IB Social and Cultural Anthropology (Standard Level)

Course description

Imagine what your life would have been like if you had been born in a different society – one with a different culture that valued different things. How would you think differently about some of the big concepts that underpin our society, such as gender, sexuality, democracy, and ethnic identity?

Social and cultural anthropology is the comparative study of human societies. It is about exploring how life is different for people living in the wide variety of societies across the world and about what binds humankind together despite our cultural diversity.

As a discipline, anthropology is defined by its unique method: participant observation. Anthropologists aim to acquire an insider’s perspective on the society they study by conducting long-term, immersive fieldwork within a particular community. Ethnographies are the written accounts anthropologists produce of the time they spend with the communities they study, and much of the IB course is taught through the reading of ethnographic material. These focus on subjects as varied as how international development is changing the lives of indigenous communities in the Amazon rainforest to why plastic surgery has become so culturally acceptable in contemporary South Korea.

Students study anthropology not just to understand other cultures and societies for their own sake. More importantly, anthropology can be used as a mirror, or a contrast, which makes it possible to reflect on our own society in new ways. In so doing, the study of anthropology invites us to think critically about our own social existence. As a subject that is global in its outlook, it allows students to explore contemporary global issues such as inequality, war and conflict, international development, and human and cultural rights.

IB Standard Level Syllabus Outline

Part 1: Engaging with Anthropology (assessed by exam)

The nine key anthropological concepts:

  • Belief and knowledge 
  • Change
  • Culture
  • Identity
  • Materiality
  • Power
  • Social relations
  • Society
  • Symbolism

Anthropological research methods:

  • Fieldwork
  • Participant observation
  • Data collection techniques
  • Analysis and interpretation
  • Ethical issues

Anthropological thinking and theories.

A selection of the following theoretical frameworks will be explored:

  • Cultural materialism
  • Diffusionism
  • Evolutionism
  • Feminist theories
  • Globalization theories
  • Historical particularism
  • Marxism
  • Neo-Marxism
  • Post-colonial theories
  • Postmodernism
  • Post-structuralism 
  • Practice theory
  • Structuralism
  • Symbolic theories

The big anthropological questions:

  • What is culture?
  • What does it mean to be a person?
  • What does it mean to live in society?
  • How are we the same and different from each other?
  • Why does anthropology matter?
  • To what extent is knowing others possible?

Part 2: Engaging with ethnography (assessed by exam)

Students will read a wide range of short ethnographic extracts and three full-length ethnographies to study three of the following areas of anthropological enquiry:

  • Belonging 
  • Classifying the world
  • Communication, expression and technology
  • Conflict
  • Development
  • Health, illness and healing
  • Movement, time and space
  • Production, exchange and consumption
  • The body

Part 3: Engaging in anthropological practice (internally assessed coursework)

Students will produce four pieces of written work:

  1. An observation report produced from a short piece of fieldwork in the local area
  2. A methodological and conceptual extension of initial fieldwork
  3. Second fieldwork data collection and analysis
  4. Critical reflection on fieldwork research


No previous knowledge of anthropology is required, but an intellectual curiosity about the topics outlined above is important.

Potential Careers

As The Economist wrote earlier in 2023: ‘businesses and governments are calling more often on anthropologists to help them understand the complexities of the societies in which they operate’. While some anthropologists use their subject specific knowledge to help international non-governmental organisations design culturally sensitive development programmes, at the other end of the spectrum business anthropologists apply anthropological theories and methods to study how business operate and how consumers behave. The study of Social and Cultural Anthropology also gives students a broad range of skills such as critical thinking, qualitative research skills, the ability to understand complex issues holistically and how to question assumptions. These are invaluable skills that are highly prized in any profession from law to medicine and journalism.



Contact for further information

Ms Cherry Briggs: cdb@wellingtoncollege.org.uk