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Department of Social Anthropology

John Fahy - Local women in Mayapur


For successful completion of the course, MPhil students must submit the following written work for examination:

  • Set Essay:  an independently written analytical essay of not more than 6000 words on a subject chosen by the candidate from a list published annually by the Department and related to the MPhil Paper 3 option paper they are taking. The subject of the essay must not overlap the subject of the dissertation. This element counts for 20% of the student's overall mark for the course.
  • Written examinations on:

    1. Paper 1 The Scope of Social Anthropology I: Production and Reproduction

    2. Paper 2 The Scope of Social Anthropology II: Systems of Power and Knowledge

    Each exam paper counts for 20% of the student's overall mark for the course.

  • A dissertation of not more than 13,000 words in length, including the cover page, table of contents, footnotes and list of illustrations, but excluding synopsis, acknowledgements, figures, tables, appendices, and bibliography, on a subject approved by the Archaelogy, Anthropology and Sociology Degree Committee, which must not overlap with the subject of any assessed essay offered by the candidate.  An oral examination may be held at the discretion of the examiners.  If needed this would take place in late September.
  • The dissertation counts for 40% of the student's overall mark for the course.  

The formal regulations for the MPhil in Social Anthropology can be found in the University’s Statutes and Ordinances.

On this page:

Set essay


The dissertation

Submission deadlines

Assessment standards

Data Retention Policy

Set essay

The set essay is an independently written, analytical essay of not more than 6,000 words, including cover page and footnotes, but excluding figures, tables, appendices and bibliography, on a subject chosen by the candidate from a list published each year by the Department and related to the optional paper they are taking.  The subject of the essay must not overlap the subject of the dissertation. The list of set essay questions will be published on the MPhil in Social Anthropology Moodle Course following approval by the Degree Committee for Archaeology, Anthropology and Sociology.  The essay counts for 20 per cent of the total marks.

Students should compile an agreed reading list for the set essay in consultation with their supervisors, and are urged to begin this process during Michaelmas term, so there is ample time to receive appropriate guidance. Students are required to complete Department Form ‘MP13 – Examinations’ which will be available on the Moodle Course.  The form must be signed off by the student’s supervisor and must be uploaded to the correct section of the Moodle course by the date given in the online diary.

A digital version of your set essay (in Word or PDF) must be uploaded to the MPhil in Social Anthropology Moodle Course by the date given in the online diary.


  • The minimum font size for text is 12pt and 10pt for footnotes
  • Font should be Times New Roman 
  • Margins should be 1 inch/ 2.5 cm all round (after allowing for binding)
  • Chapters always begin on a new page
  • Section headings must be clearly indicated
  • Use single line spacing with an extra line between paragraphs
  • All figures, tables, illustrations, etc should be clearly numbered and listed in the table of contents


For the examinations students are expected to answer three questions (in essay form) from a menu of previously unseen questions. In preparation for these examinations, students should draw across material they have learnt in lectures, seminars, supervisions and through their own independent reading. Examiners are well aware that the papers cover more than individual students can master in one year. For individual questions we are looking for evidence that students are not simply repeating existing supervision essays, but are engaging thoughtfully with the questions at hand. Copies of previous years’ examination papers are available on the MPhil Moodle Course.

Exam Skills: advice for Social Anthropology Students (PDF) 

The dissertation

The dissertation (see Planning your dissertation) is an exercise in advanced independent study. For those candidates taking the Museums or Medical Anthropology options of Paper 3, the topic of the dissertation should be within the general field of that option. For those candidates taking other options, the only requirement is that the dissertation is securely anthropological. In both cases the primary aim of the dissertation should be the theoretical analysis of ethnographic material; it may also be a new synthesis of data and/ or new interpretation of existing material. All titles must be submitted for approval by the Degree Committee.  Students are required to complete Department Form 'MP14 - Dissertation title and submission date' which will be available on the Moodle Course.  The form must be signed off by the student’s supervisor and must be uploaded to the correct section of the Moodle course by the date given in the online diary.

Students are expected to attend all seminar classes, including those relating to the field in which their dissertation falls. This is to ensure that they will have a broad background from which to approach the more specialised work involved in writing the dissertation.  A digital version of the dissertation must be submitted via the MPhil Moodle Course by the Division of Easter Term (early assessment) or the last Friday in August (late assessment). Please see the online diary for specific dates.

For further information on style, please see Dissertation Style Guidelines.

Word limits

The word count limits given for assignments are strict.  These are upper limits and submissions that exceed these limits will be penalized by a minimum of 5 marks. If an assessor believes that the word limit has been exceeded, an electronic version of the work will be used to verify the word count.

Submission deadlines

Submission deadlines are announced in the online Diary. Set essays and dissertations must be submitted by noon on the day of the deadline. You are expected to manage your time to meet the deadlines. This includes, for example, preparing a draft well in advance, to allow reasonable time for feedback from your supervisor, and final revisions. Please note that sloppy presentation (bad spelling or grammar, incomplete bibliography etc.) will be penalised by the examiners.

No extensions will be given to the deadlines, with exceptions being made only for certified medical emergencies. Set essays or dissertations submitted after noon on the deadline days will be penalised by 5 marks for the first day, followed by 1 mark for each day of delay thereafter.

If you experience personal or other difficulties that interfere with your work, you should consult your College Tutor in good time for advice and assistance. In exceptional circumstances, a case for late submission may be made through these authorities, but it must reach the Graduate Administrator well before the deadline. In extreme cases personal problems may require periods of intermission of studies.

Please also note that the word counts for set essays and dissertations are strict. There are upper limits and you must not exceed them. The Department reserves the right to check the Word copy of the essay or dissertation to verify the word count. Set essays or dissertations that exceed the limits will be penalised by 5 marks, regardless of the length of excess.

Assessment standards

Formally, this is a pass/ fail course. The standard for a pass begins at 60. Internally we note the difference between a pass (60-69) and a high pass (70-74), and a mark above 75 is awarded a distinction.

The dissertation is weighted insofar as it is a separate element, which must be passed; a candidate may carry one fail mark in any element other than the dissertation provided there are compensating marks.

If you wish to proceed to doctoral research you will normally be expected to achieve a strong high pass (73) overall. Your exact academic condition will be clarified if you are successful in your application to the PhD programme.

Assessment descriptors

Mark Class Description
75%+ Distinction At the upper end this is work which consistently exceeds expectations and challenges received views. At the lower end it indicates work which is excellent in its range and its command of the material, and in the argument and analysis that it brings to bear.
70-74% High Pass Work showing evidence of a good, broad-based engagement with and understanding of the relevant material organised in a clearly-argued, well-illustrated and relevant fashion.
60-69% Pass At the upper end this includes work which, though competent and broadly relevant, is somewhat lacking in focus, organisation or breadth of reference. At the lower end it indicates work which, while demonstrating some knowledge of the material, is yet deficient in understanding, analysis and breadth of reference.


An answer that shows some knowledge of the broader subject area but displays inadequate evidence of directly relevant knowledge and understanding, and is unable to give a plausible and satisfactory answer to the question. A "marginal fail" mark is at the top of this range, 58-59.
21-40% Fail As per 41-59, aggravated by poor organization, poor expression, uncritical approach, serious mistakes, misunderstandings and/or irrelevant material.
1-20% Fail An answer of very limited substance. It may be a very brief answer of no more than a single paragraph of conventional paragraph length, and/or an answer which especially at the lower end contains little or nothing relevant to the question.
0% Fail No answer provided.

Data Retention Policy

Information on the HSPS Faculty Data Retention Policy.

Course Resources


For reading lists, additional teaching materials, past exam papers and reports please see the MPhil Moodle Course.

Please note teaching staff and students enrolled on the MPhil course will automatically be enrolled on the MPhil Moodle course and you will find a link to it in the ‘My Home’ section of Moodle.

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