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Postgraduate Study

Course closed:

Social Anthropology is no longer accepting new applications.

The Cambridge MPhil by advanced study in Social Anthropology is an intensive 11-month course (early October to end August). The course is intended for graduate students who are studying the subject for the first time, who have studied Anthropology in the context of a more general degree, and/or for those with little knowledge of the tradition of British Social Anthropology.

The degree can be a free-standing qualification or a route to the original research involved in a PhD, or a means to acquire knowledge of anthropology for use in other fields and professional contexts.

This is a demanding course which enables students to reach a fairly high level of specialist knowledge in social anthropology within a relatively short time and, subject to performance in their exams and assessed work, equips them to undertake a research degree. Given that MPhil students are supervised on an individual basis in order to provide a programme of teaching tailored to individual needs, the assignment of supervisors is spread as evenly as possible among the staff attached to the Department.

Principal fields of anthropological analysis are covered in two core seminar courses in 'The Scope of Social Anthropology'. Attendance at these is compulsory for all students. These two courses cover, respectively, 'Production and Reproduction', which includes the fields of economic anthropology and kinship studies; and 'Systems of Power and Knowledge', which includes political anthropology and the anthropology of religion. 

Students also take a non-assessed course in theory and methods and one course in a specialist option subject.  Different optional papers are on offer each year.  Examples of optional papers include : Ethnography; Gender, Kinship and Care; History, Archive, Time. In addition, for those wishing to specialise in a particular professional field, the Department may also offer options in Social Anthropology and Museums and Medical Anthropology. A provisional list of planned modules can be found on the Department's website. 

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and understanding

The course addresses key problems in anthropological theory, interpretation, comparison and analysis in relation to particular ethnographies and substantive debates in the anthropological literature. Through critical reflection on a range of anthropological theories, and through practice in the application of those theories to bodies of ethnographic material, students acquire a thorough and intensive grounding in a range of styles of social anthropological analysis.

Practical and transferable skills

The General course offers training in the following transferable skills:

  • ability to engage with and undertake critical analysis of complex issues;
  • ability to engage constructively in discussion in groups in which many different views are held, often passionately;
  • ability to present an argument in clear and convincing terms both orally and in writing; and
  • ability to design and undertake hands-on research. This includes training in:
    • archival review of literature;
    • ethnographic research methods;
    • analysis of results; and
    • skills in research proposal preparation and presentation.

Students are also encouraged to use the range of training and developmental opportunities available across the University, including training on research methods through the SSRMP, careers advice through the Cambridge University Careers Service and language learning through the Language Centre, including Academic English.

Museum Option students are expected to:

  • develop a comparative understanding of the history and contemporary roles of museums;
  • examine different ways that specific objects are produced, circulated, interpreted and displayed;
  • critically compare theoretical approaches to the study of material culture, art, materiality, and the relationship between persons and things;
  • develop skills in artefact-based analysis as a key component of anthropological research; and
  • obtain transferable museum skills through practical work experience.​

Medical Anthropology Option students are expected to:

  • develop a critical comparative grasp of the cross-cultural variety of illness through a contextualisation of both diseases recognised by biomedicine and varieties of illness or suffering that may be understood and remedied on the basis of different assumptions;
  • develop an understanding of the biomedical diagnosis of diseases and why certain illnesses are contested;
  • reflect on some of the ethical issues surrounding biomedical research and practice;
  • improve communication skills that enable cross-disciplinary discussion.


Continuation to the MRes or PhD is usually subject to the following:

  • Acceptance of an application for continuation by the MRes and PhD Committee
  • An overall mark of at least 73 in the MPhil is normally required for continuation to the MRes or PhD

Applicants intending to continue to the MRes or PhD programme should state so in their statement of purpose, as well as making a separate application to the PhD course within the application period; continuation is not automatic and those wishing to continue must make a full application.  Acceptance for the MPhil does not guarantee that you will be accepted for continuation to the PhD course. 

Open Days

The Postgraduate Virtual Open Day usually takes place at the end of October. It’s a great opportunity to ask questions to admissions staff and academics, explore the Colleges virtually, and to find out more about courses, the application process and funding opportunities. Visit the Postgraduate Open Day page for more details.

See further the Postgraduate Admissions Events pages for other events relating to Postgraduate study, including study fairs, visits and international events.

Key Information

11 months full-time

Study Mode : Taught

Master of Philosophy

Department of Social Anthropology

Course - related enquiries

Application - related enquiries

Course on Department Website

Dates and deadlines:

Applications open
Sept. 4, 2023
Application deadline
May 1, 2024
Course Starts
Oct. 1, 2024

Some courses can close early. See the Deadlines page for guidance on when to apply.

Course Funding Deadline
Dec. 5, 2023
Gates Cambridge US round only
Oct. 11, 2023

These deadlines apply to applications for courses starting in Michaelmas 2024, Lent 2025 and Easter 2025.

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