Adam Kuper

Adam Kuper, whose most recent book is The Reinvention of Primitive Society, is a professor of anthropology at Brunel University.

Margaret Mead

Adam Kuper, 24 May 2007

Margaret Mead and her second husband, Reo Fortune, spent nearly two years in the interior of New Guinea between 1931 and 1933. Just 29 years old when they set out, Mead had already published two bestselling books, Coming of Age in Samoa and Growing up in New Guinea. Fortune, a highly competitive, paranoid and occasionally violent New Zealander, had yet to make his name as an anthropologist....

In the chaotic last years of apartheid – the regime crumbling, local authorities in turmoil, violence a constant threat – there were outbreaks of witch-hunting and medicine murder in what was then the northern Transvaal. Hundreds of suspected witches were burnt to death. In 1988, a medicine murder scandal precipitated the fall of the government of the Venda Bantustan. There were...

Police rituals

Adam Kuper, 21 April 2005

On 21 September 2001, a man walking across Tower Bridge saw what appeared to be a corpse floating in the river. Twenty minutes later, a police launch took the corpse on board and discovered that the head, arms and legs had been severed. The torso was identified as that of an Afro-Caribbean boy of around five years old. The only evidence of identity was a pair of orange shorts labelled...

Malinowski’s Papuan peregrinations

Adam Kuper, 7 October 2004

Michael Young’s biography takes Bronislaw Malinowski to the age of 36, when the brilliant Polish anthropologist completed his field study of the Trobriand Islands, married, and prepared to make his career back in Europe. Young is a Melanesian ethnographer himself, and the book comes into its own when Malinowski arrives in Australia, on the eve of the Great War, and begins the...


Adam Kuper, 24 June 2004

The tout Paris of mid-20th-century intellectuals seems to have been a small world, small enough to pack into a few cafés, its members visiting each other in their cottages in the country or coming together at weekends in the houses of wealthy patrons. Artists, writers, philosophers and scientists shared a world. Claude Lévi-Strauss was the son of an artist, and two of his uncles...

James Brooke

Adam Kuper, 12 December 2002

In 1921, a boat carrying Somerset Maugham upriver in Borneo capsized in eight-foot waves, and for half an hour the writer clung desperately to the wreckage. ‘At last, helped by some of the crew,’ a district officer reported, ‘Maugham managed to reach the bank utterly exhausted. Dyaks took the shipwrecked party into their house, revived them with drink and provided them with...

Edmund Leach

Adam Kuper, 23 May 2002

Edmund Leach was Provost of King’s College, Cambridge, KBE and FBA, a trustee of the British Museum, a senior fellow of Eton College, the president of societies ranging from the Royal Anthropological Institute to the British Humanist Association, and a noted collector of committee chairmanships. I once asked him how he could square all this with his regular insistence that he was a...

Laurens van der Post

Adam Kuper, 3 January 2002

In 1972, when his reputation was close to its peak, Laurens van der Post published a novel called A Story like the Wind. Reviewing it in the TLS, I wrote that it was an old-fashioned colonial romance, but since the book carried a portentous preface in which Van der Post described himself as a great authority on Africa, I added that his statements about the Bushmen, the Zulu and other peoples...

From The Blog
12 January 2010

Most African herbalists cause no more damage than dispensers of alternative medicines on our high streets. Every now and then, however, a sinister practitioner will advise a very special client that while roots and animal parts are useful, the most potent medicines are made from human blood, liver, spleen and heart. Yes, it is dreadful, he whispers, but there are unscrupulous people about, and I have heard that your rival is in the market for the stuff. What choice do you have? When one big man is persuaded, his peers are immediately alerted. In consequence medicine murders tend to crop up in clusters, the clients typically rich and powerful men. The anti-human sacrifice and trafficking unit of the Uganda police recorded 26 cases in 2008 and 28 in 2009, and a number of suspects were brought to trial. Enter Tim Whewell of the BBC’s Crossing Continents programme.

Cousin Marriage

John Pemble, 25 February 2010

In Britain privilege still means power, but power no longer means class. The British ruling class is long since dead. Its day was over when neoliberal think tanks dethroned liberal-humanist...

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Bruce Robbins, 1 November 2001

Why are some nations so poor and others so rich? Two Harvard professors recently revived an old-fashioned answer to this unsettling question, and it sits plainly as the title of their book:...

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