Archive | Obituaries

Mary Douglas (1921 – 2007)

douglas.jpg Students who came to several of the regular material culture seminars last year at the Department of Anthropology UCL were probably somewhat amazed that there, in the audience, was a slight woman, evidently in her eighties, who listened and questioned, and was still clearly an active participant, despite having become one of the world’s most renowned anthropologists long before they were born. After one of these seminars she came out with the rest of us to have a drink with the speaker. During which she beckoned me over. The conversation started in typical Mary Douglas style:-. `Aren’t you the person who is responsible for all this nonsense about materiality?’ We then had an entirely amicable conversation based on finding an academic whose influence we could both agree to heartily dislike, in this case, the psychoanalyst John Bowlby.…

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July 29th 1929 to March 6th 2007
Academic creates genuine breakthrough in thinking about key issues with carefully composed original thesis. Comes to be better known. Responds to the hype by writing pretentious, largely ungrounded but clever sounding prose about more or less everything. After a while best known through journalism about this latter work, while original contribution is largely forgotten.
Jean Baudrillard would hardly be the only academic to pass through such a trajectory, but he was, to my mind, one of the clearest exemplars of it. Most of the obituaries currently being written, concentrate on his writings about the simulacrum. Frankly I have always considered this to be pretty worthless. But it was certainly his most influential contribution. The effects were dire.…

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Judy Attfield

It is with great sadness that we have to announce the death of Judy Attfield, one of the pioneers of contemporary material culture studies who did so much to demonstrate the value of this approach. Judy started her academic career within a discipline called design history that was largely devoted to hagiographic accounts of great designers and the history of great designs, both of which almost entirely ignored the wider context of understanding the form and style of the world of goods most people lived with. Thanks to her textbook Wild Things and a series of exemplary studies she transformed Design History into a study of the intimate relationship between populations and the common form and design of mundane material culture.…

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Bruce Trigger (1937-2006)

Victor Buchli, Dept of Anthropology, UCL
It is with great sadness to have to report that Bruce Trigger died at the beginning of this month.
Bruce Graham Trigger (born June 18, 1937 died December 1, 2006) was a Canadian archaeologist. Born in Preston, Ontario, he received a doctorate in archaeology from Yale University in 1964. His research interests include the history of archaeological research and the comparative study of early cultures. He taught at Northwestern University for a year in 1964 and since then has been in the Department of Anthropology at McGill University in Montréal. For his in-depth study of the ethnohistory of the Hurons, he has been adopted as an honorary member of the Huron-Wendat Nation. His book A History of Archaeological Thought is a must for anyone who wishes to understand the development of archaeology as a discipline.…

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Clifford Geertz (1926-2006)

Daniel Miller, Anthropology UCL
My impression is that students coming into anthropology today, at least in Britain, are not necessarily expecting to read very much of the writings of Clifford Geertz, compared to my time as a student. But his death on Monday should remind us of just how much a loss that is. I have spent my academic life enamoured of fieldwork and ethnography and I suspect the single biggest influence on this was the sheer pleasure of reading Geertz. As far as I know he never would have described himself as particularly associated with material culture per se, (please comment if you know otherwise) but he was the quintessential cultural anthropologist, and his work shows how much that American tradition of cultural anthropology, (to some degree as opposed to European social anthropology) provided in its heyday an almost seamless acceptance of the materiality of peoples lives and the need to give due credit to the form of cultural order and life.…

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