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A New Graduate Program in Practicing Anthropology at USASK:  Training Engaged Anthropologists for the Future!

By James B. Waldram, University of Saskatchewan

The anthropological world is changing quickly, and practicing anthropology is now a rapidly-growing field. Full-time academic positions for anthropologists at Canadian universities are limited, and often go to internationally-trained scholars, yet Canadian graduate programs remain focused on training anthropology professors, not anthropologists.

Anthropologists bring a unique set of skills, insights, and experiences to the non-academic sectors of society, and many graduates of anthropology programs are finding a way to adapt their scholarly training to careers outside of the university. Anthropological associations are recognizing that more specific training is needed, however. In the United States, the Career Readiness Commission, with participation by all the major anthropology associations, trains anthropologists specifically for careers outside academia.  In Europe, the Applied Anthropology Network (AAN) of the European Association for Social Anthropology (EASA) has promoted anthropological practice through the annual “Why the World Needs Anthropologists” symposia.  Despite a strong applied anthropology tradition in Canada, we are well behind the anthropologies of other nations in recognizing the importance of training students to be anthropologists. CASCA has recently taken important steps to formalize a practicing anthropology network. But we must also rethink how we train students for the world of practice.

The path before has been charted. EPIC, a fast-growing international association promoting practicing anthropology, hosts an annual meeting highlighting innovations in consumer research and technology. Major corporations, such as Google, Microsoft, General Motors, and Spotify, are appreciating the value an anthropological approach to ethnographic research brings in understanding the manner in which their platforms and products are used. Fields like design anthropology and user experience (UX) research have taken the private sector by storm. Best-selling author and anthropologist Gillian Tettexplains that “anthro-vision” is a way of seeing the world that is increasingly valued beyond the strict confines of universities, from Indigenous communities to transnational institutions. The time is at hand to acknowledge that training for the practice of anthropology represents a key development in the discipline’s future.

At the University of Saskatchewan, we have a long history of applied and public anthropology, anchored in the scholarly pursuits of university-based applied anthropologists, augmented by a strong record of collaborative work with communities, institutions, NGOs, and governments. Our current MA in Anthropology, with its focus on health and environment, is grounded in applied work, and we have graduated many students into the world of practicing anthropology. Our faculty include several Fellows of the Society for Applied Anthropology and two winners of the Weaver-Tremblay Award in Canadian Applied Anthropology, as well as recipients of many university, community and NGO recognitions and awards for social outreach and impact. Opportunities for our students to work locally, as well as nationally and internationally, are guided by strong Tri-Council funded research programs established collaboratively with community groups. So, for us, this new program is not a major shift to the world of anthropological practice, but rather a logical step in our on-going commitment to a publicly engaged and relevant Canadian anthropology.

In consultation with practicing anthropologists, we have designed a project-based and client-focused program that will provide MA students with the theoretical and methodological knowledge, skills, and tools for employment outside the academy. We seek to support anthropological work inside the world of social service agencies, non-governmental organizations, research and consumer consulting firms, industry, and corporate business. The goal of our program is to support our students in securing employment as anthropologists in the world beyond the university where they can make a difference while making a livelihood. That goal will be achieved through close ties with practicing anthropologists who will continue to advise faculty and students as members of an advisory circle, and who can create employment opportunities for graduates.

Practicing Anthropology: a future for our discipline in Canada!

For more information, see https://programs.usask.ca/grad-studies/anthropology/anthropology-studies-ma-project.php#AdmissionRequirements or contact j.waldram@usask.ca. Deadline for applications for fall 2023 is Jan 15, 2023.

  1. (See Culture 9 (1): 11-13; https://www.cas-sca.ca/images/Culture/Culture_Vol_9_1_2015-ilovepdf-compressed.pdf).
  2. https://anthrocareerready.net/.
  3. https://www.applied-anthropology.com/
  4. https://2022.epicpeople.org/about/.
  5. https://anthrodesign.com/
  6. https://americanethnologist.org/features/professionalization/so-youre-interested-in-user-experience-ux-research-thoughts-from-an-anthropologist-working-in-industry; https://anthropologytoux.com/how-can-i-transition-from-anthropology-to-ux-research; https://medium.com/@paigenuzzo/ux-research-as-a-viable-career-option-for-anthropologists-insights-from-ux-researchers-with-c904c7e3298e
  7. Tett, Gillian (2021).   Anthro-Vision: A New Way to See in Business and Life. New York: Avid Reader Press.
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