Human, Social and Political Sciences

HPSP Halfway Hall

At a special 'Halfway dinner'

Welcome to the Human, Social, and Political Sciences subject page at King’s. Here you will find an overview of the Cambridge course and information about studying HSPS at King's, the fellows who teach and research here, and what will happen when you apply.

HSPS at Cambridge

HPSP buliding

There are several departments involved in HSPS - this one is Politics and International Studies

If you want to pursue a degree in Politics and International Relations, Sociology, Anthropology, and/or Archaeology at Cambridge, this is the course for you. Human, Social, and Political Sciences is a three year course that places the study of human social and political life in the widest international and comparative perspective. It enables students to try out new human and social sciences they may not have studied at school, but also to pursue their chosen subject to a high level of specialisation.

In the first year (Part I), students choose four from a range of subjects including Politics, International Relations, Sociology, Social Anthropology, Biological Anthropology, Archaeology (including options relating to the study of the ancient Near East), and Psychology. This enables everyone to try some new and unfamiliar approaches to the study of human social and political life, before deciding how to specialise in the second and third years.

Student by some ruins

Raffaella at the ruins of Great Zimbabwe during her fieldwork trip

For the second and third years (Part II), students either pursue a comprehensive and intensive course in one of the five main subjects in the Tripos - Politics and International Relations, Sociology, Social Anthropology, Biological Anthropology and Archaeology - or there are a number of two-subject combinations available, such as Politics and Sociology, Sociology and Social Anthropology, or Archaeology and Biological Anthropology. Students interested in the cultures of the Ancient Near East (Egypt and Mesopotamia) can also follow a special course including the study of these languages and civilisations within the Tripos. All these courses have extensive opportunities for students to engage in fieldwork or other original research in the later stages of the degree.

A real strength of this course is its flexibility. HSPS works well for students who think they will be interested in one or several of its subject options, but would like the chance to explore them first before they choose how to specialise. Equally, however, students who already have a strong interest in one subject can tailor the course to their interests from the start, while keeping other options open in case they wish to pursue them later.

More detailed information about the course and options is available on the HSPS course website.

HSPS at King's

King's has a very strong profile in HSPS, with an especially distinguished tradition and current teaching strength in Anthropology, Politics and Sociology. The rich intellectual community is one of the most rewarding aspects of studying HSPS at King's. The College has by far the largest number of undergraduate and graduate students working in these fields of any Cambridge College. This provides a stimulating and supportive environment in which to study the subjects comprising HSPS.

A political debate

King's Politics 'Question Time at King's', chaired by Micha (1st year HSPS). Photo: Nora Rosenberg

During term we have regular meetings, outside the formal course curricula, that bring together undergraduates, graduate students, and Fellows for informal discussion, film viewings, and so on.

There is also a student-run politics society called King's Politics, which organises events in College involving top political speakers. These events give students studying all subjects an opportunity to listen to, engage with, and challenge some prominent voices in contemporary politics, and provide further stimulus for discussion in College.

As well as this rich intellectual environment, King's has a well-stocked College Library, which is a very pleasant space for researching and writing essays: see the virtual tour. In addition, students have easy access to the department libraries and Cambridge University Library just a few minutes walk away. All lecture theatres for HSPS are in close proximity to the College.

HSPS students on Graduation Day

Yuho, Lea and Laura

Careers of King's graduates in these areas cover a wide variety of fields. A significant proportion take higher degrees leading to research, teaching and applied work in the social sciences. Others pursue careers in the media, government administration, international organisations, management, commerce, and many alternative professions.

The analytical and critical skills, intellectual versatility and multicultural sensitivity you develop though the HSPS course are sought after by employers in all kinds of areas.

Student perspectives

Michaela, Juan and Nick have written about their experiences of studying HSPS subject areas at King's, including the teaching and specialisation, fitting in other activities, advice for picking a college, preparation in sixth form and what graduates go on to after the course. These accounts are well worth reading to get a sense of what studying politics, social anthropology and the related HSPS subjects at King's is really like.

Fellows in HSPS

John Barber

John Barber (Politics) works on politics, religion and society in modern Russia, the USSR in World War II, and Leningrad in the Stalin and Khrushchev eras.

Jude Browne

Jude Browne (Gender Studies) specialises in gender, sex segregation, political and social theories of equality, social dialogue, modern economies and capabilities, as well as social and human rights.

Matei Candea

Matei Candea (Social Anthropology) works on the anthropology of identity, belonging, political commitment and urbanism in Europe; the anthropology of science and human-animal relations in scientific research; and alternative histories of French social theory.

John Dunn

John Dunn (Politics) works on rethinking modern political theory, the historical formation and intellectual weakness of liberal and socialist conceptions of political value and political possibility, explaining the political trajectories of the varieties of modern states, the political thought of Locke, and the historical development and current significance of democracy in different parts of the world.

Robert Foley

Robert Foley (Biological Anthropology) is concerned with understanding the pattern of human evolution in terms of evolutionary processes. While much of his work has been concerned with the whole range of human evolution since the divergence from the African apes, more recently it has been developed in relation to modern human evolution and diversity.

David Good

David Good (Psychology) is interested in how our understanding of human communication can contribute to the design and use of new informational and communication technologies, as well as the role of social factors in the evolution of language and intelligence.

Caroline Humphrey

Caroline Humphrey (Social Anthropology) has carried out research in Siberia and Mongolia in the Soviet and post-Soviet periods, and has also worked in India, Nepal and China (Inner Mongolia and Manchuria). Her research interests include shamanism and Buddhism; theories of ritual; socialist/ post-socialist economy and society; political forms; and the political imagination in east Asia.

James Laidlaw

James Laidlaw (Social Anthropology) is the Director of Studies for Part I. He has worked in south Asia (India) and east Asia (Taiwan and Inner Mongolia). His interests include the anthropological study of morality, and the interface of anthropology and moral philosophy; religion and ritual, with special interest in the Asian religions of Jainism, Hinduism, and Buddhism; and theoretical approaches to religion including cognitive psychology.

Perveez Mody

Perveez Mody (Social Anthropology) has conducted fieldwork on love marriage in India, and is interested in the politics of caste, religious nationalism, changes in South Asian kinship, marriage and sexuality, law and human rights, and the ways in which the state transforms intimate relations. Her current research is on South Asian marriage and kinship in East London, including the complex phenomena often referred to as ‘forced marriage’.

Paul Sagar

Paul Sagar (Politics) works primarily on political philosophy and the history of political thought. He is particularly interested in the works of Thomas Hobbes, David Hume, and Adam Smith, and theories about how to understand the nature of the modern state. He is also interested in moral philosophy, and the intersection of this with political theory.

Sharath Srinivasan

Sharath Srinivasan (Politics) works on Africa's international relations, politics of international intervention (human rights, humanitarian, peace and security), political violence and armed conflict, the politics of the Horn and East Africa (especially Sudan), ideas and practice of democracy in the developing world, governance, new technologies and political activism.

Darin Weinberg

Darin Weinberg (Sociology) works on the sociology of health and illness. He is interested in how concepts of addiction, mental illness, and learning disability figure in state-sponsored campaigns of social welfare and control. He also has interest in social theory, the sociology of science, sociology of health and illness, and qualitative research methodologies.

Applying for HSPS at King's

To apply to study HSPS at King’s, you do not need to have studied any particular subjects at school. A background in either sciences, or humanities, or a combination of both will do equally well. Some candidates study for school subjects in the HSPS disciplines or in other social sciences (such as Economics or History), but this is not essential and candidates from other backgrounds are also encouraged to apply. When choosing subjects you may find the general advice in our Subject Matters leaflet helpful.

Various things may be useful but are not required: knowledge of history, current and international affairs, philosophy, sociology, politics, economics, and/or biology; also helpful is aptitude with languages and/or mathematics. We will be impressed if you have had a sustained interest in one or other of the subjects (have you read any books on politics, sociology or anthropology, participated in an archaeological dig, etc.?), but we also welcome students who are just developing a new interest, and it is by no means necessary to be equally interested in all the subjects and topics covered by the course. Many students with a passionate interest in, say, social anthropology, have never thought much about genetics or evolution at all. All the first-year courses start without assuming prior knowledge.

The application process is described in detail on our how to apply page which we advise applicants to read thoroughly. After applying, HSPS applicants will be asked to submit two essays. Most applicants are asked to come to Cambridge for an interview with two Fellows.  Interview candidates also sit a written test while they are in King's. The written test lasts one hour and candidates will be asked to choose one essay to write from a range of titles. The questions in the test are general and require no specific reading or preparation.

The numbers admitted in HSPS will vary from year to year, but we expect to admit around fourteen undergraduates each year. Please see the Entrance requirements page for details of our most common offers. We welcome applications from suitably qualified students at any kind of school, all over the world.

Poster advertising a lecture in King's

May 2014 - Poster advertising an evening Politics lecture in King's

Reading, resources and events

Further information

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