The Expansive Moment: Existential Issues in British Social Anthropology

Goody, Jack. (1995). The Expansive Moment: Anthropology in Britain and Africa 1918-1970. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Jack Goody takes on the charge that British social anthropology was the child of colonialism by highlighting the personal politics of many of the individual anthropologists involved, by the diverse and independent financial base of the discipline, and by the diversity of methodological approaches practiced. Drawing on archives of personal correspondence from the architects of British social anthropology, Goody attempts to refute claims of the discipline’s complicity in colonial rule. His defense, while nuanced, is deeply personal as Goody is both a well respected product of this particular school and a confidant of many of the anthropologists he draws upon. This insight, though a unique view into the development of the discipline, is not enough to support Goody’s claims in the end.

British social anthropology emerged from the colonial corps in the University of Cambridge evolving from a training ground for colonial functionaries and missionaries into a robust academic discipline. Dissatisfied with the historical, armchair approach of his predecessors, Malinowski built a program at the London School of Economics that focused on the ‘ethnographic present’, a practical anthropology that concerned itself with contemporary social systems and emphasized long periods of fieldwork (p.9). This practical approach enabled Malinowski to draw on the support of the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Memorial, a vast American philanthropic foundation interested in addressing ‘the more dangerous social concerns’ (p.11). As an aside; this particular foundation came into existence in the wake of a previous iteration that failed to properly investigate the Ludlow Massacre, at which dozens of striking coal miners and their families were shot to death by the Colorado National Guard at a Rockefeller owned mine in 1914 (Craver, p.205). Goody sees this agency as independent of the British empire, but does not sufficiently address the motivations behind Rockefeller money or the foundation’s interested in Africa. 

Through the International African Institute (IAI), administered by the missionary-academic Dr J. H. Oldham, Rockefeller money was granted to Malinowski to promote practical anthropology, which is as Malinowski writes “…a thoroughgoing study of several tribes from the point of view of contact with European culture, the ensuing changes and the possibilities of controlling these changes” (p.21). Having secured funding for the LSE in 1931 and a friendship with Dr Oldham, Malinowski laid the foundation for his approach attracting a comparatively large number of students who would become key figures in British social anthropology and go to form influential groups at Oxford and Cambridge (p.81). This school would use long term fieldwork to attain a level of practical cultural understanding elusive to earlier approaches.

If anthropologists were romantically attached to the notion of indigenous governance and ‘ordered anarchy’ as Goody suggests (p.193) and held similarly progressive views on the independence of African territories, why does he remain quiet in relation to how the knowledge produced by British cultural anthropologists was either explicitly or implicitly intended to support liberation? “To help the independence movement was more important for Fallers in East Africa, for R.T. Smith in British Guiana, for many in West Africa, than to assist the colonial regime” (p.195). As careful as Goody is to highlight the independent and multifaceted views of anthropologists his conception of ‘the independence movement’ remains quite undefined. This reduction of human solidarity to its expression through the colonialist skeleton of the capitalist nation state is dangerous. The danger is in concealing that liberation is more complicated than the formation of a post-colonial state that British social anthropologists sought to assist. This calls into question the very notion of this scheme of liberation, considering the politically repressive nature of post-colonial states and the submissive position young states in the Global South face in the broader political economy of international relations. On the basis of intent and good faith, one could assume anthropologists did not wish to see the exchange of an external elite for an internal one. Yet intent only matters so much given the spectrum of possibilities presented for fieldwork. Were the desire among some to study the exotic ‘ordered anarchy’ in Africa redirected towards the study of their own nation’s social transformation, perhaps they could have shared with the world the pitfalls of transitioning to financial capitalism.

Anthropology often questions the objectivity of observation given the inherent power relationship between the anthropologist and the subject. Perhaps Goody would have considered that in the first place: the Maxim gun, in a way, was the anthropologist’s passport to the field of the colonized in Africa during the expansive moment. Given his frustrations with his American counterparts (p.199) keeping in line with the metaphor we could say the Winchester rifle was the means by which the Department of Indian Affairs anthropologists in the United States could access their site; these fields would not exist in the way they were encountered in which colonialism and violence were the foundation of interaction in ethnographic fieldwork during this period.

With such systemic power imbalances in place, the politics of a handful of individuals seems less relevant than Goody suggests.

“It is true that new nations (like older ones, such as Yugoslavia and the USSR) are plagued with ethnic tensions. That was bound to be the case in Africa where some 4,000 linguistic groups were forcibly brought together by conquest into some fifty colonies which then became nation states. Any efforts made by anthropologists, colonial administrators and politicians could only have a minimal effect on this basic problem.” (p.207).

This basic problem Goody highlights is however quite large: the imposition of a form of governance created the political and economic schema after which later post-colonial governments would be based. After more than a century of external rule at the twilight of British colonialism, local elites in what would become the new nation states of an independent Africa were likely familiar with some of the early and current forms of effective social control in Western democracies; notably the use of police against popular assembly, censorship, and the suppression of political opposition.

Goody’s desire to defend British social anthropology in response to critics from the Soviet Union and the United States where the voices of colonized peoples are largely absent save brief reference towards African-born anthropologists; some of whom studied in Britain, but were also silent the cited correspondences. Several future heads of state for post-colonial countries came from the discipline such as Jomo Kenyatta and Kofi Busia (p.84); leaders less known for their progressive values in the ensuing political contests new states tend to go through.

As further evidence, Goody’s defense cites the personal politics of several anthropologists, which is intended to reflect the discipline’s progressive nature. Malinowski defended suspected communists (p.43-45), and while A.R. Radcliffe-Brown’s nickname at Cambridge was Anarchy (Fortes, p.153)–  this seemed to have more do with his personality than with his politics. This was Goody’s most troubled argument given the field studied was occupied territory. Something that would support his defense would be an account of the agency that the subjects of British social anthropology exerted in even desiring such attention, but this is lacking. The knowledge produced by anthropologists continues to be useful for occupation and dispossession today, so it does not require much imagination to consider what use anthropological research has had to the historical colonial regime. As a historical example,one can consider Radcliffe-Brown’s obituary which cites his invaluable contribution to explain a rebellion that had occurred due to the implementation of a poll tax in colonial Zululand (Fortes, p. 151).

Ultimately Goody’s defense is absent of a strong explanation of the colonial situation in which fieldwork during the expansive movement took place. He uses personal correspondence to try and prove the progressive politics of the discipline but the history of British social anthropology falls short of explaining how exactly they supported the colonized in struggles of self determination. Goody seems to have taken many of the critiques levied against the discipline quite personally, which is not a problem inherently. However, the personal is political, and this reading of the Expansive Moment calls to question Goody’s own views regarding colonialism given his committed defense of British social anthropology.

Additional Works Cited

Craver, Earlene. (1986). “Patronage and the Directions of Research in Economics: The Rockefeller Foundation in Europe 1924-1938.” Minerva, 24;2/3. (pp. 205-22).

Fortes, Meyer. (1956). “Alfred Reginald Radcliffe-Brown, F. B. A, 1881-1955: A Memoir.” Man, 56. (pp.149-153).


On the Production of Knowledge and the Mystification of Power Relations.

Goody, Jack. (1995). The Expansive Moment: The Rise of Social Anthropology in Britain and Africa 1918-1970. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press

 “We remind ourselves that anthropology does not merely apprehend the world in which it is located, but that the world also determines how anthropology will apprehend it” Talal Asad – Anthropology and the Colonial Encounter

The colonial legacy of anthropology is increasingly central in critical assessments of its history and its relation to contemporary articulations. Despite recent efforts in the decolonization of the discipline, and the unmasking of colonial discourse, there is nevertheless repudiation of these implications, or at least an attempt at situating the development of anthropology as marginal within colonial history. One such example is The Expansive Moment: Anthropology in Britain and Africa 1918-1970 by anthropologist Jack Goody. Goody traces the emergence of British social anthropology by examining the interactions between prominent figures of the discipline through anecdotes and correspondences retrieved from different British institutions in an attempt to challenge the criticism of anthropology as a child of colonialism. He refutes this claim in two ways: First by denouncing the homogeneity of the ideological and social backgrounds of the anthropologist, and in their theoretical output, and second by pointing discontinuities present in the assumed linear alliance between colonial institutions and social anthropology. Though the bulk of early anthropological research was conducted in Africa, he claims that the ideological driving force was not in any sense acted out as willing or compliant to colonialism, but in earnest pursuit of knowledge and objectivity. Here I’d like to add that declarations of scientific objectivity presupposes a notion of neutrality; a claim which can mystify and distort ties to colonialism (Asad 101). In considering the above notion, the aim of my examination of Goody’s book is to investigate the power relations found in production of anthropological knowledge as elucidated in his discussion of agents and institutions, focusing on Bronislaw Malinowski, E.E Evans-Pritchard and the Rockefeller Foundation. Questions of when, what, why and how it is produced, oft overlooked by Goody himself, will be the driving force of my inquiry.

The overarching argument Goody makes, the denial of the centrality of colonialism in anthropology’s development, is undoubtedly politically charged. The history of colonialism, and its continuity and rearticulation in the anthropological discipline, has never been more salient in academic discourse than it is now. As such, his focus on colonialism in his discussion is rightly situated. Goody does an adequate job at materializing the contradictions and conflicts that were present during British anthropology’s formative years, rejecting a linear and homogenous account, particular in regards to the political views of the anthropologists he discusses. However, what’s curious about his account is that he is at once both rigorously political and astoundingly uncritical. While there is no denying that his focus on individual political persuasions is an important, albeit rather thin, addition in his analysis on whether colonialism had an effect on the production of anthropological knowledge, it’s his lack of critical engagement with the relationship present between individuals and power structures. While the actors in his book were shown to disagree and reject absolute exercise of colonial power, and even support emancipatory movements, he misses a critical opportunity in demonstrating that power is at once more structural, and more situated than he proposes. In order to elucidate my claims, we must return to the foundations of the discipline.

London School of Economics (LSE) professor Bronislaw Malinowski is often cited as being the founder of social anthropology due to his groundbreaking methodological fieldwork practices, and his ability to recruit many students (Goody 1-2). Malinowski’s popularity and development of functionalism as a school of thought garnered interest from funding groups, notably the American philanthropic organization “Laura Spellman Rockefeller Memorial” and the Rockefeller Foundation (RF), who provided financial support for research, mostly undertaken in colonial Africa (Goody 2). Goody makes explicit the fact that British social anthropology was funded by American philanthropy (via Rockefeller) and not through British institutions. While this elucidation can be seen as problematic in that American hegemonic practices were being diffused through their interest in anthropological research and further, in the colonies itself, Goody downplays their involvement since Americans apparently showed no direct interest in perpetuating British colonial efforts, and that by and large, they were “progressive” (Goody 154). This contradicts accusations he makes a bit later where that he argues that (and rightly so) Americans engage in their own form of colonial domination (Goody 198). While his differentiation between American and British imperialism is curious in itself, what’s more so his failure to question the motivations behind the Rockefeller Foundation’s funding, and the influence of America’s own colonial efforts. Nobody gives money for free. Donald Fisher (1986), in an attempt to shed light on this issue, points to the ideological structures found within the foundation itself and its strive for social control as motivation. According to him, the “watchwords” of Rockefeller philanthropy was “efficiency, control and planning” forcing anthropology to be more “empirical, realistic and practical” in their scientific approaches (Fisher, 5). He also noted that Rockefeller interest was critical in the discipline’s development, with anthropology offering “knowledge that would make the practice of colonial administration both more efficient and more humane, (increasing) social control” (ibid). Thus the knowledge produced by anthropologists funded was effectively utilized in practices of domination, a point Goody would no doubt deny. Furthermore, Fisher argues that Malinowski was the “link between Rockefeller money, the Colonial office and beneficiaries of these resources” (ibid). While Goody aims to detach Malinowski’s direct involvement in colonial efforts, he’s shown here as instrumental in generating knowledge that would inevitably benefit two major global powers, that of the Americans and British. This begs the question on whether or not Malinowski’s research and research methods were in some way informed and shaped by those who proliferated his development of the discipline. Why would one receive money for research if the research itself were not in some way profitable for those handing out cash?

In situating Malinowski as a link between the discipline and institutional power, this makes critical the fact that Malinowski trained most of those who would go on to cementing the discipline’s theoretical foundation. His influence shaped the research of his pupils (Goody 117), who would then engage in the reproduction of knowledge that was influenced by institutional alliances. Goody himself points out that Malinowski ran a tight ship in his disciplining and guiding of his students research interests and directions, thus exerting power over his pupils, and the knowledge produced (Goody 150). However, it’s important to note that Malinowski’s success in his achievements and in his pupils’ hinges on the fact that they had access to Africa due to British colonialism, in which the government obviously had to grant admission. The weight of this point is not given much attention in Goody’s account. The conditions, which made the development of social anthropology feasible was this accessibility to the field which was rooted in the existing “power relationships between dominating (European) and dominated (non-European) cultures (Asad, 99). It is in this exchange where we need to question how it effected the discipline and further more, how the knowledge produced was used, and if claims of objectivity can be upheld (ibid)

The epistemology of British social anthropology can thus be seen as being implicitly and explicitly shaped by existing global power relations through access and funding. Goody’s uncritical assessment of the influence and power between anthropological agents and institutions is also evident in his discussions of E.E Evans-Pritchard, another prolific anthropologist who was influenced in large part by Malinowski. While it is noted that he was apprehensive of colonial governments, Goody also points out that Evans-Pritchard had a close relationship with, and financial support from the Sudanese government. Even in these political relations, Goody claims that Evans-Pritchard viewed himself as “independent”, advising students to “keep right away from administration” (Goody 43) while working in the field. Though the advice is no doubt sound (although likely improbable) Goody fails to engage intellectually on the outcomes of Evans-Pritchard’s alliance with the Sudanese government. Since Sudan, at the time when this took place, was effectively an extension of the British colony, it would likely counter the claims of Evans-Pritchard as “independent”, and more perhaps view him more as a colonial agent, and the work he produced as instrumental to colonial efforts. Even though Goody attempts to point out contradictions in claiming Evans-Pritchard a tool of colonialism, he later discusses how Evans-Pritchard encouraged anthropologist Meyer Fortes to “participate in intelligence work in Africa”, since “he himself was a member of the military government in North Africa…. (and) he was dependent on support from official funds, in this case, from the government of the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan” (Goody, 75).

The above discussion is simply a slice of the contradictions found in Goody’s book. The implicit (and sometimes explicit) power relations between the actors of his discussion and the various institutions are minimized in lieu of accounts of individuals and their ideological and social makeup. The importance he gives to individual action and influence is always at the expense of looking at structural forces, and the ways in which it informs their production of knowledge. As such, the book seems to mystify these relations, rather than materialize power dynamics. Talal Asad (2000), in his critique of the relationship between colonialism and anthropology, points out that

“it is not a matter of dispute that social anthropology emerged as a distinctive discipline at the beginning at the beginning of the colonial era, that it became a flourishing academic profession towards its close, or that throughout this period its efforts were devoted to a description and analysis – carried out by Europeans, for a European audience – of non-European societies dominated by European power. And yet there is a strange reluctance on the part of most professional anthropologists to consider seriously the power structure within which their discipline has taken shape” (Asad, 96)

Goody is very much part of this reluctance. While Goody is right in maintaining that most early anthropologists weren’t necessarily directly involved in perpetuating structures of power, they were nevertheless instrumental in maintain it, and that those structural did indeed have an influence on what kinds of knowledge were produced, and for what reason (Asad, 100). Furthermore, there was a “readiness to adapt to colonial ideology” (ibid) in that it was through colonialism that anthropology was able to flourish.

Goody also failed to engage with the effects of the knowledge produced beyond the temporal space he engages with. How is contemporary anthropology affected by its history? How has it effected those upon which were studied? Hasn’t our access to specific colonial spaces and colonized peoples inevitably shaped our discourses, regardless of early anthropologists intention and meaning? I acknowledge that answering these questions weren’t necessarily the aim of this book, but omission of these discussions makes him out to be an apologist, rather than an “objective” investigator. It’s also worth noting that Meyer Fortes, a pupil of Malinowski, was Goody’s own mentor. This raises the notion that this work may appear to be self-serving, with aim in reproducing the status quo, and furthermore, his legacy than truly critically engaging with the discipline’s colonial past.

Asad, Talal. “Anthropology and the Colonial Encounter.” Encyclopedia of Anthropology 6: Political Anthropology. Ed. Darshan Singh Maini. New Delhi: Mittal Publications, 2000. 90-102. Print.

Fisher, Donald. “Rockefeller Philanthropy: And the Rise of Social Anthropology.” Anthropology Today 2.1 (1986): 5-8. Online.



Goody, Jack. (1995). The Expansive Moment: The Rise of Social Anthropology in Britain and Africa 1918-1970. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.


Sir John Rankine Goody (1919-2015; known as Jack) was not an anthropologist strongly associated with the British colonial empire (which was in the process of collapsing as he entered the field), nor was he generally held to be an apologist for the role of anthropology in colonial administration. But he was the William Wyse Professor of Social Anthropology at Cambridge University, a role in which he succeeded Meyer Fortes who, in turn, was a student of Bronislaw Malinowski. The latter two are key figures within a wave of British social anthropologists specializing in African studies during the final decades of British colonial rule on the continent. These anthropologists viewed themselves as progressive and considered it a given that their work had a net positive influence on African cultures, in part by validating them in the eyes of western intellectuals. Jack Goody seems to agree with his academic forefathers’ assessment of their own merits and he bristles at criticism of their impacts. When asked to write his predecessor’s obituary, Professor Goody goes searching through university archives and troves of personal correspondence, most of which, he readily admits (p.5) are off limits to the general population. While making it clear in the introduction to this book that he has no intention of considering further sources (despite the existence of several), he turns the results of his research into an ostensibly scholarly work on the origins of British social anthropology in Africa. In fact, the result is more like a brief and idiosyncratic biography of his academic mentors and their peers, the objective of which is transparently to fend off their critics and defend their legacies.

Goody tells the reader an interesting and gossipy tale of a group of well-meaning and oft-misunderstood intellectuals interested in moving British anthropology away from “antiquarian ethnography” [Malinowski’s words] towards a more involved, fieldwork-centric and socially progressive anthropology which they call “practical anthropology”. The book’s most fascinating aspect is that despite being overtly presented as a defence of British social anthropology (at least the parts of it that interest Goody), in telling the story Goody actually presents a great deal of evidence that could be seen as supporting the above-mentioned criticisms. He is also often quite disingenuous when making his arguments in defence of his academic ancestors. In this review, I outline the story Goody tells, I describe some of the self-incriminating evidence this story reveals and I briefly discuss Goody’s arguments in defense of the story’s main protagonists.

The first clue that this is a story more about Goody’s intellectual forebears than it is about British social anthropology is found in the central role played by Bronislaw Malinowski. It is he, not Seligman or Radcliffe-Brown that is presented as the most eminent British anthropologist of his time and the focus on Malinowski brings with it a focus on Africa. As with the academic leaders described by Bourdieu in Homo Academicus, Malinowski’s central role stems less from his status as a leading researcher (his own field work was in the Pacific) than from his role as a teacher and administrator. Indeed, Goody himself is quite critical of Malinowski’s academic contributions to the group, both in terms of theory and methodology (p.60; though it should be noted that Goody seems highly critical of anthropological theory in general, p.80). Malinowski’s real power (and the group’s focus on Africa) derives from the position he establishes himself in with respect to the administrative, political and economic needs of this new “practical” anthropology, specifically its focus on fieldwork. Fieldwork requires a trained workforce, it requires funding and it requires political permissions to gain access to the desired territories. His dominance of the International African Institute ( brings the former two resources together and then secures the requisite political permissions. Briefly, he uses a strong relationship with an American charity, the Rockefeller Foundation, to secure funding for projects administered by the IAI and he uses his position at the London School of Economics to produce the trained workforce (which is itself attracted by the funded fieldwork opportunities). Having the needed tools in place, the IAI then seeks approval from the colonial office for its projects, a task significantly aided by the presence of missionary, military and government-linked individuals on its committees.

The Rockefeller Foundation’s (RF) importance is difficult to overstate. Immensely wealthy and virtually alone in its focus on social science in the first half of the 20th century, one is left with the impression that tales similar to the one Goody tells could be told with the Americas or the Far East in lieu of Africa and Chicago or Sydney playing the role of London. Malinowski’s power is entirely dependent on his ability to persuade this group to fund the IAI projects. Indeed, the manner in which Malinowski secures this support provides some of the first evidence that Goody may fail to fend off the critics. While Goody repeatedly asserts that the anthropologists were quite free to choose their topics and were clear of interference once in the field, this bland assertion is hard to reconcile with the origins of Malinowski’s links to the RF. While it is true that Malinowski’s approach to anthropology (a so-called sociological approach) was in line with the thinking of the RF’s program managers, it seems that the allegedly irrelevant constraints the RF placed on those receiving its money were sufficient to deter many American anthropologists from taking it. Malinowski stepped in and provided assurances that were accepted by the RF, most specifically that the work of IAI anthropologists would involve the study of “culture contact”. It seems unlikely that RF funding would have continued to flow towards the IAI had those assurances proven empty after the first projects had been completed. As such, one can conclude that the academic work of the IAI anthropologists was meaningfully constrained by the RF, contrary to Goody’s claims. It should be noted that the RF’s range of ultimate motives can only be speculated upon.

The role of the LSE is also relevant. It serves as the training grounds for Malinowski’s “practical” anthropologists, who then get IAI fellowships for fieldwork and return to Britain as established researchers. The result is that the relevant departments at other schools across Britain become dominated by LSE alumni. The LSE faculty is clearly aware and appreciative of Malinowski’s impact, leaping to the defense of IAI fellows who are denied access to colonial territories in a way that meaningfully influences the Colonial Office (p.49 & p.52). As such, the LSE serves as a key bastion of political support for Malinowski, despite his conflicts with many of his colleagues there. Goody neglects this aspect of the LSE’s involvement.

It is in Goody’s discussion of his protagonists’ political views and actions that the greatest contradictions emerge. An entire chapter is devoted to Meyer Fortes’ initial difficulties in gaining admission to the Gold Coast. Goody insinuates strongly that discrimination against Fortes for being Jewish, South African and an alleged communist sympathizer lie behind these difficulties. He does so despite providing much evidence (p.50/51) that his difficulties were just as likely to be entirely personal in nature. Then, after naming a chapter after Fortes’ alleged status as a progressive (even a radical), he simply mentions in passing that he worked as an intelligence officer (p.56) for the British Empire. Fortes is also enticed by potential positions within the colonial administration itself. Edward Evans-Pritchard is likewise presented as progressive towards Africa, despite serving as a soldier and a military governor there (!). Evans-Pritchard is actually (like Goody himself) a Knight of the British Empire. Similar treatment is reserved for Malinowski, who is presented as somehow being progressive despite his overt support for whatever requirements the Colonial Office sought to impose upon the IAI fellows. Malinowski actually seems less concerned by the interference of the Colonial Office than his colleagues at LSE do. In general, Goody picks and chooses among possible (and unverifiable) interpretations of individual actions and statements, always to the benefit of his preferred characters. Bigoted comments are just jokes (p.5, p.70 & p.74 for example) when they are made by those protagonists. Virulent criticism is reduced to being “somewhat suspicious of the field [anthropology]” (p.84) in the case of Nkrumah and is dismissed because he “had earlier taken courses in the subject”.

Ultimately, having arguably presented more counter-evidence than evidence for his claim, Goody states that “The colonial peoples were never simply subjects of anthropology; it was also an instrument of the colonized in their intellectual struggles.” (p.85). This reader is left to conclude that while British social anthropology may have started out being merely constrained by colonialism, the personal evolution of its practitioners led to it being rather subverted in the end.


Bourdieu, Pierre. (1990). Homo Academicus. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

In Defence of a Field: A Review of Jack Goody’s “The Expansive Moment”

Goody, Jack. (1995). The Expansive Moment: The Rise of Social Anthropology in Britain and Africa 1918-1970. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Jack Goody’s The Expansive Moment invites readers to looks at the accomplishments of British social anthropologists in Africa and to study the history of these accomplishments. Throughout the book, Goody uses personal letters and other archival material to build a history of the dominant figures in the field between the years of 1918-1970. Through this Goody hopes to dispel the argument that British social anthropologists were involved in the colonial domination of Africa, and that these experiences are emblematic of anthropology’s role in colonialism. Unfortunately, the attempt to dispel this critique through an analysis of history causes several problems throughout Goody’s attempt to vindicate his mentors.

These problems are visible throughout the book beginning from the first chapter. In this chapter Goody takes a look at the role of foundations in funding anthropological endeavours in Africa. Goody focuses specifically on the role of the Rockefeller Foundation and its alliance with Bronislaw Malinowski at the London School of Economics (LSE) and the International African Institute (IAI). The goal of this project was to send anthropologists to Africa to study culture contact through practical anthropology (21-22). Here Goody asserts that British anthropology could not have been deeply entwined with colonialism because it was receiving funding from an American social reformist foundation and that it only began receiving funding from colonial governments during the period of decolonization. While this argument appears compelling, Goody does not really discuss why the Rockefeller foundation is interested in Africa, aside from a short description about its shared interest in education with the IAI (18). A fault with this argument lies in the fact that the Rockefeller foundation was also actively funding social science research in the United States. As Goody tells American anthropologists to examine their own history before critiquing British anthropology, it is surprising to see him use the Rockefeller foundation as a reason why British social anthropology was not as involved with colonialism as it is made out to be.
Chapter two discusses the process of training that anthropologists like Meyer Fortes underwent before embarking for the field. This chapter is interesting due to the similarities it bears to Pierre Bourdieu’s discussion of the time-economy in French Academia, especially in the expectation by Malinowski that Fortes must complete a year of seminars before he could enter the field to ensure that his methods aligned with Malinowski’s (31). Another similarity it bears is the reliance on supervisors for postings, as seen with Malinowski’s statements about finding Kirchhoff a post in chapter three. In the following chapter, the topic shifts to the process of gaining entry to the field and Kirchhoff’s story is explored in detail. Kirchhoff was barred from entering Africa due to allegations of being involved with communists. Despite attempts by Malinowski to reverse this decision and an attestation by German police in Kirchhoff’s favour, ultimately Kirchhoff was sent to take up an academic position elsewhere (46-47). This story is held up by Goody as proof that anthropologists were sometimes seen with suspicion by colonial authorities and as such could not have been as important in colonial projects as previously portrayed. This argument is also problematic, as in chapter nine Goody argues that the acquisition of an entry visa for anthropologists did not constitute submission to colonial authorities and that many anthropologists who did enter Africa were indeed leftist in their background. To him, no matter where an anthropologist is conducting fieldwork they must deal with state authorities and that this should not be seen as complicity with colonialist projects; however, if anthropologists could not acquire an entry visa they could not conduct any research and as seen with Kirchhoff this could have a devastating effect on their career. In order to conduct fieldwork anthropologists had to conform to a degree to the expectations of colonial authorities. They also have to conform to the expectations and research interests of the foundations that were funding them in order to enter the field at all. Even when they were forced to allow an anthropologist to enter the field it only happened through political pressure exerted by institutions like the LSE or the IAI, as seen in the case of Meyer Fortes entering the field. The omission of this power dynamic was also brought up in class discussion.

The fourth chapter discusses the friendship between Evans-Pritchard and Fortes. Goody portrays this friendship as important as it was a structure of mutual support in their research that would lead to the formation of the Oxford Group after the Second World War. This chapter stands out among the rest as it also demonstrates the zeal with which Evans-Pritchard approached the Second World War and displays his actions as an agent of empire, contrary to Goody’s project in this book (65). The fifth chapter takes a different approach; here it examines the animosities between colleagues in the field and features Evans-Pritchard’s remarks about his colleagues quite prominently. This demonstrates the internal divisions within anthropology and seems to be Goody’s attempt to argue that these divisions are contrary to the depiction that British social anthropology as a whole was part of colonial projects. Goody cites Evans-Pritchard’s critiques of anthropologists who were “cheapening” the field to show these divisions, and argue that some anthropologists were against the practical application of anthropology by the state (73).This is peculiar, as Evans-Pritchard himself was quite contradictory and was incredibly enthusiastic about anthropology’s role in the Second World War (75). In addition to this contradiction, Goody argues in the introduction to the book that the critique of British social anthropology as colonialist anthropology glosses over the social situation of the time period. However, in this chapter in particular Goody readily dismisses the sexist comments Evans-Pritchard makes about Audrey Richards, crediting them as jealousy on Evans-Pritchard’s part (70).

Chapter six moves on to discuss the Oxford Group in detail, and casts the anthropologists in this era as belonging to tribes. It is here that Goody’s nostalgia manifests most clearly, recalling times where he was pulled back into pubs to discuss seminars lest he be thought of as anti-social (85). To Goody, the most notable achievements made by anthropologists in Africa belonged to the earlier members of the anthropological tribe that he describes. In this vein, he continues on to examine these achievements in chapter seven (86). In class, the seventh chapter was handily described as looking at five “subfields” to which British social anthropology directly contributed through the individual interests of the actors in the group. This included studies of lineage, marriage, law, religion and economies. It is at this time that anthropology is expanding in the scope of its studies and this is where the book earns its title.
In chapter nine Goody wraps up his argument about British anthropology’s involvement with colonialism in Africa. Goody pushes for a cumulative model of theory wherein we build upon the knowledge of our theoretical forebears, rather than challenge and dismiss their work as being colonialist (147). Goody’s comments on Geertz betray this view quite well:

In any case I see no need to leave aside other lines which are beginning to yield some pay-off merely in order to adopt something ‘new’ (although this is the title of our symposium). We all wish for greater advances, all desire some panacea for our analytic ills. But this won’t simply come about by pursuing some ‘new’ line, by thinking up some ‘shining’ new model. (147)

Appendix two continues this line of thought, where Goody is arguing against Kuklick’s critiques of British social anthropology and its role in colonialism.

Indeed, many of the issues within this book stem directly from Goody’s defensive tone and project to defend British social anthropology from this critique. Goody’s argument seeks to displace the problems of colonialism by arguing that Russian and American anthropologists were no better. It appears to be an attempt to shift focus away from his mentors and their mentors before them. Why is Goody arguing for this? This links back to his argument for a cumulative approach to anthropological theory. Goody does not want the legacy of anthropologists working in Africa in this time period to be forgotten, and with it his legacy as a student of these anthropologists. While this is not explicitly stated in the book, this compelling thought was brought up in discussion and I pondered it as I re-read my notes for this commentary. In my opinion, Goody’s The Expansive Moment should have stuck to the topic given in its subtitle: a history of social anthropology in Africa from 1918-1970. By attempting to argue against Kuklick it diverted Goody’s discussion away from an in-depth examination of this period and added in a defence of the field, a topic that would have been difficult enough to cover in a single volume of its own.

Jack Goody’s Expansive Moment: A Review

Goody, Jack. (1995). The Expansive Moment: Anthropology in Britain and Africa 1918-1970. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

In this text, Jack Goody sets out to address some critiques of British Anthropology in Africa, ones which mainly concern charges of anthropological work providing aid to colonialism. Goody assures the reader that such accusations are based on a lack of knowledge about the actual heterogeneity of opinion and approach of those academics being critiqued, as well as a misreading of the relationships between academics and colonial governments, and mistaken assumptions about the motivations and aims of organizations which funded anthropological research. Historians are particularly vilified in the book, being, according to Goody, wholly dependent on textual sources which they do not have the proper knowledge to decipher correctly. Only personal experience and acquaintance with those individuals involved is enough to allow for the interpretation of these deeply complex and puzzling documents, and Goody graciously offers his own such expertise to aid readers and hapless historians in untangling the history of British anthropology in Africa (even if he does not quite manage to cover the entire time period from 1918-1970, as the title of the book may suggest). Goody, able to draw on his personal knowledge of individuals and institutions involved, should indeed be able to provide added context and detail to accounts of the history of the anthropological project in Africa. Instead, he carefully pares away all but a curated assortment of descriptions of relationships between a few selected actors, spending many chapters in lengthy (and yet severely limited) reflection of the correspondences and other writings of such popular figures as Malinowski, Fortes, Evans-Pritchard and so forth. These are followed by a hackneyed and oddly interpreted list of “achievements” of anthropology in Africa, some talk of theoretical advancements within anthropology, and a painfully defensive lashing out against the work of one historian in particular, Henrika Kuklick’s The Savage Within.

Goody’s presentation of documents from the time is absolutely illuminating, although not for the reasons he hopes. Despite his best efforts to choose writings which support his argument, and to offer them to the reader along with his own, often tremendously over-generous interpretations of them, the reader can still see clear traces of exactly the colonialist mentalities which Goody seeks to disconnect from the proffered material. Rather than revealing a plethora of independently minded researchers, each working to uncover information for its own sake, the documents reveal the everyday functioning of anthropology in Africa via inclusions and exclusions driven by racism and understandings of British superiority, sexism, and favored and unfavored forms of politics and religion. Even if this was not true of the selection Goody brings the reader, and each piece of text was entirely innocent and devoid of these overtones, this would still not be any kind of proof against charges of complicity in colonialism in Africa. First, because given the heap of documentation that Goody himself assures us is available, it really should not have been that difficult to find some which supported his point with less ambiguity. Second, because whether or not the researchers wished for the information they unveiled to be utilized by colonial governments, what matters is not their benevolent intentions, but the results. If the researchers’ letters to one another prove that they did not care at all about colonial governments, being all too wrapped up in their own petty animosities and coalitions, this does not show that the works they created were not used by those same governments. It is also difficult to see in the excerpts provided any iota of regard, interest, or care for the African peoples suffering under colonial oppression and violence.

Of interest with regards to disproving charges of aiding colonial governments and projects in Africa would be questions such as: What areas and peoples were focused upon as part of these studies? How were the studies financed? Who was the intended audience of these anthropological works? In what language were they written? Where were they available for purchase or loan? Who actually read them? What did those readers do, if anything, with the information found within? Was such information available in other ways to colonial officials? Goody pays attention to few of these questions, and his examination of those is suspect at best. For example, his characterization of the Rockefeller foundation, which provided funding for many anthropological studies, as a simply benevolent American organization “interested in social reform” (192) with no interest whatsoever in colonialism is one which requires a stubborn naivete to swallow (in this case consisting of a refusal to acknowledge wider global power structures at the time). The separation of an interest in “reform” from that of colonialism is another interesting move that Goody makes in his text.

Throughout the book, Goody ostensibly puts forth evidence to support his defense of British anthropology in Africa. What his argument (if his fractured, defensive ramblings can be so characterized) actually depends on, however, is a redefinition of colonialism along with an extremely narrow conceptualization of what it means for an anthropologist to be complicit therein. This is clearly illustrated in chapter seven of Goody’s book, entitled “Some achievements of anthropology in Africa”. Here he chooses lineage studies, kinship and marriage, law, religion, and the economy as areas of study which anthropologists are to be congratulated for advancing in Africa. He speaks at length about the individual researchers and their findings, and yet what is conspicuously absent from the chapter is any attempt to explore the reasons for interest in these particular systems, or any attempt to address the subsequent use to which this information was put. As he states at the end of this chapter, “It was truly an expansive moment, both qualitatively and quantitatively” for anthropological research (117). Yet we are not to indulge in any curiosity as to why this was the case. Goody would like us to understand it as a tumble of interpersonal relationships and individual drive and brilliance, and not as a part of larger systems of colonialism and the mobilization of knowledge that is required for projects of governance and control. This requires a violent cutting away of context and analysis, resulting in a cave of self-imposed ignorance from which he beckons the reader to join him. Goody’s work in this book is a desperate move of denial, and I see nothing in it which succeeds in releasing the anthropological tradition from its roots in colonial projects.

The Expansive Moment: A Critique

Goody, Jack. (1995). The Expansive Moment. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press.

The Expansive Moment is a curious piece of literature. Goody presents his tome as a historical review of the development of British anthropology, particularly under the auspices of Bronislaw Malinowski at the London School of Economics. It is an account put together largely through the collection of personal correspondence, which Goody acknowledges has only focused on certain materials while leaving out others (5). It is also largely personal: Goody personally knew the anthropologists concerned, or their students, and the work in fact emerged as a by-product of writing an obituary to Meyer Fortes (4). Given the vested interest of the author in presenting himself–indeed, he dedicates a chapter to his own contributions to the field (118-143)–and his forebears in a positive light, and the defensive tone he takes in presenting some of his arguments (especially that regarding the role of colonialism in anthropology), The Expansive Moment can hardly be considered a work of objective history. In fact, it arouses great suspicion regarding what has been left out. Goody attempts to divest early British anthropology in Africa of its colonial roots. He uses two main lines of argument that are emphasized throughout the book: 1. That anthropologists at the time were largely independent in terms of the subject matter they chose to analyze, and thus did not contribute to colonial projects, which many of them opposed (he makes a point of emphasizing the ‘leftist views’ (9) held by certain persons, including Kirchhoff, who, despite the deceptive title of the third chapter, never “[made] it to the field as a Jew and a Red” (42-57)); 2. That the primary organism funding these anthropologists, namely the Rockefeller foundation, was not interested in supporting colonialism because it was, allegedly, an American foundation interested in reform. This essay addresses both of these claims, seeking to establish that, although they hold some truth, they are either deliberately deceptive or bely an embarrassing lack of insight on Goody’s part. An attempt is then made to understand Goody’s motivation in writing a book that seems to fly in the face of what is today considered to be common knowledge about anthropology’s less than savoury underpinnings.

One of Goody’s persistent claims relates to the idea that the generation of anthropologists following Malinowski and his contemporaries had a great deal of independence regarding the subject matter they wished to pursue (34, 42-43). He devotes a chapter to “Some achievements of anthropology in Africa” (which included lineage studies, as well as studies of kinship and marriage, law, religion, and the economy (87-117)), and highlights the fact that very little work was actually done on social change, in which the primary funder, the Rockefeller Foundation, was most interested. Goody does a good job of illustrating the power dynamics and the necessary negotiations between scholars seeking to pursue research for its own sake, and the structures that provide the necessary funding for that research: in order to receive funding, most of the anthropologists included “culture contact” in their proposals, despite the fact that a lot of the actual research that ensued was at best marginally related to this topic (34, 42-43). However, the real question is whether this purported academic freedom is actually significant. If the results produced by the scholars were utterly useless, would the funding agencies continue to support them? One possible explanation suggested in class was that perhaps the funding agencies have another interest in providing financial support to scholars: by doing so, they purchase anthropologists, effectively closing the doors to critique of the agency itself. The nature of Goody’s book may in fact be indicative of the limits of the academic freedom he extols. In any event, the fact that the research produced does not correspond with what the funding agency asked for is no indicator for whether said research is useful for anyone in a position of power to exert that power over the peoples studied (in fact any research conducted produces such a power imbalance: for knowledge in itself is power, and so the very act of deploying anthropologists to gather data is a move which amasses power). In a situation of conflict any information can be “useful”. For a close-to-home example, one can refer to the potential usage of cultural intelligence in torture methods at the Abu-Ghraib prison camp during the United States’ “War on Terror” (See Hersh, and Price 270) 1. It is strange that Goody should be implying that deep knowledge of customs of Africans didn’t help in ruling them. A peculiar reference is made to Evans-Pritchard quoting “Kirchhoff’s claim that, in a slip of the tongue, Malinowski declared that he was engaged in ‘telling South Africa how to take the Natives’ land away according to their Customs'” (74). Instead of investigating the claim, Goody leaves the reader befuddled at this damning assertion that on its very own serves quite well to completely derail his argument. As for the anthropologist who pursues his own interests without regard for what the powers-that-be want or need, he is nothing more than a pawn in a chess game, only aware of his own moves, and not of the larger scheme. But anthropologists are quite often the ones who point the fingers at those playing the game. Why does Goody fail to do the same?

Another strikingly odd claim Goody makes in an attempt to wash the hands of his mentors (and, in turn, his own) of the blood spilled by colonial empire, is his repeated claim that their primary source of funding, the Rockefeller Foundation, was an American Institute interested in reform (9, 154). He states that the British Empire was dying during the time period he is examining, as if such a fact somehow dissolves any remnants of colonial interest in Africa. A distinction was made in class between British Colonialism and American Imperialism. Goody is attempting to excuse or downplay the role of the former in anthropology, while completely ignoring the latter. The obvious conclusion raised by Goody’s characterization is that America was engaging in an attempt to sweep up the remnants of the disintegrating British Empire, which, considering the shift in the geopolitical power balance from Britain to America as world superpower during the period of the Second World War (class discussion), is clearly the case. The philanthropies of the Rockefeller Foundation itself stemmed from an attempt to recuperate what could be saved from Rockefeller’s own dissolved empire (class discussion), and as a result it is not a stretch to say that the interest in Africa was not purely philanthropic. Indeed, as brought up in class, Goody does not make any attempt to question why Rockefeller was interested in Africa at this particular period in history. So, if the anthropologists were involved in this intrigue, how is it any better than that from which Goody exonerates them? Drawing attention to the book’s date of publication (1995) makes it all the more embarrassing that a scholar of such influence as Jack Goody appears to be so blind to the extent and effects of American imperialism. His understanding of “reform” appears to be a very naive one. Anthropologists have time and again critiqued “reform” or “development” projects and shown that what is couched in language of philanthropy is often not what it seems. But of course, Goody is critical of “new directions” and interested only in building on the foundations led by his forebears (147). Or is he simply trying to pass the blame on to the Americans? But if this were the case, he is not explicit enough about it (that is, if his aim is not to fully pardon the anthropological endeavour of its sin, and instead, to scapegoat the Americans, he should develop a critique of American endeavours, which he doesn’t). Perhaps he lacks the academic freedom he goes to lengths to demonstrate existed among his forebears? After all, he, like the others, is in a relationship of dependence upon those who fund him.

Jack Goody’s book is an intriguing account of the early days of British anthropology. But it appears that a lot is left out or ignored, and that the primary interest of the book lies not in what it says, but in what it leaves unsaid. By reading between the lines, one can gain some insight into the continued influence of funding institutions on academic freedom, and how anthropologists’ own vested interests can lead them to disguise or deny truth. Unfortunately for Goody, he does more to undermine his own argument than to support it.

1For further examples of anthropology used to harm those it studies, see Patterson’s discussion of Project Camelot (124-125).


Hersh, Seymour M. “Annals of National Security: Torture at Abu-Ghraib”. The New Yorker. May 10, 2004.

Patterson, Thomas C. (2001). A Social History of Anthropology in the United States. Oxford: Berg.

Price, David H. (2008). Anthropological Intelligence: The Deployment and Neglect of American Anthropology in the Second World War. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.


Goody, Jack. (1995). The Expansive Moment: The Rise of Social Anthropology in Britain and Africa, 1918-1970. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

The Expansive Moment is an ethnographic document that aims to counter the popular criticism of British anthropology in Africa as colonialist by looking into its more progressive aspects. Jack Goody attempts to describe the development of anthropological research in Britain in the 1930s through the discussion of the role of universities, foundations, governments, and anthropologists themselves in shaping the field. By praising them, he defends the different players and their research interests, using, among his sources, personal correspondence between the main characters and his own anecdotes. The present commentary engages with and challenges some of the arguments found in the book to argue that Goody’s assessment of the field is profoundly partial.

To look at The Expansive Moment critically, it is important to understand Jack Goody’s position within his analysis. In his introduction, the author reserves a short paragraph to allude to his close relation with anthropologists like Mayor Fortes and E. E. Evans-Pritchard, major figures in his descriptions. In the a later chapter, entitled “Personal Contributions,” he describes his own involvement in the field. Indeed, after finishing an English degree and participating in the Second World War in the Middle East, Goody engaged in field research in West Africa as part of his archeology and anthropology degree at Cambridge, where he was a student of Fortes.  However, his analysis of his participation in British anthropology in Africa as a successor of the main figures of the 1930s lacks a clear statement on what this entails for his overall argument. This is not the case in Homo Academicus  where, in his study of French academia, Pierre Bourdieu (1984, 1) writes: “In choosing to study the social world in which we are involved, we are obliged to confront […] a certain number of fundamental epistemological problems […].” Bourdieu’s attempt at a sociological study shows self-reflexivity, whereas Goody’s “notes towards” do not tackle with seriousness obvious biases (Goody 1995, 5).

The characters of the book are a group of scholars, headed by Bronislaw Malinowski at the London School of Economics (LSE) who mostly, with the exception of Malinowski himself, did field research in British colonies in Africa during the late 1920s and the 1930s supported by the International African Institute and largely funded by the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Memorial. These scholars, according to Goody, had little relation to colonial ambitions and were freely following their own research interest. According to him, The personal background of British anthropologists in Africa was in direct contrast to the colonial spirit, as many came from overseas and many others were leftist. However, he later stresses the fact that they had to avoid any confrontation with colonial officers in their findings and that jews and communist had many difficulties of getting into the field. Indeed, while Goody makes the effort to dismiss anti-semitic comments, such as the ones made by Malinowski, he later details the difficulties encountered by Fortes to enter the field. Moreover, while he states that a wide range of scholars were leftist, he explains in detail the impossibility of doing fieldwork when having any communist background, as both the foundations, the university, and mostly the government made a constant effort to impede them to set foot in Africa. Not only were there impediments set to them, some of the anthropologists held personal views that lined with the very subject of colonialism. This is the case of Evans-Pritchard, who not only approved of the seclusion of leftists to research in Africa, but was also aligned with a pro-war ideology.

Goody challenges the proposition that foundations that supported British anthropologists reproduced capitalist systems and cultural ‘hegemony’, exercised power over researchers, and diminished their autonomy. He states that most of the funding came from the American foundation the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Memorial, which was later integrated to the Rockefeller foundation. This foundation directly supported researchers for their work in Africa, but also the development of the International African Institute. For instance, the London School of Economics received $2 million between 1923 and 1939 to support more empirical research. There is no transparent discussion of the appeal that anthropologists in Africa had for the Rockefeller foundation, although it is mentioned that they encouraged research on social change. This particular interest could be genuine or it could be enhanced by the attraction of investing in the big continent. Let us not forget the expansive importance of the Standard Oil company at the time. This foundation supported the International African Institute, which was led by Dr J. H. Oldham, a missionary, educationalist, and administrator. Dr Oldham was driven by the interest of applying an educational system in Africa based on practical training, which was criticized for having as intent to control a more compliant African worker. Although Goody describes a disinterested Oldham preoccupied with the well-being of African workers, it is difficult to paint his portrait very far from the colonialist incentive. As a missionary and administrator, he is placed in an ambiguous position, between the academia and the government. Interestingly, Goody mentions Evans-Pritchard disagreement over government-funded or applied work financed by the Colonial Social Science Research Council, the Rhodes-Livingston Institute, and the International African Institute. This was seen to be unscientific and even, as Evans-Pritchard argues, but Goody rapidly dismisses the importance of this criticism by stating that it was fueled by his animosity with Malinowski.

In this short review, it would be important to consider the actual work produced by anthropologists in Africa and their implications for the colonial argument. According to Goody, research interests for lineage, kinship and marriage, law, religion, and economy, were genuine for the ethnographers setting foot in Africa. Goody makes the implicit effort to show the great amount of work produced on each topic. One example comes from Oxford’s Fortes, Evans Pritchard and others’ African Political Systems, published in 1940. The main critique of the topics covered by the British anthropologists is that they looked at aspects of the life of colonized societies that could easily serve the colonialists to better understand the populations and manage them. Not only does the restriction of the field from anthropologists with contrary ideologies from the state reduces chances of upheaval, but the government had interest to keep anthropologists who were getting so close to the populations they wanted to control on their side. It was in their favour to have ‘cultural interpreters’ to be able to better govern over foreigners and to develop appropriate tactics of war or cohesion. This could be done through the study of anthropological work or by direct contact and friendship between colonial officers and the anthropologist.

Finally, Goody merely points at Russian and American anthropologists to discuss how they also engaged in imperialistic research without taking the time to further support his claim. This very limited look precludes all comparison with the situation of anthropology elsewhere and their interconnectedness. Here is a brief look at the similarities of French and British anthropology through comparisons with Pierre Bourdieu’s Homo Academicus. This exemplifies how British anthropology did not evolve in a void but was part of the bigger development of the field. First, Goody argues that administration and politics within the academic life in Britain in the 1930s was more time-consuming than teaching and writing. This relates to Bourdieu’s comment on the relevance of political power within the academic hierarchy. Secondly, Goody argues that the change from a small group of scholars to a larger participation increased teaching responsibilities for the older generation, brought new perspectives and approaches, but also erased the earlier small group feeling. This relates to Bourdieu’s drawing of French academics losing the privileges and the distinction of the position. Thirdly, the importance of the supervisor in the life of the student is seen in both Bourdieu’s and Goody’s analysis. For instance, Malinowski had a strong control over his students but also helped them receive fellowships and secure jobs and Bourdieu argued similarly that the securing of an academic post depended on the supervisor.

Throughout these chapters, Goody is defensive about criticism that point out a relationship between colonialism and British anthropology. Some of this criticism is related to the funding, the scholars interests, their relationship with the government, and courses given to colonial civil servants. Goody even chooses to point to others’ colonialist and imperialistic past and present to protect his own territory. Adding to his overall attitude, his closeness to the group of anthropologists described and his own involvement in Africa leads us to believe that he is defending himself, his credibility, and his future approval. This is clear in the following remark: “[…] it is an impoverished field that sees itself as having to discard its predecessors at each generation instead of critically building on their achievements […]” (144-145). Sadly, this volume does not attempt a critical appraisal of British anthropology, but a very personal justification of negative aspects of the field.


Bourdieu Pierre. (1990). Homo Academicus. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

A nonanthropological defense of British anthropology: Review of Jack Goody’s The Expansive Moment

Goody, Jack. (1995). The Expansive Moment: The Rise of Social Anthropology in Britain and Africa, 1918-1970. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

On the back cover of The Expansive Moment, it is written that “this is a study of the different ideological and intellectual approaches adopted by the emerging subject of social anthropology and how far these views were incorporated into and defined by the structures and institutions in which they developed”. Although the book does discuss the early British social anthropologists’ ideological and intellectual stances, this presentation still appears somewhat deceiving. Jack Goody does not provide a systematic account of these approaches, nor does he explain how they are defined by the structures and institutions in which they evolved. In the book, there are many cases in which Goody presents a specific individual’s intellectual position. Chapter 5 deals with Evans-Pritchard’s view of himself as a “detached scholar engaged in pure research” and strongly opposed to applied enquiry (74). In chapter 3, Fortes is described as a “progressive conservationist”, a “radical conserver”, who “would prefer to let the races remain in their natural state” (53). But Jack Goody doesn’t try to give an explanation of how these anthropologists came to adopt the positions that they defended. Rather, he presents their positions as a given and, when dealing with the question of how their approaches were influenced by the institutions they had to deal with, he makes the argument that “in general individuals carried out what research they wanted” (195). In other words, Jack Goody tends to view the early British social anthropologists as free individuals who were not seriously constrained by the organizations they worked with or by the provenance of their funding.

In Homo Academicus, Bourdieu tries to analyse the French academic field scientifically, by studying the social, historical and institutional conditions that lead professors to adopt particular positions. To do so, he creates sociological constructions of specific individuals by assigning them a definite set of properties which allow him to compare them rigorously to each other in a “strictly theoretical space of differentiation” (Bourdieu, 22-23). This seemingly complex method is probably not without its flaws, but it allows Bourdieu to avoid some of the pitfalls associated with studying a world you are part of. On the contrary, Jack Goody does no attempt to produce sociological or anthropological explanations of what is at play in the period surrounding the birth of British social anthropology. He focuses mostly on the personal relationships of individual anthropologists and his account is based almost exclusively on their correspondence. It could be said that such a way of writing his story has some advantages. First and foremost, it avoids lumping individuals together and makes it plain that, among anthropologists, intellectual positions were not homogeneous in any way. Secondly, it allows us to learn some interesting information about the characters involved. For example, Malinowski’s central role in the organization of the discipline of social anthropology is made clear, especially in chapter 1.  We also learn about the “leftward, sometimes Marxist, leanings” (9) of many anthropologists and about their support for colonial independence movements (11). But this method also has obvious drawbacks. Through the accumulation of data that often seems trivial, it feels as though the broad picture is blurred rather than illuminated. Moreover, Jack Goody writes phrases such as:

Some anthropologists may have received benefits as representatives of the colonial regime and its hierarchical attitudes.  Others certainly suffered from this association and tried to keep clear of contamination […] (196)

With this type of formulation, meant to repeat the truism that things are always more complex than they look, Goody makes it very hard to understand the nature and the extent of anthropologists’ collaboration (or refusal to collaborate) with the authorities. Admittedly, some typologies and classifications are badly done, but isn’t it part of the purpose of social science to put forward generalizations (which will of course have to be debated)? Furthermore, as discussed in class, by applying an anthropological grid to the study of foreign populations but not to the study of his own peers, Goody may inadvertently reproduce a colonial pattern whereby the former are treated as objects and the latter as subjects.

As stated above, Jack Goody makes the argument that early British social anthropologists were not told how to do their research:

Whatever bows had to be made to the interests of Rockefeller benefactions, the International African Institute (IAI) and the colonial authorities, by and large people were allowed to pursue their own academic purposes (as Rockefeller and the Institute intended) (154)

Not taking into account the fact that “allowed” is a strange word to use for someone who claims that researchers were mostly free, shouldn’t these “bows” to larger powers be a central topic of enquiry? Besides, it is plausible that the Foundation or the colonial authorities rarely imposed direct guidelines and rules to field anthropologists. However, the latter’s work might still have been in line with the former’s interests. The editorial writers of a newspaper probably don’t receive a phone call from the owners telling them what opinion they should defend – such a direct interference might even make them angry. But if they have been nominated in this position, it might mean that they had already internalized the attitudes that are expected of them. In the same way, it is possible to think that there was already some prior ideological and intellectual affinity with, say, Malinowski and those who were in charge of the Rockefeller Foundation. At the very least, research done by British social anthropologists didn’t seriously threaten their interests. As was mentioned during seminar, if the costs are low (the money given by the Foundation and by colonial authorities was substantial for social science research, but it didn’t cripple these institutions’ budgets), the benefits don’t have to be huge.

Much of Goody’s book sounds like a defense of his own legacy and that of his colleagues and mentors. There is some evident nostalgia in his description of the period covered. He speaks of an atmosphere of camaraderie, of solidarity, of communitas (83) and argues that anthropology’s most notable achievements took place in this period (86). He also severely criticizes some of his successors. One of the targets of his criticism is the type of anthropology that separates theory and fieldwork, particularly those anthropologists who limit themselves to recording the words and action of the people (149). For him, anthropology “is analytic or it is nothing” (150). He also has strong words about those today who limit themselves to a “general commitment to some brand-name anthropology […]” (101) without acquiring a deeper knowledge of other disciplines. Without such knowledge, “anthropology will continue to be the domain of the not-so-gifted amateur […]” (101). Another one of the targets of his criticism is the tendency to put aside the work done by the previous generations instead of trying to “build on earlier knowledge” (148), in order for science to be cumulative. This is a good point, which is also made by Vered Amit in a recent book on “mid-level concepts”. She denounces the tendency to reinvent the wheel by jettisoning concepts used by the previous generation (Amit, 2). To avoid this pattern, she and the other authors of the book present specific concepts by referring both to their actual and historical use in the social sciences. Similarly, to make sure that their work is not forgotten, Jack Goody dedicates chapter 7 to the scientific achievements of his colleagues and predecessors in Africa. This is one of the strongest chapters of the book.  Without being clogged by unnecessary detail about the anthropologist’s life trajectories, it clearly presents their contributions on specific topics, while still looking at how these contributions were made possible by the context and by the anthropologists’ particular training (in anthropology under Malinowski’s influence, as well as in other disciplines). If Jack Goody’s goal was to remind his audience of the value of the work undertaken in the early days of social anthropology, it might have been better achieved by organizing the whole book around his colleagues’ contributions and the social and institutional context in which they were made.


Bourdieu, Pierre. (1990). Homo Academicus. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Amit, Vered (Ed.). (2015). Thinking through Sociality: An Antropological Interrogation of Key Concepts. Oxford: Berghahn Books.

The Importance of Context in Goody’s Expansive Moment

Goody, Jack. (1995). The Expansive Moment: Anthropology in Britain and Africa 1918-1970. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

The Expansive Moment is Jack Goody’s account of the formation and expansion of the ‘school’ of British Social Anthropology (BSA) in the period of 1918-1970. The book was written in the mid 90s after the cold war standoff of the two global superpowers, Russia and the U.S. The context of the book is dissatisfaction with the historical record produced about BSA as Goody rejects the broad classifications placed on the school. His primary concern is to demonstrate the invalidity of claims (mostly by U.S. and Russian anthropologists) that the interests of BSA were consistent with those of the colonial authorities (p.9). The book is presented in two parts: an account of the formation of the school and a response to the question ‘what did we do?’ (p. 3) The methodology is historiographical although Goody qualifies it as ‘notes towards’ or a ‘personal account’ ‘rather than a full-blown history’ (p. 5). The content presented is a selective synthesis of archival material ranging from personal letters to records of the Colonial Office. Goody’s argument rests on demonstrating the legitimacy, independence, and variance of the individuals and their intellectual pursuits in the field of BSA while situating the formation of that field in relation to its primary source of funding – the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Memorial (LSRM), a Foundation with ‘reformist tendencies’ that was ‘hardly concerned to support the continuation of European empires.’ (p. 154) I highlight the key themes identified to be essential components of the argument against the complicity of BSA in colonial rule, using those themes to bring forth what I see to be the major weaknesses in the approach. I will conclude by bringing the discussion back to the problem of representation in knowledge production in the context of asymmetrical power relations.

A large portion of the book is given to description of the dynamics amongst the individuals involved in the formation of BSA. These relationships are characterized by ‘friendships’ and ‘animosities’ within an underlying cohesion that existed through the tradition created by Malinowski (and Radcliffe-Brown to a lesser extent) which ‘established certain parameters for research, presented fieldwork in a theoretical frame, trained students in this framework and assisted them in turn to undertake fieldwork and eventually to get teaching positions.’ (p. 117) This well established order of succession, to follow from Bourdieu, is a large measure of the success of the field of BSA. For Goody, it was the ‘type of scholar who was recruited, and the climate of opinion in which they worked’ that was perhaps ‘the most important fact that leads one drastically to modify the account of British empiricism and imperialism.’ (p. 155) This emphasis on the individual is relevant as some of the key characters were ‘émigré scholars’, indicative of the varied historical and ideological background of the group, which for some became a hindrance in the noted challenge of ‘Making it to the field as a Jew and a Red’ (the title of chapter 3). There is high emphasis placed on the agency of individuals when it serves to indicate variance and freedom in thought, however Goody quickly downplays any emphasis on the appearance of overtly racist, sexist, or classist comments by individuals in reference to each other. The treatment of these comments are one of the contradictions that stand out, and leaves me with a worried question as to how the subjects of their studies were described in personal reflections.

The independence in the establishment of the school lies in the success Malinowski had in presenting to the LSRM, who in turn “bought” the Malinowski method. Goody works to demonstrate intellectual freedom throughout the book, setting aside chapter seven to detail ‘some achievements of anthropology in Africa’. This chapter highlights a number of sub-fields of study, naming some of they key studies and the variance in direction taken depending on the anthropologist at hand. What is omitted are any references to the consequences inherent in knowledge production in such a context of asymmetrical power relations. In the section on economy, there is recognition of the problems in attempting to apply European categorizations (whether neo-classical or Marxist) to indigenous societies, but there is no resolution to this problem offered except to note that ‘Anthropologists have provided intensive data’ (p. 115) on a wide range of phenomena such as productive systems, land tenure, markets, modes of tribute, and others. In the manner of presentation this appears to be mere information (innocent?), it is not knowledge production in service of power because ‘it was felt that priority should be given to indigenous societies’ (p.116). Stating these points Goody is satisfied to conclude that the ‘Rockefeller philanthropies had surprisingly little influence on what research was actually carried out and written up.’ (p. 116).

It is in the formulation of such an argument that I am concerned with what Goody attempts. There are a number of contradictions, such as the statement that ‘Malinowski’s major interest was in practical anthropology of another kind, while offering help to colonial governments as well as to the governed, inevitably led to a series of conflicts.’ (p. 39) There is also note of one of Fortes’ studies where ‘[a] bow was certainly made to the Rockefeller philanthropies’ (p. 57) and further that he carried out intelligence work in the wartime period (p.56) at the suggestion of Evans-Pritchard who was a member of a military government in North Africa
(p. 75).

I do not see it sufficient to rely on the intentions and ‘independent’ ideologies of individuals to counter an argument of BSA being complicit in colonialism. Context is most important. The period in focus was characterized by a shift in global power with the decline of the British Empire as movements for Independence challenged systems of colonial rule and there was concern with the organization of the international order on the behalf of those with vested interests. Post WWII is marked by the recognition of the U.S. as the military and economic global power, only rivaled by Russia in the build up to the cold war. The ‘communist threat’ was indeed a primary concern to both Britain and the U.S. with regards to the various Independence movements on the rise. There was an explicit problem as to how to allow the inevitable formation of independent states while maintaining an ideological and economic superiority in the global order based on an Anglo-American hegemony. Goody does note the importance of the Colonial Development and Welfare Act of 1940 (p. 56), along with the 1963 Anglo-American Conference of Anthropologists (p. 145) in the formation and direction of research interests of BSA. These two initiatives speak to a shift in the dimensions of power as it relates to the need to maintain order. While Goody understands the interests of the LSRM to be merely reformist, Patterson admits there was interest in social control, crime, delinquency, and furthermore that it was the connection with Malinowski and Radcliffe-Brown that showed the ‘interest of the Rockefeller philanthropies in anthropology, especially in colonial policies and the social management of natives’ (2001, p. 73).

The description of the ‘achievements’ in Africa reads to me as a process of ordering societies (presented as primitive) through systematized knowledge production. This was the need of power. Colonialism is not simply a process of political domination and governance of other societies by a superior power. Colonization is also a social and epistemic process. In my reading of this book, Goody has no real conception of that, or simply chooses to ignore it. The question is not whether there were ‘good’ or independent intentions of anthropologists in their research, but rather, what systems of power does the knowledge produced serve? It is here that Goody’s attempt to disassociate BSA with colonial domination unwinds. He omits the context of shifting geopolitics as British colonialism gave way to American Imperialism. He does not recognize imperialism as a continuation of the patterns of domination established by colonial rule and that the powers were aware of these shifts and thus needed more subtle (sinister), flexible yet systematic approaches to domination.

Goody’s shallow understanding of colonialism, his Eurocentric bias, and overgeneralized characterization of the racialized other is exceedingly clear to me in the passage where Goody justifies the ‘insistence on intensive fieldwork’ ‘over an extended period’ ‘in close association’ as an ‘obvious but essential way whereby oral cultures’ ‘could be given the scholarly attention, and even the human dignity’ ‘that had hitherto been accorded only to the members of literate civilizations.’ (p. 153, emphasis added) I gasp at the idea of giving human dignity (?), especially through such anthropological classification. Further I see such a statement as domination and occupation, reified in knowledge production under the guise of anthropology. If there is one thing I am reminded of is not to judge a book by its cover. My first impression looking at the cover with the photograph of Fortes dressed in (military?) colonial attire sitting over an indigenous group in ritual, along with the title The Expansive Moment had me think that I was about to engage an account of an anthropologist reflexively describing colonial complicity. I could not have been more wrong, (naive? Yes probably) and I am compelled to be blunt in stating the dissatisfaction I have with the argument presented in Goody’s defensive account of the formation and expansion of British Social Anthropology.

Works Cited

Patterson, Thomas C. (2001). A Social History of Anthropology in the United States. Oxford: Berg.

The Foundations of Colonial Anthropology

Goody, Jack. (1995). The Expansive Moment: The Rise of Social Anthropology in Britain and Africa 1918-1970. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Jack Goody sets out to do a personal historiography on the emergence and expansion of British social anthropology. His accompanying thesis is that early anthropologists working from Britain were not nearly as involved in the colonial projects of the British Empire as critics have recently made them out to be. The very need for this kind of argument, given the wealth of productive analysis that has emerged from anti-colonial critique of anthropology was not clear to me by the time I had finished the book. It was only during the seminar discussions that I came to realize that perhaps the stated argument mostly serves to support Goody’s other underlying argument: that the best work in anthropology was done at the height of this “expansive moment” by people who were supposedly self-made and free from government approval as well as capitalists’ agendas (which nonetheless constituted the research conditions for many of them) (Goody, 1995: 3, 145). In both the seminar and in official reviews of the book, Goody’s argument was found to have been sloppily defended, and his engagement with colonialism and imperialism was seen as superficial, if not dismissive. Goody’s discussion of the influence of the private foundations that were part of extremely powerful economic empires is also uninspiring.

In the seminar discussions, Goody’s limited conceptualization of colonialism became a marked focus. Much of the problem seems to stem from the fact that Goody’s discussion of the influence of colonialism on anthropology is tied to the idea of colonialism as an administrative affair limited to the actions and effects of certain institutions (and the extent to which actors knowingly complied with them) (Goody, 1995: 154). Paraphrasing what was mentioned in class, the deep, long-lasting or epistemological configurations of colonialism and imperialism receive virtually no attention from Goody, despite the importance this kind of thinking has taken on in anthropology.

Reviewer Joan Vincent, in comparing Goody’s work to that of a related book by George Stocking, found that both books on the development of British social anthropology lacked serious engagement with the pervasive influence of colonialism. Whereas she finds Stocking’s reinterpretation rigorous, she finds Goody’s “revisionism” lacking “and, to put it mildly, sloppy” (Vincent, 2007: 320). Another reviewer of both books also found Stocking’s to be “clearly the most comprehensive and valuable of the two” (Heyck, 1997: 1486). My own appreciation for this book would likely have been much greater if it had seemed to me that Goody had tried to be comprehensive, rather than provide what reads as a nostalgic and reactionary argument to many of the changes that anthropology has undergone in recent decades.

For Goody, it would seem, any “new” directions in anthropology should attempt to build on the work of the key figures of the expansive moment, and take its inspiration from the group dynamic that it emerged out of: constantly-corresponding post-graduate researchers with shared intellectual interests, free from control and freely disagreeing. At times, this feels like the kind of defence of the academic old boy’s club that Bourdieu (1984) finds responsible for the lack of scientific thinking in universities. My greatest disappointment is that Goody did not take this book, and his position within academia, as a starting point to seriously evaluate the influence of the Rockefeller Foundation and the Rhodes Livingstone Institute. In a time where corporate influence over universities seems to be increasing, or at least is becoming more overt, such a historiography would have been much more in keeping with creating new directions from anthropology by reinterpreting the past. I present here a couple of counter-interpretations of the role of private foundations using Goody’s text.

In our seminar, it emerged that the Rockefeller empire was well-poised to begin taking influence away from Britain and other European empires over their colonies in Africa. Rockefeller interest in the current existence, ongoing change, and functioning of societies in Africa can be productively interpreted within the geo-politics of the time as imperialistic (Goody, 1995: 20). Goody claims that the Rockefeller’s interests were “reformist” rather than “imperial” as if these two terms had oppositional meanings in the history of Euro-American colonialism and imperialism (Goody, 1995: 9). We can then think of Malinowski’s relationship with the Rockefeller Foundation as a partnership emerging from the same geo-political and historical conditions of the time, rather than as relationship between an irreverent artist and a quaint patron which Goody projects despite the evidence he presents. This counter-narrative, though seriously underdeveloped here, is at least more thought-provoking than the easy interpretation that the Rockefeller Foundation was just being charitable, and that Malinowski barely responded to their interests (Goody, 1995: 57).

Goody also argues that many British anthropologists in Africa held relatively radical views and refused to conform with the interests of colonial governments in various ways. Evans-Pritchard is the most discussed example of this anti-establishment attitude, taking on almost heroic status in Goody’s descriptions. Perhaps because of an undue focus on colonial administration, Goody fails to properly investigate the influence of the Rhodes Livingstone Institute and its sponsors in Africa. The most critical commentary of the Rhodes Livingstone Institute in the book comes not from Goody, but from Evans-Pritchard, who rebukes then-director of the institute, Max Gluckman, for being an administrator more than a scientist. Despite the fact that Evans-Pritchard had supported Gluckman’s promotion as director, Evans-Pritchard disliked the institute for the way it cheapened anthropology (Goody, 1995: 69). Goody calls Evans-Pritchard’s commentary “harsh” (Goody, 1995: 73). But Goody only gives us half the story: he says Max Gluckman was only able to become director by virtue of the fact that Godfrey Wilson, the previous director, committed suicide. But in fact, Godfrey Wilson had resigned only after prolonged conflict with the institute’s sponsors, being vocally critical of the actions of mining companies in the area, and their role in violent conflict and labour disputes. It was two years after his resignation, after a bout as an “information officer” in North Africa for the South African Medical Corps, that he took his own life (Gaillard, 2004: 150). Amidst Goody’s description of Evans-Pritchard’s anti-establishment views, Godfrey Wilson’s story has no place. Though both were opposed to the institute, Evans-Pritchard comments about it cheapening anthropology seem misplaced given Wilson’s active protest of the Rhodes empire, giving another interesting case for discussing the relationship between anthropology and imperialism as well as colonialism.

Other productive counter-narratives could be levelled against Goody’s claims that colonial subjects were never merely the subjects of anthropology, but also always used anthropology for their own purposes (Goody, 1995: 85); or that studies of lineage were of no particular interest to colonial administrations (Goody, 1995: 154). This is possible in part because Goody presents, if only piece by piece, so many interesting nuggets of history. However, the need to do an alternative reading becomes necessary because he often fails to develop them and deal with them critically.


Bourdieu, Pierre. (1990). Homo Academicus. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Gaillard, Gérald (ed.). (2004). The Routledge Dictionary of Anthropologists. London: Routledge.

Heyck, Thomas William. (1997). Review of After Tylor: British Social Anthropology 1888-1951 by George W. Stocking; The Expansive Moment: The Rise of Social Anthropology in Britain and Africa 1918-1970 by Jack Goody. The American Historical Review, 102(5), 1486-1488.

Vincent, Joan. (1997). Schism and Continuity in British “Colonial” Anthropology. Current Anthropology, 38(2), 320-321.