Anthropology at SOAS University of London: Answers to the pressing issues of our time
Promoted by SOAS University of London

Anthropology at SOAS University of London: Answers to the pressing issues of our time

“A diverse and international lens,” “a student and staff population that is more than half international, with the backdrop of one of the most diverse cities in the world” — these are what drew Nina Cataldo to the Department of Anthropology and Sociology at SOAS University of London. She knew few other universities could offer the same and that an education at a department ranked fifth in the UK and 12th in the world for Anthropology (QS World University Rankings 2023) would be special.

Cataldo is right. SOAS is one of the leading research-driven universities in the UK. Anthropologists and sociologists here are specialists on Asia, Africa or the Middle East, their global interconnections, and their diasporas. Diverse, multi-lingual, and engaged, this is a community that exemplifies the best of SOAS’s tradition of exceptional regional expertise in languages, cultures, and politics. “It’s great to be surrounded by so many passionate teachers and students who can interact with the course material from non-Eurocentric points of view and apply that to the ever-changing real world around us,” says Cataldo.

These interactions are research-led, practice-based, and collaborative. Taking place in seminars, lectures, workshops, creative projects, and placements, learning here blends theory, practice, and real-world application — in various, engaging and thought-provoking ways. Whether the issue is gender, race, migration, climate change, the global mental health crisis, or social inequality, learning about it as a community is a joy to SOAS students, even for those who were initially pessimistic about the conventional university experience. “Lecturers are considerate of their influence, choosing to expose students to methodology and theory which they believe will enrich the future of the discipline, layering perspective so students can appreciate multiple voices, and be mindful of their own,” says student Ellen Price.

Like their department, however, SOAS students are always curious and have an insatiable appetite to know more about the world and their place in it. SOAS feeds and nurtures this spirit of inquiry. It allows all students to pursue modules from other departments, including learning one of over 40 languages from Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, and is committed to blending theory with real-world experience through field trips, site visits, and study tours. Some MA programmes also offer students the opportunity to take their learning beyond campus to an organisation in the public or private sector via a work placement. Students are encouraged to participate in the department’s three weekly seminar series in: Social Anthropology; Migration and Diaspora; and Food Studies, and the SOAS library offers students access to one of world’s best collections of resources on Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. The Anthropology Department even has its own dedicated library, where students from different cohorts and levels can study together and share knowledge and ideas.

MA programmes to understand the world and to make a difference

The department offers the following MA programmes: MA Social Anthropology, MA Anthropology of Food, MA Anthropology of Global Futures and Sustainability, MA Medical Anthropology and Mental Health, MA Migration and Diaspora Studies and the research-focused MRes Social Anthropology. Several of these can be paired with a language for a two-year programme.

Whichever programme you choose, you’ll explore what it means to be human in a complex and changing world. Armed with the methods and theories to help understand the world, you’ll be set to make a difference in various areas, from gender, race, and migration to cultural foodways, global health, and climate politics, among others.

SOAS’s two new MA programmes add to our understanding of two of the world’s most significant challenges: climate change and public health. The MA Anthropology of Global Futures and Sustainability is ideal for those interested in climate change, sustainability, and global equality, and who want to find out how to have an impact on issues of environmental politics, mass extinction, alternative food systems, social inequalities, racial injustice, and urbanisation.

“We interrogate the assumptions and taken-for-granted knowledge that are built into our global economic system. For example, how we think about economic growth, the value we attach to natural resources, issues of racial justice and gender equality, and the role of state and corporate power,” says Professor Catherine Dolan. “But we also move beyond the status quo to explore how we might think about the future differently. Asking questions such as, do smart cities represent the future of a healthier planet? How can the voices of Black and indigenous communities be part of alternative food networks, and is sustainable capitalism possible? While there are no easy answers for any of these questions, the programme offers students the possibility and time to reflect, discuss, and debate pathways to a more equitable and sustainable future.”

For student Nicole Griffiths, a Green Party councillor in Lambeth who was part of the green group responsible for the motion to declare a climate and ecological emergency in the borough, her favourite course was ‘Issues in Anthropology and Climate Change’. “We looked at not just anthropological writings, but all sorts of research and multimedia — films, cartoons and short books as well as the sort of hard-going, hardcore academic” texts, she says.

The MA Medical Anthropology and Mental Health focuses on cultures and conceptions of health and well-being from around the world, and is informed by clinical, psychological, philosophical, biomedical, STS, and anthropological approaches.

“This is the time for interdisciplinary approaches to mental health and a time to gain a better understanding of health using diverse socio-political and cultural perspectives,” says Dr. Orkideh Behrouzan. “In this programme, we specifically focus on health in relation to institutional, historical, and technological developments. And how health, in general, is not only a biomedical matter, but also a social one, embedded in our understanding of gender, race, language, science and technology, religion, and of course, politics.”

What further sets this MA apart is how it uses anthropology to bring something distinctive to healthcare policy and practice: it draws on experiential knowledge from participation in medical settings, from the viewpoints of clinicians and patients, and from within different cultural worlds. “Anthropology always places experience in context — the immediate context of social lives, and the widest context of global processes,” says Professor David Mosse.

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