Ph.D. in Social Work and Anthropology

Ph.D. in Social Work and Anthropology (SWAN) is an innovative trans-disciplinary doctoral degree in social work and anthropology. Informed by its location in Detroit, our program focuses on urban issues, both national and global, providing training in the skills, content and theory of both disciplines.

About the program

Our SWAN Ph.D. program has a commitment to scholarship that is "applied", "practice," "public" or "engaged." Students will be trained in the translation of basic scholarship into various strategies and methods for addressing social problems. The SWAN is a joint doctoral program integrating a professional degree (M.S.W.), a doctorate in social work and a social science doctorate in anthropology. The SWAN Ph.D. program draws on the strengths of these disciplines to create a single doctorate degree. With a global and urban emphasis, the SWAN Ph.D. will be looked to as an educational model integrating doctoral-level social science training with professionally applied skills and concepts.

This degree integrates the strengths of anthropology and social work in the following areas:

  • Ethnographic method
  • Interdisciplinary theoretical and practical approaches to social problems
  • Professional applied skills

The degree requirements draw from coursework in each field. SWAN provides a key integrative seminar in anthropology and social work. Students in the program will have mentors from each field.

Get a glimpse at the program

Why study anthropology and social work at Wayne State?

Urban settings and Detroit in particular, are important centers of innovation and problem-solving.

At a global level, international policy and humanitarian organizations, governments and a variety of funding agencies are increasingly focused on issues raised by the rapid urbanization of the world's population. In 1950, 30% of the world's population lived in urban settings, but that number is projected to increase to nearly 70% in 2050 (United Nations, 2009). With the greater part of the world's population, urban settings now have the majority of the world's social problems.

Detroit exemplifies some of the challenges and opportunities of growing urbanism. Detroit is undergoing changes that are garnering national and international visibility. Long known as an iconic city of postindustrial decline, Detroit is increasingly seen as a frontier for experimentation in urban recovery, particularly in areas such as land and water use and food security.

SWAN is ideally situated to engage in a synergistic partnership with the city's burgeoning, energetic and creative "grassroots sector" by training academically strong students to become both globally aware and locally engaged educators and leaders.

  • Background: Interdisciplinary approaches to social problems

    Social work and anthropology share many similar competencies and research questions and have complementary strengths for addressing the problems facing urban populations. Anthropologists seeking professional skills and concepts needed to allow them to implement their research findings through policy development and practice will be attracted to the SWAN degree.

    Social workers interested in international careers will benefit from the enhanced cross-cultural expertise, qualitative methodology and theory of the SWAN degree. SWAN will provide its graduates with the skill set required to address the significant challenges facing urban populations locally and internationally.

    SWAN seeks to achieve the social science equivalent of the National Institutes of Health promoted translational science goals as a model for how to address complex social problems. Similar to how NIH envisioned the leadership role of interdisciplinary sciences for guiding innovative healthcare research and training, SWAN requires students to be cross-trained in the disciplines of anthropology and social work.

  • Contributions of anthropology to the SWAN degree

    Anthropology contributes to building public appreciation of humanity's cultural and behavioral variety. Turning this appreciation of human diversity into practical understanding is key for interacting with our neighbors in a globalized world, especially in urban settings. Anthropology starts with a foundational emphasis on communities, peoples and styles of life in a cultural setting. These understandings are then combined with a broader focus on the global economic and political forces shaping neighborhoods and cities. Anthropologists studying urban issues use a broad set of research tools, including contemporary ethnography, network analysis, the archaeological study of cities and cultural analysis of the built environments around the world.

    Anthropology played a significant role in pioneering applied research in response to the needs of the populations studied. The applied approach to urban issues has a deep history and strong ongoing presence in the Department of Anthropology, starting with the landmark research of Emerita Barbara Aswad on immigration and community formation in metropolitan Detroit which led to the creation of ACCESS (Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services) in Dearborn. Applied work in anthropology will be enhanced by training in the skills of direct intervention, policy formation or community organizing associated with social work.

    Explore anthropology faculty interests

  • Social work

    Schools of social work are facing a somewhat different challenge, as students have long been trained in working in urban settings and in cultural competence but are now increasingly requesting the knowledge and skills needed to work in a global context. The highest levels of the profession are now recognizing the need to train students for global work. The National Association of Social Workers (NASW), the largest international organization of professional social workers, with 145,000 members, has a commitment to international social work. NASW has a standing International Committee that assists in developing international activities and education and facilitates NASW's participation in international social work organizations.

    The skillset required for international social work draws on the basic cross-cultural appreciation and an understanding of the role of culture in service delivery and policy development that defines the discipline of anthropology. Social work students seek skills and knowledge that will prepare them to work for international NGOs, the United Nations, global and local foundations and a wide range of governmental agencies. Our anthropology Ph.D. graduates have successfully found employment in these types of settings. Focused training in anthropology, led by WSU faculty with extensive international experience, will give SWAN students skills in and understanding the role of cultural beliefs, values and practices in urban issues and problems.

    Explore social work faculty interests

  • Faculty

    SWAN faculty are drawn from the School of Social Work, Department of Anthropology and the Institute of Gerontology. The program features outstanding scholars with successful programs of funded research, strong publishing records and extensive community ties.

    Steering Committee

Career insights

This tool provides a broad overview of how major selection can lead to careers and is provided without any implied promise of employment. Some careers will require further education, skills, or competencies. Actual salaries may vary significantly between similar employers and could change by graduation, as could employment opportunities and job titles.

Contact 💬

Mark Luborsky, anthropology advisor