MPhil in Social Anthropology | University of Oxford
Wide shot of inside the Pitt Rivers Museum
The Pitt Rivers Museum, housing the University's anthropological collections
(Image Credit: Pitt Rivers Museum)

MPhil in Social Anthropology

About the course

Social anthropology considers people, through and through, as social beings. Everything that all of us do, in whatever society or culture at whatever period of history, rests on assumptions, which usually are not stated but which are largely shared with our particular neighbours, kin, friends, or colleagues.

Everything social is open to question, including solidly held beliefs and attitudes and ideas about causality, the self in society, and nature and culture. Learning to relate different versions of the world to each other is learning to be a Social Anthropologist and is what we hope you will learn over the course of your degree.

The MPhil in Social Anthropology aims to provide a solid background in analytical and methodological issues as they apply to social anthropology and allows you to develop an extended research project, which may involve fieldwork. It is intended both as a standalone degree and as a broader and deeper preparation for Doctoral research than is possible with the MSc in Social Anthropology.

Course structure

The School of Anthropology and Museum Ethnography takes the view that full-time degrees require full-time study (ie equivalent to typical employment, around 40 hours per week, throughout the year).  The periods outside term time are considered to be opportunities for further independent study, consolidating and supplementing the knowledge gained during the preceding term and preparing work for examination, as well as for an appropriate break from study.

First year

During your first year you will critically read key intellectual contributions to the discipline and you will be introduced to ethnographic methods and experiences of living among, and writing about, people. You will learn how to comparatively study what makes humans simultaneously similar and yet different. You will follow core courses in social anthropology as well as choosing an option course from a range offered within the School of Anthropology and Museum Ethnography. You may also consider doing fieldwork over the summer in preparation for your MPhil thesis if appropriate (and the School approves).

Teaching is by a mixture of lectures, where you will be listening to a specialist in the topic, classes, where you will be presenting and discussing texts in small groups (8 to 9 students), and tutorials, where, in small groups of 3 or 4, you will be exploring with one another and with the tutor issues and ideas raised in your own essays and other work on the topic they have assigned; the tutor will also provide written feedback on the essays.

In your first year you should expect to spend six to eight hours per week in term time in formal teaching contexts (lectures, seminar groups, tutorials, classes), which can be supplemented with attendance of the many research and visiting speaker seminars on offer; the remainder of your time (ie around 30 hours per week) should be spent on independent study and preparation of submitted work. 

Second year

During your second year you will take a further specialist option course from the range on offer within the school, you will take your choice of two research methods training modules, and you will research and write your MPhil thesis.

In your second year you will focus principally on research and writing for your 30,000-word thesis so the emphasis is on independent study, but you will still be expected to spend three to four hours per week in term time in formal teaching contexts, including a writing-up seminar and field research training, as well as regular meetings with your thesis supervisor, again supplemented by attendance of research seminars and lectures as you choose. 

Assessment

The MPhil is examined in two stages, the MPhil Qualifying stage (MPQ), completed in the first year, and the MPhil Examination, in the second year. Assessment in the first year is by coursework as well as timed unseen examination, completed by the end of June. The core courses are assessed by both 5,000-word essay and by sat exam; some option courses are assessed by essay and/or review (5,000 words total), others by sat exam. The second stage consists of examination of your second-year option course, a 5,000-word essay, and your MPhil thesis of 30,000 words, completed in June of the second year. You receive support from your tutors in devising a viable thesis project, including discussion of relevant literature, questions of methodology and research implementation.

Supervision

You will receive supervisory guidance in carrying out your research and writing, developing your skills and qualities as an independent researcher.

The allocation of graduate supervision for this course is the responsibility of the School of Anthropology and Museum Ethnography and it is not always possible to accommodate the preferences of incoming graduate students to work with a particular member of staff. Under exceptional circumstances a supervisor may be found outside the School of Anthropology and Museum Ethnography.

Graduate destinations

Research and teaching, though this often requires a doctorate, recruitment to public bodies, the larger private companies, development agencies, NGOs etc.

Changes to this course and your supervision

The University will seek to deliver this course in accordance with the description set out in this course page. However, there may be situations in which it is desirable or necessary for the University to make changes in course provision, either before or after registration. The safety of students, staff and visitors is paramount and major changes to delivery or services may have to be made in circumstances of a pandemic (including Covid-19), epidemic or local health emergency. In addition, in certain circumstances, for example due to visa difficulties or because the health needs of students cannot be met, it may be necessary to make adjustments to course requirements for international study.

Where possible your academic supervisor will not change for the duration of your course. However, it may be necessary to assign a new academic supervisor during the course of study or before registration for reasons which might include illness, sabbatical leave, parental leave or change in employment.

For further information please see our page on changes to courses and the provisions of the student contract regarding changes to courses.

Please note that this course is undergoing some structural changes during the 2019-20 academic year and the course description set out in the 2019-20 Course Handbook (available on the school’s website) will be updated from October 2020.

Other courses you may wish to consider

If you're thinking about applying for this course, you may also wish to consider the courses listed below. These courses may have been suggested due to their similarity with this course, or because they are offered by the same department or faculty.

Entry requirements for entry in 2021-22

Proven and potential academic excellence

Degree-level qualifications

As a minimum, applicants should hold or be predicted to achieve the equivalent of the following UK qualifications:

  • a first-class or strong upper second-class undergraduate degree with honours in any discipline.

Under the UK system, applicants should have a minimum of 65% in at least one prior degree.

For applicants with a degree from the USA, the minimum GPA sought is 3.7 out of 4.0.

If your degree is not from the UK or another country specified above, visit our International Qualifications page for guidance on the qualifications and grades that would usually be considered to meet the University’s minimum entry requirements.

GRE General Test scores

No Graduate Record Examination (GRE) or GMAT scores are sought.

Other qualifications, evidence of excellence and relevant experience

Publications are not expected of applicants.

Further guidance

The conditions for applicants to proceed from an Oxford master's degree to a doctorate are: 

  1. a viable project
  2. agreed supervision
  3. an overall mark of at least 67% in an Oxford anthropology master's degree
  4. the agreement of the School of Anthropology as a whole.

This degree involves the close analysis of published sources as well as verbal and written critical reflections in the form of oral presentations, essays and exam answers. It is therefore essential to your chance of successfully completing the program that you meet these higher-level English language requirements as stipulated by the University.

Extenuating circumstances

If your ability to meet the entry requirements has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic (eg you were awarded an unclassified/ungraded degree) or any other exceptional personal circumstance (eg other illness or bereavement), please refer to the guidance on extenuating circumstances in the Application Guide for information about how to declare this so that your application can be considered appropriately.

English language requirement

This course requires proficiency in English at the University's higher level. If your first language is not English, you may need to provide evidence that you meet this requirement. The minimum scores required to meet the University's higher level are detailed in the table below.

Minimum scores required to meet the University's higher level requirement
TestMinimum overall scoreMinimum score per component
IELTS Academic (Institution code: 0713) 7.57.0

TOEFL iBT, including the 'Home Edition'

(Institution code: 0490)

110Listening: 22
Reading: 24
Speaking: 25
Writing: 24
C1 Advanced*191185
C2 Proficiency191185

*Previously known as the Cambridge Certificate of Advanced English or Cambridge English: Advanced (CAE)
Previously known as the Cambridge Certificate of Proficiency in English or Cambridge English: Proficiency (CPE)

Your test must have been taken no more than two years before the start date of your course. Our Application Guide provides further information about the English language test requirement.

Supporting documents 

You will be required to supply supporting documents with your application, including references and an official transcript. See 'How to apply' for instructions on the documents you will need and how these will be assessed.

Performance at interview

Interviews are not normally held as part of the admissions process.

Supervision

Any offer of a place is dependent on the University’s ability to provide the appropriate supervision for your chosen area of work. Please refer to the ‘About’ section of this page for more information about the provision of supervision for this course.

How your application is assessed

Your application will be assessed purely on academic merit and potential, according to the published entry requirements for the course. Students are selected for admission without regard to gender, marital or civil partnership status, disability, race, nationality, ethnic origin, religion or belief, sexual orientation, age or social background. Whether you have secured funding will not be taken into consideration when your application is assessed.

Admissions panels and assessors

All recommendations to admit a student involve the judgement of at least two members of the academic staff with relevant experience and expertise, and must also be approved by the Director of Graduate Studies or Admissions Committee (or equivalent within the department).

Admissions panels or committees will always include at least one member of academic staff who has undertaken appropriate training.

After an offer is made

If you receive an offer of a place at Oxford, you will be required to meet the following requirements: 

Financial Declaration

If you are offered a place, you will be required to complete a Financial Declaration in order to meet your financial condition of admission.

Disclosure of criminal convictions

In accordance with the University’s obligations towards students and staff, we will ask you to declare any relevant, unspent criminal convictions before you can take up a place at Oxford.

Resources

The school is where you will receive all or most academic supervision. You will have a named supervisor, who will have overall responsibility for the direction of your work from inception to submission.

Students will have access to library and workspace facilities via their college and desks are also available in the Bodleian and other University libraries.

Personal computers may only be linked to the net with the permission of the School’s IT staff. Students receive an e-mail account, login and password. Laboratory and other dedicated workspaces and equipment for methods teaching will be provided where required.

The school accommodates the Tylor Library, the main anthropology subject library. Registered students may borrow most books, but not journals and certain other materials. Students may also use other departmental libraries and their own college library. The Pitt Rivers Museum and centre has its own library (the Balfour Library). All registered students of the university and some other categories may use the main Bodleian Library and its dependent libraries.

The University now has a wealth of electronic sources, some specific to particular libraries. Methods and skills training are available through the school and possibly certain other institutions. Research seminars, often consisting of invited speakers from outside the university, are available. The main such event is the weekly departmental seminar on Fridays in term.

A student-run society, the Oxford University Anthropology Society, runs coffee mornings, talks and other social and academic events throughout the year. Seminars, especially those involving outside speakers, often proceed to local pubs or restaurants after the talk. Other social life revolves around the student’s college.

Funding

The University expects to be able to offer up to 1,000 full or partial graduate scholarships across the collegiate University in 2021-22. You will be automatically considered for the majority of Oxford scholarships, if you fulfil the eligibility criteria and submit your graduate application by the relevant January deadline. Most scholarships are awarded on the basis of academic merit and/or potential. 

For further details about searching for funding as a graduate student visit our dedicated Funding pages, which contain information about how to apply for Oxford scholarships requiring an additional application, details of external funding, loan schemes and other funding sources. Please ensure that you visit individual college websites for details of college-specific funding opportunities using the links provided on our college pages.

Further information about funding opportunities for this course can be found on the school's website.

Costs

Annual fees for entry in 2021-22

Fee status

Annual Course fees

Home (UK, Republic of Ireland,
Channel Islands & Isle of Man)
£19,200
Overseas (including EU)£29,160

Course fees are payable each year, for the duration of your fee liability (your fee liability is the length of time for which you are required to pay course fees). For courses lasting longer than one year, please be aware that fees will usually increase annually. For details, please see our guidance on likely increases to fees and charges.

Course fees cover your teaching as well as other academic services and facilities provided to support your studies. Unless specified in the additional information section below, course fees do not cover your accommodation, residential costs or other living costs. They also don’t cover any additional costs and charges that are outlined in the additional information below.

For more information about course fees and fee liability, please see the Fees section of this website. EU applicants should refer to our detailed fee status information and the Oxford and the EU webpage for details of the implications of the UK’s exit from the EU.

Additional information

There are no compulsory elements of this course that entail additional costs beyond fees and living costs. However, as part of your course requirements, you may need to choose a dissertation, a project or a thesis topic. Please note that, depending on your choice of topic and the research required to complete it, you may incur additional expenses, such as travel expenses, research expenses, and field trips. You will need to meet these additional costs, although you may be able to apply for small grants from your department and/or college to help you cover some of these expenses. Standard travel insurance can be provided by the University. However, students may be required to pay any additional insurance premiums associated with travel to areas with an increased level of risk, and should factor this into their planning for fieldwork.

Living costs

In addition to your course fees, you will need to ensure that you have adequate funds to support your living costs for the duration of your course.

For the 2021-22 academic year, the range of likely living costs for full-time study is between c. £1,175 and £1,710 for each month spent in Oxford. Full information, including a breakdown of likely living costs in Oxford for items such as food, accommodation and study costs, is available on our living costs page. When planning your finances for any future years of study in Oxford beyond 2021-22, you should allow for an estimated increase in living expenses of 3% each year.

College preference

All graduate students at Oxford belong to a department or faculty and a college or hall (except those taking non-matriculated courses). If you apply for a place on this course you will have the option to express a preference for one of the colleges listed below, or you can ask us to find a college for you. The Colleges section of this website provides information about the college system at Oxford, as well as factors you may wish to consider when deciding whether to express a college preference. Please note that ‘college’ and ‘colleges’ refers to all 45 of the University’s colleges, including those designated as Permanent Private Halls (PPHs). 

For some courses, the department or faculty may have provided some additional advice below to help you to decide. Whatever you decide, it won’t affect how the academic department assesses your application and whether they decide to make you an offer. If your department makes you an offer of a place, you’re guaranteed a place at one of our colleges. 

The following colleges accept students on the MPhil in Social Anthropology:

How to apply

You may, but are not obliged to, contact a member of academic staff to discuss possible supervision or other collaboration before you apply.

The set of documents you should send with your application to this course comprises the following:

Official transcript(s)

Your transcripts should give detailed information of the individual grades received in your university-level qualifications to date. You should only upload official documents issued by your institution and any transcript not in English should be accompanied by a certified translation.

More information about the transcript requirement is available in the Application Guide.

CV/résumé

A CV/résumé is compulsory for all applications. Most applicants choose to submit a document of one to two pages highlighting their academic achievements and any relevant professional experience.

Personal statement:
A minimum of 1,000 words up to a maximum of 1,500 words

Your statement should be written in English and explain your motivation for applying for the course at Oxford, your relevant experience and education, and the specific areas that interest you and/or that you intend to specialise in. 

This will be assessed for your reasons for applying, expectations of the degree, prior academic background and interests.

If you know that you intend to pursue a DPhil within the department via a MSc + DPhil (1+3-year) route or MPhil + DPhil (2+2-year) route, please indicate and elaborate on this in your statement as this will facilitate your consideration for 1+3-year funding awards at the time of application. For this purpose your statement may be up to 2,000 words in length and should include a proposal outlining your intended doctoral research.

If possible, please ensure that the word count is clearly displayed on the document.

If you are not yet clear about whether you wish to pursue DPhil research in the future, this will not affect your likelihood of securing a place on a graduate course, or of securing DPhil funding at a later date. If you subsequently apply to continue to study for a DPhil after an MPhil or MSc you will be considered again for award competitions at that time.

Written work:
Two essays, a maximum of 2,000 words each

Applicants should submit written work in English. The items may be separate extracts from a longer work like a taught-course thesis.

Submitted written work need not be in anthropology but may be in any discipline. The word count does not need to include any bibliography or brief footnotes.

If possible, please ensure that the word count is clearly displayed on the document.

This will be assessed for comprehensive understanding of the subject area; understanding of problems in the area; ability to construct and defend an argument; powers of analysis; and powers of expression.

References/letters of recommendation:
Three overall, generally academic

Whilst you must register three referees, the department may start the assessment of your application if two of the three references are submitted by the course deadline and your application is otherwise complete. Please note that you may still be required to ensure your third referee supplies a reference for consideration.

Ideally, academic letters of reference should be provided. Only if one or more such letters cannot be provided should professional reference(s) be supplied instead.

Your references will support intellectual ability, academic achievement, and motivation.

Start or continue an application

Step 1: Read our guide to getting started, which explains how to prepare for and start an application.

Step 2: Check that you meet the Entry requirements and read the How to apply information on this page.

Step 3: Check the deadlines on this page and the deadline information in our Application Guide. Plan your time to submit your application well in advance - we recommend two or three weeks earlier.

Step 4: Check if you're eligible for an application fee waiver. Application fee waivers are available for:

Step 5: Start your application using the relevant button below. As you complete the form, consult our Application Guide for advice at each stage. You'll find the answers to most common queries in our FAQs.

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