The MA Program in the Social Sciences (MAPSS)

How do we know what we know? What makes expertise? What can we gain in the 21st century by exploring the contexts of knowledge production, past and present? Housed at the Stevanovich Institute on the Formation of Knowledge (SIFK), the Formation of Knowledge MAPSS concentration explores how claims to knowledge are shaped by disciplinary, social, historical, and political contexts, as well as local cultural factors both explicit and unspoken. Students in the Formation of Knowledge MAPSS concentration are introduced to the nascent and dynamic field of inquiry into the formation of knowledge through a broad range of historical, sociological, and anthropological case studies that exemplify and challenge disciplinary practices in the social sciences. In addition to traditional social science research, the program highlights experiential learning, collaboration, and opportunities guided faculty advisor. 

Led by an interdisciplinary team of faculty advisors with a broad range of specializations across campus, students in the Formation of Knowledge MAPSS concentration will be supplied with the methodological tools to look beyond their disciplinary silos in order to defamiliarize their intuitive approaches to research, and to reflect on the complex relationship between facts, truth, and the importance of examining the contexts of knowledge formation. Accepted students will choose from a range of advanced seminars dedicated to exploring the interface of theory, practice, and social action. Our goal is to prepare these students for a broad range of advanced careers, from PhD study in the social sciences to leadership positions at research institutions, government agencies, non-profits, and the private sector. The Formation of Knowledge concentration is for students who seek rigorous training in the social sciences and critical exposure across academic disciplines, cultures, historical periods, as well as experiential learning. Admitted candidates may participate on research teams or conduct independent projects applying cross-disciplinary thinking and analysis to important research questions.


SIFK's Mission

The new MAPSS concentration in the Formation of Knowledge draws from the interdisciplinary faculty of the University-wide Stevanovich Institute on the Formation of Knowledge (SIFK). The Institute was launched at the University of Chicago in the fall of 2015 as as a laboratory for faculty and students to test their own underlying beliefs and assumptions, and those of their disciplines, an important complement to the deep thinking done in multiple modes across the University. SIFK is guided by a set of five principles that inform how we think about knowledge as 21st century leaders and scholars:

  1. 1. The study of knowledge is the study of claims to knowledge.  
  2. 2. All knowledge forms are embedded in a specific context, and are shaped by that context.  
  3. 3. Knowledge is processual, not static.  
  4. 4. Knowledge occurs in response to particular questions.  Unasked questions have produced silence, not knowledge.
  5. 5. The study of knowledge formation recognizes that sub-knowledges, unauthoritative knowledges, and disputed knowledges can all exist simultaneously within a given culture.

Students in the Formation of Knowledge MAPSS concentration will have an opportunity to engage in the institute's dynamic intellectual life, including a regular “Cultures & Knowledge” workshop series, a University of Chicago press journal entitled KNOW: A Journal on the Formation of Knowledge, and a collection of critical essays published regularly on SIFK's blog Formations


Concentration Requirements

The Formation of Knowledge MAPSS concentration requires students to take 1 core seminar (SIFK-MAPSS) and two additional seminars and to work closely with at least one faculty supervisor at or affiliated with the Stevanovich Institute on the Formation of Knowledge who will oversee and approve an MA thesis. 

In addition to the core and two elective seminars, MAPSS students will be required to produce an MA thesis (30–40 pages in length) that explores a foundational question in the formation of knowledge. The Formation of Knowledge concentration challenges students to creatively employ the tools they have acquired in their core MAPSS Perspectives on Social Science course as well as the core and elective seminars they have taken at SIFK, in order to refine and reshape the intellectual framework of their research questions and theses.


Application Procedure

Students can declare an interest in the Formation of Knowledge MAPSS concentration by signing up for our MAPSS students mailing list below. The Formation of Knowledge concentration requires all students to enroll in the SIFK Core: Ways of Knowing, offered in Winter 2021. Moreover, all students are expected to take graduate courses offered by SIFK faculty and to arrange MA thesis supervision by directly contacting faculty. The Stevanovich Institute on the Formation of Knowledge holds regular workshops and events. All MAPSS students are encouraged to attend and form part of our vibrant community. The MAPSS Formation of Knowledge concentration can be taken in combination with other MAPSS certificates and concentrations. 

Join the MAPSS Formation of Knowledge Concentration Mailing List here


Course Offerings

The Stevanovich Institute on the Formation of Knowledge offers a broad range of courses cross-listed with a broad range of departments at the University of Chicago, including History, the Committee on Conceptual and Historical Studies of Science, Comparative Race and Ethnic Studies, Psychology, Sociology, Anthropology, and Comparative Human Development.

Our goal is to prepare students for interdisciplinary PhD study in social science, and for leadership positions at research institutions, government agencies, non-profits, and the private sector. 

During the 2020–21 academic year, our faculty will offer the following courses:

A selection of previous courses offered at The Stevanovich Institute on the Formation of Knowledge include:

  • Seeing and Knowing (Alex Campolo)
  • Medicine and Society in America (Michael Rossi)
  • Race, Land, and Empire: History, Intersectionality, and the Meanings of America (Isaiah Lorado Wilner)
  • Political Theologies of Slavery and Freedom in the Atlantic World (Alex Mazzaferro)
  • How to Build a Global Empire (Stuart M. McManus)
  • The Invention of Hunger (Yan Slobodkin)
  • Human Rights and Humanitarianism in the Modern World (Yan Slobodkin)