Cultural anthropology research

Cultural anthropologists at Wayne State University have a long history of combining global research with local engagement, from Dr. Barbara Aswad's pathbreaking work with the Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services and the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ACCESS) in Dearborn to Dr. Guerin Montilus' research on the African diaspora in the Caribbean and United States and Dr. Marietta Baba's applied research with Detroit's automotive industry.

Faculty, students and alumni continue this legacy of innovative and public-facing research in several major areas of concentration within the field of cultural anthropology. Many students and faculty conduct research that touches upon more than one of the areas highlighted here.

Research areas

Medical anthropology

Wayne State University's Department of Anthropology was among the first to develop intensive training in medical anthropology, and is a past editorial home of Medical Anthropology Quarterly: The International Journal for the Analysis of Health. Faculty and students share a common commitment to documenting, understanding and addressing how health and illness are produced in different communities, cultures, and societies. They study how health problems, health inequalities, and health systems are shaped by and reflect specific historical, geographic, and political-economic contexts and change over time. Major areas of research include aging and the life course, death and dying, health inequality, infectious disease (HIV/AIDS and TB), and social meanings of disease and illness. Our faculty, students, and alumni in medical anthropology utilize multiple and varied research methods but all engage directly with medical practitioners, health care-providing institutions, NGOs and IGOs, as well as patients and their communities.

Economic and business anthropology

The anthropology program at Wayne State is recognized as a leader in economic anthropology and as having established the field of business and organizational anthropology through the application of anthropological perspectives in private and non-profit sectors. With hands-on research collaborations with partners such as Ford and General Motors, students have brought anthropological approaches to app development/product design user experience research (UX) and workplace culture. Faculty areas of research include globalization, consumption, work and gender. Ethnographic research is being conducted in multiple contexts including the United States and Bulgaria.

Urban anthropology

Wayne State anthropologists have a long history of conducting engaged research in Detroit. From research on urban food politics to the Uniting Detroiters Project, faculty, students and alumni are working alongside residents to imagine a more just urban world. Majors of areas of research include urban ecology, food politics, race and social inequality in urban development, urban design, public spaces and collaborative research methodologies.

Environmental anthropology

Climate change is a global problem that is directly impacting populations in urban and rural areas on multiple continents. Wayne State anthropologists are conducting collaborative projects such as a virtual field school in Highland Ecuador focusing on sustainability and agroecology in order to globally share knowledge on how to adapt to, respond to, and reverse climate change. Major themes of research in the domain of environmental anthropology include climate change, climate communication, visual anthropology, documentary film, social movements and collective action, agrarian systems, religion and infrastructure.

Learn more about studying cultural anthropology

Core faculty

Yuson Jung conducts research in economic anthropology and the anthropology of food focusing on issues of consumption, globalization, post-socialism and ethics/morality. She is particularly interested in understanding the nature and role of the state in the neoliberal milieu, whether it is in the context of everyday consumption or the transformation of a national heritage industry. Her ethnographic projects have been in Bulgaria regarding the consumer politics after state socialism and the cultural politics of wine which has traditionally been an export-oriented industry. Recent research collaborations focus on urban food issues and applied and business anthropology projects in Detroit, Michigan.

Mark R. Luborsky is a professor of anthropology and gerontology (Institute of Gerontology) and also serves as co-director of the social work and anthropology (SWAN) doctoral program. He is also a foreign professor (past) of gerontology, Dept. of Neurobiology, Care Sciences & Society, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden. For seven years he served as editor of the journal, Medical Anthropology Quarterly: International Journal for the Analysis of Health (2006-2013). He also co-directed the IOG's NIH-funded Post-Doctoral Training Program. He serves as a member of the multi-site surgery trial Data and Safety Monitoring Board NIH/NIAM, and also is a member of the NIH/CIHB study section review panel (2010-2014). Luborsky is a co-founder of the Institute for Information Technology & Culture.

Barry Lyons has researched agrarian class relations, ethnicity, and religion in highland Ecuador. His recent research has focused on climate change, with a focus on how evangelical Christians in the United States and Ecuador experience and respond to it. This has resulted in an award-winning documentary film that presents the spiritual journey and climate testimony of a conservative homeschooling mom in Virginia, VIRGINIA'S CALLING. The film is part of a public engagement project developed in close consultation and collaboration with evangelical Christian leaders. He has also developed a research project on agriculture and sustainability, in conjunction with a new Virtual Field School online course.

Andrew Newman combines ethnographic, historical, and collaborative approaches to urban research. His research is in dialogue with scholarship on the relationship between racism, inequality, and urban form/infrastructure provision; social movements in cities; and urban ecology and foodways. He is currently beginning a new project called Empire's Garden that examines how late 19th-century anthropological research on race in France shaped (and was shaped by) the visual culture of Paris at the time. The project is at once a history of anthropology, a history of Paris, and an analysis of how colonial ways of seeing the world continue to shape our vision in the present day. His fieldwork and research collaborations have been focused on Paris, France and Detroit, Michigan.

Jessica Robbins conducts research on aging, memory, kinship, and personhood in a historical political-economic context. This work explores the links between experiences of health and illness in late life, social relations, moral imaginaries, and transformations in political economy. Her ethnographic research focuses on aging in Poland and the post-industrial urban United States, places where radical sociocultural and political-economic transformations have occurred in the lifetimes of the oldest generations. Current research focuses on the production of knowledge on aging in East/Central Europe and on practices of reminiscence and the intimate politics of memory in late life.

Andrea Sankar is a medical anthropologist whose research has focused on care, death and dying, and urban sustainability. Her research has drawn on the methods and insights of anthropology to make a positive social impact beyond the academy. From her 1990s NIH-funded HIV/AIDS research on caregiving and therapy adherence in the African American community to her more recent research on the health effects of eating fish from the Detroit River, her scholarship has consistently been geared toward practical outcomes that benefit the broader public.

Jonathan Stillo is a medical anthropologist whose research focuses on the social, economic and structural aspects of TB, particularly antibiotic-resistant varieties. Jonathan has served as an international expert on the World Health Organization teams that conducted the 2014 review of Romania's national TB program, as well as the TB program review in the Republic of Moldova in 2013. In 2016, he was the lead author of an ECDC-supported proposal for introducing integrated, community-based support for people with TB in Romania. He is the elected Co-Chair of the TB Europe Coalition, A member of the Coordinating Board of STOP TB USA, and a member of the Global TB Community Advisory Board. In 2019, he became the coordinator of the World Health Organization's European Office's working group on patient-centered tuberculosis care.

Emeritus faculty