School of Social and Political Science

Social Anthropology


Our undergraduate degree

Social Anthropology at the University of Edinburgh is well known for its distinctive undergraduate programme, which is based on the Scottish four year honours MA.

Dissertation project

Within this structure the honours specialisation is spread over the final two years, which allows up to four months of Year 3 (junior honours) to be spent on your own project, involving a combination of library and field research.

You will develop your project in consultation with your supervisors, and work in a great diversity of locations.

The results of this research are written up during Year 4 (senior honours) into a 15,000 word dissertation.

Years 1 and 2

Programme Handbooks

The Programme Handbooks will be helpful for you if you are undertaking the MA Honours programme in Social Anthropology.

They include information on:

  • the aims, structure and requirements of the degree
  • the general rules governing assessment and examinations
  • contact information if you are seeking advice, support
  • contact information for advice on postgraduate study and other careers

Year 1 Programme Handbook 2017-18
Year 2 Programme Handbook 2016-17

Year 1

Social Anthropology 1A - The Life Course
Semester 1

This course is intended as an introduction to social anthropology. It takes as its central theme and structure the life course from birth to death, conceived in very broad terms.

As well as encompassing life crisis moments and rituals of birth, marriage, and death, the course includes such themes as:

  • gender
  • personhood
  • work and making a living
  • the house
  • consumption and exchange
  • health
  • the body

The course begins with a brief consideration of what anthropologists do - thinking about participant observation and fieldwork.

It ends with a brief discussion of how anthropological subjects are placed, and place themselves, in history.

Social Anthropology 1B: Anthropology Matters

Semester 2 

What does anthropology have to say about some of the most important issues facing us today? Anthropologists don’t just engage with small-scale exotic societies but have always contributed to public debates about global issues that affect us all.

In this course we examine how concepts and ideas that have driven anthropology help us shed new light on debates that are at the heart of contemporary questions about how our societies work.

Each week will include two sessions exploring a single issue and anthropological contributions to surrounding debates.

Fundamentals: Studying Anthropology

Semester 1

The goal of this course is to introduce you to the practicalities of studying anthropology at university.

Practicalities, not only in the sense of “What will I be doing and how will I do it?” but also “What’s the point of studying anthropology?”.

As well as providing you with the academic study skills necessary to succeed at university level, we’ll also be addressing the different motivations people have for anthropological enquiry.

By the end of the course you will have acquired necessary skills in:

  • literature searches
  • creating a bibliography
  • how to read and understand the argument of anthropological articles
  • how to structure and write an anthropological essay
  • basic revision techniques appropriate to university level examinations

The course will also assist you with the development of core presentation skills.

Fundamentals: Anthropological Practice

Semester 2 (Course handbook available from January 2017)

This course introduces you to anthropological practice outside academia, helps you understand potential career routes after anthropology honours, and the ways in which anthropological knowledge and skills relates to careers outside academia.

The course includes a variety of presentations from alumnai and applied anthropologists. It
also includes a semester long group project developing an online presentation.

The course will introduce you to issues around applied and public anthropology. Broadly speaking, applied anthropology takes anthropological skills and insights, and puts them to work in other fields of work.

Public anthropology is often seen as using anthropological insights to make contributions to wider public debates.

Year 2

Social Anthropology 2: Key Concepts
Semester 1

This course will provide a historical overview of anthropological thought and will be taught through an introduction to keywords that have helped to shape the development of social anthropology.

The thematic approach is designed to be engaging and stimulating to you and to help to foster critical conceptual and theoretical thought. It will highlight the continued significance of key concepts and oppositions over time.

The course is organised around the exploration of a cluster of linked keywords:

  • science and romance
  • structure, society and culture
  • time and change
  • the human
  • the environment

Lectures and tutorials will explore the place of each cluster of keywords in the history of anthropology, while providing examples of their continued importance in contemporary anthropology.

Ethnography: Theory and Practice

Semester 2 (Course handbook available from January 2017)

This course introduces you to the theory and practice of ethnographic fieldwork.

At the heart of this course is a collaborative project in which you will learn about qualitative methods by putting them to the test in practical group work.

Your collective ethnographies will require you to write extensive field notes, which will be assessed, and which will function as an extended period of learning to write effectively in an academic manner.

The course will be open to all Year 2 undergraduates within the School of Social and Political Science.

Fundamentals: Ethnographic Theory

Semester 1

What is a concept? What is a theory? How do anthropologists produce their knowledge? This course addresses these questions through a focus on the relationship between ethnography and theory in ethnographic writing.

The course takes a close look at the different kinds of methods, evidence and writing that anthropologists use to build their arguments and theoretical contributions, using key texts, interviews, films, diagrams and images as key exemplars.

Fundamentals: Reading & Writing Anthropology

Semester 2 (Course handbook available from January 2017)

This course takes at its premise that both reading and writing well in anthropology can be cultivated through practice.

You will be introduced to some of the theories of knowledge that underpin the ways in which anthropologists write, the questions they ask, and the techniques they use to answer them. 

Through the close reading of one book-length ethnography and other anthropological texts, as well as through various writing exercises, you will begin to understand what it means to think, read, and write anthropologically.

The course aims to develop your skills in reading and writing specifically geared towards thinking through and writing up your current and future ethnographic research.

The final session of the course allows you to discuss your expectations and concerns of transitioning to honours in social anthropology and provides you with strategies for managing this transition.

  • Fundamentals: Reading & Writing Anthropology
Honours years

Social anthropology honours courses

The Honours programme covers Year 3 and 4 of the MA (Hons) in Social Anthropology.

You must take a total of ten courses in your two honours years. Five of these (four in Year 3 and one in Year 4) are compulsory core courses, and five can be chosen from the list of optional courses available each year.

In addition, all Year 3 students must attend Imagining Anthropological Research in Semester 1, which prepares you for your individual dissertation projects.

All Year 4 students will attend the dissertation writing workshops in Semester 1.

Core courses are assessed by coursework, and by unseen examinations at the end of the semesters in which they are taken.

Option courses are assessed by coursework, and by essays written and submitted in the semesters in which they are taken.

Programme Handbooks

The Programme Handbooks will be helpful for you if you are undertaking the MA Honours programme in Social Anthropology.

  • the aims, structure and requirements of the degree
  • the general rules governing assessment and examinations
  • contact information if you are seeking advice, support
  • contact information for advice on postgraduate study and other careers

Social Anthropology Programme Handbook Year 3 2016 - 17
Social Anthropology Programme Handbook Year 4 2016 - 17

2016/17 honours courses in social anthropology

Semester 1 (all courses are 20 credits)
Semester 2 (all courses are 20 credits)

Handbooks will become available from January 2017

How is your final degree decided?

Honours degrees will be classified according to the mean mark, except where the mark falls on an 8 or a 9, for example 58 or 59, which will be regarded as 'borderline'.

In such borderline cases, if 50% or more of the marks are in the class above, your degree will fall into that higher class.

The mean mark will be based on final overall grades - derived from all assessed work in each course - for all courses taken across Years 3 and 4.

If you spend Year 3 year abroad, you will have your degree calculated solely on the basis of Year 4 marks.

The mean takes account of different course weightings, so the grade you receive for your honours project will be counted twice, as this is a 40 credit course.

The same will apply to any other 40 credit courses you take where one grade is given for the entire 40 credits.

The overall mean of all course grades is not rounded up or down. So, for example, if your final mean grade is 57.9 then you will be awarded a 2:2. If however your mean grade is borderline before rounding, for example 58.00%-59.99%, then the resolution described above is applied.

Essentially, this means that if at least half of your course grades fall into the category above the borderline, then you will be awarded the higher class of degree.

Again, 40 credit courses will be counted double. For example, if your mean mark is 59 but you have achieved a grade 60 or above in at least six 20 credit courses, you would be awarded a 2:1.

Note that if the mean does not fall into the borderline category then the overall profile of your marks is not considered.

You should note that all marks gained throughout Year 4 are subject to confirmation and amendment at the final Board of Examiners at which your final degree will be determined.

The examination board may also take into consideration any adverse personal circumstances affecting your Year 4 studies when determining your final degree.

Programme specifications

Programme specifications are summary statements about our degree programmes, regularly revised and approved by our Board of Studies.

They provide very useful overviews of the fundamental objectives and structures of degree programmes. They also provide key information about:

  • basic educational aims
  • anticipated learning outcomes
  • core skills students are expected to acquire through their studies
  • the structure and progression of programmes over the four years

Current versions of the Degree Programme Specifications (DPS) can be found alongside the relevant programme title in DRPS.

Student category
Programme Information