Program Background: Interdisciplinary approaches to social problems


Social Work and Anthropology share many similar competencies and research questions and have complementary strengths for addressing the problems facing urban populations.  Anthropologists seeking professional skills and concepts needed to allow them to implement their research findings through policy development and practice will be attracted to the SWAN degree. Social Workers interested in international careers will benefit from the enhanced cross-cultural expertise, qualitative methodology, and theory of the SWAN degree.  SWAN will provide its graduates with the skill set required to address the significant challenges facing urban populations locally and internationally.

SWAN seeks to achieve the social science equivalent of the National Institutes of Health promoted translational science goals as a model for how to address complex social problems. Similar to how NIH envisioned the leadership role of interdisciplinary sciences for guiding innovative health care research and training, SWAN requires students to be cross trained in the disciplines of Anthropology and Social Work.

The Contributions of Anthropology to the SWAN Degree


Anthropology contributes to building public appreciation of humanity’s cultural and behavioral variety.  Turning this appreciation of human diversity into practical understanding is key for interacting with our neighbors in a globalized world, especially in urban settings.  Anthropology starts with a foundational emphasis on communities, peoples, and styles of life in a cultural setting. These understandings are then combined with a broader focus on the global economic and political forces shaping neighborhoods and cities. Anthropologists studying urban issues use a broad set of research tools, including contemporary ethnography, network analysis, archaeological study of cities, and cultural analysis of the built environments around the world.

Anthropology played a significant role in pioneering applied research in response to the needs of populations studied. The applied approach to urban issues has a deep history and strong ongoing presence in the WSU Department of Anthropology, starting with the landmark research of Emerita Barbara Aswad on immigration and community formation in metropolitan Detroit which led to the creation of ACCESS (Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services) in Dearborn. Applied work in Anthropology will be enhanced by training in the skills of direct intervention, policy formation, or community organizing associated with Social Work.

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Social Work


Schools of Social Work are facing a somewhat different challenge, as students have long been trained in working in urban settings and in cultural competence but are now increasingly requesting the knowledge and skills needed to work in a global context. The highest levels of the profession are now recognizing the need to train students for global work. The National Association of Social Workers (NASW), the largest international organization of professional social workers, with 145,000 members, has a commitment to international social work. NASW has a standing International Committee that assists in developing international activities and education and facilitates NASW’s participation in international social work organizations.

The skill set required for international Social Work draws on the basic cross-cultural appreciation and an understanding of the role of culture in service delivery and policy development that defines the discipline of Anthropology. Social Work students seek skills and knowledge that will prepare them to work for international NGOs, the United Nations, global and local foundations, and a wide range of governmental agencies. WSU Anthropology Ph.D. graduates have successfully found employment in these types of settings. Focused training in Anthropology, led by WSU faculty with extensive international experience, will give SWAN students skills in and understanding the role of cultural beliefs, values, and practices in urban issues and problems.

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