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Students taking the MPhil in Social Anthropological Research are supervised on an individual basis. In addition, students attend a core course seminar, run fortnightly throughout the year, and choose a total of six specialist modules to attend during Michaelmas and the first half of Lent term. All the papers to be offered are new. See below for further details. 


Core seminar

The core course runs fortnightly and covers contemporary themes in social anthropology as well as professional and skills development. The latter includes training in writing research proposals, blogs, news items and comment pieces; producing podcasts or other audiovisual material; preparing research presentations. 


Specialist modules

Each specialist module consists of 4 seminars; students choose 6 modules from a range on offer each year. Specialist modules cover research methods and ethics and topics related to staff research interests, in a dynamic programme, with precise topics varying each year. Seminars are focused around discussions of key readings and enable thorough exploration of contemporary theories and ethnographies. 



Students are examined on 

  • One 13,000 word dissertation;
  • Two 5,000 word essays on subjects chosen by the candidate, which may not be the same subject as the dissertation; 
  • One 2,000 word practical writing exercise aimed at a general audience. The range of possible formats will be announced before the course begins, and can include a PhD research proposal, a blog post, newspaper article, policy report.


List of specialist modules on offer for 2021-22

This is the list of specialist seminar modules that we hope to offer in 2021-22. Please note that the programme varies each year and depends on staff availability, timetabling and student numbers. The programme is available here

Students will choose 6 modules: 2 in the first half of Michaelmas term, 2 in the second half of Michaelmas term and 2 in the first half of Lent term. 

Timetabling constraints will mean that not all combinations will be possible, and if student numbers are deemed too small, some modules may not run.

Research Methods I             

Research Methods II

These seminars cover ethnographic research methods and ethics, including participant observation, interviewing, archival research, and audiovisual methods. 

Race and Culture.  Harri Englund              

These seminars explore ‘race’ and ‘culture’ as key terms in attempts to understand and order human diversity. We examine anthropology’s historical and contemporary involvement in these attempts and the ways in which ‘race’ and ‘culture’ have variously promoted discrimination, exclusion, identification and resistance. Among other topics, the seminars consider the historically variable forms of racial prejudice and racism; the uses of ‘race’ and ‘culture’ in European colonialism; anthropology and apartheid; and the arguments about ‘multiculturalism’ in contemporary controversies over immigrants and refugees.

From Symbol to Index and Back. Rupert Stasch          

This module explores the theoretical grounding of structural and symbolic anthropology, on the one hand, and that of anthropological approaches to pragmatic meaning on the other.  It charts the rise to dominance of pragmatic approaches over the last two decades while also considering the possibility of a renewed place for symbolic analysis today.  The module will engage both sociocultural and linguistic anthropological theory and data.

Museum AnthropologyAnita Herle & Mark Elliott                 

These seminars will be led by Senior Anthropology Curators in the Museum of Archaeology & Anthropology (MAA). Drawing on MAA's extensive collections and critical museological practice, the module will focus on pressing issues related to de-colonisation, diversity, inclusion and public engagement. The sessions will provide the opportunity to combine theoretical concerns and practical engagement with the ongoing work of the Museum.

The Anthropology of Crisis and DisasterUradyn Bulag             

The Covid-19 pandemic has driven home the message that crises and disasters are not aberrations, but a fundamental feature of the human condition. Anthropologists have long argued that while crisis represents existential disruptions or threats to human and social lives, it may also provide opportunities for creativity and resilience. In this seminar we will engage anthropological scholarship on crises as events (economic, environmental, epidemic and political disasters) that structure history, and as chronic lived experiences, underpinned by disorder, insecurity, or precarity.  

Form and formalism in knowledge and society. Matei Candea              

Anthropologists in recent decades have been rather intensely focused on questions of substance (materiality, things, embodiment..) and have tended to stress the importance of  emergence, messiness and the unexpected in their accounts of social life. Against that background, this module asks about the often neglected yet perennial anthropological problem of form: how are regularities, patterns, rhythms, enduring scales and dimensions of social life to be described or explained? It explores the concrete, worldly effects of formalisms (legal, bureaucratic, aesthetic, scientific…) while also reflecting on the formal properties of anthropological knowledge-making itself, the regularities and creative disruptions of anthropological concepts, methods and heuristics.

Historicity and Temporality. Yael Navaro              

This seminar will explore and critically analyse how anthropologists have approached the study of ‘time.’ How have anthropologists positioned their ethnographic works and conceptual apparatuses vis-a-vis history? What happened to ethnography when historicity was dropped from the analysis, and how can this be critiqued? Or, in turn, is historicity a Western construct, and have anthropologists, therefore, developed other analytical devices for the study of ‘time’ that question and interrogate narratives of progress? The seminar will address these questions by centring the study of colonialism through and through. Anthropological works on colonialism will be read and assessed for their ethnographic engagements with history and analysed for their development of unique methods for the study of time in the colonial encounter. 

The Anthropology of Power. David Sneath                       

In this seminar we read and critically reflect upon changing theories of power used in anthropology, and examine the roles that explicit and implicit notions of power and politics play in classic and recent ethnographic studies. We ask what difference a sensitivity to inclusive notions of power makes when reconsidering classical anthropological analytical categories such as ‘kinship’ and ‘exchange’.

Value, Values and Valuation. Anna-Riikka Kauppinen, Johannes Lenhard, Susan MacDougall & Rachel Smith, Max-Cam Centre for Ethics, Economy and Social Change

Value theory has been a cornerstone of anthropology for a long time; from Dumont to Graeber, from kinship to finance, the question of how attributes, objects, or practices can become desirable or laudable, in absolute or relative terms, sheds light on innumerable dimensions of social life. Value implies political power (‘who is entitled to value’), ethical commitments (‘what values drive the valuing’), and economic calculations (‘what value does this asset have, monetary or otherwise’), allowing for a multi-faceted view on any given context. In this set of seminars we will explore theories of value, values and processes of valuation as they unfold in different ethnographic settings.  We will address the same nexus of questions and anthropological observations in four seminars focused on four different geographies: the Middle East; Pacific / Oceania; Africa; Europe/US.

Comparative Environments. Joe Ellis & Beth Turk, Mongolia and Inner Asia Studies Unit

This module will aim to explore some of the geographically and historically-situated ways humans relate to the environment, landscape, and nature. It will use the Inner Asian region as a comparative lens on how environmental politics, legal regimes, human-animal interactions and religious and cosmological understandings of landscapes and climate change differ around the world. The module will offer students in-depth examples of current MIASU research drawn in comparison to ethnographic contexts further afield and situated within larger theoretical frameworks'.


Timetable of seminar teaching for 2021-22

Core seminar: alternate weeks

Specialist modules:


Michaelmas Term weeks 1-4. Choose two of:

Research Methods I

Race and Culture

Comparative Environments

Michaelmas Term weeks 5-8. Choose two of:

Research Methods II

Value, Values and Valuation

From Symbol to Index and Back

The Anthropology of Crisis and Disaster

Lent Term weeks 1-4. Choose two of:

Form and Formalism in Knowledge and Society

The Anthropology of Power

Museum Anthropology

Historicity and Temporality



open day