University of Minnesota
Department of Anthropology

Subfield: Sociocultural & Linguistic Anthropology

Cultural anthropology is the study of human society and culture, with an emphasis on describing, analyzing, interpreting, and explaining social and cultural similarities and differences. With the notion of culture as their principle, organizing concept, cultural anthropologists are interested in the whole of the human condition. Topics of study include how people make a living (consumption and exchange), kinship and descent, political systems, gender and sexuality (sex, gender, and power), religion, art, the modern world system (colonialism and postcolonialism), the sociocultural context of disease and illness (medicine, the body, knowledge, and culture), ethnicity, the social context of “race,” and the relation between the self, culture, and society.

While this subfield of anthropology once focused on the ethnographic study of isolated, less-complex societies, cultural anthropologists are more likely to be engaged today in understanding global issues, such as the development of a transnational culture of consumption, development and environmentalism, and the interaction between European nations and the societies they colonized.

Linguistic anthropology is the study of communication and language in their social and cultural context. Since only humans speak, anthropologists are keenly interested in language use, structure, and change, and the relations among language, society, and culture. In general, anthropologists working in this subfield of anthropology are interested in how language is used in social contexts (sociolinguistics), how contemporary languages differ, especially in their construction (formal linguistics), how languages change over time and how they may be related (historical linguistics), and how people communicate nonverbally through facial expressions, bodily stances, gestures, and movements (nonverbal communication). Some anthropologists also study the natural communication systems of nonhuman animals, especially that of monkeys and apes (animal communication).

The 11 full time members of the department (Beeman, Gudeman, Ho, Ingham, Langford, Lipset, McLean, Raheja, Song, Taussig, and Valentine) and 6 affiliate members of the graduate faculty (Albers, Patten, Prell, Westermeyer, Wolbert, and Wolfe) whose specialty is sociocultural anthropology and/or linguistics are involved in research in Europe, Latin America, the Middle East, North America, the Pacific Islands, and South and Southeast Asia. Reflecting the diversity of their subfields, these faculty have particular research depth in American Indian culture and history, colonialism and postcolonialism studies, culture and economy, gender and sexuality, medical anthropology, the political economy, sociolinguistics and the semantics of interaction, symbolic and psychoanalytic anthropology, and race and ethnicity, among other fields of study. The faculty page in the People section of this Web site includes research interests, a listing of recent course offerings, and selected publications for the sociocultural anthropologists and linguistics in the department.

The regional and thematic teaching and research interests of the department's sociocultural anthropologists and linguists are supported by a range of interdisciplinary programs at the University of Minnesota that provide language and culture training, speaker series, opportunities to study abroad, and occasional financial support. These programs include:

Department of African American and African Studies
Department of American Indian Studies
Department of American Studies
Asian American Studies Program
Department of Chicano Studies
The China Center
Cultural Studies and Comparative Literature
European Studies Consortium
Department of Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies
Center for German and European Studies
Institute for Global Studies
The Language Center
Program in Linguistics
Center for Cognitive Sciences

The Department of Anthropology offers a variety of introductory, intermediate, and advanced overview courses in sociocultural anthropology and linguistics. These include:

  • Anth 1003 – Understanding Cultures
  • Anth 1005 – Introduction to Cultural Diversity and the World System
  • Anth 3003 – Cultural Anthropology
  • Anth 3004 – Great Controversies in Anthropology
  • Anth 3005 – Language, Culture, and Power
  • Anth 3043 – Art, Aesthetics and Anthropology
  • Anth 4003 – Contemporary Perspectives in Cultural Anthropology
  • Anth 8001 – Foundations of Social and Cultural Anthropology

Regularly to occasionally offered Intermediate and Advanced courses in method and theory in these subfields include:

  • Anth 4023 – Culture Theory
  • Anth 4025 – Studies in Ethnographic Classics
  • Anth 4025 – Ethnographic Research Methods
  • Anth 5031 – Science as Cultural Practice
  • Anth 8002 – Ethnography: Contemporary Theory and Practice
  • Anth 8203 – Research Methods in Social and Cultural Anthropology
  • Anth 8230 – Development and Management of Anthropology Research Projects

Courses offered by area of research and teaching include:


  • Anth 3031 – Altering States: After Communism

Latin America:

  • Anth 3017 – Peoples and Cultures of Middle America
  • Anth 3019 – Hispanic Culture of Latin America

The Middle East:

  • Anth 3021/5021 – Anthropology of the Middle East

North America:

  • Anth 3010 – Native North Americans in Regional Perspective
  • Anth 3143 – American Indian Languages and Cultures
  • Anth 4047 – Anthropology of American Culture
  • AmIn 3303 – American Indians and Photography
  • AmIn 3409 – American Indian Women: Ethnographic and Ethnohistorical Perspectives

The Pacific Islands:

  • Anth 3025 – Pacific Island Societies

South and Southeast Asia:

  • Anth 3023 – Culture and Society of India
  • Anth 4045 – Gender and Power in South Asia

A sampling of courses offered in the thematic contexts mentioned above include the following by context:

American Indian Culture and History

  • Anth 3010 – Native North America in Regional Perspective
  • Anth 3143 – American Indian Languages and Culture

Colonialism, Postcolonialism and Development Studies

  • Anth 4065 – The Anthropology of Development
  • Anth 5043 – Colonialism and Culture
  • Anth 5045 – Urban Anthropology

Culture and Economy

  • Anth 3212 – Globalization, Markets, and Inequality
  • Anth 3043 – Art, Aesthetics and Anthropology
  • Anth 4053 – Economy, Culture, and Critique

Gender and Sexuality

  • Anth 3047 – Gender in Cross-Cultural Perspective
  • Anth 4051 – Kinship, Gender, and Diversity
  • Anth 5033 – Feminist Anthropology

Medical Anthropology

  • Anth 3035 – Anthropologies of Death
  • Anth 3306 – Medical Anthropology
  • Anth 4075 – Culture History of Healing

Political Economy

  • Anth 4031 – Anthropology and Social Justice
  • Anth 4057 – Politics and Law

Race and Ethnicity

  • Anth 4071 – Race, Culture, and Vision

Sociolinguistics and the Semantics of Interaction

  • Anth 3005 – Language, Culture, and Power
  • Anth 3015/5015 – Biology, Evolution, and Cultural Development of Language
  • Anth 5025 – Cultural Semantics

Symbolic and Psychoanalytic Anthropology

  • Anth 4019 – Symbolic Anthropology
  • Anth 4021 – Psychological Anthropology

Sundry Studies in Anthropology

  • Anth 3022 – Anthropology of Dreaming and Myth
  • Anth 3045/4049 – Religion and Culture
  • Anth 3046 – Romance and Culture
  • Anth 5028 – Anthropology of Learning
  • Anth 5221 – Anthropology of Material Culture

Besides the courses listed here, the Department of Anthropology offers a variety of topic courses and independent study opportunities each semester in these subfields. Courses are also added and dropped as faculty membership and interest change. Therefore, check the listing of courses offered each semester, and/or check with an undergraduate or graduate adviser.