Cultural Anthropology

Cultural anthropologists study a wide range of human activity, belief systems and material culture, both contemporary and historical. Although, in the past cultural anthropologists conducted research mostly in the non-Western world, today they work across the gamut of institutions and cultural settings in the Western world, including hospitals, prisons, universities and businesses.

Most cultural anthropologists assert that they are drawn to their projects by a simple desire to help make the world a better place. Close study of the dynamics of cultural habit and belief can perhaps make a difference to the fates of ordinary people everywhere whose ways of life are under assault from the changes wrought by globalization.

The faculty in the Department of Anthropology at Western Michigan University work in several geographic areas: East Africa; Japan; Latin America, including Ecuador, Cuba and Mexico; and the United States.

Geography alone only poorly describes what our faculty study and teach. Faculty members conduct research in some of the well-developed subfields of anthropology, including medical anthropology, environmental anthropology, and food and nutrition. We offer undergraduate courses in all of these specialties, and help train graduate students to pursue their own research.

In general, departmental faculty work in several overlapping areas, as well as some unique fields of study distinct to each faculty member. Some of the overlapping areas include:

  • Religious practice (Professors Wirtz and Straight).
  • Institutional racism and the cultural manifestations of class stratification (Professors Lyon-Callo, Wirtz and Ready).
  • Visual culture and new media (Professors Spielvogel, Straight, Holtzman and Hill).

These interests often overlap with the work of faculty in biological and archaeology, so if you are interested in developing a line of study or planning your courses, make sure to explore what faculty offer there, as well.

Each faculty member manages several ongoing research projects and teaches courses built around those projects.

Major initiatives

Faculty have sponsored University and community partnerships and anthropology students have helped launch the former Biodiesel Co-op of Kalamazoo, dedicated to converting Kalamazoo's waste cooking grease into an on-road biofuel.

Fieldwork and student research

Unlike archaeology and biological anthropology, the typical fieldwork undertakings of cultural anthropologists are more often individualized projects. Several faculty have developed initiatives that facilitate graduate and undergraduate participation. These include Dr. Bilinda Straight's East Africa research and Dr. Vincent Lyon-Callo's research on class dynamics in Kalamazoo.

Students in our program have developed their own research projects and many have received funding from the College of Arts and Sciences Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities Award. Projects include working with pastoralists in Kenya and studying medical school education in Michigan.