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Department of Anthropology and Sociology

Independent Study Project in Social Anthropology

Course Code:
Unit value:
Year of study:
Year 3
Taught in:
Full Year

This course provides final year Anthropology students the opportunity to conduct research and to produce a dissertation on a topic of their choice. The production of a dissertation requires not only keen interest in a particular topic and strong self-motivation, but also a solid foundation in relevant topical and theoretical areas of inquiry and a firm grasp of anthropological theory and methods. Towards this end it is strongly recommended that students wishing to do the ISP take Principals of Social Investigation (PSI) either before or while taking the ISP, although PSI is neither a pre-requisite nor a co-requisite for enrolment in the ISP.  In addition students will normally need to clearly demonstrate their ability to undertake and successfully complete a course of this kind by obtaining course marks of 60 or higher in their second year. The department will consider exceptions to above rule where students have a documented Specific Learning Difference and where sufficient support is made available to them by the Learning Support Unit and a member of staff.

Students wishing to enrol on the ISP must, before the end of their second year (or the year preceding their final year): (a) produce a 500-word written proposal outlining the topic of their intended ISP; (b) secure the agreement of a potential supervisor before pre-registration at the end of year two (or at the end of year three for four-year students); and (c) pre-register for the ISP. Following the faculty’s confirmation of a student’s registration – and only when steps (a) and (b) are completed, the ISP convener will provide faculty with a list of students who will be enrolled onto the course.

The department has adopted the above procedure to ensure that students who have achieved high marks, who have demonstrated the ability to write well and work to deadlines are allowed to do the ISP. We are aware that sometimes students wish to take the ISP who may not have achieved the required course marks. Students whose work is border line may appeal to be allowed to take ISP. The appeal will be heard by a committee composed of the convener of ISP, the Undergraduate Tutor and the proposed supervisor of the ISP. This committee may take into consideration relevant information in assessing an individual’s ability to undertake the ISP and will, if necessary, take advice from the Learning Support Unit. Students will be informed about the outcome of their appeal.

This course will be structured as a workshop. En lieu of lectures and classes, students will meet together with the course convener once a week for five weeks in the first term and five weeks in the second term. Not only will students provide the material (mostly in the form of written works-in-progress) for discussion in these sessions, student commentary on fellow students’ projects will constitute the substance of the workshop. In this collaborative intellectual endeavour, students will be expected to contribute to the production and maintenance of an environment of mutual respect and support.

Note that regular attendance and active participation in the workshop is compulsory and that only students meeting this requirement will be permitted to proceed to the dissertation-writing phase. Students should note that by the end of November their progress will be reviewed by the ISP Convenor, their supervisor and the Undergraduate Tutor. They will be given advice concerning the possible ethical issues arising from their project and whether they are on track to complete the unit. Students who fail to attend seminars, fail to make presentations and/or fail to comment on their colleagues work may be required to withdraw from the ISP and register for the AES (taught in terms 1 and 2) and an additional half unit in term 2 to ensure that they will obtain their degree by the end of year 3.

In addition to the workshop, each student will work under supervision of a member of the Department of Anthropology teaching staff. Students should take the initiative to discuss their projects with potential supervisors in order to determine suitability and interest. Students will meet with their supervisors twice in the first term (once to agree the topic of their dissertation, and once to discuss the argument and outline of their dissertation), and twice in the second term (once to report progress and discuss any difficulties encountered in writing, and once to discuss a full draft completed by the end of week five in the second term).

Objectives and learning outcomes of the course

Students will develop the skills to:

  • work independently on a research question of their choosing;
  • develop and pursue that question via library research (possibly augmented by personal experience);
  • write an argued essay, of similar length to a journal article, with an apparatus of footnotes and references in standard professional format.
  • evaluate and critique the work of their peers.

Method of assessment

100% coursework.  Students are encouraged to submit their work well before this deadline. The work must be type-written or computer-generated, in a readable font, double-spaced, with a word count. Maximum length for dissertations is 10,000 words including footnotes, but excluding captions, bibliography, and appendices of original source materials not written by the candidate.  School policy on plagiarism and on research ethics will be strictly enforced.

The Department was left a sum of £2000 from Miss Gwendoline Kate Hiskins who died at the age of 91. Miss HIskins was a retired health visitor who spent many years working as a nurse in Africa. After her late retirement she completed a BA degree in the Social Anthropology at SOAS, and remained in contact with the Department for several years following. She was a close friend of Helen Kanitkar (who founded the Department library and whose legacy enabled its further development as the Helen Kanitkar Library and Research Centre).  The gift to the department from Miss Hiskin’s recalls the generosity of spirit of Gwen as she is remembered by senior staff. She had a passion for African and an enthusiasm in talking about her years working there. The department felt it fitting to use the gift to support undergraduates with special interest in the continent in their first research efforts.

Students wishing to apply for the Hiskins Fund -- there are four £500.00 grants in total -- need to demonstrate their ability to complete their ISP to a high quality -- by having an outstanding academic profile for year two -- and they must secure an endorsement from their intended supervisor. This information must be sent to the ISP convenor, by the beginning of term 3 (Monday April 20th, 2015).