Keith Hart’s Memory Bank

You know the phrase “informal economy?” That was Keith Hart’s idea. Hart exemplifies the Oxbridge lefty populist 60s development social anthropologist — you know the type. Throughout his career Hart has always had a personality and imagination that is a little too big for anthropology to hold. Luckily that is what the internet is for — his book “The Memory Bank”: is now supplemented by a website which is literally “his memory bank”: I can’t think of another professor who received their Ph.D. four decades ago who have been so enthusiastic about embracing the Internet. Not only is his “book”: available online in more or less complete form, so are his papers, both “published”: and “unpublished”:, his “stories and poems”: and even links to “IMDB move reviews he’s writtten”:

Perhaps the most interesting thing about the site is his “blog”: It isn’t actively maintained now, but even in its current form it’s sort of fascinating — some entries literally consist of “here’s what I wrote last night to replace the intro of chapter 2 of that new book I’m writing.” I started reading The Memory Bank when it first came out then managed to leave it on a plane. I remember it being intriguing and definitely a couple of standard deviations away from the run of the mill in a fascinating way. Although it was clear that Hart’s grasp of the Internet was different from that of someone who grew up with it, Hart’s take on it, like the rest of his career, cannot help but peak your interest.


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

6 thoughts on “Keith Hart’s Memory Bank

  1. this doesn’t seem quite fair, does it?

    I am afraid that your school is a fundamentally flawed place. Its cult of intelelctual excellence has never been far-removed from right-wing elitism, whether we think of Friedman and Hayek, or Strauss and Bloom, not to mention Shils, a cold warrior if ever. Hutchins set the place up after the war with a mission that CLR James refers to as catholic humanism and links it to strands of German fascist theory in the 30s (th eworking class need discipline by an elite trained in the classics). The anthropologists have tried to maintain a leftish stance, but th edepartment is profoundly conservative, teaching a narrow version of cultural anthropology which allows its students to perform well and get jobs, drawing on a tight network and cult of their own excellence. It is very similar to LSE with their back to Malinowski version of the discipline and mutual self-promotion as a tightknit elitist cadre.

    He posted this letter on the blog, so it’s obviously meant for public consumption.

    Beef. It’s what’s for dinner…

  2. I am not quite sure what any of the responses to your post on Keith Hart represent. None seems to address Keith’s work, his fundamental views, or his fundamental kindness and decency.

    Keith is not only open to the internet. He is open to ideas on their merits. Consequently, he is opposed to academic “guilds;” in one essay, he says that anthropology is part cult, part lineage. Not being an anthropologist, I do not have an opinion on how realistic an indictment that may be. But I doubt Keith intended it literally in any case; his rhetoric is typically intended to provoke. Furthermore, he is very interested in the history of anthropological ideas and disturbed at what he thinks is the loss of an historical and universalist strand that was fundamental to the original impetus and original value of anthropology. He has, I suspect, little sympathy with any anthropology that cannot speak to the common anthropos. If that seem anti-intellectual, so be it.

    Is he opinionated? Undoubtedly. So what?

  3. hey kieth it me chris from dr g m egbert from the fame program i have a question for u and this time when i ask this question im serious so please reply i really need ur help

  4. oops sorry wrong kieth hart please delete this msg and the one from before i have made a mistake in identitie so please my apologies

  5. Dear Sirs,

    I am writing a law thesis where I am looking into the origins of trade. Since all trades are enacting contracts then the history of trading is also the history of contracts.

    I read your article at this location


    “In Chimpanzee communities, individuals exchange gifts (such as fruit or sexual favours) within a group to cement alliances, and punish those who attempt to cheat on such mutually beneficial relationships; Anthropologists believe that early humans started trading in much the same way. The word they use to desire this behaviour is ‘reciprocity’ and our personal relationships work on this basis (Dunbar 2000: 2-3). ”

    The question is which book of yours did you quote the above interesting phrase

    As you mentioned Robin Dunbar, could you let me know which publication you wrote?

    Best regards

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