Freddy Foks's Participant Observers: Anthropology, Colonial Development, and the Reinvention of Society in Britain (U California Press, 2023) is a novel new history of the role of social anthropology in British society from the 1920s to the 1970s. Foks follows the anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski and his students from the seminar room and field and out into the broader world, describing how their brand of 'social anthropology' interacted with British debates debates about colonialism, marriage and the family, and urban life. Participant Observers is especially interesting because it gives attention to Margaret Read, Elizabeth Bott, Kenneth Little, Polly Hill, and other figures whose important work has not received the attention it deserves. A clearly and at times elegantly written work, this closely researched book's ambitious scope makes it notable, and its orientation to British history gives it an unusual angle that will appeal to historians of anthropology.
In this episode of the podcast, Freddy speaks with host Alex Golub about his book, the characters and events of twentieth century social anthropology, and the challenges of creating a narrative that spans several decades and an entire country.
Alex Golub is associate professor of anthropology, University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa.