Filmed talk What is social anthropology?

You can explore some of the ideas and methods of anthropology further on this web-site.


Under ‘Lectures’ you will find a film of how my wife and I did anthropological fieldwork in the Himalayas. There is also a film taken in the village where I talk about some of the changes that have occurred over the thirty years I have been visiting Nepal.

There are a series of ten introductory lectures on the basic way of looking at kinship and marriage, and four on basic economic anthropology. In due course there will be further films on politics and law, and religion and ritual.

There is a series of nine films covering classical theory in all the social sciences from 1700-2000.

Under ‘Anthropological Ancestors’, you will find over fifty interviews in which distinguished researchers talking about why they became anthropologists, how they worked, and what they found out.


I have tried to explain the basic ideas in anthropology in a simple, non-technical, way in thirty letters to my grand-daughter Lily, imagined to be about 17 years old. They can be found off this web-site under Letters to Lily: on How the World Works. The web-site to the book also contains suggestions for further reading.

Up to date reading lists are to be found on various Social Anthropology Departmental Web Sites, including that at Cambridge.

Among older textbooks which took a broad view of the subject are:

John Beattie, Other Cultures (1964)
Roger Keesing, Cultural Anthropology (various editions from the 1980’s)
James L. Peacock and A.T.Kirsch, The Human Direction (1980’s on)

More recent introductions to social anthropology include:

Chris Hann, Teach Yourself Social Anthropology (1998)
Robert Layton, An Introduction to Theory in Social Anthropology (1997)
Ioan Lewis, Social and Cultural Anthropology in Perspective: The Relevance to the Modern World (2003)
Wendy James and Michael Lambek, The Ceremonial Animal; A New Perspective of Anthropology (2004)

A very good compendium of articles on all aspects of anthropology is:

Tim Ingold, (ed.), Companion Encyclopedia of Anthropology (1994)

Two classic accounts of what anthropologists do and how they live, though both are more difficult to get, are:

Claude Levi-Strauss, A World on the Wane (1961)
Elinor Bowen, Return to Laughter (1964)

The language of anthropology

Anthropologists for various reasons have developed a technical language, filled with words with specialist meanings. You will find under ‘Lectures’ on this web-site a rough list of some of the principal terms they use, which you can print out and available as you read or watch further.