Anthropology Subject Guide
Biological, Social or a combination of both Anthropology disciplines
Anthropology examines the variety of ways in which human beings live in the world. The two types taught in the UK are:
- This looks at how people in the contemporary world live. Social anthropologists spend years in a particular setting (anywhere from a remote tribal village to the offices of an investment bank) observing what people there do, how they think, and how they relate to each other. This helps them understand a culture on its own terms, and the historical, political, economic and ecological factors that have shaped it.
- Much social and political theory – not to mention government and international development policy – makes problematic assumptions about 'human nature'. It’s often assumed that everyone behaves like people in the West. Social anthropologists directly experience other ways of life and are uniquely positioned to challenge those assumptions. This helps to develop better, more rigorous models for understanding and improving the world.
- This investigates how humans have evolved to have such a diversity of cultures – something that distinguishes us from any other species. It compares human social behaviour with that of other primates, and analyses archaeological and fossil records to see how human life emerged.
- Biological anthropologists also study the physiological and genetic variations amongst contemporary human populations, examining how they have adapted to the circumstances they live in.
Both branches explore how human biology influences social and cultural behaviour. Some departments offer special courses in cognitive anthropology, or biology and culture, which allow you to explore this issue in depth.
What degree can I get? BA or BSc in Anthropology, Social Anthropology, or Biological Anthropology. Many joint honours courses are available, combining other social sciences or vocational subjects such as Law. Human Sciences degrees are often strongly anthropological in content.
What qualifications do I need? Any combination of subjects is welcome (General Studies may be excluded). Entry requirements vary with each institution, so check the specific places and courses you are interested in. A standard offer may look like:
- A Level: ABB–AAA
- Scottish Highers: AAABB–AAAAA
- Scottish Advanced Highers: AAB
How will I be assessed? Most assessment is via written exams and essays, although biological anthropology courses can include assessed practicals. Many courses include a final year independent research project.
What are the postgraduate opportunities? If you have a good undergraduate degree in social anthropology you can often go straight into a PhD. Public Policy, International Development, and Public Health Studies are popular master's choices.
If you are interested in people – their history and the way they work – Anthropology might be the subject area for you. Reasons why it could be the perfect course include:
- You get to study the wonders of humankind Do you find people intriguing? By studying Anthropology you can compare humans with other species and explore what influences human behaviour.
- It's a constantly evolving area The study of Anthropology is shaped by the past and present, and looks to the future. Changes to the way humans live occur every day, so there will forever be new discoveries. This makes it an exciting and fast-paced subject to study.
- There are opportunities to study abroad Many courses include the option to do a study year abroad. This allows you to experience a different culture, thus adding to your understanding of Anthropology across the world.
- There are many postgraduate options If you love studying and wish to continue after graduating, there are plenty of courses available.
- There are many job opportunities From public relations to charity work, there is an abundance of different professional roles that Anthropology graduates can pursue. See more examples below.
- You'll gain lots of transferable skills Not only does Anthropology extensively inform and prepare you with a cultural understanding of the world that is important to the majority of professions, it also equips you with skills that can be applied in different environments. This includes communication, problem solving, presentation, coherent writing, effective reasoning – all which are highly valued by employers.
*Professional employment refers to a job or occupation which normally requires a degree.
**Non-professional employment refers to a job or occupation which doesn't normally require a degree.
Anthropology graduates find jobs for a range of companies, including large multinationals such as Microsoft as well as universities and government agencies. Jobs related to an Anthropology degree include:
Almaz Gaer is studying for a BA in Social Anthropology at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE).
What inspired you to study Social Anthropology?
I've always been interested in history and geography, but anthropology is relatively new to me. None of my teachers encouraged me to study it – none of my friends had even heard of it!
My sister introduced me to the idea. At a university open day she attended she had a look around the Anthropology department. She thought it sounded like something for me, and inspired by her recommendation I started researching more into the subject.
The more I read, the more intrigued I was. This subject looked at the same issues as geography and history, but tackled them with a distinctly different, more in-depth and, in my opinion, a much better approach.
How can you understand the Arab-Israeli conflict, for example, by only looking at structural factors that led up to certain outbreaks of violence? I was drawn to the bottom-up approach of anthropology that tries to understand people and their culture first, before trying to understand their issues and concerns and how these fit into broader global hegemonies.
What do you like about the course and your university?
It’s really exciting to be taught by people who have written many of the materials listed on the courses and who have first-hand experience in the field. A lecture is never dull when you hear anecdotes from anthropologists who have been to many fascinating places and looked at a range of interesting issues.
There is a lot of contact time with teachers. We each have an academic adviser who we write essays for and have small group tutorials. This really helped me improve my writing skills and gave me confidence when discussing my ideas, arguments and interpretations of a reading.
What do you plan to do once you’ve graduated?
I am undecided about my career at present but I know I would like to put the skills I have learned in my degree to good use. This could be through an organisation such as the UN, or an NGO, or through media, by writing articles or making documentaries.
What to do next
Find more information
- Association of Social Anthropologists of the UK and Commonwealth: www.theasa.org
- About Forensic anthropology on the Royal Anthropological Institutes (RAI) website: www.therai.org.uk/forensic-anthropology
- The RAI's page about discovering Anthropology: www.discoveranthropology.org.uk/career-paths/academic-research.html
See further content:
|Anthropology subject league table||Search through Anthropology courses|
Part of this content was based on an article originally written by Dr Nick Long, Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the London School of Economics.