College of Humanities and Social Sciences
College of Humanities and Social Sciences

PhD in Cultural Studies

Why Mason?

Why Interdisciplinary Cultural Studies?

It's no secret that the humanities are in crisis and that the academic job market is contracting. Recent PhDs often labor under onerous conditions. The traditional disciplines of the humanities and social sciences, with their atomized disciplinary approaches, seem saturated.

The Cultural Studies PhD Program at George Mason University is dedicated to interdisciplinary training in the humanities and the interpretive social sciences. When we established the program 18 years ago, of course we knew that academic jobs were scarce. But as it turns out we have had a very different experience of the job market than almost any other doctoral program we can think of.

We have produced 58 graduates, with another 3 in line to graduate Fall 2014. Roughly 50% of our graduates have landed tenure-track appointments in colleges and universities. Another 30% or so have reliable term appointments. Some are in English, History, Anthropology, or Communication departments. Others are in Liberal Studies, Media Studies, Women's Studies, or other interdisciplinary fields. Many have joint appointments linking a discipline with an interdisciplinary field. Very few are stuck in the adjunct rut, and most of the remaining 20% or so work in relevant applied fields: non-government, non-profit, and so on.

These are enviable figures that clearly buck the trends. Our experiences suggest that there is still an academic job market out there, and that present conditions favor interdisciplinary training.

We attribute our success to two main factors which tell us something about conditions out there:

First, our graduate students get extensive teaching experience in a variety of disciplinary and interdisciplinary settings. By the time they graduate, they have impressive teaching resumes -- almost always in two, three, sometimes four different units, departments, or fields.

Second, our graduates are well trained in theoretical, topical, and methodological areas that map across different disciplines spanning the humanities and social sciences: culture and political economy; new media and information technology in globalizing contexts; areas related to gender, sexuality, and race, and so on. This gives them the flexibility to work out a variety of disciplinary, interdisciplinary, or joint appointments -- on topics in high demand.

There might not be any great demand for another close reading of Lord Byron, or another 19th century French ecclesiastical historian; but there is a demonstrable need for experienced teachers with research backgrounds who can take students through an array of topics and methods in a genuinely interdisciplinary way.

The doctoral program in Cultural Studies at George Mason University is the first of its kind in the United States. It draws from 14 departments across the university. With this truly interdisciplinary foundation, the program links the social sciences and the humanities by combining their methods of interpretation to explore the production, distribution, and consumption of cultural objects in their social contexts. With particular focus on theory and method in crafting this linkage, the program addresses contemporary issues of nationality, class, race, and gender, and opens the scope of scholarly inquiry to all forms of culture, past and present.

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