Social and cultural anthropology

The IB Diploma Programme social and cultural anthropology course offers an opportunity for students to explore and understand humankind in all its diversity through the comparative study of culture and human societies.

In studying this course students will come to appreciate how anthropology as a discipline contributes to an understanding of contemporary issues, such as war and conflict, the environment, poverty, injustice, inequality and human and cultural rights. The study of social and cultural anthropology offers critical insight into the continuities as well as dynamics of social change and the development of societies, and challenges cultural assumptions.

Students undertaking this course will have the opportunity to become acquainted with anthropological perspectives and ways of thinking, and to develop critical, reflexive knowledge. Perfectly placed in group 3, individuals and societies, social and cultural anthropology contributes to a distinctive approach to intercultural awareness and understanding. It allows students to develop the capacity to recognize preconceptions and assumptions of their own social and cultural environments through an exploration of both the familiar and unfamiliar worlds of other people. 

Social and cultural anthropology syllabus outline

Teachers are encouraged to plan the teaching of the course so as to explore the relationships between the topics of study and themes. The ethnographies chosen should allow students to explore multiple themes and topics, emphasizing the interdependence of social, economic and political institutions and processes, and their dynamic interrelations to beliefs, values and practices.

Whatever ethnographies are selected for study, they must take into account the requirements indicated in the syllabus outline. Ethnographic film and other visual or virtual media may be used in the teaching of ethnography, but this must be treated in the same critical and reflective manner as written ethnography. Parts 1 and 2 of the syllabus are common to standard level (SL) and higher level (HL) students, although there is an expectation that HL students will have greater depth and breadth of knowledge. Part 3 is for SL students only and Parts 4 and 5 for HL students only.

Syllabus components
Part 1: What is anthropology? (SL and HL)
  • Core terms and ideas in anthropology
  • The construction and use of ethnographic accounts
  • Methods and data collection
Students of social and cultural anthropology should be familiar with the set of core terms, the methods used by anthropologists and issues associated with the construction of ethnographic accounts.
Part 2: Social and cultural organization (SL and HL)
  • Individuals, groups and society
  • Societies and cultures in contact
  • Kinship as an organizing principle
  • Political organization
  • Economic organization and the environment
  • Systems of knowledge
  • Belief systems and practices
  • Moral systems
Both SL and HL students must have an understanding of all eight themes listed in Part 2.  The themes are closely interconnected and should not be taught in isolation of each other.  It is important that these themes should be taught in relation to ethnographic material.  The teaching of the themes should emphasize patterns and processes of change in society and culture and that anthropological knowledge changes over time.

Part 3: Observation and critique exercise (SL only)

In the first six weeks of the course SL students undertake an observation and produce a written report from their field notes. About six months later they are then required to produce a critique of their written report.

Part 4: Theoretical perspectives in anthropology (HL only)

HL students are expected to have an understanding of theoretical perspectives in anthropology, their application to ethnographic materials and their manifestation in particular historical contexts. They should be able to use these theoretical perspectives to evaluate ethnographic material.

Part 5: Fieldwork (HL only)

HL students undertake limited fieldwork, which they plan and produce a written report of.

Key features of the curriculum and assessment models

  • The course is available at higher level (HL) and standard level (SL).
  • The minimum prescribed number of hours is 240 for HL and 150 for SL.
  • Students are assessed both internally and externally.
  • External assessment for SL students consists of two written papers, one based on an unseen text and one which is essay based. For HL students there are three written papers – one based on an unseen text and two essay papers.
  • Internal assessment for SL students is an observation and critique exercise (Part 3) and for HL students, fieldwork (Part 5). Internal assessment is marked internally by subject staff and externally moderated by IB examiners.

Learn more about social and cultural anthropology in a DP workshop for teachers