The Enigma of Max Gluckman


The Enigma of Max Gluckman

The Ethnographic Life of a "Luckyman" in Africa

Robert J. Gordon

Critical Studies in the History of Anthropology Series

522 pages
16 photographs, 1 illustration, 1 map, 1 table, index


September 2018


$80.00 Add to Cart
eBook (EPUB)
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September 2018


$80.00 Add to Cart
eBook (PDF)
Ebook purchases delivered via Leaf e-Reader

September 2018


$80.00 Add to Cart

About the Book

2019 Choice Outstanding Academic Title

The Enigma of Max Gluckman examines one of the most influential British anthropologists of the twentieth century. South African–born Max Gluckman was the founder of what became known as the Manchester School of social anthropology, a key figure in the anthropology of anticolonialism and conflict theory in southern Africa, and one of the most prolific structuralist and Marxist anthropologists of his generation. From his position at Oxford University as graduate student and lecturer to his career at Manchester, Gluckman was known to be generous and engaged with his closest colleagues but brutish and hostile in his denunciations of their work if it did not contribute to the social justice and activist vision he held for the discipline.

Conventional histories of anthropology have treated Gluckman as an outlier from mainstream British social anthropology based on his career at the University of Manchester and his gruff manner. He was certainly not the colonial gentleman typical of his British colleagues in the field. Gluckman was deeply engaged with field research in southern Africa on the Zulus, in Barotseland with the Lozi, and also in connection with his directorship of the Rhodes-Livingstone Institute from 1941 to 1947, which obscured his growing critique of anthropology’s methods and ties to Western colonialism and racial oppression in the subcontinent.

Robert J. Gordon’s biography skillfully reexamines the colorful life of Max Gluckman and restores his career in the British anthropological tradition.

Author Bio

Robert J. Gordon is a professor of anthropology at the University of Vermont and the University of the Free State. He is the author or editor of over a dozen books in cultural anthropology and African ethnography, including Re-Creating First Contact: Expeditions, Anthropology, and Popular Culture; Tarzan Was an Eco-Tourist: Essays on the Anthropology of Adventure; and The Bushman Myth and the Making of a Namibian Underclass, second edition.


"If you are curious about this innovative South African anthropologist and the foundations of twentieth-century social science, let alone British social anthropology in the colonial period and after, this volume provides unique insights."—Robin Palmer, Anthropology Southern Africa

"This book offers an authoritative perspective into the life and day-to-day thoughts of the eminent anthropologist and convener of the 'Manchester School,' Max Gluckman."—Toby Leon Moorsom, International Journal of African Historical Studies

The Enigma of Max Gluckman is a masterwork. With an eye for telling detail, Gordon has crafted a biography of Max Gluckman that reveals the deep humanity and idiosyncratic research of a pioneering anthropologist who studied community and defied convention.”—Benedict Carton, Robert T. Hawkes Professor of History at George Mason University and author of Blood from Your Children

“Robert Gordon does an excellent job of examining the broader intellectual, social, and political milieus in which Max Gluckman worked. Every paragraph is bursting with previously unknown aspects of Gluckman’s scholarship and personal life. This volume will appeal to all professional anthropologists with an interest in the history of our discipline and to those interested in African history and colonial politics as well.”—Cameron B. Wesson, Lucy G. Moses Distinguished Professor of Anthropology at Lehigh University and author of Historical Dictionary of Early North America

“A rich account of Max Gluckman’s family background and his political and educational formation. A particularly fascinating section deals with Gluckman’s research in Zululand in the 1930s.”—Adam Kuper, visiting professor of anthropology at Boston University and author of Anthropology and Anthropologists: The British School in the Twentieth Century

“Robert Gordon's book on Max Gluckman is a much-needed and brilliant biography of a major anthropologist whose work is brought to life in the process. Gordon places Gluckman’s intellectual originality and leadership in the context of the icons of his time, his friends and teachers, Evans-Pritchard, Myer Fortes, Malinowski, and A. R. Radcliffe Brown. Gordon demonstrates, in ways that have not been fully recognized, the powerful reorientation of anthropology toward a historical and global analysis of colonial processes that was led by Max. Among its outstanding contributions, the book provides enlightening new interpretations of the roots of political anthropology which resonate in crucial ways with contemporary debates in the field and beyond.”—Ida Susser, past president of the American Ethnological Society and fellow at the Institute of Advanced Studies, Van Mildert College, Durham University

“Gordon is a leading scholar of the history of anthropology and a master of the anecdote, who excels in bringing to light unknown and forgotten aspects of the past. In this biography he turns his attention to Max Gluckman, one of the most influential, but at the same time, controversial, anthropologists of modern times. The result is fascinating reading, which deepens our understanding of the social relations embodied in anthropological work.”—Isak Niehaus, senior lecturer in anthropology at Brunel University London and author of Witchcraft and a Life in the New South Africa

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Series Editors’ Introduction
Preface and Acknowledgments
List of Abbreviations
Introduction: The Enigma of Max Gluckman
1. Making the Very Model of a Modern Liberal
2. London Calling
3. How the Guinea Pig Burnt His Own Bridge
4. Return to Oxford and Intellectual Ferment
5. Landing and Living in Livingi
6. Mary, Max, and the Mongu Masquerade
7. Getting to Grips with the Lozi
8. Running the Rhodes-Livingstone Institute
9. The Seven-Year Plan
10. The African Undertow


2019 Choice Outstanding Academic Title

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