UCL Graduate degrees


Material and Visual Culture MA

This MA provides a broad-based training in social science approaches to the analysis of material and visual media: ranging from art, photography, film and media within visual anthropology, to consumption, museum anthropology and cultural heritage, landscape and genres (such as clothing and the built environment), within material culture.

Covid-19 programme updates

Due to COVID-19, there may have been updates to this programme for the 2020 academic year. Where there has been an update, these are indicated with a red alert and a link which will provide further information.

Key information

Programme starts

September 2020

Modes and duration

Full time: 1 year
Part time: 2 years

Application dates

All applicants
Open: 1 November 2019
Close: 11 August 2020
Due to the large number of applications received, this programme is no longer accepting applications for 2020/21 entry. We apologise for any inconvenience caused. Applications for 2021/22 entry will open later in the year.

Tuition fees (2020/21)

£13,640 (FT)
£6,810 (PT)
£23,340 (FT)
£11,830 (PT)

Note on fees: The tuition fees shown are for the year indicated above. Fees for subsequent years may increase or otherwise vary. Further information on fee status, fee increases and the fee schedule can be viewed on the UCL Students website.

Location: London, Bloomsbury

Entry requirements

This research based Master's degree is suitable for those students entering postgraduate study with a strong background in the discipline, gained either through a minimum of an upper second-class UK Bachelor’s degree in a relevant discipline, an overseas qualification of an equivalent standard, or through a well-regarded conversion Master's programme.

English language requirements

If your education has not been conducted in the English language, you will be expected to demonstrate evidence of an adequate level of English proficiency.

The English language level for this programme is: Advanced

Pre-Master's and Pre-sessional English

Further information can be found on our English language requirements page.

International students

Country-specific information, including details of when UCL representatives are visiting your part of the world, can be obtained from the International Students website.

International applicants can find out the equivalent qualification for their country by selecting from the list below.

Select your country:

About this degree

The programme covers a range of contexts such as production, exchange and consumption, and uses anthropological perspectives based on the comparative study of societies, historically and culturally. Skills training is given in social anthropological field research and analysis, and in specific methods for the study of material and visual forms.

Students undertake modules to the value of 180 credits.

The programme consists of one compulsory module (45 credits), three optional modules (45 credits) and a research dissertation (90 credits).

Upon successful completion of 180 credits, you will be awarded a MA in Material and Visual Culture.

Please note that the list of modules given here is indicative. This information is published a long time in advance of enrolment and module content and availability is subject to change.

Compulsory modules

  • Critical Issues in Material and Visual Culture

Optional modules

Students must take 45 credits in total from the recommended optional modules below. Out of the total, up to 15 credits can be taken from modules available within the department or appropriate options in other departments (with approval from the programme tutor and host department).

  • Advanced Topics in Digital Culture: Ethnographies of the Digital
  • Anthropology and Photography
  • Anthropology of Capitalisms
  • Anthropology of Death
  • Anthropology of Social Media
  • Anthropology of the Built Environment
  • Art in the Public Sphere
  • Current Themes in Material, Visual, Digital and Design Anthropology: Smart Phones
  • Design Anthropology
  • Digital Infrastructure: Materiality, Information and Politics
  • Documentary Film and the Anthropological Eye
  • Extra-Terrestrial Anthropology
  • Issues in Power and Culture
  • Material Politics
  • Mass Consumption and Design
  • Practical Documentary Filmmaking
  • Risk, Power and Uncertainty
  • Social Construction of Landscapes
  • Transforming and Creating Worlds: Anthropological Perspectives on Techniques and technology

For a complete list of modules available within the department or in other departments, please see UCL's Module Catalogue

Covid-19 module updates
Due to COVID-19, there may be updates to the modules for your chosen programme of study this year. Some modules may not be available or may need to be moved to a later term or year of study. These updates are relevant for 2020-21 academic year only.  The full list of modules will be available in the module catalogue from late August.  From the first week of September, you will be invited to complete module selection from Portico, our student record system. There may need to be additional updates or changes to modules during the academic year to allow for new guidance from the UK Government and Public Health England. Your department shall keep you updated of these changes as they become available.

Dissertation/research project

All MA students undertake an independent research project which culminates in a 15,000 word dissertation.


All dissertations involve original hands-on research, which each student devises for themselves. This is usually ethnographic, but may also be based on visual analyses, archive work or netnography.

Covid-19 field trip updates
Due to COVID-19 updates, there may need to be changes to planned field trips for this programme. This will depend on travel restrictions, social distancing measures, and the availability of the relevant venues. Your department will keep you updated if field trips are able to occur and/or any alternative options available.


A few students undertake placements as a part of their thesis fieldwork, but where they occur these are for students to arrange. We do receive occasional approaches from institutions with such placement proposals. We facilitate them where we can. 

Teaching and learning

The programme is delivered through a combination of lectures, group presentations and discussion, tutorials, independent directed reading, interactive teamwork, laboratory and practical work, video, film and web based courses. Students will also have the opportunity to visit museums, galleries and other relevant sites. Assessment is through coursework, unseen examination, a portfolio of engaged material and visual culture work based on the practical sessions, and the dissertation.

Covid-19 contact hours on campus
In Term One, while campus will be open, all the learning activity for the core content of your modules will take place online – including lectures, tutorials, seminars and assessments. By “core content” we mean everything you need to learn to complete the module successfully. In addition to these online contact hours, we will be offering some face-to-face educational activities for students on campus, and we will provide alternative online activities for those students unable to join us on campus. These activities, which will include contact with academic staff, will be relevant to your programme of study may include seminars, academic and employability skills workshops, small-group or individual tutorials, lab and practice-based teaching. UK Government safety guidelines will limit the amount of ‘in person’ activity we can offer and while it will vary from programme to programme, is likely to be no more than 1-2 hours per week. This will vary across departments, particularly if your programme includes laboratory/practical/studio/workshop sessions. You will be updated with more specific details as they are available and your timetable will indicate which sessions will be on campus and which will be available online.
Covid-19 practical component updates
Due to COVID-19, there may be changes to the availability of the practical components for your chosen programme. Any updates relate only to the 20/21 academic year and may not apply to all students across the programme depending on your year of study.  Your department will keep you updated if the practical component of your programme is able to occur and/or any alternative options available.   There may need to be additional updates or changes to the practical component during the academic year to allow for new guidance from the UK Government and/or Public Health England. Your department shall keep you updated of these changes as they become available. 
Covid-19 assessment updates
There may be changes to the format of assessments for modules in this programme due to COVID-19. These will be summarised for each module on the module catalogue from 17 August 2020.   If any changes to assessments need to be made during the academic year due to updates in government guidance, these will be communicated to you as soon as possible from your department.    
Communicating further Covid-19 mitigation plans
We are continuing to follow UK Government guidance, as well as the expertise of our researchers, including specialists in health, education, human behaviour and infection prevention, to make sure UCL is as safe as possible during the COVID-19 pandemic. If it becomes necessary to make further changes to your programme as a result of new guidance/regulations, UCL and your department will communicate these as soon as this becomes clear. We will keep you up-to-date with our plans throughout term one, so you have the information you need to be able to take decisions that are right for your circumstances. Please ensure that you keep in touch with your department by regularly checking your UCL emails, Moodle courses, the Coronavirus FAQs for Students page and any UCL online groups or social media you follow.

Additional costs

For more information on additional costs for prospective students please go to our estimated cost of essential expenditure at Accommodation and living costs.


Details of the accessibility of UCL buildings can be obtained from AccessAble. Further information can also be obtained from the UCL Student Support & Wellbeing team.


For a comprehensive list of the funding opportunities available at UCL, including funding relevant to your nationality, please visit the Scholarships and Funding website.


The programme develops skills in cultural and social critique through the research and interpretation of the material world. Its aim is excellence in scholarship. Experts in material culture, and our graduates, work in any institution which demands skills in social research and critical thinking. This includes in design research, the arts, heritage and museums, media and film, journalism, design anthropology, market research, academia, art, materials consultancy, and the civil service.


The programme is designed as an advanced research degree in material culture, mostly anthropology and with elements of design history, archaeology, museum studies, social geography and architecture. Whoever is interested in material things and materials is interested in material culture: art, architecture, photography, consumer products, consumption, design, heritage, film, sound, fashion, infrastructure, landscape and innovation.

Students learn how to think independently, originally and critically about these topics, based on their own hands-on independent research. As well as a range of methodologies, they learn key theoretical approaches arising from philosophies of materialism and materiality. They learn to interpret sociocultural phenomena such as relationships, identity, social discourse and meaning, social structure, cultural history, human motivation, and praxis.

Why study this degree at UCL?

Our long-standing material and visual culture programme was the first of its kind in social science, and the department is a leader in the field in terms of number of staff, publications and research. Many of our lecturers specialise in various fields of material culture, ranging from architecture to consumption to photography to space exploration. We played a significant part in establishing the field, and we host and edit key publications such as the Journal of Material Culture, the journal Home Cultures, and book series. We are also specialists in a range of theoretical and critical approaches and traditions within the area, many of them different forms of critical materialism.

We are based in one of the largest anthropology departments in the UK, which is routinely considered one of the top ten anthropology departments in the world (5th in QS World University Rankings by Subject 2019). This means that among staff and researchers we have first-hand expertise of working as researchers in most kinds of social environment and many parts of the world. UCL anthropologists have worked on every continent and many countries, and in all kinds of social, commercial, private and public environments. We can advise on most kinds of cultural research and guide your work.

London is a highly collaborative environment. We have close links with material culture practitioners and anthropologists in many museums, companies, third sector organisations and other institutions. The city is host to an unrivalled spectrum of opportunities for intellectual dialogues, events and engagements.

Department: Anthropology

Application and next steps


Students are advised to apply as early as possible due to competition for places. Those applying for scholarship funding (particularly overseas applicants) should take note of application deadlines.

There is an application processing fee for this programme of £80 for online applications and £105 for paper applications. Further information can be found at: www.ucl.ac.uk/prospective-students/graduate/taught/application.

Who can apply?

The programme is particularly suitable for students with a prior degree related to material culture: specifically anthropology, sociology, design, architecture, fashion, heritage and museums, arts, visual culture, social geography, and history. It is also a conversion degree, acting as an introduction to the field, and anyone who wishes to develop their interest and expertise in material and visual culture may apply.

Application deadlines

All applicants
11 August 2020

For more information see our Applications page.

Apply now

What are we looking for?

When we assess your application we would like to learn:

  • why you want to study Material and Visual Culture at graduate level
  • why you want to study Material and Visual Culture at UCL
  • what is your research proposal
  • how your personal, academic and professional background meets the demands of a challenging academic environment
  • where you would like to go professionally with your degree

Together with essential academic requirements, the personal statement is your opportunity to illustrate whether your reasons for applying to this programme match what the programme will deliver.

Material and visual culture tends to attract people who are natural social scientists, in the sense that they really wish to research and think about humanity and people. More specifically, material culture researchers tend to be especially interested in the material world, in exploring culture through forms, material stuff, substances, aesthetics, particular genres of objects, institutions which shape our material environment, or other aspects of it. A personal awareness of this kind of sensibility and interest is a particular advantage, and people who share it come to us from across the world.

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Page last modified on 13 August 2020