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Nelli Sargsyan

Anthropology is the study of humankind, of all people—ancient and modern—and their (political) ways of life. What holds anthropology together as a discipline (and in particular the cultural anthropology taught at Marlboro) is a history of theoretical approaches to cross-cultural and intersectional understanding, and field research as a common methodology. Anthropologists can therefore be found studying concepts of space and place among the Western Apache, questions of gender in Mexico City, sustainable development projects in Indonesia and tourist markets in West Africa. Historically, anthropologists have worked with small groups of people living in places such as Amazonia and Papua New Guinea. However, today anthropological research is also being conducted in retirement communities in California, Turkish immigrant neighborhoods in Germany, and bluefin tuna fishing ports and markets in Maine, Spain, and Tokyo.

Three key skills that come into play in anthropology are reading, field research, and writing. Anthropology students read abundantly to gain a sense of the history and fundamental ideas of the discipline, to familiarize themselves with different ethnographic studies and to prepare themselves to design their own research projects. As part of anthropology classes and Plan work, students are encouraged to read across disciplines to be productively equipped with theoretical lenses contributing to their understanding of intersectionality, do field research projects, which can be large or small, conducted over the course of a weekend at the college or over the course of a semester spent abroad. Finally, writing is central to anthropology and includes documenting ideas and observations as a part of research and then writing papers that argue for a particular understanding of a social situation or cultural meaning. The skills learned in anthropology encourage students to reflect on their own positions and voices in the world as well as appreciate the degree to which we come to know ourselves through others.

Areas of Interest for Plan-level Work:

  • Cultural anthropology
  • Linguistic anthropology
  • Urban anthropology
  • Visual anthropology
  • Transnational gender and sexuality studies
  • Queer studies
  • Modes of belonging and citizenship, nationalism
  • Construction of inequalities
  • Social change
  • Social movements
  • Autoethnography
  • Ethnographic writing
  • Field methods

Starting Points (Basic and Introductory Courses)


Through this course we launch into an introduction to cultural anthropology, one of the four fields of American anthropology. In this course we will broadly familiarize ourselves with the history of the discipline in the U.S. and elsewhere, its methods, key figures, and key anthropological concepts, such as (gendered and raced) culture(s), social structure(s), forms of kinship (to name a few) across cultures and societies. The broad questions that we will explore throughout the course would revolve around locating and making sense of similarities despite the obvious differences in human experience cross-culturally, as well as locating differences within the obvious shared commonalities. We will do so through engaging multimedia resources, writing, reading, and discussing pertinent issues. Most importantly, however, you will be able to creatively use the knowledge you will develop in the course to the course assignments by experimenting with different anthropological methods and approaches. Ultimately, our goal in this course is to develop the anthropological way of knowing (that of familiarization and denaturalization), as it can create transformative, if sometimes precarious, moments of critical thinking and understanding within and beyond academia. Prerequisite: None    Introductory | Credits: 4


In this course we will explore the interconnectedness between language and culture by gaining a deeper understanding of various theoretical approaches to this interconnectedness. We will then apply some of these theoretical approaches to our understanding of how larger scale social, historical processes, and structures are connected to and manifest themselves in our smaller scale everyday lives and how language is part of it. We will explore the relations between mind, language, and culture and the transformation thereof at times of increased translocal movement (physical and virtual travel across time and space). We will discuss the various subjectivities that we produce through our verbal interactions and how these subjectivities are space and time specific, often invoking much larger scale processes. Prerequisite: None Introductory/Multilevel | Credits: 3

ETHNOBIOLOGY (CDS 15, team-taught)
This course includes three distinct but interrelated segments: (1) an examination of how people in different cultures classify plants and animals; (2) a study of contemporary and historical events in the Americas in which resource consumption, environmental destruction and indigenous land rights are linked; and (3) a brief survey of medical anthropology, the study of medical belief systems within particular cultural contexts. Prerequisite: None     Introductory | Credits: 4

Pursuing Interests (Intermediate and Thematic Courses)


This course traces the theories, debates, and paradigms that have shaped the anthropological thought. What might we see and understand differently if we trace the intellectual history of a discipline critiqued for its entanglements with colonialism and androcentrism from a different angle, off center or from the fringes? What might come into focus in this exercise? How can this shift in perspective and focus allow us to rethink our own processes of knowledge production? The key figures through whose work we will weave the intellectual history of anthropological thought in this course will be indigenous scholars, scholars of color, or scholars who, despite the valuable quality of their contributions are associated with the “anthropological canon” in lower tiers. We will locate these shapers in relation not only to the conditions of disciplinary knowledge production of their time but also in relation to the larger political and cultural currents to which they have been responding at different scales. Prerequisite: background in social sciences or permission of instructor     Intermediate-Advanced | Credits: 4


People conceptualize health, illness, and healing processes differently based on their cultural knowledge and experiences in the society in which they live. Given this, in this course we will examine social suffering, the multiplicity of systems of healing, and medical practices to gain a richer understanding of the different ways of conceptualizing and experiencing health, wellbeing, illness, and healing cross-culturally. After we examine the ways culture affects human health, we will look into the ways that different diseases and epidemics point to an uneven distribution of power and resources across time and space. We will also examine how different technologies change biocultural and social practices over time. We will enter into our cross-cultural examination of these issues from varied ethnographically-grounded anthropological perspectives that point to the complex ways in which biological, environmental, cultural, political, and economic processes intersect. Prerequisite: A proposal plus permission of instructor     Intermediate | Credits: Variable (2-4)


How do we come to experience our daily lives as different kinds of “women” and “men”? How do we embody our gendered experiences informed by larger scale gendered historical and sociopolitical processes? What are the consequences of conforming to and/or challenging the status quo? How do these gendered processes exclude certain kinds of sexualities from and include others in the construction of the state and the nation? What implications do these inclusions and exclusions have for the nations and the citizens/individuals involved? These are some of the questions that this course will deal with in an attempt to engage you in a meaningful re-examination and denaturalization of culturally “appropriate” femininities and masculinities through various theoretical anthropological (and other disciplinary) feminist perspectives and cross-cultural ethnographic research. We will untangle the relationship between biological characteristics of sexes and culturally “appropriate” roles for genders in different cultural contexts through engaging ethnographic research. By situating gender in relation to sociohistorical circumstances in which gender, race, class, and sexuality intersect and mold our daily interactions, we will seek to understand how what is often considered as “natural” is carefully and consistently culturally produced and reproduced. We will read, watch, listen to, analyze, and synthesize diverse cultural feminist anthropological (and other disciplinary) accounts of negotiating different gender roles, identities, and sexualities. While our point of entry for intellectual inquiry is gender, engaging feminist anthropological mode of inquiry we will seek to make the implicit simultaneity, interconnectedness, and interwovenness of various processes explicit as a way of becoming humanely aware of social injustices that are often predicated upon one another, yet many of them go unnoticed due to our internalization of socioculturally naturalized phenomena. As we use gender to look for the implicit simultaneities of lived experiences it is significant for this course (and beyond) to grow intellectually in an empathetic and compassionate manner. Hence, empathetic communication is at the intellectual heart of this course. Intermediate | Credits: 4


In this course we will learn how photography, documentary film, video, and different digital media are used as research methodologies to examine and interpret issues of anthropological concern, tell stories, and most importantly, raise issues of social injustice. We will engage in discussions of sociohistorically situated ethnographic perspectives to develop a more reflexive understanding of the position of the researcher and gain critical understanding of the ways different media are used in conducting and disseminating research. Most importantly, the course participants will engage in the production of a participatory visual ethnographic work that will receive caring and sustained critique from all class participants throughout the semester. Multilevel | Credits: 4


Everyone lives some place, but how people conceive of where they live differs according to particular cultural senses of place. In this course we will use readings from a number of world areas to consider, for example, how people relate to different places (experientially and expressively), how they manipulate the material world (by building house or gardens) to create and/or express a particular sense of place, and how different places reflect and help create people’s identities. An integral part of the class will be student-conducted interviews with residents of the town of Marlboro on course-related topics. Prerequisite: Coursework in the social sciences or permission of instructor     Intermediate | Credits: 4

This course will explore how the body is experienced and used to make sense of the world. We will begin the semester considering a range of issues having to do with the body: the symbolic and metaphorical body, the body in motion, body senses, the gendered body, the body politic, the body at the beginning and end of life, body parts. The final several weeks will be devoted to a consideration of the body understood in ritual contexts. Prerequisite: None    Introductory | Credits: 4


This is a course in political anthropology in which we will examine the emergence of neo-nationalisms and social movements in post-Soviet space. What are the forces informing post-Soviet sociopolitical transformations? How do the Russia-led Eurasian Union, European Union, and other regional and transregional actors figure into post-Soviet political processes? Do the various manifestations of neo-nationalism open up, foreclose upon, or, perhaps, transform spaces and opportunities for imagining and producing non-hegemonic behaviors? What are the connections among political affect, belonging, citizenship, and social movements? These are some of the questions we will engage in this course. Using a variety of theoretical lenses and ethnographic studies from Ukraine, the Caucasus and Central Asia, we will gain anthropological understanding of the ways in which various agents reconfigure, operationalize, oppose and resist different political, economic and ideological processes as they forge and (trans)form their “post-” marked political potentialities. I invite you into this course so that collectively we can untangle the ways in which violence figures (or not) into nationalist projects, and understand how social movements contribute to change. Perhaps this is an invitation to think about different forms of violence through the prism of nationalisms and social movements in post-Soviet spaces. We will do so by testing Magyar’s (2016) hypothesis of “mafia states” primarily on the examples of post-Soviet Ukraine, nation-states in the Caucasus, as well as in the countries of Central Asia. Multilevel | Credits:4


McGranahan (2015) suggests that anthropology is an ethnographically-based theoretical storytelling. But ethnography has now traveled broadly to a variety of disciplines, both as a research methodology and an accounting of research, engaged in various worldmakings (Muñoz 1999). In our examination of ethnographic craft we will fly into a variety of multi-disciplinary ethnographies and (auto)ethnographies (experimental, visual, sensory, and feminist activist) in different sociopolitical cultural and historic contexts. Whose (fantastical, sensational, and magical) everyday worlds do ethnographers create in their ethnographic storytelling? What are the creative building blocks of these worlds in terms of narrative form, (use of) research data, and the position(s) of the ethnographer(s)? How are ethnographers engaging with the power dynamic between themselves as researchers and their research participants? Are they creating non-hierarchical and non-exploitative ways of working and writing (Gordon-Ugarte 2015)? These are some of the questions we will examine as we (feministly) fly into the different worlds we listen to, read, and watch to consider for our own craft. Prerequisite: Course work in the social sciences   Intermediate | Credits: Variable


This seminar provides the participants with a communal supportive space where they will work on their Plan writing by sharing it with peers on a weekly basis to receive feedback. The seminar will result in a final draft of at least one Plan paper for each participant. Prerequisite: Senior Plan work in anthropology or a related discipline Advanced | Credits: Variable

Good Foundation for Plan

Students who want to graduate with a degree field in anthropology should consider taking:

  1. Introduction to Cultural Anthropology or Introduction to Sociology
  2. Anthropological Thought and Theory or Classical Sociological Thought
  3. Additional anthropology courses
  4. Courses in other disciplines that relate to their interests in anthropology
  5. Research Methods in Social Sciences, or Feminist Ethnographic Methods, or Designing Fieldwork
  6. A foreign language

Many anthropology students also spend a semester abroad (typically during their junior year). As is the case with preparations in any discipline, it is important for you to talk with faculty early and begin planning a course of study that will allow you to take the classes you need and thus enable you accomplish what you want to do on Plan.

Sample Tutorial Topics

  • Autoethnography Informed by Critical, Indigenous, Queer, and Radical Feminist Theories 
  • Language and Europe's Migration Crisis 
  • Exploring Narrative Form and the Possibility of Something Else 
  • A Comparative Analysis of Colonial and Post Colonial Language Policy in Algeria and South Africa  
  • A Linguistic Study of Colonialism
  • Ethnographic Writing