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Durham Energy Institute

MSc Energy and Society

The new MSc in Energy and Society is led by the Anthropology Department, in association with the Durham Energy Institute and its partner departments (including Engineering, Social Sciences and Humanities). Unique among Masters programmes, the course emphasizes the insights that the social sciences can offer to energy and development, and vice versa.


“Access to secure and sustainable energy is becoming one of the defining issues of our time. It is crucial that all dimensions of the issue from both the technical and societal perspective are well understood and this Masters Programme seeks to provide a truly interdisciplinary perspective. A very welcome development.”

Nafees Meah, Director of Research Councils UK (RCUK) India (former head of science at the Department of Energy and Climate Change)

Brief Overview

The MSc is a 12 month taught programme based at the Durham campus. It offers an innovative postgraduate programme that appeals to both engineers looking to understand how and why innovations succeed or fail, and to social scientists looking to understand energy developments.

The core of the course is in four specialised modules, including a research dissertation/project. Additional specialist training and support will be offered through the department. As well as promoting specialist knowledge, the MSc aims to generate a cohort of interdisciplinary specialists, with excellent communication skills.

The programme will use the specialist research gathered at Durham to equip highly-skilled graduates with the ability to communicate across disciplines for the sake of global environmental progress. Promoting energy efficiency, sustainability and innovation in social and technological terms, we anticipate that graduates of the MSc will be in demand from industry, community organisations, NGOs and governments around the world.


The MSc program is taught by leading experts in energy studies from the department of Anthropology and from Engineering, with optional modules led by departments who contribute to the Durham Energy Institute. Core modules are taught through intensive 4/5 day sessions, with tutorial and seminar support throughout the term. One of the core modules is a residential field trip where you will have an opportunity to conduct original research.

Course Structure

Students will take four core modules, and additional optional modules from a range offered within the MSc programme. Core modules include a short residential field trip, and a dissertation which spans the whole academic year. The modules cover the context and challenges of energy, society and energy practices, practical applications and energy research. These are taught as intensive teaching blocks, with preparation and subsequent assessment. Tutorial support and seminars are offered throughout the teaching term. Core modules are also available as one-off short courses. Additional optional modules cover renewable energy, energy markets and risk, advanced power and governance, research and training methods and skills, conflict prevention and social theory.

There are three main pathways through the MSc, specializing in renewables, energy in development or energy research. The research route offers the qualifications necessary to pursue doctoral level studies. We will guide you through the transition into a new discipline and help you to gain new skills that you will need for a career in energy and society. Whether that is in industry, government, NGOs or in research, graduates of the MSc will be well placed to help address the energy challenges that face our society, locally or globally.

Students on the MSc are expected to participate in relevant research seminars, such as those hosted by the Durham Energy Institute.

Core Modules

Context and Challenges in Energy and Society

The module covers two main themes in energy and society, energy histories and trajectories, and contemporary socio-politics of energy. It explores the contemporary political economies of energy, the politics of energy generation and distribution, the role of energy as a geopolitical tool, conflicts over global warming, energy wars and energy transitions. This is based on an introduction to global geo-histories of energy using archaeologies and histories of energy to highlight the changing concepts of ‘natural’ and ‘unnatural’ energy; varieties of energy technology, from low to high-tech and from local to distributed; varieties of energy technologies and the broad ranging impacts of energy management. Assessment is by extended essay, and guidance will be integrated into the seminar and tutorial elements of the course to focus on study and communication skills. Students will be required to produce interim outlines for formative assessment.

Read Module Outline to find out more.

Energy Society and Energy Practices

This module introduces social theory and analysis for students from diverse backgrounds, including key theories and methodologies from anthropology such as the idea and practice of cross-cultural comparison, ethnographic methods, everyday practices, material cultures, organisational forms and social relations. The module will specialise for social science students in the relevance of these theories and approaches for energy research and practice, including in development contexts. Module delivery will employ a combination of preparatory directed reading, a 5 day intensive learning event and a period of further guided reading, reflection and essay writing.

Read Module Outline to find out more.

Field Trip

The field trip is designed as a group research project with a significant degree of student-input. The aim is to build on the learning from the core modules, reflecting on implications of and for practice, and considering the role of different research an analytical approaches. The study visit will last approximately 5 days, with preparatory seminars and lectures in advance. Assessment is by Project Report, with project outline submitted prior to the study visit for formative feedback.

Read Module Outline to find out more.

Dissertation in Energy and Society

A 10,000 word dissertation or report on an agreed topic in Energy and Society. Students will identify their own research topic, and will be supported throughout the year to devise an appropriate research question, develop methods, and conduct, analyse and report on their independent research. Each student is allocated a supervisor for their dissertation research, according to the area they wish to specialise in. The dissertation module will be introduced in term 1, with research training in term 2, and tutorials in terms 2 and 3. Students will deliver dissertations for assessment after the summer vacation.

Read Module Outline to find out more.

Elective Modules

  • Renewable Energy and the Environment - Introduces UK energy policy on renewable energy and UK and global energy use, discusses energy resource issues and the impact of renewables and introduces renewable energy conversion technologies as alternatives to fossil-based energy conversion.
  • Group Renewable Energy Design Project - Students undertake a multi-disciplinary group design project which requires the application of highly specialised and advanced computational and analytical knowledge and skills. They are required to plan and manage the project with the assistance of design tutors acting in a consultative capacity. The assessment of this element is based upon a substantial, written report which brings together, and takes responsibility for, the specialised contributions of team members. All aspects of the project are taken into consideration, including the feasibility study, the presentation, the quality of the final design, the management of the project and team-working. The report must demonstrate the ability to work within the bounds of professional practice.
  • Energy, Markets and Risk - The module aims to enable students to understand how and why market-based solutions have been applied in the electricity supply industry. It introduces elements of microeconomics and the theory of the firm, and considers key principles of power system risk assessment and how these may be applied in wind integration studies.
  • Negotiating the Human - This module presents key debates, past and present, about the relations between humans and non-humans, among them animals, cyborgs and imaginary beings.
It explores the issues thrown up by these debates within the broader context of humanist and post-humanist thinking about the limits of the human.
It explores how non-human others (animals, cyborgs and imaginary beings) have been represented in film, literature and/or the media/popular culture.
  • Statistical Analysis in Anthropology - This module develops students' skills in statistical analysis using datasets from anthropological research. Students will learn a range of statistical techniques for use in their research. In addition, they will become proficient in the use of SPSS for statistical methods.
  • Society, Energy, Environment and Resilience - The module focuses on discourses and popular responses to the topical crises of energy security, climate change, and social, ecological and economic resilience in the 21st century It addresses how energy transition, climate change, and related issues can be viewed as socio-cultural concerns, and explores their practical and political implications. It will challenge students to question the ways in which ideas such as anthropogenic global warming can perpetuate, or present alternatives to, industrial productionist relationships to the non-human world.
  • Key Issues in Sociocultural Theory - Major theoretical perspectives, movements and authors within sociocultural anthropology are covered in this module. Developments within the discipline are placed in historical and social as well as intellectual contexts. Students are encouraged to reflect upon the meanings and applicability of such terms as 'culture', 'society', 'system', 'function', 'theory', and 'field'. The introductory seminars of the module provide overviews of continuities and transformations in the methodologies, aims and roles of sociocultural anthropology. The main part of the module is then following sub-fields: economics, kinship, language, politics and religion. Connections and contradictions between classic texts and more recent works are debated. The module is completed with a consideration of dilemmas and opportunities facing contemporary researchers. Theoretical perspectives to be covered include functionalism, structural functionalism, structuralism, Marxism, post-modernism, and social versus cultural anthropology.
  • Research and Training Skills in Anthropology - The aim of this module is to provide students with research skills needed by all anthropologists, focusing particularly on writing academic papers and grant proposals, and on numeric reasoning.
  • Computational Methods for Social Sciences - This module will introduce and train students on a range of computational tools for producing, analysing and managing social data. Software packages to be reviewed annually, however, the module will concentrate on software packages for dealing with the following types of data: kin terminologies, kin genealogies, field-notes, video data, image data, social networks, geospatial data.
  • Risk Frontiers - The aim of this module is to expose students to current thinking in risk research through the Institute of Hazard and Risk Research programme of seminars, given by both Durham and external staff and to use this exposure as a means of training students in the generic skills of interpreting, criticising and synthesising emerging research. The risk industry has a new found appetite for using cutting edge 'knowledge' (witness notions of 'evidence-based' practice; the investment of the leading reinsurance brokers (e.g. Benfield-Aon; Willis; Axa) which in turn requires graduates who are skilled in critical interpretation and synthesis of new knowledge.
  • Conflict Prevention and Sustainable Peace - The module will discuss, at an advanced level, frameworks and concepts underpinning approaches to the prevention of violent conflict and the promotion of sustainable peace from the macro to micro levels of intervention. Indicative module content typically includes: early warning and rapid response; the prevention strategies of Governments, the UN and regional security organizations (such as the OSCE, ASEAN, AU); state stabilization; the role of civil society and the concept of social capital; the 'right of intervention' and the 'responsibility to protect' in response to human rights abuses; the laws of war and conflict and international humanitarian law; the role of men and women in building sustainable peace; political, economic, historical, religious, and cultural factors as drivers of conflict; media and education in conflict prevention; election monitoring and conflict prevention; development and aid conditionality.
  • Advanced Power And Governance - This module offers a thorough grounding in the history and development of anthropological studies of law and politics and the potential application of anthropological studies in governance and policy development. It includes Legal anthropology,
Conflict resolution mechanisms, and Political anthropology.

Courses Include:

  • Context and Challenges
  • Society and Practices
  • Energy in Practice (field study)
  • Dissertation
  • Renewable Energy and the Environment
  • Energy, Markets and Risk
  • Negotiating the Human
  • Advanced Power and Governance
  • Key Issues in Sociocultural Theory
  • Society, Energy, Environment and Resilience
  • Research and Training Skills in Anthropology
  • Statistical Analysis in Anthropology
  • Computational Methods for Social Sciences
  • Conflict Prevention and Sustainable Peace

Entry Requirements

We welcome applications from graduates with a good first degree (typically a 2:1) in a broad range of disciplines, particularly from the social and engineering sciences. Contact us if you would like to hear whether your qualifications are suitable, or if you have alternative or equivalent experience you would like us to consider. For students whose first language is not English, IELTS 7 or equivalent.