Libcom.org's reading guide to anthropology, specifically texts of relevance to those with a radical outlook on society.
Anthropology: reading guide
- Mutual Aid and the Foraging Mode of Thought: Re-reading Kropotkin on the Khoisan - Alan Barnard - Article from Social Evolution & History 3/1: 3–21; inspired by Kropotkin, one of the world’s leading hunter-gatherer specialists explains anarchism and the Khoisan peoples.
- Toward an Anthropological Theory of Value: the False Coin of Our Own Dreams - David Graeber - Necessary reading if you want to understand how everything connects up, reexamining a century of anthropological thought about value and exchange.
- Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology - David Graeber - An attempt at outlining areas of research that might be explored in creating a body of anarchist social theory. If you’re an anarchist, you’ll find inspiration on every page.
- Debt: The First 5000 Years - David Graeber - Book analysing the function of debt in human history from ancient civilisations to our modern-day economic crises. Arguably the best book on economics since Marx’s Capital – and easier to read!
- Play as a Foundation for Hunter-Gatherer Social Existence - Article by Peter Gray from the American Journal of Play, 1, 476-522; argues that hunter-gatherers promoted, through cultural means, the playful side of their
human nature and this made possible their egalitarian, intensely cooperative ways of living. If you’ve forgotten how to play, you’ve forgotten the meaning of life.
- Hunter-gatherer Childhoods: Evolutionary, Developmental, and Cultural Perspectives - Barry Hewlett and Michael Lamb (eds.) - Collection of contributions on the experiences of children in hunter-gatherer societies.
- Boiling Energy. Community healing among the Kalahari Kung - Richard Katz - Thrilling introduction to Bushman systems of ritual and belief, with a special focus on community healing through trance.
- The Kung San: Men, Women, and Work in a Foraging Society - Richard Lee - The best ever introduction to ‘primitive communism’, not as a theory but a living reality.
- The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Hunter-Gatherers - Richard Lee amd Richard Daly (eds.) - An accessible, authoritative survey of world hunter-gatherer studies. Includes John Gowdy’s useful summary: Hunter-Gatherers and the Mythology of the Market.
- Ekila: Blood, Bodies and Egalitarian Societies - Jerome Lewis - Article from Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute - Brilliantly illuminating explanation of how and why beliefs concerning the potency of menstruation help maintain hunter-gatherer egalitarianism.
- Believing and Seeing. Symbolic meanings in Southern San rock paintings - David Lewis-Williams - Celebrating a girl’s first menstruation, the ‘Eland Bull Dance’ was traditionally the major ceremony staged by the Kalahari Bushmen. Lewis-Williams interprets Southern African rock art in the light of Bushman rituals of trance and initiation.
- The Ethnological Notebooks of Karl Marx: Studies of Morgan, Phear, Maine, Lubbock - Karl Marx - Toward the end of his life, Karl Marx became increasingly fascinated by the anthropological research of his day, attempting to keep abreast of all the latest developments.
- [url=http://libcom.org/library/karl-marx-iroquois-franklin-rosemont]Karl Marx and the Iroquois - Franklin Rosemont - Marx discovers ‘primitive communism’ in action and is inspired.
- The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia - James Scott - For two thousand years people in the mountainous regions of Southeast Asia have fled the projects of the states that surround them — slavery, conscription, taxes, corvée labor, epidemics and warfare. Scott evaluates why people would deliberately remain stateless.
- Weapons of the Weak: Everyday Forms of Peasant Resistance - James Scott - ‘Everyday resistance’ consists of footdragging, non-compliance, pilfering, desertion, feigned ignorance, sabotage, flight etc. For a summarised version of Scott's groundbreaking argument, read Everyday Forms of Peasant Resistance.
- Primitive Communism, Barbarism and the Origins of Class Society - Lionel Sims - Excellent overview of world history in the spirit of Engels.
- Anthropology: Reclaiming the dragon (what was primitive communism?) - Lionel Sims - Article arguing that class society and patriarchy only arose ten thousand years ago and that for over a hundred thousand years we lived in more gender-egalitarian and anarchist/communist hunter-gatherer societies.
- The Forest People - Colin Turnbull - Book on the lives and feelings of the BaMbuti pygmies. If you don’t know anything about anthropology, start here. You will be inspired.
- A Black Civilization - William Lloyd Warner - The best-ever detailed description of an Australian Aboriginal system of kinship, ritual and belief.
- Egalitarian Societies - James Woodburn - An account of the conditions under which egalitarianism prevails.
- Male Daughters, Female Husbands. Gender and sex in an African society - Ifi Amadiume - If you thought gender was 'masculine' versus 'feminism', think again. African gender turns it all upside down!
- Women Like Meat. The folklore and foraging ideology of the Kalahari Ju/'hoan - Megan Biesele - Hunter-gatherer women don't fancy lazy men. If a man wants sex, he needs to make himself useful.
- Blood Magic. The anthropology of menstruation - Thomas Buckley and Alma Gottlieb (eds) - Menstruation is still a taboo topic in western culture. In most other cultures, menstruation is considered a 'supernatural' force impossible to ignore.
- The Making of Great Men - Maurice Godelier - The classic Marxist study of initiation into 'Big Man' status, with all the accompanying patriarchal mythology.
- The Palm and the Pleiades. Initiation and cosmology in northwest Amazonia - Stephen Hugh-Jones - One of the most vivid and convincing studies of mythology as collective intelligence.
- The Elementary Structures of Kinship - Claude Lévi Strauss - Despite its flaws, this remains the most ambitious and successful study of the world's variegated systems of kinship and marriage.
- Our Women are Free: Gender and Ethnicity in the Hindukush - Wynne Maggi - How women can achieve liberation through collective action - an intimate account of the lives of Kalash women.
- The Sexual Life of Savages in North-Western Melanesia - Bronisław Malinowski - Don’t be discouraged by the lurid title. Malinowksi was a reactionary, but this book is today widely regarded as the finest ethnography ever published. When women have solidarity and power, both sexes benefit from a sexually liberated society.
- Those who Play with Fire: Gender, fertility and transformation in East and Southern Africa - Henrietta Moore, Todd Sanders and Bwire Kaare (eds) - The best anthropological introduction to the theoretical complexities of gender.
- To Hunt in the Morning - Janet Siskind - The title is inspired by the early writings of Karl Marx. The book describes how women in a Native American tribe go playfully on sex-strike to persuade their men to hunt and bring back the meat.
- Hierarchy in the Forest. The Evolution of Egalitarian Behavior - Christopher Boehm - Book explaining how consciousness and culture emerged out of a social revolution. If you read nothing else on human origins read this.
- The Cradle of Language - Rudolf Botha and Chris Knight (eds) - Book on the evolutionary emergence of language in Africa.
- Good Natured: The Origins of Right and Wrong in Humans and Other Animals - Frans de Waal - Moral feelings and behaviour in our closest primate relatives.
- Primate Social Systems - Robin Dunbar - The best book ever written on the social and political arrangements of our closest living relatives, monkeys and apes, with everything explained in materialist terms.
- The Evolution of Culture: An Interdisciplinary View - Robin Dunbar, Chris Knight and Camilla Power (eds.) - A representative selection of short, readable contributions on the origins of language and culture in human beings.
- The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life - Emile Durkheim - The most influential account ever written on why our ancestors invented rituals and beliefs about supernatural powers.
- The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State - Friedrich Engels - Although outdated in places, this remains necessary reading for anyone interested in the roots of women’s oppression.
- Early Human Kinship - Nicholas Allen, Hilary Callan, Robin Dunbar and Wendy James (eds.) - Collection of original studies from leading figures in the biological sciences, social anthropology, archaeology, and linguistics to provide a major breakthrough in the debate over human evolution and the nature of society. Many of the chapters provide evidence that early human kinship was matrilneal.
- Mothers and Others: The Evolutionary Origins of Mutual Understanding - Sarah Hrdy - This book by leading evolutionary anthropologist and Darwinian feminist Sarah Hrdy is the best on human evolution this century, describing co-operative childcare as the secret of human origins and emotional modernity. If Engels were still alive, he would love it!
- Blood Relations: Menstruation and the origins of culture - Chris Knight - Evolutionary biology, archaeology, social anthropology and human origins from a Marxist perspective.
- The Human Symbolic Revolution: A Darwinian account - Chris Knight, Camilla Power and Ian Watts - How human evolution culminated in a revolution. With peer commentary and critique.
- As We Know It: Coming to Terms with an Evolved Mind - Marek Kohn - A brilliant science journalist discusses the evolution of language and mind. Highly readable and informative.
- The Roots of Civilization: The cognitive beginnings of man’s first art, symbol and notation - Alexander Marshack - Ice Age art, with a special emphasis on the moon and lunar calendars.
- Rethinking the Human Revolution: new behavioural and biological perspectives on the origin and dispersal of modern humans - Paul Mellars, Katie Boyle, Ofer Bar-Yosef and Christopher Stringer (eds) - How human evolution culminated in ‘the human revolution’, now viewed as a process of accelerated change occurring in Africa during the Middle Stone Age.
- Religion And Anthropology: A Critical Introduction - Brian Morris - An anarchist anthropologist asks how and why people across the world construct and sustain their different faiths.
- Stone Age Economics - Marshall Sahlins - For hunter-gatherers, the whole point of possessing something is to be able to make a gift of it. The author explains how and why hunter-gatherers prefer to assume affluence and superabundance, not economic scarcity and competition.