MSc Anthropology, Environment and Development
Drawing on the strengths of our broad-based department and our expertise in human
ecology, social anthropology and demography, the MSc Anthropology, Environment & Development applies both biological and social anthropological approaches to the study of environment and development. Key areas of investigation include: the implications of changing environments for production systems and human welfare; the sustainable use of natural resources in developing countries; the environmental and welfare impacts of changing patterns of resource use with development.
The Masters integrates both natural and social science schools of thought and combines this with training in the methodological and practical dimensions of field work for the dissertation, and thus for employment post masters. Equipped with this interdisciplinary perspective and demonstrable research skills, this programme has attracted, and proven to be an ideal training ground for, students wishing to work with government, national or international NGOs or conduct further PhD research in the fields of environment and / or development. More details of the career destinations of our alumni can be found in the Careers section of this webpage.
Teaching comes from across the entirety of the UCL Anthropology department and the programme offers a rare opportunity for students to learn in an interdisciplinary setting with staff who work as advisors and consultants to outside organisations while simultaneously engaging in their own research.
The degree commences in September every year and is available either full-time over one calendar year or part-time over two calendar years . It comprises
- a core course,
- 2 options courses,
- research methods training,
- attendance at research seminars and discussion groups and
- a personal and professional skills development programme run through the Graduate School .
In addition all students are assigned a supervisor who
provide one-to-one tuition to help them develop an individual research
project that will culminate in a dissertation submitted at the end of
the course.The structure and weighting of the assessed elements are
- The Core Course: Resource Use impacts
- Research Methods in Anthropology
- Statistics for Social Scientists
The core course focuses on key conceptual issues and methodological tools in the anthropological study of human ecology, environment and development. The aim of the course is to use an interdisciplinary approach, based on current research by contributing staff, to provide students with an overview of some of the current approaches to environmental issues, particularly in less developed countries; and the implications that contrasting understandings have for management and development. The course focuses on patterns of resource use, trends of change, and the implications both for environment and for the social groups involved, working through empirical case studies of actual developing country situations and patterns of change, and focusing primarily on the practical dimensions of the subject whilst being informed by key theoretical approaches. By investigating the way impacts of resource use are measured and interventions planned, and by critically assessing research design and method, this course will equip students with some of the theoretical ideas and practical skills required for their own original research project in the third term.
As well as academic research, this course draws on work with local communities, private firms, the media, governmental and non-governmental organisations, and international agencies, social advisors and project consultants developing policy and practice. We are seeking to develop socially and ecologically sensitive approaches to managing and monitoring natural resource interactions between local communities, national agencies and international corporations.
Topics in the current year include: Local ecological knowledge vs Western science; understanding poverty; livelihoods and wellbeing; social impact assessment/mining;political ecology and community conservation; cultural context of rainforest conservation; and tenure and access
The research methods seminars vary from year to year but in the current year they include the following sessions: Participant observation; Ethics; Investigating space and place; Interviews (I & II); Questionnaires (I & II); Sampling; Using new technologies for research; PRA (participatory rural appraisal)); Photography; Investigating kinship and relatedness; Ethnographic writing; Field-notes; Film; Historical sources and Researching ritual
Research methods are assessed through a take-home open-book exercise, which students are given one week to complete at the end of the spring term. Students are given a selection of research questions or problems pertinent to the content of the degree and the student selects one of these setting out a detailed, reasoned approach to investigate and answer the question concerned.
The proposal, an excellent training for both the dissertation and future professional work, includes: Selection of population and/or site; sampling method and sample size; data collection methods ; data analysis plan; timing of data collection and analysis and; a discussion of practical, technical and theoretical problems that might be encountered.
The Statistics course is taught through a series of lectures and practicals. Areas covered include the following: Descriptive statistics; hypothesis testing; categorical data comparisons and non-parametric methods; univariate tests of group difference; correlation and regression analysis; sample size and study design; and relation between quantitative and ethnographic methods. However, the flexible nature of the statistics provision means that, where necessary, students can take additional classes in the second term (including multivariate statistics) if they wish.
Assessment of this course is as for Research Methods in Anthropology detailed above
Students choose two options from a wide range of Masters course options available at the UCL Department of Anthropology. Where timetabling permits, students are also able to take other relevant options from other departments. The first three courses in the list below are particularly designed for students on this Masters and students must select at least one of these. The remaining courses are some of the other popular choices taken by our students:
- ANTHGE06 - Anthropology of Development
- ANTHGE03 - Population and Development
- ANTHGE02 - Ecology of Human Groups
- ANTHGD12 - Medical Anthropology
- ANTHGC12 - Anthropology of Built Environment
- ANTHGC21 - Social Construction of Landscape
Other masters courses in the department which students may take, after consultation with the Masters tutor include:
- ANTHGD10 - Anthropologies of Science, Society and Biomedicine
- ANTHGD21 - Ritual Healing and Therapeutic Emplotment
Full list of the optional courses can be found by visiting the Postgraduate Course Options for Masters Students webpage.
Please note: not every course is available in every year.
Attending Research Seminars is an extremely important part of the training offered through this MSc and, located in central London, we are extremely well placed to provide students with opportunities to attend an immensely diverse range of talks of direct relevance to the course, from across the city.
Human Ecology Research Group (HERG)
All students attend the HERG group meetings which take place for 2hrs weekly in Terms 1 and 2. Additional sessions/workshops may also happen at other times.
HERG promotes interdisciplinary information sharing and communication between researchers by providing a regular forum for research students as well as academics from both natural and social science backgrounds to present work in progress, to receive feed-back and to develop ideas with other researchers and conservation professionals. As postgraduates have completed their research and gone on to professional roles outside UCL, the group has evolved into a broader association that includes individuals based in other institutes and agencies. HERG members share a keen interest and experience in the management and maintenance of the natural environment, and concern for understanding the role of key stakeholders, from households and local communities to local, national and international development, commercial and government agencies. Collaboration with national and international policy makers and practitioners is considered a priority by the group, given the very applied nature of the research area.
Other Research Seminars
At the start of Terms 1 and 2 the Masters Tutor presents
students with a tailor-made programme of seminars being given by outside
speakers that they should attend. In addition to HERG, students must
attend at least one other research seminar per week. The programme
covers relevant talks from within the department seminar series as well as talks being given in the wider
UCL community or external Institutions such as London School of Hygiene
and Tropical Medicine (LSTHM), London School of Economics (LSE), School
of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) etc.
I have never studied natural/biological sciences, can I still apply?
Yes. The course does not require such a pre-requisite. Every year we get students from a range of disciplines and we find that students from the biological/natural sciences are able to help those from social science backgrounds and vice versa.
My degree is not in anthropology or a related discipline. Can I still apply?
The entry requirements for this degree can be found in the Introduction page. If you are still not sure whether you should apply, please contact the Masters Tutor (Emily Woodhouse, email@example.com) directly.
What do people usually do when leaving the course?
The course equips students with a knowledge base and skill set well suited for research, training, advocacy or policy work in the fields of environment and development. For details of the career destinations of our alumni, visit the Careers page on this site.
What geographical regions to people conduct fieldwork in?
Projects can and have been conducted all around the world. Recent fieldwork has been conducted in South America, Asia, Africa and Europe. For details of past projects visit the Careers page.
Can I do the course part time ?
Yes, the course can be done over 2 years and tailored, to a certain extent, to suit individual needs. Teaching all happens within the daytime (there are no evening classes or distant learning opportunities) and a block of time will need to be given over to fieldwork at some point in the 2 years. Otherwise students can pick courses and when they do them to fit their other commitments. Please contact the Masters tutor if you would like to discuss this in more detail.
Is there a time limit on applying ?
Applications are accepted until August in the same year as you wish to take the course. However, to ensure that there is time to process your application and there are still places available on the course, we advise that you apply as soon as possible.
Can I speak to past or present students on the course?
Yes, please contact the Masters Tutor and she can arrange this for you. Visits to the department and talks with staff teaching on the course can also be arranged.
How can I best prepare for the course?
There is no textbook for this course and no single work adequately covers the range of issues the course addresses. The following is a brief list of relatively general works that cover some of the issues.
- Adger N et al (2001) Advancing a political ecology of global environmental discourses. Development and Change 32, 681-715
- Angelsen, A et al. (eds.) 2011. Measuring Livelihoods and Environmental Dependence. Methods for Research and Fieldwork London: Earthscan
- Blaikie, P. (2006) Is small really beautiful? Community-based natural resource management in Malawi and Botswana. World Development 34, 11:1942-1957 (Community Based Natural Resources Management)
- De Schutter, O. (2011). How not to think of land-grabbing: three critiques of large-scale investments in farmland. Journal of Peasant Studies 38(2): 249-279. (Small scale farmers/Land tenure and access)
- DFID Poverty Analysis Discussion Group April (2012). Understanding poverty and well-being. A note with implications for research and policy.
- Ellis, F (2000) Rural livelihoods and diversification in developing countries. Oxford UP
- Homewood, K (ed.) (2005) Rural resources and local livelihoods in Africa. James Currey
- Lambin,E., et al. (2001). Our Emerging Understanding of the Causes of Land Use and Cover Change. Global Environmental Change, 11 (4), 261-269.
- Leach, M & Mearns, R (eds.) (1996) The lie of the land: challenging received wisdom in African Environmental Change and Policy. James Currey/IAI
- Livi-Bacci M (2007 4th ed’n) A Concise History of World Population Blackwell
- Mortimore, M (2000) Roots in the African Dust: Sustaining the sub-Saharan drylands. Cambridge University Press
- Newing, H. C.M. Eagle, R.K. Puri and C.W. Watson. (2011) Conducting Research in Conservation : social science methods and practice. Routledge
- Peet, Richard and Michael Watts (2004). Liberation Ecologies: Environment, Development, Social Movements (2nd edition). London: Routledge. (Political ecology)
- Peters P (2009) Challenges in Land Tenure and Land Reform in Africa:
Anthropological Contributions. World Development 37 (8), 1317-1325 (Tenure and access)
- Richards, P. (1985) Indigenous agricultural revolution Hutchinson
- Sayers, J. (ed) (2005) The Earthscan Reader in Forestry and Development London: Earthscan (Tropical forest livelihoods and resource management)
In addition to one or more of these works, incoming students are advised to complement them with examples of more conventional approaches from the large and growing literature on “sustainable development”, “environment” and “conservation with development”. Suitable sources might include back issues of campaigning magazines (The Ecologist for example) or catalogues of publishers such as Earthscan or the International Institute for Environment and Development. On development and environment, you might usefully consult the websites of the Department for International Development and World Bank, and NGOs such as Oxfam, Actionaid, or Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF).
Current staff members (also members of HERG)
Marc Brightman is Marie Curie Intra-European Fellow at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies. His previous posts include: ESRC Post-Doctoral Fellow at ISCA, Oxford University (2009-10), Early Career Fellow in Social Anthropology of Environment, Conservation and Development at Oxford Brookes University (2008-10), and Postdoctoral Laureate at the Musée du Quai Branly, Paris (2007-8). His doctoral research (2002-7) was on Amerindian leadership in the Guiana region of Amazonia, and was based on fieldwork carried out among the Trio, Wayana and Akuriyo of southern Suriname and French Guiana. He has since begun to focus more closely on the political importance of the transformation of the environment, and on indigenous Amazonian forms of property, and he has recently begun to investigate these in the context of the emergence of new forms of property occurring through the evaluation of environmental services, particularly in the context of UN-REDD. He has conducted further research on the indigenous peoples’ movement, and his holistic approach to native Amazonian politics and power has stimulated his interest in the political role of music and ritual, and in the relationship between art objects, social space and group solidarity.
I obtained my PhD investigating the management and impacts of community-led fisheries enhancement in Lao PDR in 1999. As a Post Doc at Imperial College London and a social development consultant to MRAG ltd, my interest in the human ecology of living aquatic resource use and management led to my working in many parts of the world on DfID research projects (Lao PDR, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Thailand , the Caribbean, and West Bengal) both as a Principal Investigator and a short term consultant. This work focused on understanding the human/environment interactions of many different systems including Inland Fisheries Enhancement Systems; Marine Protected Areas; Riverine Reserves and Irrigated Farmer-managed Aquatic Systems. With a strong interest in Action Orientated Research, an important feature of this work has been ensuring a wide range of counterparts are actively engaged in projects, from individual households within rural communities through to government staff. I have continued much of this work after joining UCL in 2004 and, most recently, have been conducting research on the importance of ricefield aquatic biodiversity to rural livelihoods in Lao PDR.
I work on the interaction of conservation and development, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa and with a special focus on pastoralist peoples in drylands, among other groups and ecosystems. I research the implications of natural resource policies and management for local people's livelihoods and welfare, and the implications of changing land use for environment and biodiversity. I convene the Human Ecology Research Group which brings together staff and postgraduates working on environment and development issues. In collaboration with colleagues from other UK, international and African research institutions I am working on several programmes aiming to shape more environmentally and socially sustainable policy and practice in African drylands. These include acting as PI for the ESPA programme framework grant “Biodiversity, Ecosystem services, Social sustainability and Tipping points”, (with ZSL, ILRI, ATPS) http://www.ucl.ac.uk/best; co-PI for the NERC-DEFRA funded Valuing Nature Network programme “Capturing differentiated experience of change to ensure pro-poor ecosystem service: interventions are fit for purpose” ( With Imperial, ZSL, LSE); and co-I in the ESRC/DFID collaborative programme “Measuring complex outcomes of environment and development interventions” (with Wildlife Conservation Society and Imperial)
2011-16: Hunter-Gatherer Resilience Past present and future adaptations to a world in transition. Although hunting and gathering has been the longest and most diverse bio-cultural adaptation in humanity’s existence, we know very little about the ways in which hunter-gatherers have adapted to pressures and maintained their resilience. While the number of hunter-gatherers that have disappeared is unknown, the consequences of their extinction are evident in humanity’s current low genetic diversity, and in the uneven distribution of languages, where 95% of the world’s languages are spoken by only 6% of the world’s population. Diminishing genetic and linguistic diversity is matched by diminishing biodiversity. Since the remaining hunter-gatherers live in some of the world’s most important biodiversity hotspots this project will explore the relationships between these key areas of diversity for humanity’s general resilience in a period of rapid natural, social and technological change. Leverhulme Trust Resilience Research Programme Grant over 5 years (2011-2016). RP2011-R-045. £1,700,000. 2011-16: ‘Extreme’ Citizen Science (ExCiteS). The core objective of this project is the creation and development of a research group that focuses on ‘Extreme’ Citizen Science (ExCiteS) – the theory, methodologies, techniques and tools that are needed to allow any community to start its own bottom-up citizen science activity, regardless of the level of literacy of the users. The aim is that by the end of the grant, the interdisciplinary ‘Extreme’ Citizen Science research group at UCL will be recognised in the UK and internationally as leading this area. Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, Challenging Engineering Award: (AB). £1,000,000.
2013-14: Developing geographic information systems for non-literate users. ESRI will support the ExCiteS group to develop a stand-alone GIS application for use by non-literate users - focusing on hunter-gatherers in the Congo Basin. ESRI. US$150,000
2011-12: The socio-cultural and legal patterns of organisation of indigenous peoples and their impact on the rights of women and children: A case study in the Republic of Congo. UNICEF. ($133,000)
2012: Capturing differentiated experience of change to ensure pro-poor ecosystem service interventions are fit for purpose. Valuing Nature Network/Natural Environment Research Council Grant. (One year 2012).
an undergraduate degree in Anthropology my PhD in Demography at the
London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine focused on the
demographic dynamics of rural Malian populations with different
production systems. I integrated anthropological approaches to both data
collection and interpretation in order to understand the key factors
influencing the diversity of demographic outcomes in these isolated
rural populations. Such a mixed methods approach to understanding
demographic issues has been a major dimension of most of my subsequent
My early research interests in the demography of nomadic pastoralists were oriented around the dynamics of Tuareg populations in Mali from 1981-2001 – both before and after they were involved in a forced migration and sedentarisation as a result of conflict. I have considerable experience of field data collection (both quantitative and qualitative) in Mali, Senegal and Burkina Faso under a range of conditions: illiterate pastoral nomads, large agricultural villages, poor and more wealthy areas in small towns and capital cities and I have also undertaken more limited research in East Africa, Mongolia and have analysed Palestinian demographic data. I focus on issues such as health behaviour, marital and reproductive decision making, the impact of migration on those left behind as well as trying to understand the determinants of different patterns of demographic dynamics in poor, rural African populations and the interplay between development and demography. My research is currently orientated around unpacking the mismatch between the concepts used in survey data collection and respondents’ own ideas about what is important and their daily realities.
I am also involved in two research projects in West Africa: in Senegal a collaboration with Nathalie Mondain of the University of Ottowa is examining the consequences of migration to Europe for the families left behind in a small town; in Burkina Faso I am involved in a long term collaboration with the Ouagadougou Population Observatory hosted by the ISSP at the University of Ouagadougou, investigation issues of demography, health and well-being amongst the urban poor
The dissertation is a document of 15,000 words based on independent research and thought, and usually including some original analysis of data that integrates anthropological perspectives on environment and development. In most cases the dissertation will report on original data collected by the student in order to address a particular empirical question within the scope of the degree. Such a dissertation will include a literature review on other similar work demonstrating the practical or theoretical justification for this particular piece of work, a description of the methodology and appropriate analysis of the results. Other students may analyse appropriate data collected by a third party or do further analysis of published data. In a minority of cases students may do a library-based dissertation which brings together the different strands of the degree at a theoretical level. This is not usually considered to be appropriate for this MSc and will only be permitted under special circumstances after discussion with the course tutors.
September - December
- With the help of the Masters tutor, determine possible topics & identify supervisor
- Discuss approaches, the existence of relevant data sets & further data requirements.
- Discuss appropriate literature searches and formulation of research proposals in order to secure funding & research permission (where appropriate).
January - March
- Present planned dissertation research to the Human Ecology Research Group.
- Mid term - a provisional title for the dissertation and a brief synopsis.
- End term - detailed time plan for fieldwork (if appropriate) & research permission obtained,
- Fieldwork or other Research (usually 8 weeks)
- Analysis and write up.
Students will have one supervisor but may consult any other staff who teach on the MSc programme. Supervisors will be available for regular email and face to face consultation over term-time and the summer vacation, although in the latter they may be away for considerable periods and in this case programme tutors will provide back-up supervision where necessary.
Fundraising / costs of fieldwork
Whilst students will need to secure funding for their fieldwork projects themselves - (an extremely valuable skill to acquire for further professional work) - they are assisted in this task by the staff teaching on the Masters who are able to suggest possible avenues for funding and help students write research funding proposals. This is an area where the staff have considerable experience and HERG also provides a forum for discussion of funding opportunities as they arise and lists available funding opportunities on the intranet. Students from this Masters course have been extremely successful in securing funding for their fieldwork, with recent funds coming from, amongst others: The departmental Bursaries Fund; Tropical Agriculture Award Fund; Chadwick Trust: Travelling Scholarships and Fellowships; The Parkes Foundation; Society for Latin American Studies (SLAS) Postgraduate grants
A selection of recently completed MSc Dissertations
- Participatory Forest Management and REDD: A Local Level Perspective from a Village in Angai Forest, Tanzania
- New words to old songs: the changing use of development interventions in risk-coping among the Gabra of North Horr
- Harnessing the Future: the role of working horses in Britain’s forests
- Development in Transylvania: how a small village views the ambitions and impacts of NGOs and a local government trying to improve their lives.
- Contested Seascapes: Marine Conservation and the Challenges Facing the Inshore Fishing Fleet in Suffolk
- Impact of the Wildfire Plan 2009-2013 in the Vesuvius National Park, Italy
- Community Involvement in Mangrove Restoration, Guyana, South America
- Transforming Waste Into Value: Examining Resource-Recovery Practices in Mumbai
- A Study of the Determinants of Crop Cultivation Patterns and Household Coping Strategies in the Cocoa Farming Village of Wansampo in the Western Region of Ghana
- Lay Knowledge, Compensation and Control: A Consideration of the Factors Influencing Farmers in West Wales' Experience of Bovin Tuberculosis
- Common Pathways of Access within the Artisanal and Small Scale Mining Sector of Lake Katwe, Uganda
- Wildlife Hunting in Miju Mishmi: An Indigenous Group in Arunachal Pradesh, NorthEast India. A socio-Economic and Cultural Study
- Protectionists and the Guarani: The Village that did not exist - Socio-environmental Conflict in Southern Brazil
- The Implications of Smallholder Cultivation of the Biofuel Crop, Jatropha Curcas, for Local Food Security and Socio-economic Development in Northern Tanzania
- 'Raised on Sugar': The Impact of the end of the Sugar Protocol on Small Planters in Mauritius
The Masters provides ample opportunities, through its dedicated programme and that of the Graduate School, to develop your skills profile in a whole range of areas that will prove invaluable once you leave the course to enter employment or further study. Some, but by no means all, of the key skills that will be developed, are indicated below.
The Graduate school have an extensive training programme for postgraduate students, much of which is available to Masters students. These include courses in
- Personal and Professional Development
- Career Management and Employability Skills
- Library & Web Information skills
- IT skills
- Writing / Reading / Thesis Preparation
- Presenting / Publishing your Research
- Analysis / Research Techniques
- Research Environment
- Entrepreneurship and the Management of Innovation
For further details on these types of courses, see the Graduate School's Skills Development Programme website, particularly the list of courses relevant to masters students and the separate section for Students in the Social and Historical Sciences.
Students from the MSc Anthropology, Environment and Development have gone on to a wide range of relevant careers in research, teaching, consultancy, policy and advocacy work in Universities, Governmental bodies, National and International NGO's and International Research Organisations (such as the CGIAR's).
These have included but are not limited to:
- Department for International Development (DfID), UK
- Food & Agricultural Organisation (FAO) of the UN
- East Asia Pacific; Climate change
- Weinberg Foundation
- International Centre for Tropical Agriculture: IPM Programme
- Touchstone Trust
- Anthrotect, Columbia
- Durrell Wildlife Institute
- Fauna & Flora International
- Russian Think Tank on land tenure and reform
- UK Parliamentary research
- Indigenous Education Foundation of Tanzania
- World Bank (Indonesia)
- Children in Crisis
- University of Cambridge
- Futerra Sustainability Communications
For contact details and further details about the work of some of our recent alumni, please visit the HERG research group.
Others have continued on to PhD Research either within this department or beyond. PhD topics of recent alumni include
- Identifying and understanding consumers of wild animal products in Hanoi, Vietnam: implications for conservation management. (Rebecca Drury, UCL Anthropology; ESRC studentship)
- Land, people and post-socialist policies in southern Siberia. (Tatyana Intigrinova, UCL Anthropology; Dorothy Hodgkins Award)
- Conservation and development; the search for synergies around an MPA on the coast of Kenya (Christine Carter, UCL Anthropology; ESRC Studentship)
- Roads, rights and resources: Environment and development in southern Belize (Sophie Haines, UCL Anthropology, ESRC Studentship)