Social Studies of Institutions

Our graduate training program sends six students to three major universities: our own, the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris, and the University of Amsterdam. The program operates under the rubric “Anthropologies of Institutions,” and is based on agreements for cooperation among the three universities. The goal of the program is to (1) provide international, high-level training for selected graduate students in the social sciences and humanities, and (2) promote collaborations among researchers under a theoretically defined rubric. We look at properties of institutions across a wide range of domains, from medical clinics to law courts, and from language to neighborhoods. Studying these diverse objects as institutions means looking at rules and everyday interactions, social roles and material constraints, moral boundaries and transgressions. Our series of workshops rotates across the three universities and explores a succession of topics.

The program depends on a close working relationship among the three point coordinators, who are directly responsible for each of the students as they move around the triangle, and for sponsoring a workshop at our respective universities. We and the other faculty participants share interests in empirical, especially ethnographic research, and in philosophical analyses of current social issues. More specifically, we share research interests in medicine and society, legal reasoning, citizenship, immigration, and theoretical work in political and moral sciences. In our research and in the core seminars, we examine how, within particular institutions (courts, hospitals, ministries, churches, museums, scientific laboratories), actors construct, enforce, and challenge norms. We propose a shared theoretical emphasis on social pragmatism, which directs researchers to examine the ways social actors construct and perform the normative qualities that define the institution in question. This orientation does not exclude a critical analysis of the power dynamics that perpetuate or undermine institutions, dynamics that often have their place elsewhere—but insists that these dynamics, too, merit close empirical investigation.

Aside from the core seminars, students are free to design their own plan for coursework, research, or writing, in consultation with their home advisor. They work under the guidance of a program director. At WUSTL, it is the anthropologist John Bowen. At the EHESS, it is the sociologist Nicolas Dodier. At UvA, it is the sociologist Jan Willem Duyvendak. At these institutions, the directors put the students in touch with an appropriate mentor in the student’s own field.

Each of the three universities assures funding and contributes to travel costs for its own students. We have six visiting students in the graduate training program at Washington University this fall semester.






An innovative program of collaboration across three countries for scientific collaboration and graduate student training.