In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Social and Cultural Anthropology and the Study of Africa

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Texts
  • Journals
  • The First Professional Anthropologists
  • Early Works Directed to Problems of Change
  • Individuals, Education, Psychology
  • African Religions
  • Studies of Change
  • Life in Cities
  • The Question of Colonialism and Anthropology Under Fire
  • Postmodern and Postcolonial Studies

African Studies Social and Cultural Anthropology and the Study of Africa
Herbert Lewis
  • LAST REVIEWED: 30 July 2014
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 July 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846733-0141


The primary source for knowledge about the peoples of Africa—about their cultures and societies—from the late colonial era until today, is anthropology, but modern anthropology developed as a discipline very late. The origins can be dated from 1900 in the United States and 1927 in Great Britain, when the first doctorates were awarded to people trained in new canons of understanding and explanation and in the practice of extended fieldwork. Before the arrival of the professionals there were some exceptional individuals with sufficient curiosity to devote the effort and time to produce serious books about the ways of life of particular African peoples—works worth noting. The greatest increment to academic knowledge of African societies and cultures occurred when PhD students trained in the British social anthropology of Bronislaw Malinowski and A. R. Radcliffe-Brown began their fieldwork at the end of the 1920s. After four decades carrying out research primarily in the United States, American anthropologists also began to do ethnographic research in Africa after World War II, many of them supported by the Ford Foundation. Since the late 1960s, the independence of Africa, and the numerous intellectual upheavals and reorientations of world scholarship as a result of the emergence of the women’s movement, postmodernism, postcolonialism, and more, the anthropological landscape has changed considerably. This bibliography concentrates primarily on contributions from the British and American traditions that produced the largest, most coherent, and most readily available body of information and ideas about African cultures and societies. Although the focus is largely on the literature from the turn of the 20th century through the 1980s, the heyday of social and cultural anthropology in Africa, it includes works done from the critical perspectives of more recent decades as well.

General Overviews

The literature is vast but the following works offer a variety of perspectives on important aspects of the history and practice of British, and, to a lesser degree, American anthropology in Africa. While Gulliver 1965 offers a summary of the work of anthropologists working in Africa up to the 1960s—still early times—the review articles Hart 1985 and Werbner 1984 are specific to particular regions and cover another twenty years of research. While Kuper 1973 deals with British anthropology as a whole, African experience dominates the work, as it does Goody 1995. Moore 1994 has the widest perspective of all, while Schumaker 2001, like Werbner, focuses on the important Rhodes-Livingstone Institute and Hammond-Tooke 1997 offers a more intimate and detailed view of the anthropologists who worked in South Africa. Ntarangwi, et al. 2006 consists of more recent articles, quite varied, some historical, some looking to the future.

  • Goody, Jack. The Expansive Moment: Anthropology in Britain and Africa 1918—1970. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1995.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511557927

    A veteran anthropologist and a scholar of wide knowledge and many contributions, Jack Goody offers an insider’s view of the development of British social anthropology—heavily but hardly only in Africa—following its key figures through the years. It is a rich intellectual history and offers important correctives to certain fashionable thoughts about the field, especially its relation to colonialism.

  • Gulliver, Philip. “Anthropology.” In The African World: A Survey of Social Research. Edited by Robert A. Lystad, 57–105. New York: Praeger, 1965.

    Gulliver produced an extensive view of the situation of anthropology in Africa as of the early 1960s—as African countries were becoming independent. Dated but very useful as a picture of anthropology at that time.

  • Hammond-Tooke, W. D. Imperfect Interpreters: South Africa’s Anthropologists 1920–1990. Johannesburg: Witwatersrand University Press, 1997.

    A knowledgeable, detailed, and critical study of anthropologists in South Africa, one of the most troubled nations in the world, where anthropology existed in particularly difficult and complex circumstances.

  • Hart, Keith. “The Social Anthropology of West Africa.” Annual Review of Anthropology 14 (1985): 243–272.

    DOI: 10.1146/

    Hart gives a useful overview of social anthropological research and publication in West Africa from the early days of professional anthropology until the 1980s.

  • Kuper, Adam. Anthropologists and Anthropology: The British School, 1922–1972. New York: Pica, 1973.

    A basic history of British anthropology focused primarily on research in Africa, Adam Kuper provides a basic intellectual genealogy of various approaches, especially those applied to research in Africa up to the 1980s. Second revised and expanded edition, London and New York: Routledge, 1983.

  • Moore, Sally F. Anthropology and Africa: Changing Perspectives on a Changing Scene. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1994.

    Moore presents an intellectual odyssey through British anthropology in Africa, with consideration of French and American contributions as well. A balanced and fair-minded book discussing many works and considering various arguments in a compact volume, it is the best single source for an overview of anthropology in Africa until the early 1990s. She deals with the question of anthropology and colonialism with dispatch.

  • Ntarangwi, Mwenda, David Mills, and Mustafa Babiker. African Anthropologies: History, Critique and Practice. London: Zed Books, 2006.

    This volume contains thirteen essays by both African and Euro-American anthropologists considering aspects of anthropology in the past, present—and speculating on its future on the continent of Africa.

  • Schumaker, Lyn. Africanizing Anthropology: Fieldwork, Networks, and the Making of Cultural Knowledge in Central Africa. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2001.

    DOI: 10.1215/9780822380795

    In this original work based on a study of the records of the Rhodes-Livingstone Institute and its researchers, Schumaker demonstrates the interplay of ideas and relations between the European researchers and their African assistants and the ways in which the assistants influenced the work of the Institute. It is an ethnography of ethnography.

  • Werbner, Richard. “The Manchester School in South-Central Africa.” Annual Review of Anthropology 13 (1984): 157–185.

    DOI: 10.1146/

    Werbner analyzes the approaches and the works of the anthropologists who worked with Max Gluckman at the Rhodes-Livingstone Institute from the 1930s to the 1980s. Working in both rural and urban areas, with farmers and miners, they developed distinctive perspectives stressing social process, conflict, and conflict resolution, presented through actual cases, detailed accounts of events and the people involved.

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