M.A. Program - Cultural Anthropology Emphasis

Motorbikes and bicycle with flowers in street

The M.A. Program in Cultural Anthropology at SF State is distinguished by its research strength in topics including globalization, migration, informal economies, and the health of vulnerable populations. Professors James Quesada and Martha Lincoln are medical anthropologists as well as cultural anthropologists. Dr. Quesada has conducted research on the health of Latino day laborers, structural violence, transnational im/migration, and war legacies in Nicaragua. Dr. Lincoln has conducted research on post-traumatic stress disorder and substance abuse and dependency among military veterans, biopower under socialism, ghost beliefs in Vietnam, and the cultural politics of infectious disease. Their research has taken place in Central America (Quesada), Southeast Asia (Lincoln), and the United States (both).

M.A. students in Cultural Anthropology have pursued research on a wide variety of original topics. The titles of select recently completed theses and independent studies in Cultural Anthropology can be found at the bottom of this page.

Cultural Anthropology

Cultural Anthropology focuses on the critical and comparative study of diverse human cultures and societies. One of the “four fields” in classical anthropology (with biological anthropology, linguistic anthropology, and archaeology), Cultural Anthropology emphasizes the use of in-person ethnographic data collection as its fundamental method of understanding how people behave, perceive, think, feel, express themselves, and relate to one another. Cultural Anthropology has traditionally been cross-pollinated by theory and methods from other academic disciplines, including Critical Race Theory, Cultural Studies, Ethnic Studies, Geography, History, International Relations, Political Economy, and Women’s and Gender Studies. As a holistic discipline, cultural anthropology provides a historicized cross-cultural, transdisciplinary approach to recognizing and understanding the lifeways and challenges of individuals and societies around the world.

M.A. students in Cultural Anthropology develop original research on cultural and social issues in field sites of their choosing. We encourage the selection of field sites in the San Francisco Bay Area. Graduates of the M.A. Program in Cultural Anthropology have gone on to pursue Ph.D.s at universities including UCLA, UC Berkeley, Stanford, Yale, and the University of Arizona.

Medical Anthropology

Medical Anthropology is a relatively new research area and frequently recognized as a subdiscipline of Cultural Anthropology. Fundamentally, medical anthropologists recognize that social and cultural factors strongly shape the experience of health and embodiment as well as illness, disability, and mortality. Both formal and informal medical systems tend to human bodily concerns, expressing cultural priorities at the same time that they seek to improve patient’s health. Medical anthropologists often draw on other disciplines to develop their research, including Economics, Epidemiology, History, Medicine, Psychology, Public Health, and Statistics.

Our location and training provide opportunities for students to participate in research and/or practical applications of medical anthropology in biomedical settings, medical social science projects, public health programs and community health services. Our graduates have gone on to pursue diverse professional paths, including social work, clinical psychology, service in health-oriented NGOs, and teaching medical anthropology at programs including Cornell University, University of Arizona, University of Toronto, and University of Washington-Seattle.

Both Dr. Quesada and Dr. Lincoln advise theses on medical anthropological topics. Recent M.A. students in medical anthropology have developed research on issues as diverse as recovery from substance abuse and dependency, the changing role of doulas and midwives in pregnancy care, and the emergence of essential oils as a form of highly capitalized but loosely regulated medicine.

Critical Anthropology

The program in Cultural Anthropology is strongly informed by the promise of our discipline to identify and critique social inequities. A critical anthropological approach draws the field’s robust tradition of advancing social justice along the lines of gender equity, antiracism, anti-colonialism, and socioeconomic equality. Coursework in critical anthropology draws from both classic and contemporary research by anthropologists whose works directly engage present-day concerns and trains students to grapple with the momentous challenges of everyday life in global societies. Recent thesis projects exemplifying this perspective have addressed gated communities, the role of debt in structuring social inequality, and the history of GUPS, a Palestinian student organization at SFSU.

Bay Area Urban Anthropology

The San Francisco Bay Area provides a fertile multicultural setting to pursue studies in urban anthropology. Our program encourages graduate students to take advantage of the cultural, ethnic, and economic diversity of the Bay Area in applying Cultural Anthropology to research on everyday life and real-world problems in this global city. The Department of Anthropology encourages M.A. students to develop thesis research on social issues (homelessness, addiction, im/migration, violence), and to realize the relevance, usefulness, and value our discipline has in contributing insightful solutions to complex problems. Recent M.A. theses based on Bay Area-based research have included studies of acupuncture providers, in-home care providers, individuals in recovery from substance abuse, and the Clínica Martín-Baró in San Francisco’s Mission district.

Recent M.A. Theses in Medical and Cultural Anthropology

2020    Anya Rossa-Quade, “Panacea or Toxic Commodity? The Commercialization of Essential Oils."

2020    Ben Holt, “Cannabis Vaporizer Perceptions and Behavior in Sonoma County, CA.”

2019    Lori Pirinjian “Gender-Based Violence in Armenia.” (2019 SFSU College of Liberal and Creative Arts Hood Recipient)

2019    Jessica Dailey, "Embodiment and Medical Decision-Making during Pregnancy."

2017    Saliem Shehedah, “Social History of General Union of Palestinian Students, San Francisco State University.” (2017 SFSU College of Liberal and Creative Arts Hood Recipient)

2017    Joshua Silver, “Oral Histories of Mental Health and Recovery from Substance Misuse”

2015    Jessica Schmonsky, “Holding the Space: The Reemerging Role of the Doula”

2016    Jerika Heinze, “Classism, Credit, and Capitalism: The Ties that Bind Debt and Inequality”

2016    Emma Fuentes, “Collective Memory and the 11M Bombing in Madrid, Spain”

2015    Suzanne Walker, “Addressing Chronic Stress and Trauma: A Multidisciplinary Community-Based Partnership in San Francisco”

2014    David Priest, “Queering the Pitch: Intersex, Activism, and Medical Reform”

2014    Allison Krause, “Fighting the Lost War: Police Perspectives on Drug Law Enforcement”

2013    Siobhan Schlapper, “Clínica Martín-Baró: A Social History (2010-2012)”

2011    Mika Kadono, “Points for the Ladies: Developing a Women-Only Syringe Exchange Program with Tenderloin Health, a Community-based Health Organization in San Francisco, California.”

2010    Silvie Cohen, “Acupuncture and Infertility in San Francisco”

2009    Annette Hartsfield, “Chasing Arcadia: Sense of Place in a Gated Community”

2009    David Sean Lance, “The Production and Reproduction of a Salsa Sensibility in San Francisco, Circa Turn of the 21st Century”