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 (Professor Straight).
  • Institutional racism and the cultural manifestations of class stratification (Professors Lyon-Callo and Ready).
  • Visual culture and new media (Professors Straight and Holtzman).

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.


The Department of Anthropology at Western Michigan University offers the following cultural anthropology courses:


  • ANTH 1200: Peoples of the World
  • ANTH 2400: Principles of Cultural Anthropology
  • ANTH 2600: Sex, Gender, Culture
  • ANTH 3010: Anthropology through Film
  • ANTH 3390: Cultures of Latin America
  • ANTH 3400: Cultures of Asia
  • ANTH 3410: Cultures of Africa
  • ANTH 3470: Ethnicity and Multiculturalism
  • ANTH 3550: Anthropology and Marxism
  • ANTH 3560 Food and Culture
  • ANTH 3580: African Diaspora: Peoples and Cultures
  • ANTH 4400: Ethnography
  • ANTH 4720: Slavery and Resistance

Course descriptions

Course schedules

thesis topics

The Department of Anthropology at Western Michigan University offers a sampling of past cultural anthropology thesis topics.

Undergraduate Honors Theses

  • "Housing Policies in Post-Apartheid South Africa"
  • "Queer as Volk: Toward an Anthropology of Gay Turks in Berlin"
  • "Youth Identity and Travel Narratives: An Exploration of Physical and Cultural Spaces"

Graduate Theses

  • "A Multiplicity of Goals in a Migrant Household"
  • "African American Women's Perceptions of Prenatal Care"
  • "Community Empowerment and Social Policy Design: A Case Study of the Creation of a School-Based Health Center"
  • "History, Mission, and Visitors at the Kalamazoo Valley Museum in Kalamazoo, Michigan: a Study of the Museum as Cultural Practice"
  • "Job Satisfaction of West Michigan Certified Nurse Midwives: A Qualitative Study of Autonomy and Empowerment in the Provision of Health Care"
  • "Kampo Consumption among Japanese Students at Western Michigan University: A Case Study in Medical Pluralism"
  • "Negotiated Families: Lesbians and Institutions in Southwest Michigan"
  • "Re-Cycling the Menstrual Cycle: A Multidisciplinary Reinterpretation of Menstruation"
  • "Reading Between the Lines: The Business Discourse of Globalization, Using Amway Corp. as a Local Example"
  • "Responsibility, Submission and Power; Social Factors which Influence Rural Out-migration Among Women in Southern Vietnam"
  • "The Suburban Rice Farmers: Economic and Cultural Change in Japan"