Engaged Social Anthropology

Can anthropological knowledge production be a mode of political engagement?

At Manchester, we see our ethnographic research and teaching as a way to address problems of inequality and sustainability around the world.

With regional expertise in Sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, Eastern Europe, Central Asia, South Asia, East Asia and Melanesia in addition to core strengths in the anthropology of the United Kingdom, our work focuses on questions of:

  • poverty;
  • inequality;
  • class;
  • race;
  • gender and kinship;
  • development and humanitarianism;
  • medical anthropology and much more.

Echoing the stance of the Association of Social Anthropologists of the UK and Commonwealth (ASA), we also seek to practice an ethically engaged anthropology.

In line with the University’s strategic priorities for social responsibility and the School's commitment to making a difference, we aim to have an impact outside the academic sphere through research, teaching and community engagement.


Our research addresses some of the greatest societal and global challenges of our time, from poverty and migration to climate change. There are many specific ways in which our research makes a wide range of social impacts.

Based on our close engagement with people in fieldwork contexts, we often act as an intermediary between different regimes of knowledge and value. We have found that our expertise is sought by people outside the University because of its proven quality in furthering the understanding of cultural diversity, informing policy-making with 'on the ground' perspectives, and seeking out alternative approaches that are often marginalised by policy-making orthodoxies.

This has made the experience of our staff valuable to people in social movement organisations, identity-based groups, local communities, NGOs of various kinds and government organisations.

We also use our strength in audio-visual anthropology to help us make a social impact with our research.

For example, Rupert Cox, a member of the Granada Centre for Visual Anthropology (GCVA), has used advanced sound-recording techniques and film as part of his research on aircraft noise in Japan, which has been used by local communities and government officials in debates and negotiations over the impact of this noise on people's health well-being. His exhibition on the theme, 'Air Pressure', and related films have been exhibited in the UK, Japan and the USA, among other places.

Andrew Irving, another member of the GCVA, has done research on HIV/AIDS sufferers in Uganda, which has fed into HIV sensitisation workshops organised by NACWOLA (National Community of Women Living with HIV/AIDS); the NGO also uses films made by Irving. His video project on 'New York Stories', about the interior mental lives of the city's denizens, was written up by the Scientific American blog and Voice of America (April 2013). As a result, Andrew's videos were viewed by more than 400,000 people.

GCVA also conducted a 3-day filmmaking workshop for young people from Salford in collaboration with the Rio Ferdinand Foundation, receiving excellent reviews from the Foundation and participants.


We are committed to nurturing socially responsible graduates who can use the tools of social anthropology to understand and address the challenges to an equitable and sustainable world.

Our students study course units on issues such as:

  • power and inequality;
  • political and economic anthropology; and
  • the anthropology of development and humanitarian expertise.

View all our course pages for more information.

Student dissertations reflect our focus on topics relating to inequality. 

Community engagement

We see enabling greater access to higher education as part of the broader impact we wish to make with our research. We actively work to introduce anthropology to a wide audience of potential students in the Manchester area.