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Social & Cultural Anthropology

Are you curious about the diversity of humankind? Do you wonder what is it that makes us human, what we all have in common? Do you question concepts such as gender, sexuality, ethnicity, identity? Are you interested in issues like globalisation, migration, conflicts, human rights, crime? If yes, then Social & Cultural Anthropology is the subject for you!

Social & Cultural Anthropology offers an opportunity for students to explore and understand humankind in all its diversity through the comparative study of culture and human societies.  

In studying this course students will come to appreciate how Anthropology as a discipline contributes to an understanding of contemporary issues, such as war and conflict, the environment, poverty, injustice, inequality and human and cultural rights. The study of Social and Cultural Anthropology offers critical insight into the continuities as well as dynamics of social change and the development of societies, and challenges cultural assumptions. These are invaluable skills, highly prized in any profession: from journalism to the medical profession, from business to banking - literally any job. 

Students undertaking this course will have the opportunity to become acquainted with anthropological perspectives and ways of thinking, and to develop critical, reflexive knowledge. Perfectly placed in group 3, individuals and societies, Social and Cultural Anthropology contributes to a distinctive approach to intercultural awareness and understanding. It allows students to develop the capacity to recognise preconceptions and assumptions of their own social and cultural environments through an exploration of both the familiar and unfamiliar worlds of other people.

The course will explore the relationships between the topics of study and themes. The studies chosen (such as "In Search of Respect: Selling Crack in El Barrio", which explores issues of marginalisation of the Puerto Rican community, that led to many resorting to the illegal economy;  "Covered in Ink", which looks at tattooed women and how the body is used to express identity and resistance; "Fresh Fruit Broken Bodies" which follows a group of Mexican migrants on their dangerous crossing of the desert through to the USA, and their experiences of suffering and exploitation in the farms)  will allow students to explore multiple themes and topics, emphasising the interdependence of social, economic and political institutions and processes, and their dynamic interrelations to beliefs, values and practices.

As part of the course students will also take part in exciting trips, such as a walking tour of the City and East London led by the Migration Museum, exploring the impact of the British Empire, the profits of slavery, trade, migration and globalisation. 

Course outline

Below is an outline of the key component of the course and the assessment.

The nine key concepts:

  • Belief and knowledge
  • Change
  • Culture
  • Identity
  • Materiality
  • Power
  • Social Relations
  • Society
  • Symbolism 

The Six Big Anthropological Questions:

  • What is culture?
  • What does it mean to be a person?
  • What does it mean to live in society?
  • How are we the same and different from each other?
  • Why does anthropology matter?
  • To what extent is knowing others possible?

Social Theories:

  • Functionalism (structural and biopsychological)
  • Marxism
  • Feminism
  • Structuralism
  • Post-Structuralism

Areas of enquiry (three at SL and four at HL):


  • How are new reproductive technologies changing the ways in which people understand belonging?
  • How may choosing to belong to a social group be an expression of resistance?
  • Why do some groups remain marginal or excluded from society? 
  • How is identity shaped by the experiences of migration and mobility?


  • What are different sources of conflict?
  • Is the state the solution to, or the cause of, conflict?
  • Is conflict a natural result of our tendency to “other”?
  • What are the different ways in which conflict is manifest in one’s life and in society?

Health, illness and healing:

  • How do biomedical, social or cultural understandings of the body affect the understanding of health and illness?
  • How does religious belief influence healing practices?
  • How do structural forces create or shape health and illness?
  • To what extent is illness a socially constructed phenomenon?
  • To what extent has the curing of illness become largely a political and economic pursuit rather than the relief of suffering and pain?
  • How does the use of healing substances vary across cultures?

The body:

  • How is culture inscribed on the body?
  • How are mechanized and medical technologies changing the ways in which people think about and experience the body?
  • How is the body used as a form of resistance to the mechanisms of power?

Internal assessment:

SL: Observation + further fieldwork (using another method) six months later;

HL: Fieldwork and research report (First-hand research on a topic of the student's choice);

External assessment:

Two exams: Paper 1 (SL 1hr30 and HL 2hrs;  Paper 2 (SL 1hr30 and HL 2hrs30). 

Any questions, please email Ms Contini at