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About the School of Human Evolution & Social Change

The School of Human Evolution & Social Change widens the intellectual scope of Arizona State University’s top-ranked Department of Anthropology. Since the early 1960’s, the Department has risen steadily to national prominence by reflecting the rich ethnic diversity, indigenous traditions, and desert environment of the American Southwest, while also taking on a global reach. As a traditional four-field anthropology department, it has given B.A., M.A. and Ph.D. degrees of the highest quality and developed a strong record of research in physical anthropology, archaeology, socio-cultural anthropology, and linguistics. The new School has enriched this anthropological core by broadening its faculty to include members from a wide range of other disciplines from the life sciences, social sciences and humanities in order to introduce and define revolutionary new approaches to long-standing questions that have never been more compelling. We see this significant step as important in transforming anthropology and its role in understanding today’s world and creating a better tomorrow.

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The Vision: Transforming the Role of Anthropology in the 21st Century

Universities exist to address the most fundamental questions, the most serious issues, and the most immediate and complex problems of the day.

Globalization and a variety of demographic, economic, and other trends are rapidly converging to completely transform our world. As it becomes more interconnected and complex, new, intractable problems emerge in almost all domains. It thus becomes overwhelmingly important to better understand how individuals, groups, societies, and nations can relate to one another, shape their environment, and organize themselves so as to counter religious chauvinism, factionalism, environmental conflicts, and the many other threats to the coherence of any society on earth. Only by achieving this in a timely manner can we ensure the long-term well-being of humanity.

Never, therefore, has it been more urgent for institutions of higher education to assume their role in this process and their responsibility for the physical, economic, social, and cultural health of both the local and the world community, so that we can face the future with confidence. To meet this challenge, Arizona State University presents a new vision for anthropology, embodied in the new School of Human Evolution & Social Change.

Finding ways to favor constructive relationships between the components of society is the essence of anthropology. It places the interactions between individuals, societies, and their environments at the center of its inquiries. It brings the study of the past to bear on our understanding of the present and on new ways to imagine and construct our future. Adopting an anthropological perspective in the study of ideologies, identities, and societal dynamics in general changes the way we formulate our questions, the methods and techniques we use, the research we do, and the scholarly communities we form, as well as society itself.

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The School’s Core Research Themes

As the School develops innovative research with a wider mix of disciplinary approaches, we expect to give our students a unique kind of preparation for the academic and societal challenges of the future. The School’s research themes will be investigated by teams that enable scholars to focus on topics beyond the capabilities of individual scientists and disciplines.

Human Origins, Evolution, and Diversity
To survive and thrive in the complex world of the future, it is important to understand how the human species has evolved and adapted to changing conditions. By studying humans, and their primate relatives, from their origins to the present, scientific research can identify long-term trends, recent variations, and future possibilities.

Societies and Their Natural Environments
Scientists around the world point to signs of wide-ranging environmental crises—climate change, pollution, loss of bio-diversity and similar problems of great magnitude. Such crises have occurred before, but now the role of humankind as the cause is overwhelmingly important. We need to understand what causes them, how we may avoid them or, if we cannot, how we can limit their impact.

Biological, Social, and Cultural Dimensions of Human Health
Globalization and environmental change are a major threat to human health as they rapidly break down natural barriers to the evolution of infectious agents. Our best chances to prevent or contain major health disasters involve changing the circumstances under which they originate. To do so, we need to combine thorough medical knowledge with a wide range of insights about the different societies on earth and their cultures.

Culture, Heritage, and Identity
In one way or another, virtually any conflict—global, regional or local—involves identity issues. Understanding identity construction is therefore a crucial element in maintaining cultural stability. Research teams will investigate the roles that cultural heritage and identity play in contemporary issues, providing new perspectives that will contribute to the understanding and resolution of complex problems.

Urban Societies
Currently, about 50 percent of the world’s population lives in cities, and the percentage is expected to increase to 80 percent in this century. Cities are highly vulnerable points in the fabric of human social life. We need to understand how they evolve, how we can make them sustainable, and how we can deal with the problems inherent in urban life.

Global Dynamics and Regional Interactions
Globalization tremendously increases interactions between individuals and groups with different cultural, social, and religious traditions, different economies and different levels of material wealth. The ensuing confrontation of values can result in conflict, ranging from hate crimes to terrorism and warfare. Researchers will study social conflicts arising from globalization in order to contribute to their resolution and to prevent them in the future.

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For more information:
School of Human Evolution & Social Change
P.O. Box 872402
Tempe, AZ 85287-2402
Telephone: 480-965-6215
Facsimile: 480-965-7671