Keith Hart interviewed by Alan Macfarlane 12th April 2006

0:05:05 Introduction, born 1943 in Manchester; parents and wider family; living in Old Trafford in a run-down area but with middle-class aspirations; father encouraged any interests and had numerous hobbies and talents himself; I was a boy soprano of some excellence but when voice broke just gave up singing because if I couldn't be the best didn't want to do it at all so failed to learn father's lesson that anything was worth doing for its own sake

4:12:16 Schooling - when I was eight visited Cambridge and accepted by parents that I wanted to go there; started the examination process for Manchester Grammar School at nine; could only enter if headmaster recommended child; 10,000 entrants every year reduced to 2000 by first exam and 200 by second; I was the first person from my area ever to go there; always felt I was a stranger in a largely middle-class society and couldn't mix home with school

6:21:19 I was a classicist and there were some excellent Latin and Greek teachers but the inspiring teachers  taught English; now see that I lived a double life with future through exam passing and mastering of analytic techniques, but my passion was always for fiction, for plays, novels and movies

8:02:16 Thinking about a virtual Manchester of the mind; wrote a memoir called 'Manchester on my Mind' about the role the city played in my role as an anthropologist; I live in Paris now and have a bottle of Manchester United chardonnay on my desk, symbol of the change in both our fortunes

9:50:22 Won a scholarship to Cambridge to read classics; besotted with classics, mainly as a technical linguist; won prizes for translations; at that time limited option for pursuing a PhD in classics but never imagined being anything other than a professional academic, the question was what kind; felt an intellectual narrowness in classics so looked for an alternative career in the social sciences where job prospects were more promising; sociology in Cambridge unappealing as subordinate to economics at the time; heard of social anthropology which seemed to be sociology with travel thrown in; had a rowing coach - I was a cox for Lady Margaret - called Claudio Vita-Finzi, who was a geographer of the Mediterranean basin and every winter he went off to Sicily or Lebanon which seemed not a bad life, Jack Goody was in my college, St Johns, and was to some extent a drinking companion; Jack was running a seminar on clientship in about 1962-3 (I went up in 1961) as Maquet had produced his book on Ruanda; offered to talk on Roman clientship and Jack accepted; two days before the seminar was reminded so quickly mugged up a talk from library sources which was well received; thought that anthropologists could have no intellectual standards compared to classicists; admired them because they thought they could study anything; liked the idea of this expanding vision so transferred to social anthropology

15:54:02 Jack Goody was the only supervisor I had both as an undergraduate and a post-graduate; at the time thought he was a lousy teacher, couldn't engage with him, didn't think he read my stuff, particularly with my thesis; he supported me emotionally and socially; thought he was a lousy lecturer and considered teaching to be secondary to pursuing his own work; later read in short introduction to 'Production and Reproduction' Goody's three principles which I consider to be the most important in the anthropological project laid out as his agenda since 1950; discovered in retrospect that Jack had taught me in a way that I had been too arrogant to recognize at the time; maybe he taught me by example, not by instruction; in the long, still unfinished, festschrift my article is called 'Agrarian Civilization and World Society' is an appreciation of his work; feel he is one of the very few anthropologists of the second half of the twentieth century to embrace the study of world history as a project and escaped from the narrow limitations of ethnography where he was originally rooted; my book on West African agriculture is dedicated to him and Meyer Fortes; in the 1980's could appreciate them but in the 1960's we felt like orphans, owing nothing to our parents and teachers, and that our generation were going to remake the world in our own way

20:36:13 I had very little to do with Meyer Fortes as an undergraduate; my main guide and inspiration was Audrey Richards who was the Director of the African Studies Centre and gave a course on urbanization and migration which lodged in my mind for my own PhD project in Ghana; I was much closer to her and she was very supportive; also had a tutor called Ronald Robinson who was a leading historian of Africa who, together with Audrey, were big in African studies and the Smuts at Cambridge, and they got me my basic funding for fieldwork in Ghana; Audrey made me feel I had something to say although critical; gave me a jam thermometer as a wedding present and also encouraged my wife that if she saw something she liked she should buy four of them; I did not know Meyer at all and thought him a terrible teacher who wasn't interested in engaging with us; quit his seminar for final year students after one session as I couldn't stand it; paradox was that Jack set me up in Accra to do work on migrants [went into the field immediately after graduating - did two years of classics then changed to anthropology and got an extra year] and Meyer didn't know who I was; got a first; contemporaries included Jonny Parry, Caroline Humphrey and Enid Schildkrout who was also a student of Jack's going out to Ghana, now in New York; quite a large number of us ended up as professional anthropologists - Pepi Roberts was another; only lecturer I really enjoyed was Edmund Leach and Tambiah, who was in my college; wrote from the field to Meyer Fortes saying I intended to study the Tallensi as migrants to Accra and he was shocked and appalled by this and I had very difficult relations with him after that; he told me many years later when I had gained his confidence that this was a period when he was anticipating leaving the Chair and Jack was likely to be his successor. Meyer had built up social anthropology to be a powerhouse at Cambridge, sociology and political sciences (SPS) had just been created, and there was a lot of talk about social anthropology moving in with the other social sciences. Jack was writing articles supporting the wider comparative links as 'Death Property and the Ancestors' showed, and was encouraging his students to study non-traditional ethnographic subjects. Meyer thought I had been set up by Jack as a fifth column to denigrate his work by recasting in an unfamiliar light as a means of undermining his heritage; thus I had real difficulties with Meyer all the way through after that, but respected him much more because he gave me a hard time; I do feel Meyer Fortes is the greatest anthropologist I have been near, firstly because I knew his fieldwork technique and linguistic skill first hand, which were astonishing; of his two great monographs on the Tallensi - the first starts out with a real struggle on the particularism of social life there so is almost unreadable as a book, but he sees the society struggling to achieve a measure of cohesion; in 'Web of Kinship' he moves towards his greatest contribution in an attempt to marry a statistical and network-oriented approach to kinship to a structural one; after these he simplified his agenda to a point that I didn't agree with, but his idea that kinship is life as exemplified in 'Time and Social Structure' is brilliant; he worked with and was trained by Karl Pearson in pioneering statistical methods; I was also a statistician and learnt statistics mainly because I was interested in betting...; Meyer told me that his inspiration for his development cycle approach to kinship was D'Arcy Thompson's 'Growth and Form', a powerful metaphor for Meyer's most creative phase, when he was at Oxford, before he came to Cambridge, when he formed the gang of three with Radcliffe-Brown and Evans-Pritchard and Max Gluckman was a fellow traveller, when he was instrumental in setting up the A.S.A.; at Cambridge fought to get the colleges to extend the range of fellowships open to anthropologists; but both Meyer and E-P seemed to have the attitude that it was impossible to talk to people like us

34:35:10 I did four years as an undergraduate between 1961-65, spent from 1965-68 in the field, then wrote up my PhD in a year and a half and got it in September 1969 and took a job immediately

35:04:09 The dispute between Meyer Fortes and Edmund Leach were old hat by the time we arrived and we were either in Jack's camp and going to Africa or Edmund's and going to Asia; there were lively methodological arguments about where anthropology might go which pitched Jack against Edmund more than Edmund against Meyer; as a graduate student it became clear to me that our seminars were a grandstanding event where each got at the other; by then the dispute between Edmund and Meyer had got to very petty college politics level; I got on well with Edmund - anecdote which reflected Edmund's attitude to students and class; disappointed by the intellectual level of the seminar which seemed to be much personalized bickering and never pushed to rational discursive level and dissipated into ethnographic anecdotes; I once complained about this and Meyer said I was just too rational and that anthropology was not a rational discipline; during mid-seventies when I was already launched in my American career in an encounter with Meyer I had my first serious conversation with him on Time

39:52:02 Fieldwork and first impressions; both Jack and Esther were in Bole, Gonja when I first arrived and I was supposed to rendezvous with them first; got the bus to Northern Ghana and stopped at a ferry for the night as the bus driver had a girlfriend there, being eaten by mosquitoes; at Bole found Jack and Esther at 2pm asleep, naked, in the shower; Jack said I should go and stay in Bole's strangers quarter for a few days, where the only reason white men ever went there was for sex; at that time everyone was influenced by the work of Little and Banton in Sierra Leone on migrants, voluntary associations, new states - that was my line, but when I got there I found it was a one party state, there wasn't any actual politics on the ground, there wasn't anything there to study, but I came to live in a slum and noticed that everyone was moving something on the street from marijuana to refrigerators so decided to study that

43:49:02 Theory of the informal economy. Wrote my thesis on entrepreneurs based on life stories of individuals; after I finished my PhD took a job at East Anglia in a development studies outfit because I decided I wanted to know more about states and international history; urban economists were talking about the threat of urban unemployment in the Third World and I said they were not actually unemployed but were working for very little; came up with the idea of the informal economy at a conference in Sussex in 1971;

my aim was to translate my ethnographic experience into a language economists could understand and use and they turned it into a concept; at the very same time I converted to Marxism and they hated it; Peter Worsley suggested I wrote a reader on the informal economy and established it as my idea as I may never come up with a better idea; I thought that if I wasn't going to come up with a better idea I should quit and went into denial about its significance for at least fifteen years; it surfaced again in the late eighties since when I have spoken and written on it

47:14:19 Was at East Anglia for two years and then went to Manchester from 1971-75; Max Gluckman was still there but died in Israel in 1973; found him a blustering bully but Emrys Peters had taken over the department; at this time 'Critique of Anthropology' being launched and they wanted Jack Goody and Max Gluckman to be the symbolic sponsors; Gluckman refused; I got on with Peter Worsley very well; his book 'Knowledges' summarizes his own version of cognitive anthropology; 'Trumpets shall Sound' was the first book that really caught my imagination as an undergraduate; I would be honoured to think that my career had echoes of his, but unlike me he was a great institutional leader

51:30:00 After Manchester I went to Yale; at Manchester four or us were more or less appointed at the same time - David Turton, John Comaroff, Ken Brown and me and we even founded the new residential segment of the department at Heaton Moor; we were very close but Emrys promoted David Turton to senior lecturer and this upset the group; I complained to the Vice-Chancellor and immediately wrote to four American departments and Yale and Chicago took me up and Yale offered me tenure, so I went; at that time Floyd Lounsbury, a linguist, most impressive intellectually; impressed by the professionalism of these American scholars - Hal Conklin, Harold Scheffler, David Pilbeam, Alison Richards who is now Vice-Chancellor of Cambridge - impressed by their literacy; I taught anthropology and political economy, Africa, I even taught a course on archaeology for a term 'From Bronze to Iron in the Eastern Mediterranean 1600-500 B.C.' with specialists from the area; could get away with it as I could pretend to be a classicist; I left after my marriage broke up followed by two mental breakdowns in the course of which I resigned; there followed a nomadic situations where I went from Michigan to McGill etc. on one year contracts, always hoping they would appoint me for longer but kept having mental breakdowns; would have liked to have stayed at Michigan which was a democratic society with very little overt competition and I loved Ann Arbor and Detroit for the Arab food, rock concerts and jazz; Ann Arbor was the place where the technique of teaching through seminars was pioneered in America; last place in America I was at was Chicago; there I realized how isolated I was without a safety net so returned to Britain.

[The interview ends here in 1984 but it is hoped to continue...]