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The option of writing a dissertation is open to all Part IIB candidates. The dissertation counts towards the final degree as an alternative to the optional paper.

Many students find writing a dissertation to be one of the most challenging and enjoyable parts of their course. It allows them to explore issues more widely or deeply than is possible within the supervision essay format and many excellent dissertations have been produced in the Division. For those planning to continue at postgraduate level, it also gives a sense of research possibilities.


On this page:



Research Ethics
 and Integrity




  1. Before proceeding to Part IIB you should consider whether or not you wish to offer a dissertation in your final year. If you decide to go ahead, you will need as soon as possible to discuss it with your Director of Studies and/ or with the members of the Division responsible for the Part IIA dissertation seminars. You will need to have some idea as to a possible subject and source of data, but finalisation of the topic and how it should be tackled is best left for discussion with whoever is appointed by your Director of Studies to be the supervisor. During the initial discussion a possible supervisor may be suggested and the next stage – ideally still early within the Part IIA year – will be to talk the matter through with the supervisor. The ideal is to work out a possible topic and begin preliminary reading during the second year. You should also attend the Part IIA dissertation seminars. Most people gather the basic data for their dissertation and write it up in a preliminary form during the second year long vacation or during the Christmas vacation of the third year.  If you wish to carry out fieldwork to gather data for your dissertation you should complete and return a Dissertation Fieldwork Form in your Part IIA year.  
  2. The final date for making an application to submit a dissertation is Wednesday 26 October 2016. The application needs to go to the Head of Department via the Division’s Undergraduate Administrator using the appropriate form – Proposal to Offer a Dissertation Form
  3. Any changes of title after that date must be submitted on the appropriate form – Change to a Dissertation Title Form - to the Head of Department via the Division’s Undergraduate Administrator by Wednesday 1 February 2017. Deadlines are noted on the Part IIB Dissertation Moodle Course.
  4. The Head of Department will formally approve your title by the Division of the Lent term in your final year. After the title has been approved, no change may be made without further approval from the Head of Department.
  5. The dissertation (two copies) must be submitted to the Social Anthropology office, not later than the second Friday of Easter full term. In addition, a copy should be uploaded to the Assignment section of the Part IIB Social Anthropology Dissertation Moodle Course. Each dissertation should be accompanied by one sheet, bound into the front of the dissertation, containing the following: (a) a brief synopsis of the contents; (b) a signed statement that this is original work, and does not contain material already used to any substantial extent for a comparable purpose; and (c) a signed declaration of the word count of the dissertation (see Dissertation Style Guide for wording or the Dissertation Moodle Course for a Template Cover Sheet).
  6. Following the dissertation submission, one of the examiners will hold a short oral examination (viva) with you on its scope and content and on background knowledge relevant to the topic.

A reminder of key points and deadlines:

  • Be thinking about your plans for a dissertation during your Part IIA year
  • Topic: should not duplicate material on which you will be examined
  • Length: 10,000 words excluding footnotes, appendices, and bibliography
  • Deadline for Proposal to Offer a Dissertation Form which includes your title: Wednesday 26 October 2016
  • Final deadline for revised titles submitted on the Change to a Dissertation Title Form: Wednesday 1 February 2017
  • Deadline for submission of dissertation: 4pm on Friday 5 May 2017
  • Viva Voce Examinations: TBC

Please note: The deadline for submission of Part IIB dissertations is strict and final. If you anticipate any problem in submitting your Part II dissertation on time you must consult your supervisor, Director of Studies and College Tutor immediately. Extensions will only be granted under exceptional circumstances. Work submitted late and without certification will be penalised at the rate of 5% for the first day late, followed by 1% deducted for each day late thereafter. The examiners will deduct marks from dissertations in the event they are submitted late without prior divisional agreement.




The general topic of the dissertation may be on any suitable subject within Social Anthropology provided that its content does not overlap with that presented in any paper being offered for examination. In other words it should address arguments and materials in addition to those drawn on for the written examinations. You will need to think about collecting the materials, sorting them and addressing arguments through them as a piece of independent research.

The research may be library-based or may include an element of survey- or ‘field’-work. The latter two kinds of project depend on the student’s initiative; the Division of Social Anthropology does not offer training in field research methods at this level. Where students have the opportunity to bring in ‘field’ experiences, they are encouraged to draw on them, as on any other resource, but there is no preference for a particular research approach. A library-based dissertation is given equal weight to a project-based one.

Length and format: The word limit is 10,000 words excluding footnotes, abstracts/synopsis, contents page, appendices, acknowledgements, glossary or bibliography. NB Students should not include important information in footnotes that could be included in the body of the text, as examiners are not obliged to read footnotes. Dissertations must be typewritten unless permission has been obtained from the Faculty Board to present work in manuscript. Apart from these two stipulations, there are no formal requirements concerning presentation and layout but the Division of Social Anthropology offers suggested guidelines as a useful rule of thumb (see Dissertation style guide).

Use of video: candidates may submit a video or videoed material as an appendix. However, a special case can be made for video being submitted as integral to the subject of the dissertation. In that case, it will substitute for up to 25% of the written text. Written application must be made at the same time as titles are submitted for Departmental approval. In neither case should video material be longer than 20 minutes. Please note that instruction in the making of anthropological videos is not offered to Part II students; candidates considering this option should take advice from their Director of Studies, and should give careful consideration as to whether or not they wish to submit video for formal assessment. We have filming and editing facilities in our Visual Anthropology Lab, available for students to use for video projects whether formally submitted as part of the dissertation or not.

Examination: the dissertation counts towards the final degree as though it were a single examination paper and carries equal weighting. It will be read independently by two examiners, one of whom (who will not be the candidate’s supervisor) will hold a short oral examination (viva) on its scope and content and on background knowledge relevant to the topic.

Quality: successful candidates are expected to show both a theoretical grasp of intellectual issues in Social Anthropology and a substantive grasp of a body of knowledge. The range is assumed to include familiarity with a number of case studies/ ethnographies, as a basic training in comparative enquiry, and the dissertation affords excellent scope to demonstrate this. Examiners will look for evidence of the ability to formulate, develop and complete a piece of research.



Research Ethics and Integrity

The University of Cambridge Research Integrity website provides extensive ethics and integrity guidelines to support staff and students. The Association of Social Anthropologists also provides extensive and detailed ASA ethics guidelines, which you should consult carefully while planning your research. As the statement from the ASA chair usefully points out, the above guidelines are not intended to provide ready-made answers or to absolve researchers from ethical responsibilities, but should be a starting point for a concrete reflection on the specific ethical issues which may have to be borne in mind in the case of your specific research:

“Codes of practice and guidelines are of necessity succinct documents, couched in abstract and general terms. They serve as a baseline for starting to think about ethical issues, but cannot of their nature encompass the complexities of concrete situations and the dilemmas of choice and positioning that anthropologists routinely face as they navigate through a variety of intersecting fields of power and responsibility and start to consider how their own work both reflects and affects power relations. If ethics is seen simply as a question of avoiding a lawsuit and our codes are simply a list of restrictions on conduct designed to protect us from interference, our ethical purpose will simply be a matter of self-serving professional interest.” (Statement from the Chair, ASA)

Researchers should also be aware of data protection issues that arise as a result of conducting research. In particular, you should keep in mind that when using cloud-based storage, or programmes such as Evernote, data will be crossing international borders even if your research does not. This means you should be aware of any issues raised concerning not only the security of your own research data, but also the legal issues surrounding data protection of all personal data. Further information on data protection can be found at the following places:
The University of Cambridge Staff and Student Information
Research data Q&A from Jisc Legal
SOAS information on personal data in research which covers some issues of particular interest to anthropologists in more depth

If, having read these guidelines, you have any questions or would like any advice relating to research ethics, please consult the division’s research ethics officer, Matei Candea (




For those considering conducting fieldwork, see the film ‘Fieldwork in the Himalayas’ narrated by Professor Alan Macfarlane. This film takes the viewer through the fieldwork endeavour, from leaving one’s own country through to getting back to it after fieldwork.

Dissertation Resources


For deadlines, forms, past exam reports and to upload the final electronic version of your dissertation please see the Part IIB Social Anthropology Dissertation Moodle Course.

Please note students enrolled on the Dissertation will automatically be enrolled on the Part IIB Social Anthropology Dissertation Moodle course and you will find a link to the course in the ‘My Home’ section of Moodle.

If you are a member of the University of Cambridge and you wish to view the past exam reports for dissertations then you can access the Moodle Course as a guest. For more information on how to access Moodle Courses as a guest please see Moodle Help.