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Department of Social Anthropology


Handling chemical processing of fluorspar in Chinese Mining Factory in Mongolia

 Image: Handling the chemical processing of fluorspar in Chinese mining factory, Mongolia. Ruiyi Zhu    

Undergraduate courses

The Undergraduate degree programme provides students with a broad-based training that combines theoretical developments in social anthropology with a range of thematic options, in-depth regional ethnography, and opportunities for hands-on research linked to a dissertation.

In the first year (Part I), students study Social Anthropology as part of a multi-disciplinary course in Human, Social, and Political Sciences in which they combine introductions to the methods and principals of social anthropology alongside papers in related disciplines such as politics and sociology, and the option if wanted, to explore introductions to archaeology and psychology. Details are on the HSPS website here

The second year course (Part IIA) comprises four papers: two core, one ethnographic area paper and one optional paper. Students start gaining an in-depth understanding of the nature and extent of the discipline. The core papers are organised around kinship, economics, politics and religion and the history and current developments of anthropological theory.  At students' request we have extended the study in the anthropology of an ethnographic area paper (for example, recent papers have included South Asia, Latin America, Africa, the Middle East) to both second and third years. At least three ethnographic area papers are on offer each year, each of which covers a broad range of topics and conceptual approaches.  The final paper includes a wide variety of optional papers. These include specialist areas of Social Anthropology and reflect the current research interests of the academic staff in the Department (for example, recent papers have been on the study of cities, digital media and gender and sexuality), or students may choose to borrow a paper from elsewhere within the Human, Social and Political Sciences (HSPS) Tripos.

The third year course in Social Anthropology (Part IIB) comprises two papers in advanced social anthropology, studying Ethical life and the anthropology of the subject and Power, economy and social transformation.  The final two papers may be chosen from an ethnographic area  and the optional papers on offer in Social Anthropology or other disciplines in HSPS or other Triposes.  Third year students can also opt to submit a dissertation in Social Anthropology instead of one of their papers.  Students remark that a dissertation is one of the most challenging and enjoyable parts of their course, enabling application of knowledge to a specific area or topic of interest. 

There are also joint honours degrees, Sociology and Social Anthropology, Social Anthropology and Politics and Social Anthropology and Religious Studies (Modern Religion), which combine social anthropology courses with those from other disciplines in a variety of ways. It is also possible to do a dissertation in the third year of these degrees.

Postgraduate courses

The MPhil in Social Anthropology provides an intensive but thorough grounding in both theory and ethnography either as a route to the PhD or for those who wish to use a knowledge of social anthropology in relation to other work. It consists of two examined papers covering the core subjects of kinship, economics, politics and religion, an assessed research essay and a dissertation.  

The MPhil in Social Anthropological Research provides specialist training in Social Anthropology to students with a first degree in the discipline, either on its own or as part of a joint degree. It will consist of a core course on contemporary themes and professional development, together with an evolving programme of methods teaching and specialist training in cutting edge social anthropology, directly linked to staff research interests.

The MPhil in Health, Medicine and Society offers a uniquely multi-disciplinary approach to teaching and research, combining world class faculty with outstanding institutional resources. It is designed to provide you with combined advanced skills in the social, ethical and historical analysis of health and medicine.

Students who already have a substantial background in social anthropology (normally a good UK honours or Masters degree in the subject) are admitted directly to the postgraduate research programme that leads to the PhD. They may take the MRes in Social Anthropology first, or be registered directly on the PhD programme.