Human, Social and Political Sciences


Human, Social and Political Sciences (HSPS) is a three-year degree in which students can study Politics & International Relations, Social Anthropology or Sociology. Students take a range of these subjects in the first year and then specialise in the second and third years. Trinity College has particular teaching strengths in Politics and Social Anthropology, and is keen to identify and select applicants interested in these subjects.


Trinity has a long history in the study and practice of politics, both national and international. It has taught six prime ministers of the UK, and prime ministers or presidents of India, Australia, France, Thailand, Jordan, Ireland and Singapore. It has provided many of the most influential thinkers about politics, from Sir Robert Filmer in the 17th Century to Amartya Sen in the present day. Although there is no distinctive ‘Trinity approach’ to politics, many of its most famous political figures and analysts demonstrate both a close critical engagement with the concepts and theories of politics, and a keen interest in and engagement with real-world political problems. It is those attributes that the study of politics at Trinity seeks to foster.

Students with these interests take first year courses in Politics, International Relations, and two out of a range of options that includes Sociology, Social Anthropology and Psychology. The objective of the first year is to create a broad understanding of how to study politics, informed equally by history and theory. In the second year, most students take courses in ethics in international affairs, political thought, and comparative politics. The third year allows greater specialisation, with around 30 courses to choose from, in subjects ranging from the politics of particular regions of the world (such as Africa, China and the Middle East), to themes such as gender and political philosophy. Students can opt to write a dissertation, and are able to draw upon grants from the College to fund their research.

The College’s Director of Studies in Politics is Glen Rangwala, who works primarily on the politics of the Middle East. He is particularly interested in how people in this region argue about and discuss politics, and how political beliefs do or don’t translate into action. Dr Rangwala was awarded the university’s 2012 Pilkington Prize for excellence in teaching. Other College fellows include Dominic Lieven, who works on Russian politics and history; Amartya Sen, who was awarded the 1998 Nobel Prize in Economics and is a key thinker in the study of modern politics; and David Washbrook, who works on the politics and history of South Asia, particularly southern India.

Trinity organises the annual R.A. Butler Essay Prize competition to encourage students in Year 12 (Lower 6th) with an interest in modern world affairs to think about undertaking university studies in Politics, International Studies or a related discipline. It also has a lively student-run Politics Society, referred to by the university newspaper in 2008 as ‘the pre-eminent political group in Cambridge’.

Students interested in studying Politics & International Relations may also be interested in the new joint degree programme in History and Politics, for which applications commence in Autumn 2016. This programme enables students to take a range of historical papers in the first year alongside those in Politics and International Relations. Students can then elect to transfer to the single-subject track of Politics & International Relations for their second and third years.

Social anthropology

From Sir James George Frazer, scholar of mythology and comparative religion and author of seminal work The Golden Bough, through to Dame Marilyn Strathern, whose work on bioethics continues to shape contemporary academic and policy debates, Trinity College has been home to some of the most globally influentially social anthropologists of the 20th Century and beyond. The current Director of Studies is Joel Robbins, whose work on the anthropology of Christianity, radical cultural change, and the cross-cultural study of ethics has been based in Papua New Guinea. Also within the College, there is Nick Thomas, who directs the university’s Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, and works on history and art in the Pacific; and Heonik Kwon, who works on memory and violence, particularly in the context of East Asia.

Students of anthropology at Trinity take a first year introductory course. In the second year they study papers on kinship, economic anthropology, religion and politics, and anthropological theory. Third year students take two core courses, on ‘Thought, Belief and Ethics’ and ‘Political Economy and Social Transformations’, respectively. These papers explore the interface and overlaps between social anthropology and other important social and human sciences, such as philosophy, economics, politics and psychology. They also study in depth the anthropological literature on a specific region of the world: options they may choose between include Africa, Europe, East Asia, and Latin America. They have a good range of optional papers available to them, including the anthropology of science and the environment, gender and sexuality, cities and space, development, and media and the arts. Many choose to write a dissertation based upon an original ethnographic study that they conduct. Trinity social anthropologist students have studied over recent years a huge range of subjects, from religious communities in India to on-line communities of editors of internet encyclopaedias.

After the degree

Trinity’s HSPS graduates have a wide range of careers open to them. Some graduates secure jobs in fields that come directly out of their studies. Trinity’s politics students have a wide range of careers open to them. Its recent graduates have taken careers in the Foreign Office, the United Nations, journalism, education, and various forms of public research. Social Anthropology graduates have taken jobs in the NGO sector, in consultancy, marketing and management, in government and public service, and in cross-cultural aspects of law and medicine.


Candidates for the HSPS degree are not expected to have any particular subjects at A-level, and no previous study of a social science is necessary. Almost any combination of school subjects is acceptable. The main qualifications required are the ability to reason analytically, to read widely, and to appreciate how to construct arguments on the basis of empirical evidence.

Students applying to the HSPS programme at Trinity will be asked to submit two samples of written work. We ask you to submit a coursework essay or dissertation, not a set of short answers or personal opinion piece. If your schoolwork does not include essays, it is best to ask your teacher to set you an essay to write in your own time, and then to confirm that the essay is your own work in an attached statement. You will also be asked to sit a pre-interview admissions assessment in November, and to submit an on-line questionnaire which asks you about your interests in more detail.

If you are called to interview, the essay from both your coursework and the assessment may form part of the discussion. You can expect to have two interviews, each lasting 25 to 40 minutes, and organised according to the interests mentioned in your response to the questionnaire. Offers are usually at the level A*AA for A-level students or 42 points for IB students with marks of 7 in relevant subjects.

Further Information

Further information on HSPS is available on the University website.  Until 2016, students interested in Archaeology would apply to HSPS.  Archaeology now has a separate Tripos and entry point.

Teaching Staff

  • Dr Glen Rangwala
  • Professor Joel Robbins

Admissions Assessment

All applicants are required to take the pre-interview written assessment for HSPS at an authorised centre local to them (for a lot of applicants, this will be their school/college).

Assessment format

  • Comprehension (60 minutes)
  • Essay/text response element (60 minutes)

PDF icon Human, Social, and Political Sciences Admissions Assessment Specification

You must be registered in advance (separately to your UCAS application) to take the assessment – the registration deadline is 15 October 2016. Your assessment centre must register you for the pre-interview assessment; you’re not able to register yourself. See the written assessments page for information about assessment centres and registration.

The pre-interview written assessment for HSPS will be taken on 2 November 2016.

Please note that your performance in the pre-interview assessment will not be considered in isolation, but will be taken into account alongside the other elements of your application.


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