Early Anthropologists: Raymond Firth, Audrey Richards, Lucy Mair, Meyer Fortes & Edmund Leach
In Conversation with Alan Macfarlane, Jean La Fontaine, Jack Goody & Frank Kermode (Edited by Radha Béteille)
140 x 216 mm
Year of Publishing
Territorial Rights
Social Science Press

Early Anthropologists: Raymond Firth, Audrey Richards, Lucy Mair, Meyer Fortes and Edmund Leach is the first time a collection of interviews is being published as a book. These interviews and talks have been conducted by one of England’s leading social anthropologists and historians, Professor Alan Macfarlane. Filmed over a period of 40 years, the five conversations and talks in this volume, are part of Social Science Press's series Creative Lives and Works. These transcriptions also form a part of a larger set of interviews that cut across various disciplines, from the social sciences, the sciences and to the performing and visual arts. The current volume is on five of England’s foremost social anthropologists.

These conversations and talks are interlaced with rich ethnography and interpretations of distant civilizations and the very real practices that enable these tribal societies and cultures to thrive. There are several teaching moments in these engaging conversations which are further enriched by detailed personal experiences that the interviewees share. Sir Raymond Firth gives us an insight into his Polynesian experience, while Audrey Richards and Lucy Mair recall their days in the African hinterland. Meyer Fortes’s account of his tribal study, yet again in the African subcontinent, is mesmeric, while Sir Edmund Leach's Southeast Asian encounters are just as enthralling. Immensely riveting as conversations, this collection gives one a flavour of how tribal societies live and work.

The book will be of enormous value not just to those interested in learning about tribal societies and cultures, and those interested in History, Culture Studies, but also to those curious to gather knowledge about other cultures.

Alan Macfarlane was born in Shillong, India, in 1941 and educated at the Dragon School, Sedbergh School, Oxford and London Universities where he received two Master's degrees and two doctorates. He is the author of over forty books, including The Origins of English Individualism (1978) and Letters to Lily: On How the World Works (2005). He has worked in England, Nepal, Japan and China as both an historian and anthropologist. He was elected to the British Academy in 1986 and is now Emeritus Professor of Anthropology at the University of Cambridge and a Life Fellow of King’s College, Cambridge. Professor Macfarlane received the Huxley Memorial Medal, the highest honour of the Royal Anthropological Institute in 2012.

Jean Sybil La Fontaine is a British anthropologist and emeritus professor of the London School of Economics. She has done research in Africa and the UK, on topics including ritual, gender, child abuse, witchcraft and satanism. In 1994 she wrote a government report: The Extent and Nature of Organised and Ritual Abuse.


Sir Jack Goody was one of the great social anthropologists and comparative sociologists of the twentieth century. It is not easy to summarize his contribution in more than 25 published books and many articles, as well as the effect he had on academic life as an innovative administrator. Jack Goody’s father was a technical journalist and he grew up in Welwyn Garden City and then went to St Alban’s School. He went up to St. John’s College, Cambridge in 1938 to read English and was influenced by socialism and the literary criticism associated with F.R. Leavis. He was William Wyse Professor of Social Anthropology at the University of Cambridge between 1973 and 1983.


Sir John Frank Kermode was a British literary critic best known for his 1967 work The Sense of an Ending: Studies in the Theory of Fiction and for his extensive book-reviewing and editing. He was the Lord Northcliffe Professor of Modern English Literature at University College London and the King Edward VII Professor of English Literature at Cambridge University. He was knighted in 1991. A few months before Kermode's death the scholar James Shapiro described him as ‘the best living reader of Shakespeare anywhere, hands down’. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frank_Kermode

Transcriber’s Note

Malinowski and Functionalism
– Alan Macfarlane

Part I

Raymond Firth
– In conversation with Alan Macfarlane

Part II

Audrey Richards – On Fieldwork
– In conversation with Jack Goody

Part III

Lucy Mair
– In conversation with Jean La Fontaine and Alan Macfarlane

Part IV

Meyer Fortes – Tallensi Divination
– In conversation with Jack Goody

My Encounter with Meyer Fortes
– Alan Macfarlane

Part V

Edmund Leach
– In conversation with Frank Kermode

Appendix 1: Being There: Participant-Observation Fieldwork

– Alan Macfarlane

Appendix 2: Biographical Information – Compiled by Radha Béteille

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