There are two main types of anthropology taught in the UK: social anthropology and biological anthropology. Anthropology focuses on the variety of ways in which humans live in the world.
This strand of anthropology centres on how people in the contemporary world live. Social anthropologists spend a long time in a particular setting, which is referred as their ‘field site’ – which could be anything from a remote village in Thailand or the offices of an insurance company – observing what the people in that setting do, how they relate to each other and how they think. This study allows social anthropologists to understand a culture on its terms, as well as appreciating the political, economic, ecological and historical aspects that have shaped it.
An extensive selection of social and political theory and government and international development policy can make assumptions about ‘human nature’ and how human beings around the globe live. One big assumption made is that everyone in the world behaves the way people do in the West – which is not necessarily the case.
Social anthropologists are positioned to challenge those assumptions, through experiences life in other ways first-hand, and develop more accurate and meticulous models for understanding and refining the world.
This side to anthropology investigates how humans evolved into the diverse range of cultures that it currently has, which is something that distinguishes us significantly from any other species.
Biological anthropology investigates this by comparing the social behaviour of humans, with that of other primates. Therefore, by analysing the fossil and archaeological record, experts can see how and when human life emerged as we know it in the past and today.
Another focal point concentrates on the study of the physiological and genetic differences amongst contemporary human societies and populations, as well as examining how these populations have adapted to the circumstances in which they currently live.
Although there may be variations in the two main strands of anthropology, both branches explore how human biology constrains or influences cultural and social behaviour. Some departments within universities offer cognitive anthropology, or biology and culture, which allows students to explore this area in greater depth.
Students should check with the degree courses and universities that they are hoping to attend to understand what entry requirements are being asked. Although many institutions ask students to have a UCAS Tariff point score of at least 300, which is equivalent to ABB, or AAA in A-Levels.
Students can study a Bachelor’s of Arts, or a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Anthropology, or more precisely, Social Anthropology, or Biological Anthropology. There are also many joint honour degree courses available for prospective candidates, combining Anthropology with Archaeology, other social subjects, such as Law, or social sciences (Learn more – What is it like to study law at university). Human Sciences degrees often contain a strong emphasis on anthropology within its content.
Students of Anthropology are assessed through written examination and essays, although biological anthropology can include practical assessments, although these will differ from each institution, so choosing the right university for individuals will take some research. Students may conduct their research project which is usually during their final year.
Studying Anthropology offers students an insight into different cultures, and give them a better understanding of them through a political, economic and historical aspect. This degree also provides a broad range of skills; incoherent writing, critical readings and effective reasoning which are all valued by potential employers (Learn more – University terms glossary)
Students at university gain many valuable skills which will aid them after they finish their studies, such as organisation and time management. University also provides students with opportunities to gain presentation skills, practice working towards a deadline, and to refine their social skills through group projects.
Those who study social anthropology will learn to understand how people will engage with policies and products, and this ability will aid them in looking for work in local and national government, charity worth, teaching, development work, marketing and public relations. Many other graduates choose to work within media or the arts.
Biological anthropology graduates may find themselves in public health, conservation, science communication or working in development.
Students who did well during their undergraduate studies can often begin a PhD, although this is dependent on the degree classification, university and funding.
There are also many Master’s Programmes available for students ranging from International Development, Public Policy, Public Health and Area Studies, which are popular choices for students.
Film director, Darren Aronofsky, known for The Wrestler, Noah, and The Black Swan majored in Social Anthropology at Harvard University.
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