SOAS University of London

Department of Anthropology and Sociology

Department of Anthropology Postgraduate Handbook


Welcome to the Department of Anthropology and Sociology (hereafter Anthropology Department) at SOAS! Since its foundation, in 1950, the SOAS Anthropology Department has established a distinctive identity among the leading Departments of Anthropology in the United Kingdom.  The research and teaching achievements of its staff have consistently attracted the highest categories of recognition and approval by the national higher education and social science policy making and funding organizations (the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and the national Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE).

Members of staff work to maintain and enhance the international reputation of the quality of education provided in the BA, MA and research degree programmes. To this end, these programmes are subject to constant review, modification or transformation as the discipline and the world around us change. The role of student members of the Department is crucial in this process, and we encourage dialogue not just about the content and methodology of the discipline of social anthropology, but about your experience of teaching and learning in its entirety.

This guide is aimed at students who have enrolled in an MA programme in the Department of Anthropology. The purpose of this guide is to provide students with useful information that will help you to make the most of your time as an MA student in the Department of Anthropology. For current information on the Department’s staff, programmes and course offerings please see the relevant Departmental web pages. This guide should also be read in conjunction with course documents, the Arts and Humanities Faculty Handbook for students, the (school-wide) Postgraduate Taught Masters Handbook, and the Regulations for Students of the School of Oriental and African Studies, General Regulations for Postgraduate Taught Degrees of the University of London, and SOAS Library Rules - all found on the SOAS website and/or the Bloomsbury Learning Environment (BLE)

Please read the Handbook carefully and if you have any queries or suggestions concerning its contents, please do let the MA Tutor, Programme Convenor or the Faculty Office know of them.


Academic staff

The Anthropology Department is part of the Faculty of Arts and Humanities. The Department is managed by the academic staff themselves under the direction of the Head of Department and the Faculty Dean and with the support of Faculty administrative staff.

There is a core academic staff of approximately 18 members. Each year up to a third of staff are likely to be away from the Department for some time conducting research for at least one term. Many staff members will be on research leave during vacations. Alternative arrangements are made for their teaching and pastoral duties during these periods of essential research activity.

In addition the academic staff comprises Research Fellows, Research Associates, and part-time Assistant and Visiting Lecturers who participate in the teaching programmes.

Each MA programme has its own Programme Convenor (also known as the Director of Studies), who has overall responsibility for the programme and who advises students on their academic choices. The MA programmes are under the overall care and supervision of the MA Tutor. Each taught course has a Course Convenor who is responsible for that course and available to discuss problems specific to it.  The Course Convenor is usually the lecturer. Please see the Department’s web pages for a full list of staff with their academic and administrative titles and functions.

If you are in doubt as to the right person to see about academic or personal matters, ask in the Faculty Office.  Staff photographs can be found in the corridor outside the Helen Kanitkar Library (room 579) on the 5th floor.

All members of staff have their names on the doors of their personal offices along the corridor on the fifth floor. They also post outside their doors times when they are normally available for consultation without an appointment. Please try to make your enquiries at those times. If necessary you can make appointments to see staff at other times by e-mail, to which staff will reply within five working days. Academic staff are normally available for consultation during vacations only by previous arrangement.

The Faculty Office

The student support section of the Arts and Humanities Faculty Office is a source of advice and guidance. The office can supply various information sheets, for example about essay writing and student services. The Faculty Office is open during vacations (with reduced opening hours). Staff will usually contact you by email. During term-time you should check your Faculty pigeon-hole (located inside the faculty office) and your SOAS e-mail account for mail frequently. Notices concerning courses and timetable will be posted on the Anthropology notice-board near the Faculty Office on the 3rd floor. You should check this notice-board regularly.

Here are some ways in which you can help to save time and make things run smoothly. Please:

  • at busy times please wait patiently until someone is free to deal with your enquiry
  • when referring to a particular course use the correct title and course code
  • when submitting essays remember you need to provide two copies and write your full name, student ID number, title of course, course code, tutor’s name of the course, essay number and title of essay on the front page
  • respond promptly to requests made via notice-boards, pigeon-holes, e-mail by the Faculty administrative staff
  • inform the Faculty Office (and Registry) of any change of address
  • take any enquiry about fees to Registry
  • note that the Faculty Office cannot take personal telephone messages
Sources of Advice

The Programme Convenor of your MA programme will act as your Personal Tutor. This member of the department will be available for consultation on any matter concerning your work and welfare.  

Personal Tutors can offer moral support and general guidance: they can act both as confidant[e] and spokesperson, depending on what you need.  It is a good idea to let your Personal Tutor know as soon as possible if there are any burdens   be they financial, personal or in relation to your role as a parent and/or carer   of which you think the department should be aware.  Your Personal Tutor is also a good person with whom to discuss any plans you may have of taking time out, intermitting or of deferring your course (Registry must be consulted at an early stage of this too).  However, the approval of the Associate Dean for Teaching and Learning is needed in many cases.

If you have problems which need serious counselling, or require the setting in motion of grievance procedures, your Personal Tutor can make suggestions and point you in the right direction.

Problems which require medical or other sorts of continuous care can be handled through the School. SOAS has a Student Welfare Officer and two Student Counsellors with regular office hours. These counsellors can also refer a student to a regular programme of help when necessary. The Students Union also has a Welfare Service providing advice, information and support. For more information, please check the notice-board opposite the Faculty Office.

SOAS students are eligible to use the University Health Service (details of how to make appointments can be obtained in the Faculty and Students Union Offices), which not only provides medical care, but is also a valuable place to go to for a much broader range of consultations. Sometimes the School Counsellors are booked for some time ahead and the Health Service can provide help in particularly urgent situations.

Grievances against other students or staff in the Department or the School might best be sorted out with department Student Representatives, the Personal Tutor or the MA Tutor. However, if a student is not happy with presenting a grievance within the Department, recourse can be made to their Students Union Representative or to the Associate Dean of Learning and Teaching or the Registrar.
Please note that SOAS has policies in relation to Equal Opportunity and Freedom of Expression, and has also established guidelines for procedures in cases of sexual harassment. Students who feel discriminated against in any way are encouraged to understand and exercise their rights under these policies.

Students with a disability or a learning difficulty

The Russell Square campus consists of two interlinking buildings (the old building and the Library building, and the Brunei building and Paul Webley Wing, Senate House) all of which are accessible to students with disabilities. Other sites are not suitable for wheelchair users, so please check with the relevant department first.

The SOAS Library is also accessible to people with all levels of mobility. Every effort is made to help students with particular needs.

During examinations please note that the School follows regulations laid down by the University of London. Dyslexic students must inform the Examination Officer well before their examinations, and produce appropriate evidence. Other special needs are considered individually and every effort is made to accommodate and make students as comfortable as possible. Please contact the Student Disability Officers if you have any problems with disabilities.

Student representation

At the beginning of each year arrangements are made for the election of two student representatives from each of the seven MA Anthropology programmes. These representatives formally meet staff three times per academic year (once each term) in the Student-Staff Forum. Student representatives have a notice board to communicate current information to other students. Faculty staff will assist student representatives (for instance with room bookings) in organizing other meetings - whether informal meetings with staff or with other students, year forums, discussions of academic matters or social events.

Terms of Reference for Student-Staff Forum
General terms of reference

The Student-Staff Forum includes both staff and student representatives. Its main role is to pinpoint areas which concern students in the Anthropology department, to make recommendations on departmental policy on matters affecting students, and to comment on proposals originated in Departmental meetings.

While all Forum decisions are reported to the Departmental Staff and may well need to be revised to accord with Department or School policies, the Forum is seen to be the first stage of consultation in relation to changes in MA course structure, departmental structure and essay regulations. Students are encouraged to set the agenda for the meetings.

Student representatives on the Forum are seen as the key figures in the process of decision-making. Through these representatives staff hope to learn what general student concerns and needs might be. In return, staff seek to be responsive to student issues. The Forum receives reports on decisions made in departmental staff meetings and student representatives are encouraged to report these to the larger student body.

Structure and membership

The Head of Department chairs the Forum. The postgraduate element of the Forum consists of the Programme Convenors and two student representatives from each programme; one each from full-time and part-time (fourteen in total). It is minuted by Faculty staff.

  • There is a meeting of the Student-Staff Forum each term.
  • Agenda items can come from Departmental meetings, or any student representative.
  • Minutes of the meetings are, as far as possible, circulated within two weeks of the meeting.


The Department offers eight MA degrees in Anthropology:

MA Social Anthropology
MA Social Anthropology of Development
MA Medical Anthropology
MA Anthropology of Media
MA Migration and Diaspora Studies
MA Anthropology of Food
MA Anthropological Research Methods
MA Anthropology of Travel and Tourism
MA Anthropological Research Methods and Nepali
MA Museums, Heritage and Material Culture Studies

In what follows, references to MA Anthropology degrees apply to all seven degree programmes.  

The degree programmes may be pursued for one year full-time, or for two or even three years part-time (with the exception of MA Anthropological Research Methods which can only be studied full-time or part-time over two years).

We think of the seven MA Anthropology degree programmes as an overlapping family. Some courses, or course components, are common to all the programmes while others are available only within a particular degree programme.  Throughout, our intention is to combine - in roughly equal proportions - an obligatory and rigorous formation in the skills basic to the degree under study with an expression of a student’s individual interests.

A degree programme consists of four assessed units, made up of a combination of compulsory and optional taught courses and the dissertation in anthropology and sociology (or a Multi-media presentation for Anthropology of Media). In addition, all MA students must audit the Ethnographic Research Methods lectures in Term One.

On any MA Anthropology degree programme one of the taught courses is designated as a core course, and students are required to follow it.  The remaining taught elements will normally consist of the foundation course and one course unit selected from approved optional courses. Most students will find that half of their degree consists of required elements (the core course and the foundation course, Theoretical Approaches to Social Anthropology), and the other half of elements that permit greater choice (an optional course and a dissertation).

Students who read for a degree part-time over two years normally study the core and foundation courses and are examined in the corresponding papers in their first year; they take their optional course and paper and complete their dissertation in their second year.

The programme of study over three calendar years will be arranged with one taught element in each year and the dissertation normally in the third year.

Most students take two compulsory courses:

  1. A Degree Specific Core Course: to each MA degree a dedicated core course deals with the theoretical and substantive issues crucial to the general or particular type of social anthropology a student has chosen to read.
  2. Theoretical Approaches to Social Anthropology is an advanced foundation course in anthropological theory exclusively designed for MA Anthropology students.  Regardless of the MA Anthropology degree for which they are reading, students without previous, substantial background in anthropology will be required to take this course.

Students who have substantial knowledge of anthropology or sociology (usually from a recent degree or part degree) may be given exemption from Theoretical Approaches to Social Anthropology.  The possibility of exemption has usually been broached during initial interview before a student is offered a place at SOAS, but exemption must nonetheless be agreed through discussion of a student’s choice of courses during the first week of the degree.

Depending on exemptions, students will take at least one optional course to make up their three examined papers.  As their name suggests, optional courses are chosen according to student preference. Simplifying slightly, most optional courses offer specialist treatment either of a theme or of a region/language.  

A student may choose to take two half courses for their third option.  Each half course will be taught in a single term and it is NOT normally permitted to take two half courses in the same term.  A student electing to study either a regional ethnography or an African or Asian language will follow a single course throughout the academic year.

Specialised optional half courses are usually taught by a single teacher with research interests in the topic.  Ethnographies of a selected sub region are taught by one or two teachers who are specialists in that particular region.  Core and foundation courses are taught by teams of two to four teachers who share the responsibilities of lecturing and leading classes.


The general format of teaching for anthropology courses is a weekly one-hour lecture, followed by a tutorial (also called a ‘seminar’ or ‘class’). Whenever possible, lectures and tutorials are scheduled on the same day for the convenience of part-time students. Lectures and tutorial classes commence promptly at five minutes past the hour, and finish at five minutes before the hour.


Most courses involve a one hour (actually 50 minute) lecture as a key component. Core course lectures are usually timetabled from 10-11 a.m., with the linked tutorial classes later on in the same days for the convenience of part-time students.
The lecture serves as a vehicle by means of which a new topic can be introduced, the terms of associated debates and theories outlined, and suggestions for your further investigation of the topic framed. Ideally the lecture serves as a basis and catalyst for your further reading and research into the subject. It is not a substitute for your own independent reading and study.


Course Convenors and teachers will allocate membership of tutorial classes in the first week of each term. This is a complex task and, should you be involved in courses not taught in the Department of Anthropology and Sociology you will need to pay particular attention to potential time-table clashes and bring any to the immediate notice of your Programme Convenor. If you have caring, work or other commitments which make some times awkward for tutorial classes, you should inform the MA Tutor or MA Programme Convenor at registration and they will try their best to accommodate you accordingly.

Students are expected to prepare relevant readings in advance of tutorials and to participate fully in class discussions.


The precise coursework requirements for each course you take are indicated on the course cover sheets which accompany reading lists (or ask your tutor). It is your responsibility to acquaint yourself with this information.

Coursework is an important part of your MA programme of study, and not just because it contributes toward your overall mark for a course.  Written coursework serves to give tutors an indication of how well you have assimilated a body of knowledge, how sound is your grasp of key concepts and principles, how capably you can critically appraise material, and how articulately and effectively you can construct an argument.  Perhaps more importantly, it is only through your own concerted working out of ideas and understandings, and your active efforts at problem solving and deploying material, that sustainable (not just measurable) progress in your learning and comprehension can be developed.

All courses involve at least an element of written coursework which is formally assessed.  Essays (and dissertations) must be properly referenced; the standard form of anthropological referencing is that used in the Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute (previously Man). Please consult the Postgraduate Essay Marking Criteria in Section 5 of this Handbook, and the Notes on Style in Section 6.

Course documents/Reading Lists

The Course Document comprises the Reading List for the course together with a Cover Sheet which outlines the aims, itinerary, format, procedures, expectations, coursework requirements, essay regulations and other useful data concerning that course.

The bulk of each course document consists of the recommended reading list for that course. Readings are sorted according to weekly programmes and topics, and certain items may be marked as essential or priority readings. In no case would you be expected to read all the texts suggested for a topic, but you should prepare adequately for tutorial classes, and draw on a reasonable range of readings for your coursework essays.

Course Documents will be distributed by teachers in the first class of each course. You will need to make constant reference to the Course Document, and to familiarize yourself with its contents, particularly the course expectations and requirements.

Attendance and absence

Attendance at lectures and classes is compulsory, and will be monitored. Departmental regulations stipulate penalties that failure to attend more than 50% of classes may result in a student being barred from that course’s examination. Letters will be sent to students following two consecutive unexplained absences, copies of these will be sent to the Registry and kept on the student’s file.

If absence from a class is due to illness, then you should, where possible, submit a medical certificate - this is particularly important when absence is prolonged, or leads to late submission of coursework (see separate section on the ‘Late Submission of Coursework’ further down on procedures to be taken if deadlines cannot be met).  Please refer to the Postgraduate Taught Masters Handbook for further information on the School’s regulations.

Please talk with your Programme Convenor or class teachers if you are experiencing, or are about to experience, problems which you feel impinge upon your work and/or cause you difficulties with attendance. It is usually best to share such difficulties with a concerned member of staff who will be able to advise you, in confidence, on the best way to cope.

Student evaluation of courses

Students are asked to make a formal, anonymous online assessment at the end of each course for which they have registered.  

Students’ completion of the evaluation forms is vital because it is the primary mechanism whereby students’ experiences of courses can be gauged, yielding valuable information about how effective (or otherwise) provision and teaching has been - in relation to both the ‘what’ and the ‘how’ of teaching. Accordingly, course teachers have the opportunity to amend their procedures of teaching, or improve other aspects of the course, with the aim of facilitating more effective teaching and learning.

Auditing courses

Students are strongly recommended to consider auditing some of the lectures for courses offered at undergraduate level in the Department.  Particular mention should be made of:

First and second-year lectures may be especially useful to any student feeling in need of extra guidance on the topics dealt with in Theoretical Approaches to Social Anthropology during the first term.

Students are often welcome to audit other lectures at BA and MA levels within the Department and are free to audit other lectures within the School.  Ask the lecturer concerned if your attendance will raise any problems. Auditing is possible for lectures but not for tutorial classes. Auditing a language is, therefore, normally precluded. Students cannot be examined in audited courses, nor is work set or marked.  


The Departmental Seminar meets on Wednesdays and is a crucial element of the shared intellectual life of staff and postgraduate students.  Invited speakers will present work in progress, much of which should be at the cutting edge of anthropological research.  There is also a regular PhD Seminar given by students returning from fieldwork.  While this seminar is primarily for research postgraduates, if a topic is of particular interest, please feel able to ask the Postgraduate Research Tutor if you can attend. Other seminars convened by Departmental staff are the Anthropology of Development Seminar, the SOAS Food Forum, and the Centre for Migration and Diaspora Studies Centre Seminar Series. Please visit the SOAS website for programme information.  

SOAS hosts a variety of public lectures, conferences and seminars which are prominently advertised on the fifth floor and in the foyer.  SOAS staff usually belong to an academic department and a Regional Centre (some also belong to Special Purpose Centres).  If you have a regional interest then make a point early in the year of locating the relevant Regional Centre where you will find an information board displaying forthcoming meetings.  Some Regional Centres also publish a Newsletter.

Outside SOAS you might want to explore the facilities of the University of London.  The LSE, University College and Goldsmiths College have substantial anthropology departments and also run weekly seminars.  Some of you might have specialist interests which make it worthwhile seeking out London University colleges concerned with higher studies in medicine, law, education etc.  The possibilities are too extensive and varied to itemize here; if you have particular interests then ask a member of staff who shares your enthusiasms.  You might also consider taking out a Junior Fellowship of the Royal Anthropological Institute which will include a journal subscription to Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute and Anthropology Today and rights in their library in the Centre for Anthropology at the British Museum.


There are two libraries to which you have access as a SOAS Anthropology student. You should become familiar with them, their strengths, layout, catalogues, loan regulations etc from the start and learn to use them to best advantage.

SOAS Library

Please sign up for SOAS Library tours, which are given at the beginning of each academic year. Specific training in the use of the anthropology resources or electronic resources is often available. Please ask at the Library Helpdesk, or contact the MA Tutor for further information.

The Helen Kanitkar Library

The Helen Kanitkar Library serves as the Anthropology Departmental Library. Situated in Room 579, it contains books, DVDs and some photocopied course materials. A strict honour code is an essential condition of this collection working well for students. The Helen Kanitkar Library is largely reference only. The library, refurbished in 2009, has comfortable reading spaces and an excellent wi-fi connection. The Library depends much on voluntary student and staff support both in running it and for donations. Please contact the student librarian or Departmental Library Officer if you are interested in volunteering in the Helen Kanitkar Library.

Ethnographic Film

Every Wednesday during the first and second terms the Department of Anthropology holds a showing of ethnographic films. These are carefully selected from the collections of the Royal Anthropological Institute and elsewhere and are introduced by people with specialist knowledge. There is usually opportunity for discussion.

All students are strongly urged to take advantage of this superb opportunity throughout their degree programme in order to gain experience of a wide array of historical visual anthropology. It constitutes an essential visual component of most courses in Social Anthropology.

Both the Main Library and the Helen Kanitkar Library have collections of ethnographic films on videotape or DVD, which may be viewed in the libraries or, in certain circumstances, borrowed for viewing elsewhere.

Information Technology

MA students have access to personal computers in the SOAS Main Library and elsewhere.  Please see your Postgraduate Handbook for details of other locations and further information.

Resources outside SOAS

There is a wealth of resources for anthropology students in London. Note in particular the principal ethnographic collections at: The British Museum and the Horniman Museum (near Goldsmiths College) London Road, Forest Hill, London SE23. The Centre for Anthropology at the British Museum has an extensive library which is generally under-used.
SOAS students also have access to University of London Libraries. Information can be obtained from the Enquiries Desk . in the SOAS Main Library. Anthropology students are encouraged to join the Royal Anthropological Institute and receive Anthropology Today. We advise you to become familiar with your local public lending library.


Most courses by a combination of written coursework and examinations, although some courses are assessed in part or entirely by alternative means.  Please refer to the relevant Course Documents. If in doubt ask the course convenor. Please note that according to School Regulations all elements of assessment for a given course must be undertaken in order to pass that course. This applies to students admitted to SOAS in and after September 2010.

Students are reminded of the need to plan and pace their work.  This includes anticipating minor mishaps, the undertaking of employment during the degree period, the start of new employment and so on.  The Masters programmes are 12 month programmes and students are expected to give priority to their studies while enrolled. Students are expected to be engaged in coursework, revision, dissertation writing, and other aspects of their studies, not only during term-time, but also in the breaks between terms as well as during the summer holidays.

Essay regulations

Essay requirements for each course are outlined in the course documents.
Be warned that ignorance of requirements will not be accepted as an excuse for failure to meet the regulations/deadlines!
ALL course essays are due by the date set by your course tutor. Submitting essays late will result in a penalty of 2% per working day.
Please note: Students admitted to the School in and after September 2010 must undertake all elements of assessment for a course, including submitting all coursework prescribed for the course. Submission of coursework is a pre-condition for examination entry.

Coursework submitted after the final School Deadline will not be assessed. Please check the SOAS website or ask the Faculty Office for the current academic year’s date of the School Deadline. It is usually in May.

The word limit prescribed for each piece of assessed coursework is a maximum. Students must provide an accurate word count on the cover sheet for all coursework submitted for assessment. Word count is defined as the number of words contained in the submitted work including quotations, footnotes, titles, summaries and tables of contents. Appendices and bibliographies are not included in the word count. Appendices will not normally be marked and they must not include material essential to the argument developed in the main body of the work. Over-length coursework is penalised as follows:

  • Up to and including 10% - 5 percentage points deducted
  • More than 10% up to and including 20% - 10 percentage points deducted
  • More than 20% up to and including 30% - 15 percentage points deducted
  • More than 30% - The work may be submitted and will be accepted. It will not be marked but will
  • be assigned a grade of 0.
Late Submission of Coursework

The policy on late submission is explained in the SOAS Postgraduate Handbook. Postgraduate coursework submitted late but before the final School deadline will be marked, but the mark awarded will be reduced by 2% for each SOAS working day (Monday – Friday, when the School is open) that the work is late.  

If you have a good reason (called “good cause” in the School regulations) for submitting the assignment late, the 2% penalty per day can be waived or reduced at the discretion of the Board of Examiners. Having several essays due on or around the same day is not a good reason for lateness. Similarly, a book being unavailable in the library is not a sufficient reason for an extension. You should plan your reading and essay writing in advance to avoid this problem. Ignorance of the deadline is also not an acceptable excuse for late submission.

Please note that individual members of academic staff, such as course teachers, course convenors, programme convenors and the MA Tutor, are not able to grant deadline extensions. If you are unable to meet a coursework deadline and wish to request that the Board of Examiners waive or reduce the penalty, the procedure is as follows:

  1. Go to the Faculty Office (room 326) as soon as you think you might have a problem meeting the deadline.
  2. Collect and complete a Late Submission Request form - ALL parts of the form should be completed.
  3. If you wish, you should contact relevant members of staff to support your claim – student counsellor, year tutor or course tutor. Please inform the member of staff in the case of sensitive personal issues, and the matter will be handled accordingly.
  4. Where supporting evidence is available, this should be attached to the form.  This can take the form of a medical note or a letter from your course tutor, personal tutor or student counsellor.
  5. All information you provide will be handled sensitively and confidentially, and will be discussed only as necessary to make a decision on your request.
  6. Submit the form (with supporting documentation) to the Faculty Office as soon as you can – certainly no later than the final School deadline.
  7. Submit the coursework as soon as you are able.
  8. All applications will be considered by a meeting of the Board of Examiners (PG) to determine any appropriate deduction.  The Board will determine what is acceptable evidence and ‘good cause’ in consultation with Registry and the Associate Dean where necessary.
  9. Finally, remember all coursework has a specific deadline.  However, any coursework submitted after the School deadline will NOT be assessed.

If you have any questions about these procedures, please ask at the Faculty Office.

Resubmission of Coursework

All taught masters students who fail a course overall for which the written examination accounts for less than 80% of the overall mark have the opportunity to redeem their failure only in the element(s) they have failed – individual elements of coursework and/or examinations. Some coursework is determined to be unrepeatable, and students will have no opportunity to redeem such elements.
For the above students, passing ANY course following a resubmission/re-sit will result in the minimum pass mark (50% ) being recorded.

Resubmission is normally allowed only for individual written pieces of work (such as essays or individual projects). Unless an exception has been formally agreed by the Faculty Board, all other types of assessed work, such as oral presentations or group based work are not eligible for resubmission.
The regulations governing the above are provided in more detail in the School Postgraduate Taught Handbook.

School statement on Plagiarism

Students are reminded that all work submitted as part of the requirement for any examination of the School of Oriental and African Studies (University of London) must be expressed in their own words and incorporate their own ideas and judgments. Plagiarism - that is, the presentation of another person's thoughts or words as though they were the student’s own – must be avoided. Direct quotations from the published or unpublished work of others must always be clearly identified as such by being placed inside quotation marks, and a full reference to their source must be provided in proper form. A series of short quotations from several different sources, if not clearly identified as such, constitutes plagiarism just as much as does a single unacknowledged long quotation from a single source. Equally if students summarize another person’s ideas and judgments, they must refer to that person in their text as the source of the ideas and judgments, and include the work referred to in their bibliography. Failure to observe these rules may result in an allegation of cheating. Students should therefore consult their tutor or supervisor if they are in any doubt about what is permissible.
Where students draw on their own previous written work, whether submitted as coursework for their current degree, or for a previous degree or qualification, this must be clearly stated.

Coursework essays submitted for one course may not be used for another course without acknowledgement and prior approval.
Plagiarism is an examination offence.


Though some courses are assessed solely by coursework, most taught courses culminate in examinations.  Precise regulations will be found on the course cover sheets.  Taught full courses are most commonly examined by a three-hour paper on which the student is asked to answer three questions from roughly a dozen ‘unseen’.  Half courses are usually assessed by a separate two-hour examination paper and one coursework essay.  Students who have a course tutorial attendance rate of less than 50%, or who have failed to submit all pieces of required coursework by the School Deadline, may be barred from the course examination.

Further details regarding examinations can be found in Regulations for Students of the School of Oriental and African Studies which you are given at Registration and in the Postgraduate Taught Masters Handbook.  Please keep these carefully and refer to them.  If you have queries or concerns about examinations then you can approach either your Course Tutor, or the MA Programme Convenor for advice.  If you have special needs or requirements relating to the examinations (e.g. dyslexia) then please speak to your Personal Tutor or the MA Tutor early in the year.  You should also make sure that the Assistant Registrar (Examinations) is informed.

Postgraduate Essay Marking Criteria

The marking criteria can be found alongside the Marking Policy on the Degree Regulations, Policies and Procedures page.

The Notes on Style for Dissertation writing later in this Handbook will also be useful to you when preparing term essays.



A dissertation of 10,000 words (15,000 for MA Anthropological Research Methods and MA Anthropological Research Methods and Nepali), excluding bibliography, appendices, etc., but including footnotes, is a required element of all MA Anthropology Degrees.  The topic of the dissertation is left to students to decide according to their interests and subject to the agreement of the relevant Programme Convenor.  The dissertation should show an appropriate command of anthropological theory and the relevant literature, as well as the capacity to apply this to the topic in question.  Students should also demonstrate an understanding of the specialized field of their degree.


The 10,000 (or 15,000 depending on the MA programme) word limit is strictly adhered to and a word-count is required on the front page.  The word count is defined as the number of words contained in the submitted work including quotations, footnotes, titles, abstracts, summaries and tables of contents. Appendices and bibliographies are not included in the word count. Appendices will not normally be marked and they must not include material essential to the argument developed in the main body of the work.


The dissertation element is a quarter of the degree.  A distinction mark in the dissertation is required for the award of a distinction overall, likewise, a merit mark.  Achievement in the dissertation is given particular attention in the writing of personal references, especially in applications for research degrees.


The Convenor of the dissertation programme is the Programme Convenor of the relevant degree.  Students are allocated a dissertation supervisor early in the second term. Students are entitled to three substantive supervisions of one hour duration with the allocated supervisor.  The role of the supervisor is to assist the student in reaching an agreed topic of research, to approve the plan of work, help the student with any problems that may arise, advise on sources etc.  The supervisor may read and comment on early or partial drafts of the dissertation, provided these are submitted according to the timetable set out below, but not on the final draft.  Further guidance on the role of the dissertation supervisor is set out in the Faculty Guidelines. The arrangements for MA Anthropological Research Methods are different. MA Anth. Res. Methods students will be assigned dissertation supervisors and agree topics early in the first term.  They will meet regularly with their supervisors throughout the year. The timetable below is for all other MA Programmes, although dissertation submission deadlines (and general comments on dissertation writing) apply equally to MA Anthropological Research Methods.



Stage 1: October-December

In preparation for dissertation writing, ALL MA Anthropology students MUST audit the Term-One lecture series, Ethnographic Research Methods (15PANH002). These lectures are a vital part of your preparation for dissertation research and writing.

Students are encouraged to begin to think about various interests, topics, themes, issues, experiences etc. from which they might formulate their dissertation topic, and to begin to link their theoretical and specialist coursework to this task. School Policy requires topics to be approved by the Programme Convenor. Students may consult their Programme Convenor at any stage, and are strongly encouraged to contact other staff members in the Department who may share their research interests and under whose supervision they may wish to work.  During the second half of the first term the MA Tutor will come to one of the Ethnographic Research Methods lectures to talk about the purpose of the dissertation, the opportunities it offers, and the timetable of preparation, supervision, research and writing. In connection with this lecture the MA Tutor will also disseminate a Dissertation Preview Form (see Stage 2, below).

There is probably no subject matter of personal and social relations that cannot be treated in an Anthropology dissertation.  What is needed is an ‘anthropological perspective’ or approach to the subject matter.  Anthropological approaches may vary greatly as to the extent of theoretical elaboration, of comparative concerns, of more particular or more general focus, of more pragmatic or more abstractly critical purpose and so on.  Often there will be some element of all these emphases, together with characteristic anthropological practices of combining the production and use of ethnography with critical and reflexive commentary on anthropological and other practices in the humanities and social sciences.  Discovering what we mean by these procedures is an important part of the programme as a whole.

We recommend that you start to keep a file, folder, or diary of your intellectual and existential journey or progress through the MA dissertation.  This can contain your thoughts as the project develops, indexed and referenced bits of conversations (with fellow students, agencies, interviewees, supervisors etc.) and other advice received, pasted-in notes from lectures and tutorials, a cumulative and preferably annotated bibliography, and so on; in other words an ethnographic notebook from day one, which itself becomes an ethnographic text to reflect on in say June and July, when you engage more exclusively with your dissertation.  This can also be used as a means of communicating effectively with your supervisor in advance of supervision meetings.

Stage 2: December-January

Submission of dissertation proposal form to MA Tutor

Students return their completed Dissertation Proposal Form to the MA Tutor in December or January. The form asks students to list some ideas for their dissertation topic and identify one or more proposed supervisors.  The purpose of this is (i) to focus your thoughts and to begin the process of making your decisions about research for the dissertation; (ii) to be able to communicate this with others; and (iii) to assist the MA Tutor in allocating a suitable supervisor.  If a form is not submitted, the MA Tutor will be forced to assign a dissertation supervisor ‘blind’, that is, without knowing at all what will suit the student best.  All dissertations must be supervised by SOAS staff.

Stage 3: January-February

Meeting with Directors of Studies; initial meeting with potential supervisor

In January and February students are encouraged to discuss these ideas with their Directors of Studies and to let the MA Tutor know of any radical changes in their ideas about the dissertation.
By the end of Reading Week of Term 2, the MA Tutor will usually assign supervisors for all Master’s students who are in their final year.  

The Faculty will also issue a form, the Dissertation Title Form, which requests that students give a general title for their dissertation and which must be signed by the dissertation supervisor.  The title is likely to be about 10-12 words, it may of course be less, but should probably not exceed 16 words or so.  Carefully thought out, a title can communicate much information, including key conceptual, thematic and locational terms.  The title will be often continue to be used in CVs, references and so on, and therefore you should aim for a clear, purposeful and engaging title.

The summary which should be submitted to a supervisor is likewise a condensed statement that will contain much if it is carefully crafted.  It is often this statement that most serves to attract the interest of sponsors, supervisors and collaborators.  Ideally, like a longer term research proposal for funding, it should at the least contain some indication of (i) why the proposed research is exciting, original, timely etc; (ii) how it is feasible; and (iii) why you are just the person to carry it out successfully.  Put another way, it should contain (i) a statement of the general problematic; (ii) some 3-5 research questions; (iii) some reference to methodology; (iv) some reference to the ethnographic, or regional/ local and perhaps comparative focus.  You will find this challenging, but it can be done in a few hundred words, a few paragraphs, in a range of from about 200-1000 (maximum) words.  

Stage 4: February - March

First Supervision & submission of dissertation title form

Throughout February/March students should meet with their potential supervisors, and submit an outline proposal for their dissertation (this takes the form of a title and summary of the proposal).  During this month, if necessary, changes can be made to the lists of students and supervisors.  Teachers may recommend that a student swap, or a student might ask another teacher to take them on board.  Reasonable requests for changes in supervision will be considered before the end of Term Two.

During the second half of Term Two students should continue to think about their topic, build up a bibliography and a dedicated file of notes.  Students should take the initiative to arrange their first substantive supervision before the end of the second term.  This will be an opportunity to develop your ideas further, to focus the topic, to move ahead any plans for project or fieldwork elements, and to expand the bibliography. The Dissertation Title Form, with a working title agreed by the supervisor, must be submitted to the Faculty Office before the end of Term Two.

Stage 5: April-May

Second Supervision: Submission of developed proposal

Students write a more developed proposal of about 1,500 - 2,000 words, and hand it to their supervisor in the beginning of Term Three.  This is a working document, not a polished essay.  The important thing is to give your dissertation a further round of thought and reflection and to be able to communicate this to your supervisor.  It is quite common at this stage for your dissertation ideas still to be sketchy and speculative.  Just try to work them up as best you can at this stage.  

This second stage or more developed proposal should contain several sections.  It is probably less demanding to write it in this way rather than as a continuous argument or narrative as for an essay.  The sections might be headed: (i) the overall ‘problematic’ or main argument, (ii) the theoretical or conceptual basis, (iii) pertinent ethnographic notes, (iv) methodological considerations, (v) practical issues of timing, including possible project or fieldwork, (vi) resources, e.g. specialist libraries or archives, agencies, interviewees etc., etc.  Relevant sections should be backed up by as much bibliography as you have identified (but not necessarily read).

You should give this document to your supervisor who will arrange the second supervision before the examinations start in May.  You will have other coursework to complete in this period, as well as revision for the unseen exams.  As always, submission dates, or ‘deadlines’, should be treated as the last date on which work may be submitted, not the date on which you should plan to submit every piece of work.  Pacing your work is a crucial skill to enable you to make the most of your programme.  You can even achieve this stage by the end of the second term if you wish, or submit your proposal during the vacation for a supervision at the very start of the third term.  In any case keep your supervisor informed of progress and ask advice if necessary.

Stage 6: June

Third Supervision

You should aim to turn your attention to your dissertation as soon as possible after the exams and a few days of recreation.  The third supervision must take place before the end of Term Three.

By this time you should have a revised and clearly stated set of aims, objectives and methodology, a substantial bibliography, a clear idea of what information resources you will need to access, and a provisional outline of sections or chapters with headings.  By this stage there should preferably be a draft chapter or two, perhaps on theoretical orientations, and methodology, the latter essential in the case of a dissertation involving project or fieldwork.  This material should represent a clear advance on the previous submission if the supervisor is to be able to contribute effectively.

Stage 7: June - September

Researching and writing the dissertation

If the preceding timetable of work and guidance has been followed, you should be properly launched on a sustainable process of research and writing.  You are in charge of your dissertation; this is an independent piece of research.

Students are not entitled to supervision after the end of Term Three. However, throughout the summer the Department maintains a rota of academic staff members who are available (usually by phone or e-mail) to offer any back-up that may be required.  There will be at least one day each week when they could meet students at SOAS (or some other mutually convenient location).  This is not only for dire emergencies, there may be other urgent questions, dilemmas or blockages which students feel they need to discuss with a member of staff.  In practice most students usually work on their own from now on.  In any case, neither supervisors nor other staff may comment on complete drafts.

Please pay particular attention to style of presentation generally.  This includes in-text citation, referencing and bibliography; structure and layout; spelling and punctuation.  This is an extremely important part of the production of a professional piece of anthropological work.  It has an important bearing on questions of accuracy, honesty and ethics, as well as on communications and other generic skills.  Consult the paragraphs below on style and any guidance notes for the setting out of a dissertation provided by the Faculty.

Stage 8: 15th September

Submission of the dissertation

Dissertations are due by 15th September or, if the 15th is on a weekend, on the Monday immediately following the 15th. Two hard copies and one electronic copy must be submitted. Dissertations submitted after the deadline but before 30th September will be penalised with the loss of 2 percentage points per day. This penalty will be waived if medical or other evidence is provided together with the submitted dissertation copies and this evidence is accepted by the Sub-Board of Examiners in November. In other words, supervisors, MA programme convenors, the MA Tutor or other individual members of staff are not permitted to grant deferrals of any length, for whatever reason.

Dissertations will not be accepted after 30th September unless a completed Submission Deferral Application Form, obtainable from the Examinations and Assessment Manager (, has been submitted. Results for dissertations approved for submission in the period 1st October to 15th September of the year following will be considered by the Sub-Board of examiners in the year following. The award date, if the student is successful, will be 1st December of that year. There will therefore be a year’s delay in the award in the case of long-term deferral.

Dissertations must be typed and durably bound; a word-count must appear on the front page. See the second paragraph above on the length of the dissertation. Penalties for over-length coursework apply also to the Dissertation.

Notes on Style

MA students come from a wide variety of intellectual backgrounds and often ask for clarification about the appropriate style for writing anthropological essays.  It is difficult to provide a simple answer for reasons which may be quite illuminating.

Anthropology is regarded by some as a science, by others as part of the humanities.  Ideas of the appropriate style of essay writing differ somewhat accordingly.  (In some scientific circles, authorities encourage the use of the passive mood, as it is supposed to suggest detached objectivity and neutrality.  Given recent trends in anthropology and other subjects, it is now important to ask who is the author or agent.  So the active mood is preferable.  It requires you to reflect on who or what actually did what was stated.)  In the SOAS Department we tend on the whole to consider ourselves closer to the humanities and therefore recognize both that a variety of styles is permissible and that style is important in the presentation of ideas to readers.  For various reasons we do not wish to lay down firm rules about what should, or should not, constitute an essay.

It seems preferable to give examples of the sorts of writing which many anthropologists consider to be good or exemplary.  This is done below.

Certain features of essay writing are common to both the sciences and humanities.  An essay should have a beginning, a middle and an end.  As a rough guide, you should indicate in the introduction what it is you are setting out to argue or show. The body of the essay should lay our your case using suitable arguments, citations and ethnographic evidence, the balance depending upon the kind of essay you are writing.  Evidently, you should display an appropriate mastery of the literature relevant to the essay topic.  In the conclusion it is usual not to introduce new arguments or materials, but to make inferences or draw conclusions from the arguments and materials presented. There are other agreed features of an acceptable essay.  Spelling should be correct and normally conform to that used in the Oxford English Dictionary.

Punctuation is not a matter of personal proclivity and there are fairly widely agreed standards (see Carey 1971).  Similarly, while certain features of English grammar are a matter of choice, many are not.  Partridge (1973) is probably the best known guide to grammar and many other aspects of English usage. Students often treat paragraphs as if there were no conventions.  As Partridge points out, a paragraph, ‘is a collection, or series, of sentences, with unity of purpose ...  Between one paragraph and another, there is a greater break in the subject than between one sentence and another’ (1973: 223, citing Bain).  You should seriously consider buying Partridge’s Usage and abusage if you are not familiar with the vagaries of style in English.

On one matter there are quite definite rules in anthropology.  That is over bibliographical conventions. Anthropologists are expected always to use the so-called Harvard convention, which is used in The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute (JRAI, previously Man).  It is an efficient system, once mastered.  Whether their native language is English or not, MA students are expected to use the bibliographical style of JRAI in all writing and, by the time they come to write their dissertations, to have a command of English usage.  Examiners expect fluency in English usage and correct use of bibliographical style to be part of the qualifications for the degree of Master of Arts.  They will deduct marks or refer dissertations for shortcomings.
Bibliographical references should be cited in the text by the author’s last name, date of publication and page, e.g. (Firth, 1954: 285), or, if the author’s name is mentioned in the text, by the date and page reference only, e.g. (1954: 285).  Entries in the references should be in alphabetical order of authors and should include the following: name and initials of author(s), date, title and (for books) place of publication and, if published in 1901 or after, name of publisher; for articles, name of journal in full (or abbreviated according to the World List of Scientific Periodicals), volume number (arabic numbers to be used throughout) and pagination. See the Bibliography at the end of this section for an example of good practice.

Perhaps the best way to indicate some of the kinds of essay style which we would recommend is to give examples of journals and authors.  Obviously JRAI, as the main British anthropological journal, is one source to look at.  The quality of style in the articles varies greatly however and, as anthropology changes, so does its style.  Among British anthropologists, the following authors have often been remarked on for the quality, or clarity, of their writing: E.E. Evans-Pritchard, Raymond Firth, Alfred Gell, John Middleton, David Pocock.  Of the authors whose work you will encounter on the course, among American anthropologists Marshall Sahlins writes well, as does the Oxford philosopher Collingwood.  However, ethnographic and anthropological writings are themselves changing genres (Clifford 1983), which have been affected by broader literary trends.  Conrad, although not a native English-speaker, has had much effect on ethnographic writing.  

If in doubt, remember that, in general, good English is simple.

  • Carey, G.V. 1971. Mind the stop: a brief guide to punctuation with a note on proof-correction.  Harmondsworth: Penguin.
  • Clifford, J. 1983. On ethnographic authority.  Representations 1,2; reprinted 1988 in The predicament of culture; twentieth-century ethnography, literature, and art.  London:  Harvard Univ. Press.
  • Crabb, G. 1974. Crabb’s English synonyms.  London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.
  • Fowler, H. W. 1968. Modern English usage. 2nd edn. revised by Sir Ernest Gowers, Oxford: Clarendon Press.
  • Gowers, E. 1962. The complete plain words.  Harmondsworth: Pelican.
  • Partridge, E. 1973. Usage and abusage: a guide to good English.   Harmondsworth: Penguin.