DAME MARILYN STRATHERN
We are delighted to have the opportunity to nominate Professor Dame Marilyn Strathern for consideration as an Honorary Fellow of the Association for Social Anthropology of Oceania.
Professor Strathern is one of the leading social anthropologists in the world today. Her writings on Melanesia and her influence on Pacific ethnography would be more than sufficient to qualify her for the honour of Honorary Fellow. Perhaps most familiar to ASAO members, Professor Strathernis contributions to gender studies and feminist anthropology have had an enormous impact on the ethnography and anthropological theory of the Pacific and many other culture areas. But, unique among contemporary anthropologists, she has articulated insights drawn from Melanesian experience, which have revolutionized several areas of scholarship within and beyond anthropology. Thus, her ethnographic analyses of Melanesia culture and sociality have opened utterly new paths in thinking about the implications of the new birth technologies, EuroAmerican patterns of kinship, the comparative study of personhood, chaos theory, intellectual and cultural property, and eaudit culturesi. Yet, the insights of all these subsequent writings are grounded in her earlier ethnographic perceptions of the cultural dynamics of Pacific Islands societies, and particularly the Hagen peoples of the highlands of Papua New Guinea. Professor Strathern has relentlessly and courageously pursued an innovative anthropology during a period when the practices of fieldwork and the relation between ethnography and theory have been passionately debated. Few Pacific anthropologists have been so influential in these debates within and beyond anthropology.
Marilyn Strathern (nee Ann Marilyn Evans) was born in 1941 in North Wales. She was educated in social anthropology as part of her BA, MA and PhD degrees at Cambridge University, where she worked with both Edmund Leach and Meyer Fortes. Her doctoral thesis, later published as Women in Between (1972), was the first ethnography of that period to focus on Melanesian women, and, like much of her subsequent writing, was prescient, foreshadowing an emergent feminist anthropology which revolutionised the discipline and cognate fields in the humanities and social sciences. But, from the outset she critically interrogated the mutual relation of feminism and anthropology, and the way in which Western preoccupations were projected onto Melanesian social practices. In a series of scintillating essays and a magisterial comparative work, The Gender of the Gift (1988), she demonstrated how several cognate Eurocentric binariesonature and culture, female and male, subject and object, domestic and publicodistorted anthropological interpretations of Melanesia. That book originated in reflections on her own ethnography of Melpa and Wiru peoples, but assiduously compared contemporary ethnographies of the Highlands, Massim, Sepik, and Gulf regions in Papua New Guinea and the islands of Vanuatu. It entailed not only rigorous comparison but also critical reflection on the comparative method itself and developed an original approach to gender as a fluid code pertaining to permeable and partible persons and things, in mutual relation. Her stress on the notion of relation as mutually transforming inspired her later approach to conceptions of subjects and objects and authorship in Western models of kinship and intellectual property.
Over her career Professor Strathern has published some fifteen books. Among those focused on the Pacific are Women in Between (1972), Self-decoration in Mount Hagen (1971 with Andrew Strathern), Dealing with Inequality (ed. 1987), The Gender of the Gift (1988), Big Men and Great Men: Personifications of Power in Melanesia (1991, with co-editor Maurice Godelier), Partial Connections (1991, ASAO Special Publication no. 3), Property, Substance and Effect (1999), and the forthcoming Transactions and Creations (with Eric Hirsch).
Prof Strathernis publications also include 44 single-authored journal articles and 57 book chapters. Many of these easily qualify as contemporary classics. To list just a few:
1979 'The self in self-decoration'. Oceania 49:241-257.
1980 'No nature, no culture: The Hagen case'. In C. MacCormack and M. Strathern (eds), Nature, Culture and Gender. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
1981 'Culture in a net bag: The manufacture of a subdiscipline in anthropology. Man (ns) 16:665-688.
1984 'Domesticity and the denigration of women'. In D. OiBrien and S. Tiffany (eds), Rethinking Women's Roles: Perspectives from the Pacific. Berkeley: University of California Press.
1987 'An awkward relationship: The case of feminism and anthropology'. Signs 12:276-292.
1991 'One man and many men'. In M. Godelier and M. Strathern (eds), Big Men and Great Men: Personifications of Power in Melanesia. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
1992 'Parts and wholes: Refiguring relationships in a postplural world'. In A. Kuper (ed), Conceptualising Society. London: Routledge.
1995 'Gender: Division or comparison?'. In N. Charles and F. Hughes-Freeland (eds), Practising Geminism: Identity, Difference, Power. London: Routledge.
1995 'The relation: Issues in complexity and scale'. [Inaugural Lecture 1994]. Cambridge: Prickly Pear Press.
1996 'Potential property: Intellectual rights and property in persons'. Social Anthropology 4:17-32.
1996 'Cutting the network'. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute (ns) 2:517-535.
1998 'Social relations and the idea of externality'. In C. Renfrew and C Scarred (eds), Cognition and Material Culture: The Archaeology of Symbolic Storage. Cambridge: McDonald Institute Monographs.
1999 'The ethnographic effect'. In M. Strathern, Property, Substance and Effect. London: Athlone Press.
2000 'Environments within: An ethnographic commentary on scale'. In K. Flint and H. Morphy (eds), Culture, Landscape, and the Environment: The Linacre Lectures 1997. Oxford: Oxford UP.
2001 'Same-sex and cross-sex relations: Some internal comparisons'. In T. Gregor and D. Tuzin (eds), Gender in Amazonia and Melanesia: An Exploration of the Comparative Method. Berkeley and Los Angeles: U California Press.
Professor Strathern has held a string of academic appointments and been awarded many formal distinctions. She was Research Fellow at the New Guinea Research Unit of the Australian National University in 1970, and later Senior Research Fellow in the Research School of Pacific Studies at the ANU. She was a Fellow and Lecturer at Girton College (1976-83) and Trinity College (1984-85) at Cambridge. In 1985, she was appointed Professor of Social Anthropology at Manchester University. Since 1993 she has occupied one of the most prestigious chairs in the discipline, as William Wyse Professor of Social Anthropology at Cambridge University. She has been Mistress of Girton College 1998. At Manchester and Cambridge in particular, and in a series of visiting appointments in the United States, Australia, and Europe, she has educated a generation of younger anthropologists who have included some of the most fertile young minds working at the horizon of anthropology in the Pacific and beyond. She has been invited to deliver the Malinowski Lecture, the Frazer Lecture, the Munro Lecture, the Lewis Henry Morgan Lectures, the Girton College Founderis Memorial Lecture, the Ernst Jones Lecture, the Rothschild Lecture, the Hardy Chair Lecture, the Linacre Lecture, the Hilldale Lecture, and the Rickman Godlee Lecture. She delivered the 1988 ASAO Distinguished Lecture at the annual meetings in Savannah, Georgia. In 1976, Professor Strathern was awarded the Rivers Memorial Medal of the Royal Anthropological Institute. In 1987 she was elected a Fellow of The British Academy. In 2001 she was recognized as a Daughter of the British Empire. Her most recent distinction is the award of the Viking Fund Medal of the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research in 2003. This had not been awarded since 1972. It seems there is no more highly decorated living social anthropologist. Until now, perhaps the only honor Professor Strathern has not been awarded is that of ASAO Honorary Fellow. It is therefore timely, if not overdue, that the ASAO celebrate her preeminent contribution to Pacific scholarship and to the broader advancement of social anthropology.
Mark Mosko, Margaret Jolly