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School of Geography

MA in Activism & Social Change

About the course

This multi-disciplinary course brings together the worlds of academia and social struggle. It is run by academics working and researching with a variety of campaigns, social movement organisations and communities struggling against social and ecological injustice, and for a more equal, just society.

We engage students in a questioning of the fairness and sustainability of the current capitalist world order and explore empowering ideas and examples of how to challenge the status quo.

The course offers:

  • An introduction to core ideas in radical and transformatory social theories and strategies
  • An overview of global social movement struggles with particular reference to anti-capitalism and anti-imperialism
  • Grounding in participatory action research methods relevant to campaigning and social change
  • Contemporary political debates about the critical challenges we face and how to respond
  • Guest lectures and workshops by journalists, campaigners, researchers and activists
  • Opportunities to engage in action research projects with a variety of social struggles

Programme Team

Module information

In the following modules you will engage with a set of exciting and important theoretical debates within critical and radical geography and related social sciences such as politics, sociology, management and communication studies as well as environmental studies.

Core modules include:

  • Researching for Social Change
    This module gives you grounding in the principles, methods and strategies available to the campaigning researcher (or researching campaigner), and encourages free and open discussion and independent thinking.
  • Action Research Dissertation
    The module is built around a placement with a group/organisation, during which you undertake original, primary research for your 10,000 word dissertation.
  • Campaigning for Social Change
    If you want to change society for the better you have to campaign. But what tactics and strategies work best? What skills and techniques are needed? What lessons can be learned from social movements past and present? This module provokes thought and debate around these issues.

Optional modules include:

  • Spaces of Radical Thought
    Political activism today has its roots in a body of social theory that has evolved over the last 100 years. Here you will be introduced to selected thinkers and their works that represent different strands of contemporary radical thinking.
  • Research Frontier: Citizenship and Belonging
    This module Includes research into social identity, social inclusion, equality and diversity, the transnational society, and diaspora.
  • Qualitative Research Methods
    You will become adept at research design, data collection, and analysis including participant observation, interviewing and textual analysis. You will also be introduced to the use of qualitative analysis software.
  • Cities and Social Justice
    This module will explore the city as a site for social conflict, from the classical works of urban theorists to more recent analysis of neoliberal urbanisms. We will delve into specific examples of urban struggles in the Global North and South and different forms in which citizens around the world are organising and responding.
  • Quantitative and Spatial Methods
    You will learn how to apply geographical analysis methods to real world problems and to use statistical and GIS software.

For more information about the overall programme together with details of individual modules visit:

Entry requirements

Undergraduate qualifications

Our normal minimum requirement is a good second class Honours degree or equivalent in geography or a related subject. However, many candidates are still in their final year of undergraduate study when they first apply, in which case we take note of what your academic referee's assessment of your abilities.

Successful candidates in recent years have included those with good first degrees in related subjects such as sociology & social policy, politics English and business studies. If you think that you might be interested in our course, but feel unsure as to whether you have the necessary background, get in touch with us to discuss your position. The same may apply if you have been away from geographical study at a university level for a while and want to use the course to update your understanding and skills; we are pleased to offer advice on the status of your existing qualifications.

Work experience

Relevant work experience is viewed positively and is taken into account particularly for candidates whose first degree grade is slightly below our requirement.

Part-time study

We usually recruit several part-time students every year who take the course over two academic years and combine study with paid work or other commitments. This means that you can work to fund your studies, or gain a new qualification without giving up an existing job. We aim to be particularly flexible in helping you to put together a part-time course structure that meets your academic goals while recognising the constraints upon your time for study.

Overseas students

We welcome applications for full-time study from overseas and EU candidates.

In recent years we have attracted students from all around the world including the USA, Italy, Spain, Nigeria, Canada, Australia and India. To be able to get the most out of our course we ask that you have an academic qualification equivalent to a good second class degree from a British university.

English language qualifications

If your first language is not English, the University requires you to provide evidence of competence in English. We ask that you meet our minimum language requirements by enclosing a recent TOEFL or IELTS certificate with your application. Minimum requirements are:

  • TOEFL score (internet-based test) of at least 92 overall with at least 21 in listening and reading, 22 in writing and 23 in speaking
  • IELTS score of 6.5 with at least 6.0 in all components
  • PTE (Academic) score of 64 with at least 60 in all components
  • Other qualifications are accepted, but will be reviewed when you apply

If you feel that your level of English is not adequate for your course, you should consider enrolling on one of the full-time pre-sessional English language courses run by the Language Centre at the University of Leeds. These courses are of six or ten weeks duration and prepare students in the English language skills needed for study and provide a useful orientation to academic and social life in Britain. Even if you already fulfil the University's English language requirement, you may still find the preparation given by these courses very helpful.


Taylor Steelman

Taylor Steelman 2010-11

The MA program has helped me in many ways in my work. It motivated me to get involved with the City’s Whatsoever Community Centre's community garden project, it also at least partially inspired me to pursue medicine as a career as it helped me to decide that I wanted to:

  • Develop a skill which would be important and useful to many people, especially marginalized populations and those in resistance.
  • Enter a profession which provided a tall and strong platform for activism (the health of the individual bodies in any social ecology reflect the organization of the whole!).
  • Enter a profession with a broad range of opportunities for academic inquiry and research.

I can't say that these three requisites would be as clearly defined or important to me if not for the experiences I had on the MA course. So, THANK YOU to everyone on the MA course. It changed my life in so many more ways than those listed above. It's impossible to say who and where I would be today if not for the knowledge, wisdom, and friendships I took with me from the course.

Luca Milazzo 2010-11

Since I left the course I have been working on an organic farm. This is allowing me to get practical knowledge of food growing and to do a political work of consciousness raising towards people about the importance of organic, local and seasonal food. In my free time I do grassroots political actions with the group I am part of (“Brigades of Active Solidarity”). We mainly intervene in contests of exploitation and black market, especially with immigrants in the south of Italy where the seasonal pilgrimage of workers gives opportunities to the raise of corporal management of workers in agriculture.

The MA Programme has helped me a lot in terms of consciousness. Now I am able to read reality in a different way, to understand the real mechanism underneath daily processes driving our lives. I am getting better in unmasking authority exploitation and act to fight it in its endless forms and levels. The course also gave me an amazing holistic view of the job processes with which I can now organize my life balancing my need of economic resources as much as wellbeing. 

Mike Layward 2008-09

I am glad the MA is continuing, especially in these hard times. We need activists more than ever.

I have continued working for DASH Disability Arts in Shropshire. The MA has helped me in so many ways. One big lesson that the visiting lecturers brought was the importance of long-term planning if you want to bring about change and I try and bring this into my work and through this challenge concepts of 'normality' and difference, through Disability art. I have been producing an amount of 'Live art' under the pseudonym 'The Wandering Jew' and recently performed a new piece ' The politics of Confinement' in Much Wenlock. This piece looks at the land enclosures of medieval times and the enclosures that are happening now.

Aimee Castenell 2007-08

Aimee Castenell

It's really important that a programme like this exists at the University: now more than ever. Since I left the programme, I've been engaged in a number of projects. I worked for a short time at an adult literacy organization in Atlanta as an Americorps volunteer. From there, i went on to work as a new media manager for a civic engagement project based in Washington DC. After that, i moved back to Atlanta where i worked as communications coordinator for the US human rights network (a domestic human rights organization focused on providing training and resources to grassroots organizations around the US who are using the human rights framework in their organizing. As of April, 2012 I am now a campaign manager at, the largest online black civil rights organization in the country.

The MA Programme at Leeds has really been formative in shaping my career trajectory. Spending time in the UK focusing on how social movements grow and develop has really raised the level of discourse at the places I've worked and allowed me to participate in much deeper analysis of the emerging social movements we are navigating today- from occupy to smaller scale rumblings around a national plan of action for implementation of the convention on the elimination of racial discrimination (CERD) as well as work I've been doing on voting rights and voter suppression from a racial justice perspective.

Panda Rainbow 2007-08

Since leaving the MA most of my time has been taken up with defending the rights of boat dwellers against navigation authorities such as British Waterways and/or riparian landowners, local authorities in particular. I have been active in the National Bargee Travellers Association, a campaigning and advice organisation, which has involved lobbying, taking legal action, and assisting and advising boat dwellers who have been threatened with homelessness to campaign and defend themselves in court. The skills, knowledge, training and contacts I gained through the MA have been invaluable (as has my past experience as an activist). See and


Typical roles undertaken by recent graduates

  • Housing Research and Policy Officer
  • Access Officer
  • Research Associate
  • Community Research Consultant
  • Partnership Information Analyst
  • PhD study

Examples of organisations/companies worked for

  • Rochdale Council
  • Leeds City Council
  • Centre for Regional, Economic and Social
  • Bradford Resource Centre
  • Wakefield Metropolitan District Council