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Department of Social Anthropology


There are People in the Cloud (Alexander Taylor, 2017)

Image: There are people in the cloud, Data centres, Alexander Taylor

In Part IIA, students start gaining an in-depth understanding of the nature and extent of cultural and social diversity. The core papers are organised around kinship and economics; politics and religion; and the history and current orientations of anthropological theory. Students learn how anthropological research has been instrumental in transforming how we think about cultural and social diversity – as well as being introduced to the cutting-edge debates surrounding the questions that remain unanswered.

Students taking optional papers should check their existing timetables for potential clashes prior to committing to doing a paper. Whilst the Department of Social Anthropology works very hard to ensure that there are no clashes on core papers for single and joint tracks, the same cannot be said of optional or borrowed papers offered outside Social Anthropology, where unavoidable clashes may ensue. It is up to the student to discuss this with their Director of Studies and decide on their option papers accordingly. Please also note that supervisions for all Social Anthropology papers (including optional ones) are organised by the Director of Studies and not centrally, by the Department.

Please note: due to the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic and government guidance,  we have had to make some changes to the programme in order to mitigate against risks to health and to give you the best possible academic experience in the circumstances. We will continue to monitor and respond to the changing public health situation. Teaching may be delivered in-person or online, depending on evolving distancing guidelines and room availability with provision made for students needing to shield or self isolate. Large lectures will be online; seminars and smaller-group teaching may be in person if circumstances allow. This will be adjusted as the situation develops during the year.


Structure of the Course

Single-subject track

There are three compulsory papers. Paper SAN2: The foundations of social life, teaches students about the study of kinship and economics, religion and politics. Of course, social life cannot be easily divided into separate ‘fields’, and our teaching is designed to allow students to explore contexts in which they overlap, such as bridewealth and dowry (which combine marriage with economic exchange) and the use of religious movements for political protest.

Paper SAN3: Anthropological theory and methods, provides a thorough grounding in anthropological and social theory. Students are introduced to a wide variety of approaches, and are encouraged to explore the ways in which they can be used, criticised, and combined.

The third core paper, SAN4: The anthropology of an ethnographic area, is the anthropology of an ethnographic area in which students get a chance to specialise in the anthropology of a particular world region. Every year, three or four regional papers are available to choose from, each of which covers a broad range of topics and conceptual approaches.

Finally, students take a fourth paper, which they can choose from a wide variety of Social Anthropology optional papers, for 2020-21: SAN8: Development, poverty and social justiceSAN9: Science and environment and SAN13: Gender, kinship and care. These include specialist areas of the discipline, and papers borrowed from elsewhere within the Human, Social and Political Sciences (HSPS) Tripos and other Triposes – so there is plenty of scope to pursue individual interests!


Joint-subject tracks

Social Anthropology can be combined with any other major subjects in the joint track streams. Those who select one of the joint tracks in Part IIA have the option to specialise in Social Anthropology in Part IIB if they wish.

Social Anthropology and Politics
Required papers: SAN2,
Choose one paper from: SAN3, SAN4 and SAN 7-15

Choose one paper from: POL3 or POL4
Choose one paper from: POL7 or POL8
Please see the Politics and International Relations website for more information on Politics papers.


Social Anthropology and Religious Studies (Modern Religion)(Starting 2020-2021)
This joint track in Modern Religion combines papers taught in Social Anthropology (HSPS Tripos) and in Religious Studies (Theology, Religion and Philosophy of Religion Tripos).

Required papers: SAN2,
Choose one paper from: SAN3, SAN4
Choose one paper from Part IIA Theology, Religion & Philosophy of Religion (including the option of a scriptural language paper.)
Choose one paper from Part IIA Theology, Religion & Philosophy of Religion


Sociology and Social Anthropology

Required papers: SAN2
Choose one paper from: SAN3 or SAN4
Choose two papers from: SOC2, SOC3 or SOC 5

Please see the Sociology website for more information on Sociology papers. 


Final year dissertation

For those who wish to consider offering a dissertation in their final year the groundwork is best started early in the IIA year. Students conduct their own independent research project under the supervision of a member of staff which can be library-based, or archival – but it can also include the student’s own ethnographic work, usually conducted in the summer vacation between Part IIA and Part IIB. Any student considering this option can find out more about procedures, including Research Ethics and the submission of a Proposal to Submit a Dissertation Form (due in Easter of your IIA year) on the Part IIB Dissertation page.

All undergraduates seeking to do a dissertation must discuss their plans with their Director of Studies early in their IIA year. Their Director of Studies will then help identify and contact a suitable supervisor for the project.  All students are required to submit a detailed form, to the Department of Social Anthropology at the start of the Easter term in their IIA year, in which they will be expected to set out plans for their proposed dissertation topic.  This will then be considered by their Director of Studies and the Department and will form the basis on which a student can submit a dissertation on their chosen topic.