate evolution within biological anthropology examines how natural selection acting on the reproductive success of individual organisms explains the long-term patterns of evolutionary history.

Ethnographic research in cultural anthropology addresses issues of cultural meaning, patterns of social and economic relations, or national and global policy by studying the ongoing lives of people within communities. Likewise, archaeology involves the uncovering of small windows into the lives of past peoples - a trash midden, an ancient residence, the debris produced by stone tool making - through which the organization and history of past societies is reconstructed and explained.

Theoretical approaches in all of the subdisciplines increasingly focus on the problem of local/global dynamics or, in other terms, the relationship between the microscale and macroscale of human existence. For example, theoretical perspectives as seemingly diverse as evolutionary biology, behavioral ecology, practice theory, globalization theory, and agent-based modeling all share a concern with the relationship between the “local” scale of individuals/agents/actors/practice/behavior and the “global” scale of populations/society/system/history.  We note with interest that several of these theoretical approaches have increasingly provided bridges between the subdisciplines. For example, ecological research has been represented within all three subdisciplines for many years, while practice theory is becoming an important framework in archaeology as well as cultural anthropology.

Deward Walker's shadow on Snake River Petroglyphs
Deward Walker's shadow on Snake River Petroglyphs

Our vision for the Department of Anthropology is to develop links between the subdisciplines, as well as with other fields, which focus on problems of local/global dynamics. These intellectual bridges will create powerful new collaborations within the department and with other programs that will advance our research and teaching missions as well as create a more integrated departmental vision. These synergies are not meant to supplant the importance of the subdisciplines in research and graduate training, nor are they meant to dissolve our interdisciplinary differences. Rather than viewing our diversity of intellectual traditions, research foci, and methodologies as a weakness, we see the intellectual tensions that result as beneficial for stimulating new ideas and approaches towards anthropological research.

An integrated vision of anthropology is also crucial for graduate training since as professionals most of our students will be expected to be conversant in general anthropology, whether as teachers at the undergraduate level or as representatives of the discipline in academic and public forums. We see a number of initiatives that will create bridges across the subdisciplines focused around the problems of local/global dynamics. These initiatives include: bridging themes, bridging seminars, bridging symposia, faculty recruitment, and graduate program funding.

Bridging Themes

We have identified four perspectives that address local/global dynamics in ways that cut across the subdisciplines and which can provide themes for collaborations in research and teaching: ecology and evolution, power and practice, globalization, and landscape and space. 

Lemur catta black troup closeup
Lemur catta black troup closeup
(Photo/ Michelle Sauther)

The ecology and evolution of humans and non-human primates examines the complex interactions between organisms and their biophysical environments through time and space. 

Ecological perspectives are found in all three subdisciplines and examine the strategies through which humans and primates interact with the environment culturally, behaviorally, and physiologically. Local ecological studies have broader implications for understanding variation in adaptive strategies within species and in the adaptive consequences of different cultural practices and institutional settings in both the past and present.

Ecological research also provides input into models that address the evolutionary history of human and non-human primates. Research on evolutionary history examines how changing selective conditions in past environments accounts for the long-term patterns of biological evolution as shown in the fossil record. Since natural selection acts on individual organisms, evolutionary explanations must move from considering how selective pressures act on individuals to the evolutionary consequences for populations and species. Faculty whose research involves ecology and evolution include Professors Covert, Dufour, Sauther, and Sponheimer in biological; Bamforth, Cameron, Cordell, Dixon, Joyce, Lekson, and Sheets in archaeology; and McCabe and McGoodwin in cultural.

Anthropological research on ecology and evolution also involves potential collaborations with the departments of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences; Ecology and Evolutionary Biology; Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology; Chemistry and Biochemistry; Environmental Studies; Geological Sciences; Museum and Field Studies; and Neurosciences and Behavioral Studies as well as the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research, Institute for Behavioral Genetics, Institute for Behavioral Sciences, and the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences.

River Travel, Colombia
River Travel, Colombia
(Photo/ Paul N. Patmore)

Power and practice refers to research influenced by theories that address the recursivity of social life. By recursivity we mean the dynamic interrelationship of human subjects and their social worlds.

Practice theories view society and culture as both the medium and the outcome of social practice. Through their lives people are socially constituted as they internalize cultural rules and meanings in their dispositions.  These dispositions are externalized in practice which in turn reproduces and produces society and culture.

Practice theories therefore move from the microscale of the lived lives of people and their daily practices to the macroscale of society and history. A focus on practice recognizes the multiple overlapping identities that distinguish people, including those involving gender, class, ethnicity, sexuality, occupation, kinship, and community. Identity is both an aspect of structure and practice, and differentially positions actors in relation to bodies of knowledge and relations of power. In understanding social production, power, in particular, is a crucial concept.

Power is viewed not just in traditional ways as systems of domination, but as the ways in which bodies of knowledge construct subjectivities. Power as such is therefore implicated in all aspects of social life ranging from the level of discourse and social institutions to the dispositions and everyday practices of social actors. Faculty whose research involves power and practice include Professors Joyce, Lekson, and Sheets in archaeology and Professors Goldstein, McGilvray, and McGranahan in cultural.

Anthropological research on power and practice also involves potential collaborations with the departments of Asian Studies; Comparative Literature and Humanities; Economics; Ethnic Studies; Geography; History; International Affairs; Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Studies; Linguistics; Museum and Field Studies; Peace and Conflict Studies; Political Science; Religious Studies; Sociology; and Women’s Studies.

McDonald’s promoting Thai food in Indonesian shopping mall (Photo/Carla Jones)
McDonald’s promoting Thai food in
Indonesian shopping mall
(Photo/Carla Jones)

Globalization, or rather, the study of globalization processes, is a specific theme within cultural anthropology, and a bridging theme shared by all three sub-disciplinary fields represented in our department. Globalization includes theoretical, methodological, and applied/policy issues, and all present cultural anthropologists, archeologists, and biological anthropologists deal with it in either the research or teaching aspects of their work.

Cultural anthropologists are currently studying the transnational movement of peoples and products, the ecological impacts of the global economy, and the accelerating flow of ideas and ideologies, including “modernity” around the globe. Examples of contemporary globalization issues would include world markets and development, human impacts of global environmental change, diasporic and refugee populations, world-wide flows of popular media and expressive genres, transnational pharmaceutical products, transnational religious movements, and new patterns of nationalism and identity, just to name a few.

Archaeologists share interests with the focus on globalization in studying migrations, core-periphery interactions, ancient imperialism, trade, interpolity competition and conflict, and the diffusion of political and religious ideas. Biological anthropologists are exploring the effects of globalization with regards to changing health and nutritional patterns, how human-induced habitat change affects both human and primate health, disease patterns and general ecology, as well as the interplay of tourism dollars, primate conservation and its subsequent effects on local economies.

 Anthropological research on globalization also involves potential collaborations with the departments of Asian Studies; Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences; Ecology and Evolutionary Biology; Environmental Studies; Economics; Ethnic Studies; Communication; Geography; History; International Affairs; Museum and Field Studies; Peace and Conflict Studies; Political Science; Religious Studies; Sociology; Telecommunications; and Women’s Studies.

Surveying gardens, Colombia
Surveying Gardens, Colombia (Photo/Paul N. Patmore)

Approaches to landscape and space have become increasingly important across the subdisciplines. Anthropologists examine both the material and symbolic dimensions of “natural” and “constructed” landscapes.

People and non-human primates interact with landscape by the ways in which they move through space, define and exploit material and symbolic resources, and alter the material and symbolic dimensions of the landscape. As people move through and inhabit landscapes they inscribe meaning and memory in place. Landscapes come to embody important symbolic aspects of their worlds: places of origin, sacred places, moral places, gendered places, etc. Landscapes, therefore, provide both material resources, but also, at least for humans, symbolic ones that contribute to the construction of social as well as biological bodies.

Landscape studies consider the ways in which people and primates move through, inhabit, and interact with landscapes and how these spatial practices affect and are affected by the large-scale material and symbolic dimensions of landscape. Research on landscape includes topics such as: the political significance of sacred landscapes, the creation of anthropogenic landscapes, and the adaptive significance of the ways in which different human and non-human primate populations utilize landscape. Faculty whose research involves landscape include Professors Covert, Dufour, Sauther, and Sponheimer in biological; Bamforth, Cameron, Cordell, Dixon, Joyce, Lekson, and Sheets in archaeology; and McCabe and McGoodwin in cultural. 

Anthropological research on landscape and space also involves potential collaborations with the departments of American Studies; Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences; Classics; Ecology and Evolutionary Biology; Environmental Studies; Geography; Geological Sciences; History; Museum and Field Studies; and Sociology as well as the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research, Institute for Behavioral Sciences, and the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences.

Bridging Seminars

Pilgrim,Dazhao Monastery; Lhasa, Tibet (Photo/Xiaomei Chen)
Pilgrim,Dazhao Monastery; Lhasa, Tibet
(Photo/Xiaomei Chen)

The Anthropology Department is currently developing a series of graduate seminars that will bridge the subdisciplines by exploring various aspects of local/global dynamics. To assure that these seminars truly bridge the subdisciplines, they will be team-taught by faculty from different subdisciplines. Team-taught seminars will expand our graduate curriculum by providing courses that embody an integrated vision of anthropology. One of these seminars will be taught each year with topics varying depending on proposals by inter-subdisciplinary faculty teams. We anticipate requiring Ph.D. students to take at least one seminar outside of their subdiscipline and the bridging seminars will fulfill this requirement.  Possible bridging seminars include:

1) The Construction of Race, Culture and Ethnicity through Biological and Cultural Lenses taught by faculty in the sub-fields of biological and cultural anthropology will evaluate, comprehend, and in some cases deconstruct the development of these areas as knowledge “categories.

2) Gender, Sexuality, and Reproductive Biology taught by faculty in the sub-fields of biological and cultural anthropology will explore the construction of gender, sexuality, and reproductive biology as they have been approached from distinct perspectives across these two sub-fields.

3) Conservation and Globalization taught by faculty in the sub-fields of biological and cultural anthropology will explore issues ranging from human/animal natural resource conservation and competition to the intervention of globally based international conservation organization in local contexts.

4) Class, Power, and Prestige through Space and Time taught by faculty in the sub-fields of archaeology and cultural anthropology will explore topics ranging from ideology and sacred geography of ancient ceremonial centers to the contemporary cultural anthropological concern with the planning of modern cities.

5) Ritual Structures through Space and Time taught by faculty in the sub-fields of archaeology and cultural anthropology will explore recent theoretical approaches to ritual practice and how they have been applied to archaeological, historical, and ethnographic case studies.

6) Primate and Human Voices: An Exploration of Life History taught by faculty in the sub-fields of biological anthropology and cultural anthropology will explore life history techniques of data collection and the variety of methods available for exploring the life histories of both non-human and human primates.

Army hospital site, Fort Laramie, 1994
Army hospital site,
Fort Laramie, 1994
(Photo/Tom Carr)

7) Consuming Passions: Class, Consumption, Conservation, and Food taught by faculty in the sub-fields of biological anthropology and cultural anthropology will explore the relationship between hierarchies of class within the context of the ideals of natural resource conservation and the everyday production of food in diverse communities situated in a global context.

8) Human and Primate Foragers taught by faculty in the sub-fields of archaeology, biological anthropology, and cultural anthropology will explore the range of foraging cultures as they have been interpreted in the archaeological record in relation to the extant data on human and non-human primate foragers.

9) Power and Practice in Latin America taught by faculty in the sub-fields of archaeology, biological anthropology and cultural anthropology will explore class, culture, and power as they intersect with the archeological record, and contemporary biological and cultural anthropological data located in the Latin American region. 

Bridging Symposia/ Colloquia/ Discussion Groups

In addition to bridging seminars, the themes of ecology and evolution, power and practice, globalization, and landscape and space will be conceptualized through discussion groups, symposia, and colloquia. Faculty and graduate students have already begun interdisciplinary discussion groups on inter-subdisciplinary topics. For example, in the spring of 2004, Professors McGranahan and Joyce led a discussion group on phenomenology and experience that included faculty and graduate student participants from all three subdisciplines. We also will continue to invite symposia and colloquium speakers who will bridge the subdisciplines such as recent speakers like Rayna Rapp, Ian Hodder, and Peter Ellison. Like the bridging seminars, this initiative will engage groups of faculty and graduate students in new and creative ways.

Faculty Recruitment

Ute flute player (Photo/Jeff Ferguson)
Ute flute player (Photo/Jeff Ferguson)

Future faculty recruitments will be designed to strengthen research and teaching in the subfields while at the same time contributing to our integrated vision of anthropology as a discipline.  Taking into consideration the age composition of the department at this time, we feel that the most effective strategy will be to hire junior faculty.

Graduate Program Funding

A crucial component of our departmental vision is to greatly expand support for the graduate program including graduate fellowships and assistantships as well as research support for graduate students and faculty.  The department will pursue funding opportunities for the graduate program around the issue of local/global dynamics.