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Meyer Fortes

The Person, the Role, the Theory

Adam Kuper

Keywords: British social anthropology; descent theory; kinship; looking back in bemusement

Abstract

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.

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