Undergraduate study - 2025 entry
Edinburgh: Extraordinary futures await.

MA Social Anthropology and Social Policy

UCAS code: LL64

Duration: 4 years

Delivery: Full-time

School: Social and Political Science

College: Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences

Study abroad

Introducing MA Social Anthropology and Social Policy

This popular joint degree programme provides a grounding in both social anthropology and social policy, two subjects which complement and enrich each other.

Social anthropology

Social anthropology is the study of human conduct and thought. Societies around the world vary enormously socially, culturally and politically.

The study of these variations, and the common humanity that underlies them, is at the heart of social anthropology.

Social policy

Social policy at the University of Edinburgh will enable you to engage with confidence in many of the political debates of our time.

We cover a range of topics, such as:

  • health
  • welfare
  • labour markets
  • education
  • family and childhood

We discuss how policies affect our civic culture through studying political engagement and citizen participation.

Our programme will equip you with the knowledge to understand how policies affect society and the economy. It will also enable you to critically assess how policies are made and what actors and processes influence the policy-making process.

Why Edinburgh?

We work closely with:

  • governments
  • non-governmental organisations (NGOs)
  • third sector and interest representation groups
  • international organisations
  • other external actors

International comparative analyses are one of our main strengths. We place a strong emphasis on providing you with empirical research skills, so that you can become a critical researcher yourself.

How the programme works

You will take a broad range of courses in both disciplines in Years 1 and 2, and will have the opportunity to specialise in Years 3 and 4.

You will spend up to four months on an individual research project that will form the basis of your dissertation. Fieldwork for your project can be done both within and outside the UK.

Year 1

Year 1 provides you with a broad introduction to both subjects.

You will study the following:

Social Anthropology 1A: The Life Course

This course is intended as an introduction to social anthropology. As well as covering life crisis moments and rituals of birth, marriage, and death, the course includes themes such as:

  • gender
  • personhood
  • work and making a living
  • the house
  • consumption and exchange
  • health
  • the body

Social Anthropology 1B: Anthropology Matters

This course examines how concepts and ideas that have driven anthropology help us shed new light on debates that are at the heart of contemporary questions about how our societies work.

Each week will include two sessions exploring a single issue and anthropological contributions to debates relating to that issue. The issues explored will vary from year to year, but examples include:

  • climate change
  • hunger
  • wellbeing
  • body modification
  • human rights

Social Policy and Society

This course revolves around three main themes:

  • social needs
  • social problems
  • social rights

You will also examine how different debates about welfare have been influenced by these themes.

Politics of the Welfare State

This course examines social policy as a political issue in the UK. It introduces you to the politics of welfare, the area that constitutes one of the largest sets of government expenditures.

You will be confronted with debates about the different ways of delivering welfare, and the interplay between the state and the private sector.

Optional courses

You will also study two optional courses.

Year 2

You will study the following:

Social Anthropology 2: Key Concepts

This course provides a historical overview of anthropological thought.

You will be taught through an introduction to keywords that have helped to shape the development of social anthropology.

This thematic approach is designed to be engaging and stimulating, and to help foster critical, conceptual, and theoretical skills. It will highlight the continued significance of key concepts and oppositions over time.

Ethnography: Theory and Practice

This course will introduce you to the theory and practice of ethnographic fieldwork.

At the heart of this course is a collaborative project during which you will learn about qualitative methods by putting them to the test in practical group work.

Your collective ethnographies will require you to write extensive field notes, which will be assessed. This will help you learn to write effectively in an academic manner.

Comparative Social Policy: Global Perspectives

You will compare different approaches to social policy in European and non-European countries.

Evidence, Politics and Policy

You will learn to critically assess how evidence is used or misused by different actors and in the media to influence public opinion.

Optional courses

Additionally, you will choose two further courses, either related to your programme or from another academic area.

Year 3

You will study compulsory courses including:

  • Analytical Perspectives in Social Policy
  • Imagining Anthropological Research (a dissertation preparation course)

On top of that, you will choose optional courses from a range of social anthropology and social policy courses.

You will also have the opportunity to conduct your own research during the summer break between Years 3 and 4. Your dissertation supervisor will help you plan and develop your research project, which can take place in the UK or overseas.

Year 4

You will study:

  • Culture and Power

This course introduces a range of anthropological approaches to politics. It provides a detailed examination of both open and hidden forms of power and their workings at the global, state, national, community, and personal level.

You will also use your research findings to complete an honours dissertation, and continue to study optional courses.

Programme structure

Find out more about the compulsory and optional courses in this degree programme.

To give you an idea of what you will study on this programme, we publish the latest available information. However, please note this may not be for your year of entry, but for a different academic year.

Programme structure (2024/25)

Our facilities

Most of the teaching on this programme takes place at facilities located within the University's Central Area. You will have access to the University library and computer facilities.

Take a virtual tour

You can take a closer look at the School of Social and Political Science and explore our facilities, and campus, on the University's Virtual Visit site.

Take a virtual tour of the School of Social and Political Science

Study abroad

In addition to your research project, which may be based overseas, you will have the opportunity to study abroad through the University's international exchange programme.

What are my options for going abroad?

How will I learn?

You will be taught through a combination of:

  • lectures
  • seminars
  • tutorials

You will receive supervision with your research project.

How will I be assessed?

The course is assessed through:

  • exams
  • coursework
  • project work

Previous graduates have chosen careers in areas such as:

  • social development
  • healthcare
  • journalism
  • film

Others have gained employment as museum curators, or with international organisations such as Oxfam.

A growing number of graduates choose to continue with postgraduate study in anthropology. This often leads to a career as an anthropological researcher with:

  • universities
  • public bodies such as the NHS
  • private sector companies

Standard entry requirement

The standard entry requirement is:

  • SQA Highers: ABBB by end of S5 or AABB/ABBBB by end of S6. BBB must be achieved in one year of S4-S6.
  • A Levels: AAA - ABB.
  • IB: 37 points with 666 at HL - 34 points with 655 at HL.

Minimum entry requirement

The minimum entry requirement for widening access applicants is:

  • SQA Highers: ABBB by end of S6. BBB must be achieved in one year of S4-S6.
  • A Levels: ABB.
  • IB: 34 points with 655 at HL.

More information for widening access applicants

Required subjects

The grades used to meet our entry requirements must include:

  • SQA: Highers: no specific Higher subjects required. National 5s: English at C.
  • A Levels: no specific A Level subjects required. GCSEs: English at C or 4.
  • IB: HL: no specific subjects required. SL: English at 5.

Find out more about entry requirements

International applicants

We welcome applications from students studying a wide range of international qualifications.

Entry requirements by country

International Foundation Programme

If you are an international student and your school qualifications are not accepted for direct entry to the University you may be eligible for admission to this degree programme through our International Foundation Programme.

International Foundation Programme

Mature applicants

We welcome applications from mature students and accept a range of qualifications.

Mature applicant qualifications

Regardless of your nationality or country of residence, you must demonstrate a level of English language competency at a level that will enable you to succeed in your studies.


For SQA, GCSE and IB students, unless a higher level is specified in the stated entry requirements, a pass is required in English at the following grades or higher:

  • SQA National 5 at C
  • GCSE at C or 4
  • Level 2 Certificate at C
  • IB Standard Level at 5 (English ab initio is not accepted for entry)

English language tests

We accept the following English language qualifications at the grades specified:

  • IELTS Academic: total 6.5 with at least 5.5 in each component.We do not accept IELTS One Skill Retake to meet our English language requirements.
  • TOEFL-iBT (including Home Edition): total 92 with at least 20 in each component. We do not accept TOEFL MyBest Score to meet our English language requirements.
  • C1 Advanced (CAE) / C2 Proficiency (CPE): total 176 with at least 162 in each component.
  • Trinity ISE: ISE II with distinctions in all four components.
  • PTE Academic: total 65 with at least 54 in each component. We do not accept PTE Academic Online.*

We also accept a wider range of international qualifications and tests.

Unless you are a national of a majority English speaking country, your English language qualification must be no more than three and a half years old from the start of the month in which the degree you are applying to study begins. If you are using an IELTS, PTE Academic, TOEFL or Trinity ISE test, it must be no more than two years old on the first of the month in which the degree begins, regardless of your nationality.

English language requirements

(*Revised 24 May 2024 to change PTE Academic requirement from total 62 with at least 54 in each component, and to clarify that we do not accept PTE Academic online.)

This information is part of a government initiative to enhance the material that higher education institutions provide about their degree programmes.

It is one of many sources of information which will enable you to make an informed decision on what and where to study.

Please note that some programmes do not have Discover Uni data available.

Tuition Fees

Tuition fees for MA Social Anthropology and Social Policy

Additional costs

If you choose to go overseas to do your dissertation research, you will be responsible for all costs.

Most students have no additional costs as they either remain in the UK or do their research while studying abroad in Year 3.


For more information on how much it will cost to study with us and the financial support available see our fees and funding information.

Fees and funding