Socio-cultural anthropology studies collective forms of human life using ethnographic, historical, and comparative methods. Across a broad range of projects and theoretical orientations, our faculty and graduate students draw analytical insight from the vital premise that concepts are embedded within ordinary practices and encounters. We train in and practice ethnography as a mode of critical engagement and imagination for grasping social worlds on the terms by which those who construct and live them.

The everyday

Many of our faculty and graduate students have conducted field research in situations of turbulence and outright violence. Rather than relying on tropes such as that of horror and loss of humanity under such circumstances, they have paid attention to how violence may be understood as embedded in the everyday rather than taken always as an interruption of it. Several of our faculty have developed overlapping approaches to the ordinary that challenge models of social suffering that perpetuate images of abjection and marginality. 

Environment and ecology

In recent years, faculty in the department have examined the politics of global climate governance, the materiality of riparian environments in Bangladesh, conceptions of sustainability in Brazilian sugarcane ethanol laboratories, and ecological ethics in Baltimore. Our work on these topics engages with contemporary debates around climate change and the notion of the “anthropocene,” as well as with the many ways that environmental concerns inflect questions of global health, religion, and state power. 

State and economy

Much of the published and ongoing work of many in the department explores the material and moral forms of the state in their different guises. We have widely challenged predominantly spatial and territorial models of the state, tracing sovereignty instead at spatial and temporal margins, and showing how affect, disposition, and uncertainty can be understood as important registers of politics and economy. We also examine how echoes of historical violence have rendered uncertain the meaning of family and the experience of childhood.  

Racial formations

Across a variety of research projects, we have been tracking the shifting grounds of racial belonging and exclusion in a world of deepening inequalities. Faculty have observed political fracture in the US as a reflection of mundane forms of enclosure, apprehended the violent cityscape of Rio de Janeiro through the experiences of Afro-Brazilian youth, theorized horizons of racial futurity in East Africa, and traced histories of the African diaspora in museum collections of human remains.  


Drawing on expertise in Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam (in the Middle East and South Asia, both Shi’a and Sunni), Judaism, Christianity, and “secular” philosophical traditions on issues such as asceticism, we raise conceptual questions to guide research across diverse traditions. Recent publications have investigated religious intersections with the everyday, virtues and cultivation of the self, and the economy. New and ongoing projects examine the gendered ethics of prayer in Iran as well as the politics of naming in spaces of religious difference in the Philippines.