Social Anthropology is concerned with the variety of human societies and cultures. Social anthropologists try to explain the causes of this variation and also attempt to enable us to understand what it means to belong to societies and cultures which, at first sight, appear very foreign to our own. Study of the subject should provide a framework to help you see what is universal to all human societies and what is variable, and help you to understand the dilemmas of society in the modern world.
We have two degree programmes - BA/BSc Social Anthropology or BA Anthropology and Law (a qualifying law degree) - both of which involve the study of twelve courses over three years. To get an idea of the number and type of option courses typically available, click here to see Option Availability in the Anthropology Department for this and recent years.
Why Choose Us?
1. You’ll Be Learning From the Best Researchers in Britain.
It’s official. In 2014, every anthropology department in the country was evaluated in an exercise called the Research Excellence Framework. Part of this involved assessing the quality of the books and articles that each department’s staff had written over the previous six years.
LSE was ranked the best anthropology department in the UK for the quality of its research outputs. 32% of our work was judged to be ‘world-leading’ (significantly more than any other department). A further 41% was judged to be ‘internationally excellent’.
At LSE, you’ll spend your degree learning about world-leading ideas from the people who devised them, and debating your own ideas with the nation’s best anthropologists. We think that’s a pretty special opportunity.
2. An Outstanding Undergraduate Programme
For seven of the past eight years, the Complete University Guide have ranked the LSE undergraduate course the best in London. What is it that makes us so good?
It could be our excellent staff : student ration – one of the best in the UK. This means that every student really gets to know the staff who are teaching them, and can feel comfortable approaching them informally to discuss their ideas or to seek advice and support for their studies. No anonymous lecture hall experiences here!
It could be our syllabus, which makes sure that every student gets a thorough understanding of all the most fundamental aspects of human life: gender, kinship, politics, economics, the law, and systems of religion, belief and ethics. By studying all of these fields in depth, and exploring the ways in which they connect up in individually tailored tutorials (where you discuss your work with an academic and just one or two other students), you’ll leave our programme a changed person. As one recent graduate put it, ‘I started [my degree] because I was interested in some of the more exotic aspects of human culture, but ended it having a completely different view of everything in life.’ Or in the words of another, ‘[the course] has radically changed the way I look at the world and the way I perceive my position in it.’
It might be our commitment to detailed ethnographic research. Ever since Bronislaw Malinowski – himself an LSE anthropologist – pioneered a participant observation approach to anthropological fieldwork in his groundbreaking studies of the Trobriand Islands, we have remained committed to paying close attention to the actual experiences of real people in our research and teaching. As part of this commitment, we ask our undergraduate students to complete their own independent ethnographic project, giving them comprehensive training in the best ways of doing this. This takes place in the second year, allowing you to further test your skills by doing independent research in the vacation between your second and third years, should you wish. (N.B. The ethnographic research project is optional for students on the BA in Anthropology and Law).
Above all, though, we think it’s our passion and our commitment to sharing the subject we love with our students that leads to us being consistently ranked very highly in national league tables, and receiving excellent results in the national student survey.
3. An Amazing Student Experience
London is an incredible place to study anthropology, and we take full advantage of that in our teaching, offering you a host of optional activities that make the most of all the city has to offer. That can range from going to galleries and museums to check out exhibitions related to the course, to ‘away days’ and short field trips where you can engage with themes you are learning about first hand.
We also make sure to put the ‘social’ in social anthropology, regularly holding tea parties, dinners, and end of term gigs where you can be entertained by the staff and student bands.
And of course, with the South Bank and the West End both just moments away, everything else that London has to offer is on your doorstep.
Features of the LSE Course
Our courses are particularly concerned with the analysis of ritual, cognition, power relations, gender, mainstream and peripheral religious practices and beliefs, and the way in which non-industrial peoples make a living.
Our concern with the third world leads to a serious interest in development studies and the needs of rural people in less developed countries.
As well as encouraging insight into and understanding of different human cultures, we also place emphasis on accurate factual knowledge and on the means of transmitting knowledge and understanding through text and films.
While an anthropology degree is not a vocational training, the skills you will develop in reading critically, writing coherently, and reasoning effectively are widely valued by employers. Recent graduates have gone on to work in areas of human rights, journalism, development, medicine and counselling, work with refugees, nursing, teaching, business, theatre, film.
Teaching and Assessment
Most courses involve weekly lectures of one hour each, and associated classes where you will discuss reading assignments in a small group with a teacher. In the first two terms you will have up to eight contact hours a week. In addition, we show films about anthropology and the world's cultures throughout the first two terms. There are tutorial meetings, often linked to essay assignments, which vary in number according to your degree. For certain courses we are developing an on-line teaching system which provides readings, information and opportunities for on-line discussions. Your personal tutor will be able to offer guidance and assistance with both academic and personal concerns.
Assessment is usually a combination of continuous assessment (which usually involves one or two substantial essays per course) with traditional unseen examination in May or June each year. In the final year of the BA/BSc Social Anthropology, students are required to write a 'special essay' of up to 8,000 words. Law courses are normally examined wholly by unseen examination.
Suggested Preliminary Reading
If you wish to gain further insight into the subject we suggest that you look at one or more of the following books:
K. Gardner Stories from a Bangladeshi Village (Virago)
T.H. Eriksen Small Places Large Issues: an introduction to social and cultural anthropology (Pluto Press)
J. Monaghan and P. Just Social & Cultural Anthropology: a very short introduction (Oxford University Press)
Further information about Anthropology
If you are interested in finding out more about what you can do with an anthropology degree, have a look at what some of our recently graduated alumni have done.
The Royal Anthropological Institute's 'Discover Anthropology' pages provide a useful introduction to the subject for anyone thinking of studying anthropology.