Culture - Source: Alesya Krit

Source: Alesya Krit


Materials - Source: Peter Oakley

Source: Peter Oakley


Design - Source: Adam Drazin

Source: Adam Drazin


The anthropology department at UCL is known as a world-leading centre in material culture. We have always had a tradition of strong political and social critique, especially as concerns such areas as consumption, design, technology and materials.

In the contemporary world, design and materials present us with challenges which are not so much technical as social, political, and economic. Social science needs to cultivate new kinds of critical approach and methods in order to address these, and the CMD MA is a cutting-edge initiative to help equip anthropology and archaeology to rise to these challenges:

  • Cultures of making, craft, design, architecture and art are recognised more and more as social and political engagements as well as economic ones.
  • There is an economic awareness of the importance of ethnography, and innovation is increasingly led by focussing on people first, and technology second.
  • The contemporary profusion of new technologies, products and services risk never being successfully used unless they not only articulate with, but embed themselves within, society, relationships, communities, identities and interactions.
  • There is a revolution in materials happening, such that much of the material world is seen as manipulable, transformable, and this has major cultural implications.
  • What anthropologists do is changing and diversifying, with group work, presentational skills, making skills; and there is a corresponding need for an awareness of the specifics of exactly how and why anthropological analytical thinking is being done.

In the longer term, we believe that people with skills in anthropological analysis and ethnographic research have the capacity to inform change in the world, by having a critical approach to material things. The study of materials and design within material culture is the route forwards.

Why Me?

We consider a one-year MA is the right platform to learn relevant skills, whether you have done social science before and are deepening them, or are moving into social science for the first time. The MA forms a crossroads within which some graduates can move on to careers in design, materials engineering, policy, anthropology, environmental design work, or to PhD research, equipped with a set of analytical, methodological and collaborative skills.

Many of our students are grouped into three categories:

  • Anthropologists and archaeologists interested in material culture who want to find ways of making their skills more relevant to a particular audience (eg. corporations, consultancies, NGOs, media, heritage), either as a move into professional work or before a PhD.
  • Students from design-related professions (design, engineering, architecture, art, computer science) who wish to spend a year building their social-scientific analytical and methodological skills, either to continue professional practice with a range of more human-focussed skills, or else as a step into a field which studies society and culture.
  • Students with a particular interest in a material, a craft, or an area of design. These interests are often unique, unpredictable, and reflect new areas of discovery in the field based on their own personal observation. For these students, the MA provides an opportunity to broaden and deepen their personal research journey. Our current students, and those who have inquired, have included people looking at batik cloth, sustainable housing materials, jewellery, national design policies, CoDesign methods, heritage journalism, digital work in design, film set design, fashion branding, and the archaeology of the silk road, among many others.

Our MA is different in how we have structured it:

  • A design-oriented course which is exclusively from within a social science department (rather than in a non-social science department, or bridging different departments and disciplines).
  • A range of corporate and professional contacts in our Steering Group, making use of London’s rich and varied intellectual and economic ecosystem (rather than developing tight links with a specific company, multinational, or design department; we work to maintain a wide range of less-close links, from diverse areas, to draw on for individual students or projects).
  • A proportion of group and collaborative work, alongside the focus on individual work.
  • A focus on the emerging area of materials and society; to our knowledge we are the only social science Masters course with the materials critique as a part of its core.
  • A strong emphasis on individual dissertations and research (50% of assessment). We are a large and leading anthropology department, with the capacity to cater for many interests of a sociocultural kind.

This MA may Not be for you if:

  • You want a Masters in design, art, architecture, materials engineering, or a similar field.
  • You want primarily to do studio work on artefacts, crafting, making, or technology, rather than working with the people who use, make and deploy them.