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Department of Social Anthropology


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The Cambridge MPhil by Advanced Study in Social Anthropology is an intensive 11-month postgraduate degree programme intended as a conversion course for students with little or no previous training in anthropological methods and perspectives. It provides a wide yet thorough grounding in the theoretical and ethnographic dimensions of the field. The degree can be a free-standing qualification, or a route to the original research involved in a PhD, or a means to acquire knowledge of anthropology for use in other fields and professional contexts.

Full-time students are required by Regulation to be resident in Cambridge for all 3 terms of study. Students who plan to study outside of Cambridge must apply for leave to work away, regardless of whether the period away is in term or between terms (except students who are returning home between terms to study or revise for examinations).

Teaching for the MPhil is via introductory briefings, seminars, lectures, group supervisions and individual supervision. 'Supervision' is a University of Cambridge expression for the personal one-to-one guidance, monitoring and discussion of work provided by a member of academic staff whom we call a supervisor. Every student has their own individual supervisor, with whom they will meet regularly during the year, and who will provide personal one-to-one guidance, monitoring and discussion of work. Every student's supervisor is appointed at the beginning of the academic year. Each student's supervisor will have expert knowledge and research experience in one or more of our field's disciplinary specialisms and thematic concerns.

Teaching is centred around four seminars (Economics, Kinship/Gender, Politics, and Religion) that constitute the principal teaching covered under the headings 'Production and Reproduction' (Paper 1) and 'Power and Knowledge'  (Paper 2). In Cambridge parlance, a 'paper' is a formally assessed component of a degree course for which students sit a written examination at the end of the academic year.  All MPhil in Social Anthropology students are expected to attend and take an active part in all four of the Paper 1 and Paper 2 seminars. 

In addition to these seminars, the Department expects all MPhil in Social Anthropology students to attend lectures shared with second year undergraduates under the code heading SAN2, covering the four major anthropological subdisciplines: political anthropology, economic anthropology, the anthropology of religion, and the anthropology of kinship/gender. In addition, students must choose one from a range of available option papers (all listed as alternatives under the code Heading MPhil Paper 3). All the option papers are reflective of staff members' current research interests; those on offer vary from year to year.

The Department also requires that students attend the non-assessed paper ‘Theory, methods and enquiry in social anthropology’ (MP4). This paper provides introductory lectures in social anthropology and methodology training to support students' other papers and dissertation. As part of this paper, students also attend the lectures on anthropological theory which are provided under the code heading SAN3.

Students are not expected to confine themselves exclusively to these lectures: in consultation with their supervisors, they are encouraged to attend other lectures which may be relevant to their general interests and in prospective dissertation topics.

The intention of the course is to provide students with a thorough grounding in the approaches, methods and findings of social anthropology. The field is large and students will find that the coursework is intensive. There are a number of components to it:

    •    introductory sessions;
    •    lectures;
    •    seminars;
    •    supervisions;
    •    fieldwork and research methods workshop; and
    •    assessment (in the form of a set essay, exams and dissertation).

In summary, students will sit two unseen written examinations (Paper 1 and Paper 2); they will submit an independently written Set Essay relating to the concerns of the option they choose from those listed under Paper 3; and they will submit an in-depth exercise in anthropological analysis in the form of a dissertation. The MPhil in Social Anthropology is a pass/ fail degree but for internal purposes the Department distinguishes between Pass and High Pass. Normally a Strong High Pass (73) is required as a qualification for admission to the Cambridge Social Anthropology PhD programme. 


  1. Production and Reproduction (Paper 1)

  2. Systems of Power and Knowledge (Paper 2)

  3. Option Papers (Paper 3)
  4. Theory, Methods and Enquiry in Social Anthropology  (Paper 4 - non assessed).