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  • The Tribal Imagination: Civilization and the Savage Mind
  • Marilyn Strathern (bio)
Robin Fox, The Tribal Imagination: Civilization and the Savage Mind (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2011), 417 pp.

How does one follow a lifetime of writing? By writing, perhaps, as though there were a lifetime ahead. On the one hand, Fox follows themes familiar from earlier works, not as ideas overgrown or superseded but as accumulating evidence for an argument that continues to make good sense; the continuity points to its wisdom. On the other hand, he writes with the freshness and vigor of a youngster, passionate about self-evident truths that we (especially anthropologists) too often make less than evident to ourselves. His capacity for the poetical and satirical no more than glimpsed in this work, it pursues, across a formidable field of issues, the rather weighty notion that we exist in multiple time scales. Among other things, we live what was laid down in the long Paleolithic, rendering many of the world’s human beings civilized and savage simultaneously. These are not lazy metaphors: “civilized” comes with a rather precise definition of what order of social complexity will qualify, as Ernest Gellner would have approved, while as well as the tenacity of small-group (“tribal”) sociality, “savage” conveys the enduring imagination and canniness of Lévi-Strauss’s science of the concrete. The book is dedicated to them both.

Marilyn Strathern

Dame Marilyn Strathern, life president of the British Association of Social Anthropologists, is William Wyse Professor of Social Anthropology emerita at Cambridge University and life fellow of Girton College. An honorary foreign member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a fellow of the British Academy, her many books include The Gender of the Gift; Kinship, Law, and the Unexpected: Relatives Are Always a Surprise; Partial Connections; After Nature; Women in Between; Reproducing the Future; Property, Substance, and Effect; Kinship at the Core; and No Money on Our Skins: Hagen Migrants in Port Moresby.



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