Researching and Writing the One-Year MA Thesis

The following is advice for students enrolled in the one-year MA in Anthropology and the one-year MA in Anthropology & Development (the MA in CREOLE is a two-year programme, and the following advice does not apply).

What is the purpose of the thesis?

The thesis for the 1-year MA is a minor thesis of 30 credits. The main purpose of the MA thesis is for the student to demonstrate mastery of anthropological theory and ethnography - this will require reading of anthropological theory and ethnography beyond what is required on reading lists from the modules. The experience of the thesis should be adaptable to the particular goals of each student; if the student plans to go on for the PhD, the thesis research can lay the groundwork for more advanced PhD research on the topic; if the student wants to take the MA and go into the job market, the thesis research can allow her/him to develop some expertise in a topical area as well as acquire skills in doing research and using theory to critically open up a topic/issue.

How do I choose a topic?

In the MA thesis, the student must apply anthropological theory to a topic of the student's choice, i.e. the student should explore a topic in the light of the theory, and be able to use anthropological theory to comment critically on the topic. As long as there is relevant expertise in the department, students can chose a research topic from any area within anthropology, in consultation with a willing advisor. Students might choose the topic of one of the optional modules and further explore an aspect of it in the thesis; students may also choose a topic of their own interest that is not addressed in any of the modules.

What sort of research should my thesis be based on?

All research methods should be decided in consultation with advisor, but the following are some possible scenarios:

"Desk-based" or "Library" Thesis.  Given the time constraints in the one-year MA programme, it probably makes the most sense for theses to be primarily theoretical in content, i.e., based on a reading of secondary scholarly literature; or to be based on work with primary source material that is documentary or historical in nature. The task of the student is to approach these sources using an anthropological framework.

Practical thesis.  A student might use an internship experience (for instance, with an NGO) as the basis for a thesis. The student would have to develop an anthropological problem that could be addressed through the practical experience.

Fieldwork-based thesis. Students are advised that the one-year MA programme does not allow sufficient time for a fully developed field-based anthropological project. Students wishing to engage in some ethnographic fieldwork should design their project carefully in consultation with the advisor, so that it is not solely dependent upon data gathered through fieldwork.

N.B. Students undertaking ethnographic fieldwork should be aware that proposals must undergo ethical review at department level. Students should consult with the Director of Graduate Studies in the Department of Anthropology on the process of ethical review.

What is the timeframe for completing the thesis?

  • By reading week of the first semester, students should have approached a member of the anthropology staff to serve as thesis advisor and should have begun to discuss the thesis topic with the advisor
  • By the end of Semester 1, students should have developed a coherent research proposal in consultation with the thesis advisor.
  • During Semester 2, students should be making progress on their research for the thesis.
  • During Summer, students should be finishing up their research and turning to analysis and writing.
  • The deadline for turning in completed theses is late September/early October (see section in the Postgraduate Handbook on Thesis Deadlines for exact date each year).

What is the word count for one-year MA theses?

Theses written in the one-year MA programme should be 15,000 -20,000 words.


MA in Anthropology:

MA in Anthropology & Development:

MA in Linguistic Anthropology:

Director of Postgraduate Studies: