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McDermott, Ray

Ray McDermott
Ray McDermott
Academic Title 
Other Titles 

Professor of Anthropology (by courtesy)

Contact Information
(650) 723-1723
CU 327
Program Affiliations 
SHIPS (PhD): Anthropology of Education
SHIPS (PhD): Educational Linguistics
SHIPS (PhD): Educational Policy
Research Interests 
Access and Equity
Anthropology and Education
Communication Analysis
Cultural Studies
Family Issues
Literacy and Culture
Philosophy of Social Science
Reading Disabilities
Race, Inequality, and Language in Education (RILE)
Urban Education

Interaction analysis and social structure; the political economy of learning; writing systems; educational and psychological anthropology.

Dr. McDermott takes a broad interest in the analysis of human communication, the organization of school success and failure, and the history and use of various literacies around the world. His work includes studies of inner-city public schools, after-school classrooms, and the function of information technologies in different cultures. At present, he is workinng on the intellectual history of ideas like genius, intelligence, race, and capital.

"Along with great promise, American culture has given education terrible problems and few conceptual tools for finding solutions. Our job is to confront current arrangements enough to do research that delivers on the promise of equality and excellence for all."

- from a recent interview

  • PhD (Anthropology), Stanford University, 1977
  • BA (Philosophy and Chinese), Queens College, 1967

Since 1989

Professor of Education and (by courtesy) Cultural and Social Anthropology; Co-Director, Teacher Education Program (1994-1996).

Elementary School Teacher, New York City Public Schools (1968-1970);

Assistant Professor, Laboratory of Comparative Human Cognition, Rockefeller University (1975-1979);

Associate Professor, Teachers College, Columbia University (1979-1985), Professor (1985-1989).

  • Education and Inequality in American Culture (Ed 203X, 203Y)
  • Culture and Learning (Ed 287)
  • Technologies of the Mind (Ed 306C)
  • Analysis of Social Interaction (Ed 321B)


Jean Lave & Ray McDermott

Estranged (labor) learning. Outlines 4:19-48.


In praise of negation. Zeitschrift für Pädagogik 50: 150-70.


Situating genius. In Z. Bekerman, N. Burbules, & D. Silverman-Cohen (eds.), Learning in Places: The Informal

Education Reader. Pp. 285-302. NY: Peter Lang.

What is not known about genius. In S. Steinberg & J.L. Kincheloe (eds.), What You Don't Know about School. Pp. 183-209. NY: Palgrave/Macmillan.

Ray McDermott, Shelley Goldman, & Herve Varenne

The cultural work of Learning Disabilities. Educational Researcher 35(6):12-17.

Ray McDermott & Hervé Varenne Reconstructing culture in educational research. In G. Spindler & L.Hammond (eds.), Innovations in Educational Ethnography. Pp. 3-31. Mahwah: LEA.

Perry Gilmore & Ray McDermott " . . . and this is how you shall ask": Linguistics, anthropology and education in the work of David Smith. Anthropology of Education Quarterly 37(2):199-211

In press Does "learning" exist? In T. Koschmann (ed.), Theorizing Learning Practice. Mahwah: LEA Joel Kuipers & Ray McDermott Ethnographic responsibility. In J. Kuipers & R. McDermott (eds.), Fine Description: Ethnographic and Linguistic Essays of Harold C. Conklin. Pp. 1-24. New Haven: Center for Southeast Asian Studies, Yale University.

Ray McDermott & Kathleen Hall Scientifically-debased research on learning, 1854-2006. Anthropology of Education Quarterly 38(1):00-00.

Shelley Goldman & Ray McDermott Staying the course on video analysis. In R. Goldman, R. Pea, & B. Barron (eds.), Video Research in the Learning Sciences. Mahwah: LEA.

Under revision

Nathaniel Klemp, Ray McDermott, Jason Raley, Matthew Thibeault, Kimberly Powell, & Daniel Levitin
Plans, takes, mis-takes: Sequence and learning in jazz (for The Journal of the Learning Sciences).