Vale Anthony Wallace and Raymond Smith

I couldn’t let this week slip by without mentioning the passing of two great anthropologist: Raymond T. Smith and Anthony F.C. Wallace.

Raymond T. Smith was a social anthropologist who earned his Ph.D. in anthropology in 1954 at Cambridge, where he worked with Meyer Fortes. His work focused on the Jamaica, Guyana (then British Guiana), Trinidad, and Chicago. For most of his career he taught at the University of Chicago, and the best short summary of his life can be found in the UofC’s finding guide to his papers. Something like a CV can be found on his personal website as well.

Smith was a rigorous, empirical, and prolific social anthropologist with a focus on race, class, and kinship.  The Matrifocal Family, his 1996 book of collected essays, is probably the best place to start reading his works. Smith also made his books British Guiana and The Negro Family in British Guiana open access and available on his website. Smith was at the forefront of social anthropology in the postwar period, when authors like Michael Banton were expanding the discipline’s focus on kinship to a broader evaluation of how families were shaped by their economic position and political status as colonial dependencies or newly-independent nations. Much of this was to happen in the 1960s in the UK, but Smith was doing it a decade earlier.

After his arrival at the University of Chicago in 1966, Smith also developed a focus on kinship. This was the same time that David Schneider was working on American kinship, and they did collaborate. Smith became a strong critic of the concept of the ‘culture of poverty’.

I know almost nothing about the Caribbean but according to people on Facebook Smith’s work is widely read and influential there. At the same time, students at Chicago (including myself) did not always have an extremely positive memory of his ability to mentor future professors. As a result, he did not create students who would be willing to, as Ruth Underhill once put it, pull his chariot for him. As a result, I am afraid anthropologists will not remember his work as much as they should. Smith was an excellent ethnographer and analytically precise thinker who should be a role model for anyone interested in race, class, inequality, and kinship in the New World. Or anywhere else for that matter.

 Anthony Wallace passed away on 5 October 2015. There is a fine long biography of Wallace in the finding guide to his papers which cover his long and esteemed career. In a nutshell, Wallace was a great inheritor of the Boasian tradition at one of anthropology’s oldest and most esteemed department at the University of Pennsylvania (a department which actually predates the Boasian take-over of the discipline). As a student with three degrees from Pen, and later faculty member  and chair at at Penn, Wallace was an Americanist whose contributions focused on Iroquois groups. Like Smith, he is remembered by area specialists as a deep and engaged ethnographer.

Wallace was a Boasian, and focused on ethnohistory and psychology as keys to understanding Indian life. He received his Ph.D. in 1950, at the moment when a tremendous boom in higher education was getting underway in the United States. Wallace was, like Julian Steward and Clyde Kluckhohn, The Future of Anthropology in the post-war era. An influential theorist, in 1956 he developed the concept of ‘revitalization movement’ in his best-known article,  and he was involved in componential analysis and ethnoscience. The best place to start looking at his work is the two volumes of his selected essays, Revitalizations and Mazeways and Modernity and Mind. 

Forty one years old during the Summer of Love, Wallace’s concept of ‘mazeways’ and his attempt to build out a fully scientific, Boasian anthropology got swamped  by more exotic and swinging exports like Victor Turner. Wallace was hardly stodgy, and his interest in religious movements and psychology fit the times very well — witness his 1969 essay “The Trip”. And his overarching interest was understanding how individuals used culture to make sense of the historical circumstances they found themselves in, even when those circumstances (like colonialism) were disconcerting. Somehow, though, his works were never canonized into the post-boom canon the way that Geertz, turner, and Douglas were. Wallace’s themes are themes of long durée of anthropology, but somehow we find them today in Foucault and not Wallace.

Once the future of anthropology, Wallace is just one member of an entire postwar generation who get cut out of survey courses when they jump from Mead to Geertz and/or Wolf. True, there may be a good reason that we don’t read Kluckhohn’s Rimrock study as a theoretical breakthrough in the study of value. But Wallace certainly deserves far more airtime then he gets today in contemporary anthropology. Perhaps now to honor his passing, we should return to Tony Wallace and his work to recognize how important it really is.

Alex Golub is an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. His book Leviathans at The Gold Mine has been published by Duke University Press. You can contact him at rex@savageminds.org

5 thoughts on “Vale Anthony Wallace and Raymond Smith

  1. Sadly, we’ve lost two former AAA presidents this week. In addition to Anthony Wallace’s passing (he was President in 1972), we also mourn the loss of Ernestine Friedl, who was AAA President in 1975.

  2. This week Asian Anthropology also lost a formidable colleague in Nicholas Tapp. His work on the Hmong and ethnic minorities of China is outstanding and he will be well remembered by many working in those fields. After brief stints here at CUHK and then at Edinburgh, followed by a very productive decade at ANU, he finished his career with East China Normal University. You can find a brief selection of his work at his ANU site: https://researchers.anu.edu.au/researchers/tapp-nct

  3. More than any anthropologist I know, Raymond Smith was a figure of the greatest intellectual honesty — that extended beyond the discipline into the political turmoil that gripped U of C in the late sixties and early seventies. Theoretical posturing — latching onto trendy work — was not his way. At the same time, his critique of the “plural society” concept and his brilliant work knitting together the cultural and class aspects of kinship place him in the front ranks of anthropologists who’ve done genuinely original work. His students, and these included some very good anthropologists, did not “pull his chariot” because he encouraged above all an independence of mind and a resolve to do solid work.

  4. I remember Raymond Smith with respect and affection: he was chair the year I spent in Hyde Park at the cusp of the 80s, and carried an air of real intellectual authority – with no discernible trace of the pomposity or self-regard favoured by some of his colleagues. And Nick Tapp, whose name has come up in the comments, was a colleague for a few years a decade or two later, equally effacing in person and equally dedicated to his academic craft. Good people and serious anthropologists both.

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