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Social and Cultural Studies

The Social and Cultural Studies program has two broad areas of focus. First, SCS is dedicated to studying public schooling in its broader social, cultural, political, and economic contexts. We are particularly concerned with the impact of globalization, migration and immigration, and the changing political economy of U.S. cities on urban education in this country. We are also concerned with understanding the role of schooling in sustaining a democratic society in the face of social inequality, economic restructuring, and changing social relations.

Second, SCS is committed to studying learning and education that take place beyond the borders of regular public schooling—for example, community, labor, and political learning and education that occur in the context of community organizations and social movements, workplaces and labor unions, youth groups, and immigrant centers. We believe that the learning and education that occur in such diverse sites play a critical role in social and cultural transformation, and also help us rethink and re-imagine possibilities for public schooling.

SCS seeks to provide students with a solid grounding in social theory and qualitative research methods. The program aims to provide a unique space within the university for students and faculty to work together on developing innovative approaches to studying and transforming learning and education, in the broadest sense possible.

Areas of Scholarship

Our vision for the program has led us to develop the following four areas of scholarship:

Critical Social Theory: The program emphasizes the use of critical social theory and analysis to study a wide range of educational issues. We analyze social and cultural issues in education through theoretical lenses and empirical research drawing from multiple disciplines including Anthropology, Ethnic Studies, Geography, History, Political Economy, Political Science, Sociology, and Philosophy.

Education and Social Change: We examine relationships between schooling and social structures, as well as sites of non-institutional learning and work, to explore core concerns such as: the role of schooling in society; economic transformations; the possibilities for democratic social change; and the development of culture and knowledge.

Urban Education: Our approach places urban education within the context of larger social structures, cultural processes, and political economy. We work theoretically and empirically to analyze the forces shaping urban education and the ways schools have served to help reproduce unequal social relations.

Immigration, Globalization, and Education: In theoretical and field studies, we explore the impact of global economic transformations on learning and education. We illuminate education issues by studying changing relations of globalization and transnational migration.

For more information, please refer to the Handbook for Advanced Degree Students.

The Ph.D

Coursework is normally completed in two to three years. The faculty evaluate the progress of the student towards the Ph.D. at the end of the first year. This evaluation is based on the papers, projects, coursework and grades generated during that year.  

Three position papers and a dissertation prospectus are required before the oral comprehensive examination. The position paper is a substantial research paper in which the writer takes and argues for a position on an important subject. The writing, topic and argument of the position paper should be of a quality and significance such that the paper could later be developed into a publication and conference presentation.

First position paper: This paper is generally expected to emerge out of the required first year proseminar. While this paper is not required to be an empirical research paper, it should nevertheless explore theoretical and political concerns through careful attention to specific, concrete issues and settings. A full draft of the first position paper should be submitted to two faculty readers by the end of the first year, and should be signed off on by the end of the fall semester of the second year.

Second position paper: This paper is generally expected to emerge out of the required second year research methods seminar. While this paper is expected to be based in field data, it should also engage explicitly with theoretical literature. A full draft of the second position paper should be submitted to two faculty readers by the end of the second year, and should be signed off on by the end of the fall semester of the third year.

Third position paper: Students are strongly encouraged to write their third position paper as their dissertation proposal. This paper would include a statement of the dissertation problem, its genesis and an extensive review of the topic as dealt with by others. Students should consult with their advisors if they wish to explore alternative options for the third position paper.

​The dissertation prospectus describes the research to be undertaken, the significance of the problem and its relation to past and ongoing work in relevant fields of inquiry. It includes an exploration of analytic questions, units of analysis, other methodological aspects of the project, and a discussion of how the research is to be carried out.

The Oral Examination: In accordance with University requirements, four examiners, one a professor at UCB from outside the Graduate School of Education, are nominated by the candidate in consultation with the student’s faculty counselor, for approval by the Graduate Advisor and the Dean of the Graduate Division. In the SCS Program the examination is three hours in length. The student submits to the advisor a list of readings (books and articles), knowledge of which the examiners can presuppose in the exam. After review and possible modification by the student’s advisor, the bibliography will be sent to the other members of the exam committee for review. This should be completed at least one month before the date set for the examination.

Dissertation research follows advancement to candidacy for the Ph.D. Students meet with committee members to discuss the final dissertation proposal before actually beginning the research.

The Ph.D. is awarded upon successful completion of the doctoral dissertation. The Normative time for PhD’s is 6 years. SCS students average ~7 years.

For more information, please refer to the Handbook for Advanced Degree Students.

The M.A.

Students may apply in the M.A./Ph.D. degree program; in other circumstances, the program considers M.A. only applications. The requirements for a Master’s degree in Social and Cultural Studies include:

One school core course: For a list of the approved school- wide core courses please see the attachment at the end of this document or pick up the list from the SCS office (5529 Tolman Hall).

Proseminar I and II: Sociocultural Critique of Education, ED280A and 280B

A program of coursework to be fashioned by the student in conjunction with her/his faculty advisor (20 units if the candidate writes a Master’s thesis [Plan I]; 24 units if the candidate chooses to take a Comprehensive Written Examination or seminar paper [Plan II]).

Master’s Thesis or Comprehensive Written Examination, or seminar paper.

​Normally this M.A. takes 1 1/2 to 2 years to complete.

For more information, please refer to the Handbook for Advanced Degree Students.

Ph.D. Course Requirements

Graduate School of Education Requirements

Core Courses: Doctoral students must take two core courses. At least one of the two must be outside of their area (LLSC).

Methodology: One course each in qualitative and quantitative methodology.

Academic Preparation: Two courses (combined unit value of at least six semester units) must be taken outside the Department of Education at UC Berkeley.

SCS Program Requirements

Core Course: Proseminar: Sociocultural Critique of Education, ED280A and B
First year students participate in this proseminar which is jointly planned and taught by members of the SCS faculty. This interdisciplinary seminar takes up a series of questions. In what ways can philosophical, sociological, anthropological, historical, and psychological forms of inquiry be brought together to bear on the analysis of learning, on schooling, and on education more generally? What do we mean by critical and interpretive theories, and what are their relations with social practice in contemporary cultural-historical contexts? What encompassing social theories of learning and of institutionalized forms of education are at our disposal? How can education come to constitute itself otherwise than in its current form? How can we envision alternative futures?

Methodology: Research Apprenticeship and Qualitative Methodology Seminar I & II, ED280C & 280D
Learning the craft of research practice is an important part of graduate education. Accordingly we require that students take part in a joint research seminar while working directly with their faculty mentors in a year-long research apprenticeship. In the Fall term students examine the basis of research, the logic of inquiry, and a variety of approaches to educational research and the social sciences. In the Spring term students prepare an analytic paper on their research.

Concentration and Academic Preparation
Students ordinarily select at least five graduate courses that together form a concentration in a discipline or inter-disciplinary framework (equivalent of 16-20 credit hours). These courses may be in Ethnic Studies, History, Philosophy, Anthropology, Sociology, or in a professional school, for example, City and Regional Planning, Public Health, Social Work, or Law.

Program Faculty