Studying anthropology in Ireland

Ireland offers a number of degrees and study modules that allow students to pursue an education in anthropology - a highly-valued discipline, as Adam Drazin explains.

Anthropology is the study of culture and society and, in most cases, it is referred to as cultural anthropology or social anthropology (as opposed to biological anthropology, which is not widely studied in Ireland). The discipline has been promoted across Ireland since 1987 by the Anthropological Association of Ireland (AAI).

Why study anthropology?In the main, people study anthropology because they are interested in people and in the extra-ordinary plurality of cultural forms in our world - which you can experience most clearly by flying to far corners of the globe, but also by meeting people around the corner from your own home. Anthropology students acquire a wide range of skills and techniques for research, analysis, writing and presentation of material about people, society and culture. Many courses offer familiarity with a range of research methodologies, and especially ethnographic methods. Anthropology emphasises learning through experience and the possibility to do a thesis and develop your own particular research approach is a valuable element of most courses. Dissertations provide students with the possibility of specialisation in a wide range of regions, from Papua New Guinea to Tokyo to Dublin and is relevant to particular applications.

Studying anthropology in Ireland

“Anthropology students acquire a wide range of skills and techniques for research, analysis, writing and presentation of material about people, society and culture”

If there is one skill that is unique to anthropology, it is the capacity for alternative thinking, by looking at the world through a cultural lens. After a degree in anthropology, you will be familiar with examples of cultural situations from all over the world, each situation appreciated in its unique social terms and evaluated for lessons about wider patterns of human behaviour and thinking. For example, thinking about ideas of value can draw on studies of stock markets, Andean villages, and lobster fisheries; and studies of witchcraft, and accusations of witchcraft, can help us learn about political corruption. In fields where thinking ‘outside the box’ is required, anthropological thinking is invaluable. Anthropologists are working at senior levels in a wide range of fields including social research, market research, journalism, the media, NGOs and development, social work, product design, museum and heritage work, workplace studies, consultancy, marketing, policy and management.

Studying anthropology in IrelandAt undergraduate level there are two single honours anthropology degrees in Ireland and modules in a number of universities. The research specialisations in each institution are many and varied, so you should check their websites and prospectuses for details.

The National University of Ireland at Maynooth (NUIM) offers single-honours or joint honours degrees. Students typically study three subjects in their first year and then specialise. Maynooth is a leader in a range of areas of research including development, medical anthropology, economic anthropology, language, material culture, psychological anthropology, migration and the anthropology of religion, and stands out among European universities through its strong links with American cultural anthropological approaches. At postgraduate level, the department has a thriving PhD programme. It offers master’s courses in the Anthropology of Ireland, Anthropology and Development, and a joint European master’s degree in Anthropology (termed the CREOLE programme, it is offered in conjunction with the Universities of Vienna, Barcelona, Stockholm, Ljubljana and Lyons II). The department plans in future years to offer a master’s in the area of Anthropology, Innovation and Creativity.

Studying anthropology in Ireland

“In fields where thinking ‘outside the box’ is required, anthropological thinking is invaluable”

Queen’s University Belfast (QUB) offers single, major, minor and joint honours degrees in Social Anthropology and major, minor or joint honours in Ethnomusicology. Queen’s Anthropology department is rated third in the UK for world-leading research and has particular strengths in emotion and environment; performance; borders, migration and identity; human nature and morality; and public policy. Social Anthropology incorporates the Institute of Cognition and Culture and together with the Institute of Irish Studies offers a full complement of diploma, MA and PhD programmes in Social Anthropology, Ethnomusicology, Cognition and Culture and the Anthropology of Ireland. Two new MA strands - Irish Music and Tourism - will commence in September 2010. There is a vibrant and internationally diverse postgraduate body that continues to expand through global networks (e.g. a university agreement with Minzu University, Beijing to support Chinese MA anthropology students).

While at undergraduate level, Queen’s and Maynooth are the only universities to offer a full, broad anthropology programme, in many other universities in Ireland there are courses which include anthropological elements; that is teaching or modules which bring anthropological thinking to bear on specific issues. These are to be found, for example, among the undergraduate courses in Sociology at Trinity College Dublin (where modules include the anthropology of gender, conflict and identity, and material and visual culture); the University of Ulster (where anthropologists are teaching within the European Studies, History, Sports Studies and Psychology departments); University College Dublin (the anthropology of technology within information studies); University College Galway (in the Department of Political Science and Sociology); and University College Cork (where political anthropology is an expertise of the Politics department).

Written by Adam Drazin and the Committee of the AAI
Anthropological Association of Ireland