Applied Cultural Anthropology in Hawai‘i, the Pacific and Asia

We have designed the MA track in Applied Cultural Anthropology at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa in recognition of the desire of many highly qualified students to pursue a Master’s degree in Anthropology that focuses on engaged practice in communities. Jobs for these students exist within community initiatives, charitable trusts, private businesses, governmental institutions, and non-governmental organizations, rather than in a more traditional academic setting. Our aim is to train the next generation of practicing anthropologists to utilize the theories, methods, and analysis of cultural anthropology in direct relation to jobs in these applied settings.

The MA track in Applied Cultural Anthropology takes as its ethical touchstone kuleana (rights, responsibilities), extended in practical ways that make significant differences in people’s lives. This emphasis on kuleana means that the ethics of what we do continually guides our actions – informed by cultural values, upholding the dignity of individuals, paying close attention to the implications and ramifications of our actions. We seek to be effective advocates for the communities in which we work in Hawai‘i and elsewhere in the Pacific and Asia, as we include within our purview a focus on Indigenous peoples. Although institutions throughout the continental United States offer graduate training in applied cultural anthropology, our program is unique in its geographical and cultural focus on Hawai‘i, Oceania, and Asia, with special kuleana for Indigenous peoples.

Sometimes called “engaged anthropology,” “practicing anthropology,” “public anthropology,” or “advocacy anthropology” (each with different nuances), we have chosen to call this MA track “applied cultural anthropology” to more closely parallel the MA track in applied archaeology. Under this umbrella terminology we remain committed to high levels of research, responsible engagement, public practices, and guided intervention using the methods and analytical tools of cultural anthropology. Ours is training in and commitment to community involvement through the ethics of what we do and how we do it. We recognize the fundamental importance of community sustainability, described here as upholding and promoting cultural values, practices, resources, and interactions in close relationship with the people and environment (Hawaiian ‘āina, land). It is this strong tie to sustainability in the broadest sense of the term that drives training in the program toward community-based fields of employment.

We encourage those with a strong interest in community engagement through cultural anthropology to consider our applied MA-track program. The program encompasses a wide range of student interests, while maintaining our commitment to developing a strong workforce through anthropological training. This training includes not only interview methods, archival research, and writing skills, but more importantly, how to “think anthropologically,” incorporating the concept of culture and structures of power into the shaping and analysis of social problems. Our goal is to provide the professional skills necessary to enable jobs and careers in which cultural anthropology not only contributes, but leads to social betterment. We realize that some students may prefer to go on to a doctoral degree and academic job, but include applied work in their future career mix. Part of this is practical, as the competition for academic jobs continues to rise. Part of this is by choice, as the growing quest for relevance and committed engagement infuses academic disciplines. Indeed, academic and applied anthropology – a division that is arbitrary and not mutually exclusive -- can and should be reinforcing and beneficial to one another.

Program Learning Outcomes

Having attained the M.A. degree in Anthropology with a focus on Applied Cultural Anthropology, the student will be able to:

  1. Identify significant cultural resources of a community
  2. Conduct meaningful interviews with key members of a community; make interviews available for public dissemination, whether as transcriptions or archived digital resources
  3. Establish and maintain positive relationships with community organizations and institutions
  4. Identify community organizational goals and strategize their implementation
  5. Assess the place of cultural values, ethos, norms in terms of community needs
  6. Conduct relevant archival research for the purposes of a community organization’s goals
  7. Develop appropriate verbal and written communication skills that can assist a community organization’s goals
  8. Apply ethnographic skills of observation, interaction, guided participation, and analysis toward the solution of community goals
  9. Recognize and maintain a strongly ethical position in all interactions with community organizations

Requirements (MA Plan; Report)

A minimum of 30 credit hours of course work is required for the M.A. degree in Anthropology. (The average course is 3 credits.) M.A. students must be enrolled at the University of Hawai‘i full-time (8 credit hours minimum) for at least 2 semesters while completing the degree.

Graduate students must maintain a B (3.00) average. All courses taken for degree credit must be taken for a letter grade (A-F). Credit/no credit courses do not count toward degree credit.

  1. Advisory Meeting. Have an initial meeting with your interim advisor to discuss your study plans. This should be done soon after you arrive at the Department, generally within the first two weeks of your first semester.
  2. Candidacy Conference. This should be scheduled by the end of your second semester. The Candidacy Conference is the first meeting of your three-member MA committee, comprised of a chair and two other members; at least one must be full-time Anthropology faculty.
    Bring the following materials to the meeting:
    - updated degree Checksheet (obtain from Graduate Specialist in Saunders 346C)
    - typed Proposed Program of Study, including list of courses you plan to take, proposed schedule for copletion of the MA degree, and list of committee members.
    Please have your committee chair sign and date a copy of your proposed program of study. Give this to the Graduate Specialist to be entered into your academic file.
  3. Application for Diploma. When approaching graduation, submit an application for diploma. There is a fee for this; it rolls over to the term of graduation if you do not graduate as planned.
  4. Report. Student must complete a report on original research, developed through field work/internship/practicum as a capstone activity (see ANTH682). The report should be submitted to all committee members two weeks prior to the final meeting.
  5. Final Meeting. When you have completed all required coursework and submitted your report, schedule your final committee meeting. Bring to the meeting the departmental form for Master’s Plan B in Applied Cultural Anthropology. At the end of the meeting have this form signed by your committee members and submit it to the Graduate Specialist.

Note: This is a terminal degree. A successful graduate of the MA Track in Applied Cultural Anthropology must reapply to the graduate program if they wish to seek admission to the PhD program.

MA Track in Applied Cultural Anthropology Program Coordinator: Dr. Christine R. Yano,, Saunders 316, 956-4447.

Curriculum for Applied Cultural Anthropology MA Track - Plan B (Portfolio)

Required courses (15 credits [5 courses])

  • ANTH 601 (Ethnology; Cultural Anthropology core)
  • ANTH 681 (Applied Cultural Anthropology)
  • ANTH 682 (Applied Cultural Anthropology Practicum) *capstone
  • ANTH 710 (Seminar in Research Methods in Cultural Anthropology
  • ANTH 711 (Research Design and Proposal Writing)

Area Course (3 credits [1 course])

  • ANTH 350 (Pacific Island Cultures)
  • ANTH 446 (Southeast Asian Cultures)
  • ANTH 449 (Anthropology of Melanesia)
  • ANTH 483 (Japanese Culture and Behavior)
  • ANTH 484 (Japanese Popular Culture)
  • ANTH 486 (Peoples of Hawai’i)
  • ANTH 487 (Okinawa and its Diaspora)
  • ANTH 488 (Chinese Culture: Ethnography)
  • ANTH 750D (Hawaiian Ethnography: Theory and Practice)

Methods Courses (6 credits [2 courses])

  • ANTH 410 (Ethics in Anthropology)
  • ANTH 419 (Indigenous Anthropology)
  • ANTH 493 (Oral History: Theory and Practice)
  • ANTH 645 (Historic Preservation)
  • HWST 602 (Hawaiian Archival Research)
  • AMST 474 (Preservation: Hawai`i, Asia, and the Pacific)
  • WS 440 (Feminist Methods and Research)
  • WS 613 (Feminist Research and Methods of Inquiry)

Elective Courses (6 credits [2 courses])

  • ANTH 300 (Contemporary Problems)
  • ANTH 313 (Visual Anthropology)
  • ANTH 425 (Medical Anthropology)
  • ANTH 427 (Food, Health, and Society)
  • ANTH 440 (Agriculture of Identity)
  • ANTH 482 (Anthropology and the Environment)
  • ANTH 663 (Anthropology of Global Aid)

Other courses depending on specific interest of student in consultation with advisor. Student may want to check upper-division and graduate courses in the following departments (note that asterisk denotes course with Indigenous studies emphasis):

  • American Studies (310, 319, 353, 373, 418, *620)
  • Ethnic Studies (*of particular interest; most upper division courses are applicable)
  • Geography (302, 330, 380, 385, 387, 388, 409, 412, 421, 422, 423, 424, 426, 489, 639, 728)
  • Hawaiian Studies (307, 390, 396, 445, 457, 458, 459, 461, 485)
  • History (481, 482, 483, 484, 485)
  • Peace Studies (PACE; 310, 340, 345, 373, 420, 477, 668)
  • Political Science (301, 302, 304, 309, 344, 396, *620, *642, 684, *720, *776, *776; asterisk denotes courses with special Indigenous studies emphasis)
  • Sociology (401, 411, 419, 431, 445, 446, 454, 456, 475, 476, 492, 613, 615)
  • Urban and Regional Planning (600, 610, 616, 618, 619, 632, 639, 641, 653, 670)
  • Women’s Studies (305, *306, 318, 360, 361, 390, 435, 436, 437, 438, 452, 492, 620, 623)



  • Course credits from a student’s undergraduate degree cannot be counted toward completion of the MA degree.
  • All incoming graduate students are required to attend the Anthropology Colloquium Proseminar their first two semesters in residence. Colloquia are held on Thursdays from 3-4:15 p.m. Do not enroll in any classes that will overlap with this time slot.
  • The above curriculum requirements are effective for students who enter the program in Fall 2015.