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Department of Sociology



Students in HSPS take four ‘papers’ (a Cambridge word for courses or modules) per year. In your first year (Part I), you take four introductory papers on a range of social science disciplines.

There are three terms in each academic year at Cambridge: Michaelmas, Lent, and Easter term. In Michaelmas and Lent term, you will receive lectures and supervisions on the topics of these papers and write essays on selected topics. In Easter term you will have revision lectures and supervisions and prepare for your exams.

The Department recommends that students write between four and six essays per paper over the course of the first two terms. This equates to two or three essays per paper, per term. Regardless of how many essays you choose to write, you will have six supervisions per paper over the course of the first two terms. This means three supervisions per paper, per term.

Key Information

We would strongly recommend that all new students begin by carefully reading the HSPS handbook, which provides a useful overview of the tripos as a whole. After the handbook, the primary location for information and course material is the HSPS Part I moodle. Click on Part I General Information for the HSPS options booklets, paper guides, coronavirus information and exam guidance. Further information on study resources and methods training can be found on the Sociology website.

Paper Choices (Part I)

In Part I, students take four introductory papers, which include:

  • The Modern State and its Alternatives (POL1)
  • International Conflict, Order, and Justice (POL2)
  • Social Anthropology: The Comparative Perspective (SAN1)
  • Introduction to Sociology: Modern Societies I (SOC1)

Alternatively, students can select three papers from the list above, and one paper from the list below:

  • World Archaeology (A1)
  • Introduction to the Cultures of Egypt and Mesopotamia (A3)
  • Humans in Biological Perspective (B1)
  • Introduction to Psychology (PBS1)

You can discuss your paper choices with the Director of Studies (DoS) at your college.

Paper Guides (Part I)

Use the accordion sections below to find out more about each paper, and download the corresponding paper guide.

POL1: The Modern State and its Alternatives

POL1 seeks to understand the practical and imaginative foundations of modern politics and the reaction and resistance to them. The paper begins with the modern state, a historically contingent political phenomenon that nevertheless has become the predominant basis on which political authority and power are constructed across the world today. Where there is no modern state, there tends to be civil war or occupation by other states. Where modern states are ineffective, politics is unstable and sometimes violent, and governments struggle to manage the economy.

But the modern state also is a site of violence and an instrument of power that has been used at times to inflict vast suffering on those subject to its coercive capacity at home and imperial reach abroad. The question of how the exercise of power by the modern state over its subjects can be legitimated is a perpetual one in modern politics, and the answers to it have been deeply politically contested.


POL2: International Conflict, Order and Justice

POL2 introduces students to politics beyond the state. This paper seeks to understand the contemporary international political world as the product of intersecting forms of power, each of which has a distinct history and may require a distinct theoretical approach.

The dominant traditions in the study of international politics in the West since the Second World War have emphasized the power of and relations among states – their conflicts and efforts at coordination. But, as new global political realities have emerged, new theoretical approaches have entered the debates on international politics to interpret these new realities and re-interpret dominant histories of international order.


SAN1: Social Anthropology: The Comparative Perspective

Social Anthropology addresses the really big question – what does it mean to be human? – by taking as its subject matter the full range of human social and cultural diversity. What does this diversity tell us about the fundamental bases and possibilities of human social and political life? Can it help us to comprehend how contemporary global changes manifest themselves in people’s lives across the world?

In this paper you will learn how anthropologists study, analyse, and theorise about the immense variety of forms of social life they have found across the world: how such taken-for-granted categories as gender, family, sexuality, economy, and the state are subject to radical cultural variation, and how everyday matters such as food, clothing, work, and trade may be bound up with religious and other symbolic meanings.

You will also learn about the main kinds of social theory developed by anthropologists in response to the challenge of understanding this diversity, and about the distinctive forms of ethnographic field research anthropologists use in order to gain close, first-hand knowledge of the societies they study.


SOC1: Introduction to Sociology

In SOC1, students are introduced to the discipline of sociology in two parts. In the Michaelmas term, students are thoroughly acquainted with core sociological concepts and concerns (e.g. class, bureaucracy, social solidarity, social change) through a critical engagement with the ideas of four central figures in the history of modern sociological thought: Karl Marx, Max Weber, Emile Durkheim and W.E.B. Du Bois.

Towards the end of Michaelmas term and throughout Lent, students build on the foundations laid by the classical theorists and develop a systematic analysis of key institutions and aspects of modern societies. These including the following: the modern state and the rise of nationalism; citizenship and the welfare state; the media and public life; class and inequality; gender and sexual divisions; race and ethnicity. The paper concludes with a broader reflection on the changing nature of modern societies in our contemporary global age.

SOC1 Paper Guide

A1: World Archaeology

A1 is a broad undergraduate lecture series that introduces students to key concepts and practical approaches in archaeology, highlighting their applications in interpreting the human past. Emphasis will be placed on the questions that archaeologists investigate and the ways they go about addressing and answering those questions.

Students will learn about the recovery, recording, and interpretation of archaeological data (artefacts, buildings, landscapes) that relate to the broad span of human history and prehistory. The links between theory and archaeological methods will be illustrated with case studies and examples drawn from a wide range of time periods and geographic regions.

A3: Introduction to the Cultures of Egypt and Mesopotamia

A3 aims to provide a broad survey of the archaeology and history of ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia and to introduce the student to key themes and approaches in the study of these two regions. The paper provides outline histories of the regions and introduces the geography, archaeology, society, literature, belief systems and mortuary practices of these areas in the past. The integration of archaeological, textual and artistic evidence as complementary sources for interpreting historical cultures is emphasised throughout.

B1: Humans in Biological Perspective

Biological Anthropology takes a comparative approach to exploring human evolution and adaptation: comparisons between humans and other animals to understand human uniqueness and biological variation; comparisons across time to unravel the evolutionary history of hominins over the last 6–8 million years; investigating variation in human development and health, exploring the mechanisms that generate population differences today and in the past; and looking at individual behaviour in terms of evolution and adaptation and its underlying cognitive basis.

In this paper, students will gain a strong foundation in the field of Biological Anthropology, the processes and patterns of evolution, the way humans fit into the overall pattern of biodiversity, the way in which humans reproduce and grow in an ecological and social environment, and the challenges of living in different environments. Focus is on both the past and how we became human, and the present, with the biological challenges, such as health and disease, humans face today.


PBS1: Introduction to Psychology

PBS1 aims to introduce a variety of theoretical and methodological approaches to the study of psychology. Through studying this course, students will develop their understanding of how the different approaches address specific topics within psychology. Topics are selected such that students without prior training in psychology will not be disadvantaged.

After a brief introductory lecture on the history of psychology and its various sub-disciplines, a series of broad topics will be explored, including IQ, personality, gender, emotion, social cognition, decision making, and mental health. Each topic will present research and ideas from different theoretical and methodological viewpoints.