Shape of the Proposal

This proposal is your chance to choose a topic you care about personally and/or fascinates you intellectually.

For many months you will live and breathe this project, so be sure you are passionate about your topic and that it is feasible. Your fervor will then propel you through the coming months.  Demonstrate enthusiasm in your proposal, which should be lively rather than overly mechanical.

Your audience for the proposal is the entire faculty of the Anthropology Department. We have placed in the lounge a (red) notebook with sample thesis proposals, but bear in mind their authors did not have the benefit of the outline we here provide for you in this revised handout. These are old theses in the lounge and each faculty member has particular theses set aside to serve as models as well.

A thesis proposal serves several purposes simultaneously, for you and for us:

  • It serves to make your thesis real. It firms up your commitment to a particular anthropological problem, gets you into the library and/or into the field, and forces you to demarcate a sufficiently specific topic. This intellectual work PRECEDES the writing of the proposal.
  • It helps you clarify your conceptual framework early in the process.
  • It helps you to develop a clear timeline for how you manage your thesis research and writing. How will you proceed? This forces you to plan ahead. What are the likely books you will use? Within what theoretical discourses will you situate yourself? What useful methodological strategies mught you identify?
  • It will assist us, your professors, when delegating advising responsibilities as evenly and as fairly as possible.
  • The quality of your proposal will figure in both AN441 grading and the final evaluation of the thesis itself.
  • It will put all of us on notice of your interests so that we can send relevant material your way as it comes to our attention. This can be a very useful by-product of the proposal circulating process.

The precise content or contour of your proposal is in your hands, Anthropology proposals, as of 2009, MUST include the following discrete, labeled sub-sections:

  1. A descriptive working TITLE.
  2. A clear, succinct, SUMMARY STATEMENT OF INQUIRY covering not only the topic but also the question to be investigated. This may be presented in the form of a thesis statement.
  3. Your subsequent more detailed DISCUSSION of the issue should set the scene for your investigation by explaining the institution to investigate, the cultural belief structure to explicate.  Be sure to let the department know why you find this topic of particular interest.
  4. A LITERATURE REVIEW section in which you explain to us the nature of the intellectual conversation you will be entering during your thesis year.  Here you should review what others have already thought or written about your question, presenting the outlines of a specific theoretical paradigm or philosophical debate.  We will look for a demonstrated familiarity with the contours of the relevant ethnographic and theoretical literatures.
  5. A METHODOLOGY section follows.  How, precisely, will you generate your data? This section is extremely important and needs serious attention at the proposal stage. We expect details.
  6. A WORK PLAN or timeline will outline your process over the coming weeks and months. Again, we expect details. Be specific!
  7. A statement of responsibility for addressing research ethics and approaching the Bates’ INSTITUTIONAL REVIEW BOARD; in addition, this is your opportunity to address any ethical dilemmas you foresee. No proposal will be accepted without a statement of research ethics. See the IRB website.
  8. An ANNOTATED BIBLIOGRAPHY for the entire project should be appended. Your comments should indicate the anticipated utility of the various primary and secondary sources you have already found.  What other types of sources might you need to complete your task? Indicate what sleuthing may be necessary in the near future.An annotated bibliography is a list of works in alphabetical order that provides comments about the text. The appended comments may summarize, critique, or provide general information about the text. You may want to specify key concepts or theories and provide pertinent direct quotes in the annotated entry. An annotated bibliography is extremely helpful when writing a literature review chapter for a thesis.

Examples of an Annotated Bibliographic Entry:
1986. Anxious Pleasures: The Sexual Lives of an Amazonian People. Chicago, IL:
The University of Chicago Press.
Gregor examines the sexual lives of the Mehinaku, a tribe of Indians living in the Amazonian river basin of northeastern Brazil. Using a psychoanalytic perspective, Gregor analyzes Mehinaku myths and men’s dreams in order to suggest that the source of male anxiety and ambivalence, which seems inherent to the male personality, is due to the socialization of a feminine core (see pp. 184-199). This feminine core creates ambivalence in male-female relations, especially sexual relationships. I find his book devoid of the female perspective. However, I will still be able to use Gregor in my thesis chapter on gender relations.