In the two decades after the Second World War, Meyer Fortes was a central figure in what was then called ‘British social anthropology’. Sometimes dismissed as simply a follower of Radcliffe-Brown, Fortes’ theoretical influences in fact ranged from Freud to Parsons. He formulated a distinctive theoretical synthesis, and produced the most influential version of ‘descent theory’. Fortes is currently out of fashion, but four decades after his retirement from the Cambridge chair a revaluation is in order.
Adam Kuper was a doctoral student in Social Anthropology at Cambridge 1962–1966. He is currently Centennial Professor of Anthropology at the London School of Economics and a Visiting Professor at Boston University.