In preparing to write your social anthropology essay your first task is to make sure you understand the question and how it relates to the course material. The question you are given will be set for a reason and so should not be understood as an invitation for you to write about something vaguely related to it that you happen to know about or that interests you. When it comes to your dissertation you will be given the opportunity to choose your own topic, but for most undergraduate and MA essays you will be expected to address the question set on its own terms.
Key to learning how to write a social anthropology essay that will achieve a high mark is to understand the nature of the subject. If you read widely you will discover that much of social anthropological discourse centres around arguments about how best to interpret social facts.
As in related disciplines such as sociology, political science, and religious studies, much of the interest and vitality of the subject is generated by the fruitful exchange of ideas and clash of arguments.
Anthropology is therefore less a unified body of knowledge than an ongoing dialectical process in which understanding is gained through a variety of different approaches and viewpoints.
Few problems in anthropology have ever been definitely resolved, so there are no single correct answers that you will be expected to regurgitate.
What this means for your essays is that you will be expected to demonstrate not just factual knowledge but also some ability to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of different kinds of theoretical and interpretative approaches and to present and assess arguments and counter-arguments regarding particular problems.
In most cases a social anthropology essay will be organised around a clear problem and comprise a single basic thesis or argument.
Essays should present balanced arguments in support of the thesis while drawing upon relevant ethnographic studies to lend it empirical plausibility.
All essays require a clear introductory section setting forth the parameters of the topic and the way you intend to tackle it.
This should be followed by the main body of your argument, comprising well-structured paragraphs each of which should provide a step forward in the argument and be supported by evidence.
Your arguments should be set out in a logical and cogent manner, making it easy for the reader to follow your thought processes. The relationship between one idea and the next should be made clear by the use of transitional phrases and sentences.
Finally, your conclusion will draw together all of your arguments and demonstrate how they support the original thesis set forth in your introduction.
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