Masters - Public Issues Anthropology

Why choose Guelph's Public Issues Anthropology MA program?

As anthropologists, we are uniquely positioned to explain, address, and respond to the major public and social issues of our time. With an understanding of community dynamics and global processes, our program focuses on the interface between anthropological knowledge and on the ground practice. We work with students to address issues critical to contemporary governance, public discourse, livelihoods, and civil society and to meet the demands and concerns of our world. Our Public Issues Anthropology MA seeks to make our world a better, healthier, more equitable place to live.

Faculty conduct research on a wide range of public issues including migration, globalization, human rights, indigenous rights, food and dietary practices, health, agriculture, rural livelihoods, one health, primate conservation, international development, disabilities, and families and aging. With these areas as our focus, we provide students with the opportunity to develop and hone the analytical, writing, and communication skills needed to apply anthropological concepts and methods inside and outside of academia. This is practical training for the challenges we all face in our everyday lives. Our students have conducted research in a variety of cultural settings including Botswana, Canada, Dominican Republic, Honduras, Jamaica, Kenya, Madagascar, Nepal, Nicaragua, and Paraguay.

Our course offerings emphasize: 1) The current and historical contributions that anthropological knowledge has made and can make to issues of public concern and public policy, and 2) The skills, approaches and methods needed to develop and conduct archival and ethnographic research and share results in diverse academic and public venues.

Our deadline for applications for the 2021 cohort is January 15, 2021, and students begin the program in the Fall semester (September). Please see the link below and the brochure for faculty profiles, admissions requirements, program details, and student experiences. 

Public Issues Anthropology Brochure

Program Objectives

The main objectives of the program are to prepare students to enter doctoral programs in anthropology and to use anthropological knowledge in a range of professional and public roles. Our graduates are well prepared to apply anthropological perspectives and insights to a variety of public issues in diverse workplace and academic settings, both as active citizens and as professionals. Our graduates have continued on to a variety of academic and employment fields, including doctoral programs and working with NGOs.

The Graduate Handbook for Public Issues Anthropology students at Guelph

Are you interested in applying to the MA program in Public Issues Anthropology? Visit the admission requirements page for additional information.

Students interested in the Public Issues Anthropology MA may also be interested in exploring the website of the Institute for Community Engaged Scholarship at Guelph, which offers workshops, a graduate course in community engaged scholarship, and Research Shop internships for students.

Collaborative International Development Studies (IDS) Specialization

Students can choose to combine their MA in Public Issues Anthropology with an International Development Studies specialization (MA.PIA+IDEV). The collaborative IDS specialization offers an interdisciplinary framework for the study of international development that combines training in a selected academic discipline with exposure to a broad range of social science perspectives. This specialization gives extra flexibility on the job market while permitting disciplinary knowledge required by most PhD programs.

In addition to the MA in Public Issues Anthropology course requirements, students take the IDS seminar and one course from each core area: Geography, Economics and Political Science. Completion of the IDS specialization adds the designation "International Development Studies" to the MA degree. Visit the IDS website for more information or e-mail (email address).

Public Issues Anthropology Core Faculty

Dr. B. Leach

  • Current Research Topics/Approaches
    • ​Culture and class      
    • Economic restructuring
    • Ethnographic approaches to economic change
    • Political economy
    • Migration/immigration policy
    • Anthropology of policy      
    • Rural communities
    • Women’s organizations/NGOs
    • Livelihoods, paid and unpaid work
    • Development
    • Industrial homework  
  • Geographical Areas    
    • ​Ontario
    • Caribbean

Dr. E. Finnis

  • Current Research Topics/Approaches
    • Biocultural approaches
    • Political ecology
    • Medical anthropology
    • Agricultural transitions
    • Diet and food
    • Gender
    • Health and environment
    • Human ecology
    • Nutrition
  • Geographical Areas 
    • India
    • South Asia
    • Paraguay

Dr. K. Gagné

  • Current Research Topics/Approaches
    • ​Ethics of care
    • Environment
    • Human-animal relations
    • Antropocene
    • Climate change
    • Technopolitics
    • Infrastructure
    • Citizenship and subjectivity
    • Border areas
    • Statemaking
  • Geographical Areas
    • Himalaya
    • Ladakh
    • India

Dr. S. Kawano

  • Current Research Topics/Approaches
    • ​Social/cultural anthropology
    • Ritual and religion
    • Identity and personhood
    • Anthropology of space and place
    • Family and kinship
    • Child rearing
    • Disabilities
    • Death
    • Aging
    • Demographic change and social practices 
  • Geographical Areas   
    • Japan
    • East Asia 

Dr. T. McIlwraith

  • Current Research Topics/Approaches
    • ​Ethnography
    • Ethnohistory
    • Applied anthropology
    • Territoriality
    • Rights of local indigenous peoples
    • Land use
    • Local and family history
    • Traditional knowledge
    • Ethnography of speaking
  • Geographical Areas    
    • First Nations Communities
    • Canada

Dr. T. Steffens

  • Current Research Topics/Approaches
    • Primate conservation
    • Biogeography
    • Spatial ecology
    • One Health
    • Zoonoses
    • Community development in Madagascar
  • Geographical Areas
    • Madagascar

Dr. R. Sylvain

  • Current Research Topics/Approaches
    • Indigenous peoples
    • Human rights
    • Development
    • Gender
    • Race
    • Ethnicity
    • Class
    • Globalization
  • Geographical Areas    
    • Southern Africa

Student Experiences

I really enjoyed the Public Issues Anthropology Masters program at the University of Guelph. The courses that the program offered were interesting and relevant, and faculty encouraged student to engage with complex public issues and multiple theoretical perspectives. I currently work as a human environment consultant and socio-cultural anthropologist for a small, boutique, consulting firm in southwestern Ontario. Since working with this firm, I've undertaken consulting projects on traditional knowledge, oral history, and land use and occupancy studies with Aboriginal groups throughout Manitoba and Ontario. Among other things, the PIA MA program provides students with sound training in research, analysis, and writing, skills that I use everyday in my current career. –Leah Culver (class of 2013)

The PIA MA afforded me the opportunity to design a multi-sited field research project and to apply the theory I had studied in my undergraduate degree to the real, lived experience of important people in my life. My experiences interviewing over 30 elderly subjects in Italy and Ontario enabled me to develop the ability to craft effective questions, to recognize when linguistic and cultural differences create barriers to communication, and to put subjects at ease, transforming 'interviews' into 'conversations' that allow me to delve more deeply into the subject at hand.

Following my graduation from the Masters of PIA program, I obtained my J.D. at Western Law (University of Western Ontario). I now practice law with a focus on family and civil litigation where I put my interview skills to use every day, whether by consulting with new clients or cross-examining witnesses at trial. There is no question in my mind that my skills as an effective litigator were developed through my experiences in the PIA MA and I owe the program a debt of gratitude for the skills and analytic depth it allowed me to gain. –Heather Alexander (Class of 2009)

In my work counselling prospective applicants to the University of Guelph, I use the skill set I developed through the Public Issues Anthropology program nearly every day. The substantial knowledge of qualitative research and analysis I bring to my role has allowed me to ask high-level, productive questions of the people I work with, while drawing meaningful conclusions from their responses. As a result of my anthropology background, I am confident that the work I do to match applicants to appropriate resources or academic programs is grounded in academically sound research practices. –Christine Porterfield (Class of 2013)

The PIA program at Guelph helped me to apply anthropological theories to contemporary issues both in Canada and abroad. The close-knit structure of the department gave me the opportunity to work closely with my peers and academic advisors over the course of my MA program. Completing an MA thesis on Aboriginal well-being and mining granted me first-hand experience and insight into the complexities of resource development in Canada's north. This research experience enabled me to find a job as a research assistant with a socio-economic consulting company that oversees public and Aboriginal consultation processes in fulfillment of regulatory processes for various development projects. –Sophie Maksimowski (Class of 2014)

As a Master's student in the Public Issues Anthropology program at the University of Guelph I was provided with a combination of theoretical knowledge and practical experience. With the support of the department, I had the opportunity to conduct fieldwork abroad for the purposes of my thesis. This experience strengthened the qualitative research skills I developed through coursework, and also provided me with first-hand experience investigating a social issue on the ground. The Public Issues Anthropology program places great importance on anthropological research as accessible and relevant to not only academics, but to the public, as well. I have carried this approach forward with me as an anthropology Ph.D. student, researching issues of public concern and ensuring the conclusions that are drawn from my research are publicly accessible. Aside from academia, the methodological skills I developed and honed in this program provided the impetus behind my decision to start a qualitative research facilitation business. –Sarah Yusuf (Class of 2014)