Famous Anthropologists

Here’s a list of research I did into famous anthropologists.


Famous Cultural Anthropologists:

  1. Marcel Mauss (1872 – 1950)

French anthropologist.


  • Intrigued by the study of religion and ancient languages. The idea of religion analysed with a social perspective led Mauss to become a great proponent of “social ethnology” (the comparative, usually first-hand study of cultures and their social structures)


  • His fame, in particular, comes from his theories regarding gift exchange among groups throughout the world. His work, “The Gift,” described the intrinsic bond forged between giver and recipient: Much more than just an object, a gift is a magical and moral link between people. The gift becomes an obligation, whether bad or good, and reciprocity serves as a basis of social relationships


  1. Clifford Geertz (1926 – 2006)

American anthropologist


  • Earned fame for his work on symbolic, or interpretive, He made a name for himself analyzing not just the form of cultural objects, but what they meant to specific groups of people


  • Completed field research for a project based in Indonesia. He spent many years in the area, performing extensive work in the region and among its people. He also spent considerable time in Morocco, researching and comparing


  • Geertz’s field work led to his theory that “things” within a culture can possess important symbolic meaning and contribute to perspectives about the surrounding world


  1. Paul Farmer (1959)

American anthropologist


  • Has made a name for himself beyond the realm on cultural anthropology. He is an avid human rights activist and physician, fighting to provide health care for the world’s poorest people.


  • Focuses on medical anthropology, a subfield of cultural anthropology. Before entering medical school in 1984, Farmer completed research in Haiti. This poverty-stricken country, and its poorest citizens’ inability to attain health care, continued to influence his work.


  • Farmer is a co-founder of Partners In Health, an organisation that seeks to provide community-based medical care and basic social and economic needs for people throughout the world.


  • Besides working in Haiti, Farmer has worked on controlling infectious diseases and promoting basic human rights in Peru and Russia.



  1. Zora Neale Hurston (1891 – 1960)

African-American author and cultural anthrologist


  • Her work, studying culture and folklore in her home state of Florida, as well as in the American south, Haiti and the Caribbean, laid the foundation for literary pieces that authentically portrayed the people in these areas.


  • Study of voodoo practices in the Caribbean and folklore in the south served as rich inspiration for some of Hurston’s most acclaimed works


  1. Lewis Henry Morgan (1818 – 1881)


  • Interest and research in the Iroquois and other Native American peoples. He developed a particular interest in the way that related people (specifically indigenous groups) interact and refer to each other and how that affects relationships and overall society (also known as kinship systems).


  • Morgan’s travels and field work brought him to theorize that social evolution could be classified in three stages, “savagery,” “barbarism” and “civilization,” laid out in his 1877 book, “Ancient Society”


  • The book and Morgan’s evolutionary theories of staged progression received their share of critics, among them were notable anthropologists such as Franz Boas . However, Morgan made undeniable advancements in the social sciences, from focusing on research that’s gathered in the field to emphasizing the importance of kinship relations.


  1. Eric Wolf (1923 – 1999)

Austrian anthropologist


  • Used history as a major component of his cultural research


  • His work, influenced by Marxist ideals, earned him the attention of certain faculty members, and he was eventually sent to gather data in rural sections of Puerto Rico. His research later took him to Mexico and Europe, where he observed peasant societies in those regions


  • Much of Wolf’s work focused on peasant communities and their connectedness within a greater system. He aimed to link local behaviors and patterns to larger socioeconomic and political forces


  • Besides his argument that culture needs to be studied with a global perspective, he also stressed that culture, including that of non-Western people, is dynamic and doesn’t stay the same for long.


  • In his book, “Europe and the People Without History,” Wolf theorized that as European society grew, affecting natives throughout areas such as Africa and the Americas, the latter aboriginal communities’ behaviors and practices changed as well


  • Wolf argued that as powerful, capitalistic nations expanded into new lands, the expansion unavoidably caused a chain reaction within the native people and eventually changed their habits and ways of relating to each other.


  1. Claude Levi-Strauss (1908 – 2009)

French anthropologist


  • While in Brazil for a teaching position, Levi-Strauss began his field work studying the Bororo Indians. He spent years there analysing and taking notes on other native groups in surrounding areas.


  • Applying the theories of structural linguistics to the field of anthropology, Levi-Strauss gained fame for a new way of thinking called structuralism.


  • The idea he put forth was that worldwide unconscious structures, or laws, exist in everything that we do (for example, kinship, mythologies and rituals), providing a means for comparing and analyzing cultures


  • His formidable four-volume work, “Mythologiques,” examined the structure and duality of primitive tribes’ myths throughout the Americas and their influence on culture.


  1. Ruth Benedict (1887 – 1948)

American anthropologist


  • One of the first women to earn international recognition for her work in anthropology and folklore


  • Made huge strides in her research regarding culture and personality.


  • Benedict studied tribes in the American Southwest, which served as the basis for her hugely popular book, “Patterns of Culture.” She emphasized that understanding primal cultures could help us understand modern man, and she also explored the connection between culture and individual


  • Besides time spent in the field, Benedict worked for the U.S. Office of War Information during World War II, researching and evaluating published material about outside cultures
  1. Margaret Mead (1901 – 1978)

American anthropologist


  • Her research suggested that culture, not just biology, impacts adolescent behaviour


  • Mead’s startling observations of Samoan children, and the ease with which they entered adulthood, drew her to the conclusion that teenage angst and stress had more to do with external factors than anything going on internally.


  • Much of her work focused on relatable topics such as childhood and parenthood, topics that, as a mother herself, she valued as much as anyone.


  • Besides anthropology, Mead was interested in applying her work to affect change in others, especially in areas such as child rearing and women’s rights.


  • Her openness about her own methodologies as well as her addressing of sensitive research topics such as sexuality, made her one of the most talked about anthropologists and read authors in the world.

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