Sociocultural and Linguistic Anthropology

Tanzania-Ethiopia student dancing

Sociocultural anthropology is the subfield that concentrates on the varied intersections of 

  • economics, 
  • religion, 
  • gender, 
  • worldview, 
  • politics and kinship and
  • the problems people face in the contemporary globalizing world.  

It examines and compares how diverse human cultures organize their lives, problem solve, celebrate life, and define what it means to be human. Cultural anthropologists use a diverse quiver of methods.  Participant observation, photography and videography, interviewing, questionnaires, and focus groups are used to gain information about human experience.  The intent of these methods are to form the foundation of the written product of research known as ethnography.  Ethnography is a time-intensive practice that involves spending an extensive amount of time participating in the lives of people (with their permission) in order to arrive at rich, linguistically grounded, relativistic, and nuanced understanding of the lifeway of a community.


The curriculum of the Department of Anthropology at Fort Lewis College emphasizes a topical approach to understanding the human condition in a cross cultural manner. This approach helps to focus attention on issues that various and often very different societies experience with such matters as environment, inequality, gender bias, religious expression, marriage practices, oppression, as well as assisting in understanding how languages change and where cultures fit into the larger globalizing world. With an eye towards applying anthropological understandings towards ameliorating human social problems (e.g., Medical Anthropology, Environmental Anthropology), sociocultural anthropology has moved closer to serving the communities where anthropologists work than it had in the past.

Linguistic Anthropology

Linguistic anthropology is closely allied with sociocultural anthropology as it focuses on the nature, meanings, and uses of language in their cultural, including gender, “race”, ethnicity, socialization, class and historical, contexts.  It is also concerned with the survival of endangered indigenous languages. Linguistic anthropology can also be understood from a biocultural framework.  Human language is the result of evolution and the morphological changes that occurred with Homo Sapien Sapiens when compared with other primates. The study of linguistic anthropology at Fort Lewis College is contextualized within a variety of courses (e.g., Introduction to Sociocultural Anthropology, Introduction to Biological Anthropology, Topics in Anthropological Methods). The upper division course "Language and Culture" and the Ethnographic Field School focus on sociolinguistic, linguistic, and language-based issues.

Applied Anthropology

Applied anthropology and applied anthropologists work toward the amelioration of real world problems, in collaborative, community defined and based projects, drawing from the methods and concepts of the discipline. The Society for Applied Anthropology defines applied and practicing anthropology as the interdisciplinary “scientific investigation of the principles controlling the relation of human beings to one another…and the wide application of these principles to practical programs.” Applied anthropology, therefore, directly addresses and serves the needs and interests of communities, organizations, or clients in the US and around the world. Such needs are typically identified by communities themselves with applied practitioners working in interdisciplinary teams and using a variety of perspectives and methods to problem solve and advocate for communities. Each of the sub-disciplines of anthropology (biological, cultural, archaeological, and linguistic) has applied aspects and practitioners. Applied anthropology is diverse and diverges from academic-oriented anthropology with its focus on the intellectual and theoretical productions (ethnographic reports) aimed at a primarily anthropological audience. Applied and practicing anthropologists typically work outside of academia. The National Park Service, Centers for Disease Control, local public health offices, contract archaeology firms, public school districts, and Native American communities are some of the entities that applied anthropologists work for.


The Department of Anthropology offers a number of courses in applied anthropology, including Applied Anthropology, Medical Anthropology, two courses in forensic anthropology, as well as Advanced Topics in Applied Anthropology.  The Ethnographic Field School teaches applied methods (including visual methods) in Tanzania, where students have conducted applied research in clinics, hospitals, a recycling center, and a drug rehabilitation center near Boma Ng’ombe (see below).


A variety of opportunities are also available for service learning projects, as close as Durango and as far as Tanzania. For the past several years, students have worked as field researchers and data analysts for the Regional Substance Abuse Prevention Project. The project was an El Pomar funded multi-site, multi-year community-based project that assisted communities in rural Southwest Colorado identify intervention priorities and develop interventions based on specific community need. In the past, psychology, sociology, and anthropology students have participated in this applied project.

The Tanzania Service Project

The Tanzania Service Project began in 2009 as a FLC Innovative Month program. In 2010, the summer project placed students in several orphanages and clinics in order to assist non-profit organizations and their clientele. Graduates of this program have gone on to create (and operate) the East Africa Service Project, which raises funds for the Kilimanjaro Children's Joy Foundation.  Since 2015 this project has evolved into the Ethnographic Field School where students collaborate with students from the Tengeru Institute of Community Development (Arusha, Tanzania) on various community based projects. In addition to working in community-based projects, students have the opportunity to go on wildlife safaris, or cultural tours to traditional Maasai and Chagga villages.