Department of Social Anthropology

About the department

At St Andrews, Social Anthropology is a forward-looking and diverse, Humanities-based department with a strong international reputation. Staff in the department are affiliated to centres of research activity including the Centre for Amerindian, Latin American and Caribbean Studies, the Centre for Cosmopolitan Studies and the Centre for Pacific Studies.

The degree programme

The first two years of study of social anthropology in St Andrews are devoted to showing the variety of human cultures and patterns of social relationship worldwide. In lectures and tutorials student are introduced to the main philosophers of society and to key ethnographic and anthropological concepts and methods. These topics are presented at an elementary level in the first year, and in a more advanced way in the second year, which focuses on the history of modern social anthropology and then asks students to apply their knowledge to developing an ethnographic project of their own.

At each stage of the degree, teaching covers key areas, such as the study of family and kinship systems, economic life, politics, religion and ritual, ideology and language. A major question which runs throughout concerns whether the findings of economists, political scientists, philosophers and other authorities on Western industrial society stand up to questioning when their arguments are applied to the lives of people outside the West. By comparing distinctive world-views, societies and cultures, new insights can be gained regarding our own taken-for-granted ideas about what it means to be human.

Students participate in the Honours programme during their third and fourth years in the University. Staff and students meet regularly for lectures, seminars and tutorial discussions.

  • Study abroad options are available to Honours students in Social Anthropology.

Social anthropology at Honours level is concerned with advanced and specialised work in the subject. The main theoretical approaches and regional focii in anthropology are treated in some depth, and particular topics are approached in detail. For example, regions of the world in which members of staff have specialist knowledge (namely Africa, South America, the Pacific, Europe, central Asia and the Caribbean) are examined. Among the topics covered are nationalism and ethnicity, gender roles, individuality, anthropology and literature, cosmology, language and communication, and linguistic anthropology.

Honours students write a dissertation of about 10,000 words on a subject that relates to a particular social or cultural problem defined in an anthropological manner. Library research and directed reading, under the supervision of a member of staff, form one of the main planks of the dissertation project. Some students, in addition, undertake a short period of fieldwork to collect ethnographic material for their project.

Class sizes are as follows: First year: 300 in lectures, 8-10 in tutorial groups; Second year: 150 in lectures, 8-10 in tutorial groups; Honours class (third and fourth years): up to 30 in lectures/seminars, individual dissertation supervision.

Buildings and facilities

The Department of Social Anthropology occupies extensive suites of offices on North Street and in the mediaeval St Salvator's College. It is well placed in the centre of town and at the geographical heart of the University. The research centres have their own set of rooms within the Department, one of which is a reading room which holds a library especially rich in Amerindian, Latin American and Caribbean studies.

Postgraduate students also have their own suite of rooms, including a large computer room, with up to date facilities. Within Social Anthropology there is also a museum collection of ethnographic objects and a common room that includes a general anthropological class library, providing a space that is shared by staff and students.

The Departmental libraries, along with the main library, which holds a fine anthropology collection, including materials from all ethnographic regions of the world and complete runs of the chief journals, together provide for the needs of both teaching and research.