Neuroanthropology

For a greater understanding of the encultured brain and body…

Where to study neuroanthropology?

Posted by gregdowney on February 6, 2008

One of our readers, David Navega from Portugal, asked a great question about a very practical matter: where are the centres of neuroanthropological research? A great question which caused me to just about choke on my coffee. I had to break it to David that, well, I’m not really that sure. There are pockets of people around doing work that I would consider to be part of ‘neuroanthropology,’ broadly defined, though they might run screaming from the designation. But his question is an excellent one, and I would like to put that out to the readers, with an opportunity for them to write in with universities, centres, departments, or programs that would support this sort of research.

Aside from the two obvious candidates from the blog — the University of Notre Dame (where Daniel, Agustín, and a host of other good people work and teach) and Macquarie University (where I work, alongside great colleagues in my department and others) — there are a few programs that stand out. I’m going to list some, but I hope very much NOT to exclude anyone. If I don’t include your program, please drop us a line (without too much abuse of this author) to let us know you’re out there. We want to know where you are.


In Australia, I would recommend (in addition to MU) the University of Western Australia (especially for Prof. Victoria Burbank), the Australian National University, and Melbourne University (where I know of at least one very talented post-doc working along these lines). I would love to know of others because I would most certainly drag them to Sydney at some point for a lecture or something.

In the United States, the most likely candidates (although I’m not exactly sure since I have no recent reports) would be Washington University, Emory University, the University of California, San Diego (where Tom Csordas and Edward Hutchins both are), Duke University, Lehigh University (which seems to have a good relationship between cognitive science and anthropology), the University of Connecticut (now the home of Roy D’Andrade among others), and the University of Chicago (although probably in Human Development).

I really don’t know about programs in Europe, so here’s hoping someone will enlighten us. Please don’t hesitate to post better information though, as I freely admit that this information is woefully incomplete, likely out of date, and almost certainly biased.

14 Responses to “Where to study neuroanthropology?”

  1. dlende said

    Some other places that come to mind:
    US: (a) Northwestern Anthropology & the Cells to Society Program; (b) UCLA Anthropology and the Center for Culture, Brain and Development; (c) Alabama-Tuscaloosa Anthropology; (d) Missouri-Columbia Anthropology
    Canada: McGill Division of Social and Transcultural Psychiatry
    UK: Durham Anthropology
    France: Institut Nicod
    Spain: Hopefully I will post some more specifics later, but here’s one link I found: http://antropologia.urv.es/2007/content/view/169/446/; also see the medical anthropology program here: http://web.mac.com/josepmcomelles/iWeb/MAMSI/Pagina%20principal.html

  2. Sarah Luchetti said

    I’m so excited to have discovered this blog! I’ve been obsessed with anthropology ever since I was a little girl. Over the past two years of being an undergrad, I’ve been searching for my niche in anthropology. For the past year paleoanthropology has been the game plan, but I’ve been struggling to find an area where I can focus on the evolution of culture. Where did things like music, art and religion begin? I’m starting my junior year at Rutgers this fall, which I chose for their evolutionary anthropology program (coming from Drexel, great people, but probably the worst choice for what I want to do). I have thousands and thousands of questions I’d love to ask you, a few of which have been answered by this post, but I’ll try to downsize to three.
    1. One of the reasons I chose Rutgers is that they have a paleoanthropology field school in Kenya, if I decide to pursue nueroanthropology, will the money, time, effort, and labor of this field school be in anyway significant?
    2. What sort of careers are there for nueroanthropoloists? (This question is mainly my Mothers concern)
    3. Can you kind of give me a play by play of how you got to be where you are today? What was your undergrad major? Where did you graduate from? How did you find a program? What actual degrees do you hold (is there a nueroanthropology degree?)And for goodness sake how long will I be in school?!

    Ok, so that was eight questions… sorry, but can you blame me? (nine)

  3. Cush said

    I am a social worker (addictions counselor), and I’ve always wanted to find bridge between my anatomy and physiology love and my social science love. I think this might be it! My concern is that I want to get my Phd in something as holistic as Anthropology, but don’t want to give up my clinical expertise. In other words, I want to be a Clinician as well as an Academic. Does anyone have suggestions about what path I might be able to take?

  4. Manus said

    Hi Cush,

    Consider an interdisciplinary program or a field such as applied anthropology, where anthropological theory is applied to policy and practice, especially in fields such as medicine, mental health, and education. You can always work while pursuing your degree, and your research could also focus on your own field of work. Check out Columbia University’s program: http://www.tc.edu/its/Anthro/

  5. Ashwin said

    My two cents on this query is that as important than what a department looks like on paper/website, past reputation, is to contact faculty to inquire how feasible integrated work will be and will be tolerated.

    I am finishing up my PhD in Anthropology and Cognitive Science at UCSD. Ed Hutchins and Tom Csodas (both mentioned above) are on my committee. Even though I am doing an interdisciplinary degree through an institutionalized mechanism it does not mean that everyone in either department is supportive or even understands what it is I am up to. Their is a lot of buzz about interdisciplinary research these days, but persons like me still run up against a lot of traditional disciplinary boundaries/stigmas/epistemological insecurities.
    Unfortunately, mainstream (cultural) anthropology is still has its head in the sand
    My own is experience is that there are still disciplinary dues to be paid, gods to be worshipped, whatever. So it pays to be resilient and fairly clear of intent.
    Just something to look out for.

    The long and short of it is that there is no official disciple called neuroanthropology. Its all just too new (which is partly why its so cool). For people wondering about how to get “in”, when looking into graduate programs have specific and feasible research questions in mind and see who (faculty) will support you. How this support happens in practice depends to large degree on field. In other words, working in neuropsych lab and trying to investigate cultural process can be quite different than working in an anthro department trying to investigate brain stuff.
    But if you are a biological anthropologist you are probably going to have an easier time interfacing with cognitive neuroscience. When people know that I am also studying cognitive science they assume I must be a biological anthropologist. But on paper I am a cultural anthropologists. (Though I did study psychology and neuroscience as an undegrad)

    Sometimes one needs to take the initiative and make links themselves between people, labs, research problems. Even at world-class academic institutions their are a lot of links that should be there that are not.
    For example, as an anthropologist interested in psychiatry, I marched over to the school of medicine and plugged into components of the residency program. Now, we have a psychiatric anthropology interest group that is trying to forge more official links with the psychiatry dept.

    University of California (e.g., UCLA, UCSD, UCI, UCD) are potentially good places for attempting neuroanthro studies/research. As mentioned, there is the Interdisciplinary program in Cognitive Science at UCSD, the CBD at UCLA (also great for undergraduates. One should *definitely* look into the Foundation for Psychocultural Research (FPR) at UCLA. Emory University is superb for biocultural studies.

    Ok that was more like 3 cents.

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  7. Svenja said

    and does anybody know something about where people do anthropology of neuroscience?

  8. dlende said

    Svenja, that would fall more into the emerging area of research on science and technology in anthropology. In the US, places that I am familiar with (i.e., there are surely other excellent places) are UC Irvine (http://www.anthro.uci.edu/faculty.html) and MIT (http://web.mit.edu/anthropology/). MIT also has a program in Science, Technology and Society (http://web.mit.edu/STS/index-css.html), where Joe Dumit works (http://web.mit.edu/STS/faculty/info/Dumit_Joseph-css.html). Emory would also welcome this sort of work, though with a more integrative flavor.

    In Europe, you might try to link into this group, Neuroscience in Context: http://www.nic-online.eu/ And Nikolas Rose is doing neurosociology, but with much the same emphasis as “anthropology of neurosciece”

  9. ashwinbudden said

    To piggyback on this,

    Science Studies graduate programs are probably the most relevant. They are generally pretty interdisciplinary, and sometimes anthropology is not well represented, depending on the department. So there might be unique opportunities to contribute as an anthropologist.
    UC Berkeley is not doing neuroscience per se but some faculty, like Paul Rabinow, take a Focauldian approach to study of genomics/technology/society.

    McGill University in Montreal might also be a place to check out. Ian Hacking (philosopher) and Allan Young (anthropologist) have both written on the neuroscience of memory and memory in context post-traumatic syndromes

    On another tack, Ed Hutchins at UCSD Cognitive Science has worked with graduate students in his Distributed Cognition laboratory on investigating the “cognitive ecology” of neuroscience labs. In short, their work basically involved ethnography of everyday practices and communication, for example, in brain imaging centers. They were interested in how knowledge about the brain and brain function gets constructed at the human/technology interface, in discourse, and gestural production/communication – as particular ways of representing neural reality.
    This work is theoretically oriented to questions of embodiment and distributed cognition and does not employ the lenses of bio-power, hegemony, subjectivity, and so forth that are pretty typical in anthropological and science studies approaches

  10. Molly said

    I second Sarah’s query (number 2)! What sort of career options are there for neuroanthropologists? Or what careers would a graduate degree in neuroanthropology apply to? I am about to graduate undergrad with a major in Anthropology and Chinese and am incredibly interested in neuroanthropology, but I want to have a job too!!

  11. dlende said

    Molly, there are plenty of career options. At the PhD level, with a focus on academia, there are a wide range of departments and institutes that would be interested in this sort of integrative work. Anthropology and cognitive science are two obvious ones, but there are many others – check out some of our links as well as people interested in this type of research, and you’ll find a broad interest in the future of these types of approaches.

    I also believe that neuroanthropology has an important applied component – this approach lends insights and highlights novel approaches in many public domains. Greg and I happen to focus on sports and behavioral health, but there are plenty of other areas. I’ve had undergraduate students go on to jobs in medicine, social work, international development, tourism, counseling, and other areas.

    So those are thoughts off the top of my head.

  12. Ian said

    Brian Given teaches graduate level seminars at Carleton University (Ottawa) in symbolic anthropology and ritual with a heavy dose of biogenetic structuralism, bearing the torch lit by Charles Laughlin. Haven’t seen Charles since my second year undergrad, but Brian is still in touch with him.
    Also, Jason Throop at UCLA is doing work with Charles Lauglin in a field they call Cultural Neurophenomenology.

  13. Ledia said

    Hi guys,

    I’m curious as to know if there are Canadian universities with this interdisciplinary approach in terms of graduate studies?

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