Wim van Binsbergen

Photographic essay: Manchester School and background

includes: 'Seven-year research plan of the Rhodes-Livingstone Institute' (Max Gluckman, 1945) (PDF)


The Manchester-related pictorial history of social anthropology and of social research in Zambia is surprisingly poorly covered at the Internet, which I why I took the trouble to compose the present photographic essay. For the reasons informing this particular selection of figures and photographs, and background details, see my piece on the Manchester School (still is Dutch, soon to be translated into English). The illustrations below are largely available in the public domain; they are cited for purposes of the circulation of scholarly information, and with full references of original provenance (clicking on a particular photograph will take you to its original source; whether these websites are still accessible is beyond my control). I acknowledge my indebtedness to original copyright owners. Whenever the name of the photographer is known to me, I have included it. This selection and captions © 2004 Wim van Binsbergen. Your comments, corrections and copyright claims are most welcome via e-mail.

In order to enhance its value as background information on the Manchester School (and to compensate for this photo essay's shortcomings) this web page includes a PDF copy of an essential historical document of the Manchester School: Max Gluckman's 'Seven-year research plan of the Rhodes-Livingstone Institute' (Human Problems in British Central Africa / Rhodes-Livingstone Journal 4, December 1945, pp. 1-32)

James G. Frazer, classicist and anthropologist (1854–1941), pioneering theories of magic, of kinship, and of sacred kingship; with his works, especially The Golden Bough, he was the first (and only) anthropologist to became a household word throughout the English-speaking part of the world

Leo Frobenius, leading German Africanist (1873-1938), indefatigable but contentious Africa traveller, great collector of oral literature and local forms of art, and founder of the diffusionist school of Kulturmorphologie (Frankfurt)

Jane Harrison, highly original interpreter of Greek ritual, influential classicist/anthropologist (1850-1928), amongst her classicist colleagues; left to right: H.F. Stewart, Gilbert Murray, Francis Cornford

Bronislaw Malinowski (1884-1942), born in Zakopane, southern Poland, pioneer of anthropological fieldwork, and for many the founder of British scientific anthropology

Trobriand Islanders on a sea voyage; it was during World War I internment as a citizen of an enemy country that Malinowski pioneered modern anthropological fieldwork

A.R. Radcliffe-Brown, leading theoretician of classic British anthropology (1881 - 1955)

Grafton Elliot Smith (1871-1937), anatomist, Egyptologist, and diffusionist anthropologist of the early 20th century

E.E. Evans-Pritchard (1902 - 1973), embodiment of the classic British anthropology from which Manchester formed a radical departure

Cattle wealth among the Nuer today, southern Sudan; the Nuer and Evans-Pritchard made each other famous


Evans-Pritchard, The Nuer, page 201: The Nuer was a particularly effective and influential description, in terms of interlocking systems of segmentation at the family, and clan level, of the social organisation of a (before colonial conquest) stateless society. The elegance, simplicity and transparence of the book's modelling, enhanced by Evans-Pritchard splendid prose style, were irresistible but (or so the Manchester School thought) too consistent to be true

E.E. Evans-Pritchard’s bust in the Tylor Library, Oxford, United Kingdom

A scale model of a Tallensi homestead, northern Ghana, where Meyer Fortes (1906-1983) conducted fundamental fieldwork on social organisation and religion

Audrey Richards (1899-1984), a student of Malinowski’s, and the first to write a fully modern ethnography of a community in Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia): Land, labour and diet in Northern Rhodesia (1939).

The Rhodes-Livingstone Institute was initially located in the town of Livingstone in the far south of Northern Rhodesia. Livingstone was the colony’s capital until the mid-1930s, after which the seat of government was shifted to the more centrally located Lusaka, until then a minor railway siding. The Rhodes-Livingstone buildings at Livingstone were to house the Rhodes-Livingstone Museum, which today is struglling on under ever increasing hardship

Monica Hunter did research among the Pondo of South Africa, and with her husband Godfrey Wilson she studied the Nyakyusa of southwestern Tanganyika (now Tanzania), before the couple embarked on a pioneering study of social relations among the urban migrants in the central Northern Rhodesian town of Broken Hill (now Kabwe), created immediately after the colonial conquest (c. 1899) because of its rich resources in lead and zinc, long before the much more rewarding copper reserves were discovered further up north, in what was to be the Copperbelt. The Wilson's Kabwe research resulted in The Economics of Detribalization in Northern Rhodesia, 2 vols (1942, so published after Godfrey Wilson's death). Apart from Ellen Hellmann's study of the 'native slum' Rooiyard in South Africa (subsequently to be republished as a Rhodes-Livingstone Paper in 1948), no such study had yet been undertaken in South Central and Southern Africa. Godfrey Wilson was founder-director of the Rhodes-Livingstone Institute, but soon after the outbreak of World War II he committed suicide, allegedly because of his pacifist convictions. This changed the course of Gluckman's life and of the history of anthropology: Gluckman, until then a young Ph.D. exploring Barotseland and relishing the princely status that was accorded him there, became director of the Rhodes-Livingstone Institute.

Max Gluckman (1911-1975), ca. 1970; note the signature bottom right, sign of celebrity aspirations. On the other hand, he appeared to be relatively modest concerning the paradigmatic shift that the Manchester School represented, and admitted: "A science is any discipline in which the fool of this generation can go beyond the point reached by the genius of the last generation." (But, in a dialectical way rather typical of Gluckman's thinking, this expression takes on a totally different quality when considered from the perspective of the generation that came after Gluckman, and then would claim not stupidity but genius for him).

Publicity for the Rhodes-Livingstone institute, late 1950s (click on thumbnail to enlarge)

The Barotse king’s hall, Barotseland, 1940s, where Max Gluckman did much of his Barotse fieldwork

Paramount Chief Sir Mwanawina III KBE (Knight of the British Empire) (1888- 1968) of the Barotse, dressed in state in the admiral’s uniform which the British crown had donated to his most famous predecessor, Lubosi Lewanika. Mwanawina’s successor was Mwendaweli, who had earlier served as Max Gluckman’s research assisant in the 1940s

Barotse kuta (royal court) in progress, probably in the 1950s

Labourers from the Rand Gold Mines returning home up the Zambezi in the 1950s. From the late 19th century onward, temporary labour migration to the mines and commercial farms of South Africa and Southern Rhodesia was a major source of cash for the rural population, only partly diverted by the emergence of mining towns on the Copperbelt in the late 1920s. Migration, especially circulatory labour migration, was the backbone of the economies of South Central and Southern Africa, but no adequate scientific approach to this phenomenon was yet available, and Manchester School researchers (especially Mitchell and Epstein) devoted much of their time and energy to fill this gap, both descriptively and theoretically.

Paramount Chief Kazembe XV at Luapula, focus of Ian Cunnison’s research around 1950; photo T. Gorecki (unfortunately I have no details concerning this king's dates of birth and death)

Much of the strength of the Rhodes-Livingstone Institute derived from its excellent and diversified publication strategy, comprising four different series (1. cyclostyled Communications; 2. printed Papers; 3. printed books; 4. the journal Human Problems in British Central Africa / Rhodes- Livingstone Journal); most of these were eventually accommodated with Manchester University Press, the Manchester School's house publisher

The whole of British South Central Africa (present-day Zambia, Zimbabwe and Malawi) was the work space of the Rhodes-Livingstone Institute, but given Max Gluckman junior status when he became director in the early 1940s, the earlier anthropological research in this vast territory was by no means controlled by Gluckman and lacked the Manchester School touch. In Southern Rhodesia in the 1940s, Hans Holleman, son of a Leiden professor of Indonesian adat law, developed into one of the most prominent students of African law with, as he declared to me in the late 1970s, only a minimum amount of 'rubbing shoulders with the Manchester crowd'.

Luanshya, the most typical of the Copperbelt mining towns which emerged in Northern Rhodesia from the late 1920s onward

a map of late colonial Northern Rhodesia from the settlers' point of view: only places with a substantial white population are marked, and hotels and rest camps are specifically indicated (click on thumbnail to enlarge)

(click to enlarge)

For the African inhabitants of Northern Rhodesia, a rather different map was drawn up, clearly demarcating, and distinguishing by contrasting colours, the various 'tribal' areas into which the territory was administratively divided; the assumption was that these divisions coincided with linguistic and cultural distinctions, thus reifying (through the cbinary opposition of ethnic names) cultural gradients that were in fact much more continuous, in most cases. Anthropologists used this map with the same enthusiasm as administrators. A copy of it graced Brelsford's Tribes of Zambia (1956, repr 1965) -- written by a colonial administrator dabbling in ethnography (like so many of his colleagues), but also Audrey Richard's splendid, and deservedly classic, ethnography Land, labour, and diet in Northern Rhodesia (1938). As the Kwacha price tag, bottom right, indicates, the map was uncritically reprinted in post-colonial times by the Zambian Survey Department, the country's official producer of maps. It formed the basis of Kashoki's map of Zambian languages in the late 1970s. The fantasms of colonial ethnography and administration have thus continued to be seeded back into postcolonial popular appropriations.

Kitwe, to develop into the main town of the Northern Rhodesian Copperbelt, ca. 1955

Copperbelt dancers, 1950s. During weekends, African miners on the Copperbelt, dressed in their Sunday best, would perform dances reminiscent of their home areas. In this way they articulated aspects of ethnicity and of urban-rural relations which were to become the topic of Clyde Mitchell’s famous essay The Kalela Dance (1955).

Elizabeth Colson (centre) (1917- ), probably early 1950s, during fieldwork among the Tonga; note the helmet

Victoria University, Manchester, where Max Gluckman was a Professor of Anthropology from 1949 onwards; © 2000-2004 Dr. Falco Pfalzgraf

By all accounts, Max Gluckman exercised a strong hold over his students, disciples and junior members of staff. Manchester School identity means that one shares in a vast repertoire of rumours and anecdotes associated with Gluckman's autocratic but benign leadership in the 1940s-60s. One persistent rumour is that he forced everyone to support Manchester United, the major local soccer club. Watching their life performances in the stadium, or failing which, their appearances on television, is alleged to have been compulsory for Manchester School members when ‘home’; © www.webaviation

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Another persistent rumour is that Max Gluckman persuaded his followers to be card-carrying members of the Communist Party of Great Britain. Considering the (from our present point of view) almost inconceivably exploitative and racialist labour conditions to which African workers were subjected in Northern Rhodesia and throughout the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland, and also considering the courageous solidary stance which most Manchester School members adopted vis-a-vis their African hosts, friends and junior colleagues in research, communism may well have been the only option of integrity available. At the same time Europe was in the throes of Cold War demagogy, so this option was not chosen lightly, as several Manchester School researchers were to experience in their personal and political careers.

Lord Simon of Wythenshawe, Sir Ernest Emil Darwin Simon, 1879-1960. After working in the family engineering business Ernest Simon became a Liberal MP in 1923. He joined the Labour Party in 1946 and was a founder of New Statesman magazine. In 1947, the Labour Government gave him a peerage and appointed him BBC Chairman. A respected authority on post-war Britain’s rebuilding, he always kept close connections with Manchester and his family business. He chaired Manchester City Council until 1957. At the University of Manchester, visiting fellowships and a professorship were endowed in his name; the incumbents were housed in the Simon residence near Victoria University, Manchester, and attended on by what remained of Lord Simon's former domestic staff. In the heyday of the Manchester School, several of its members were incumbents of the Simon Professorship, includingVictor Turner and Jack Simons (the South African legal sociologist and freedom fighter). In 1979-1980 I also had that honour.

Max Gluckman and John Barnes (1918 - ) at Canberra University, Australia, 1960; note the signature bottom right – again, these were scholars consciously aspiring to celebrity status; but also note Gluckman's bare feet. Initially investigating the political organisation of the Ngoni (a Nguni offshoot which the mfecane upheaval in early 19th c. CE Southern Africa propelled far up north), Barnes was later to pioneer network analysis. Remarkable is his piece 'African models in the New Guinea highlands' (Man 1962), which explores the applicability of Africa-based segmentary model of social organisation to Oceania.

Max Gluckman (left) at a party at home, 1959. To the right is Richard Werbner, then a most promising student aged c. 22; later he was to marry Gluckman’s brother’s daughter Pnina Gilon, born and bred in Israel since that is where her father settled from South Africa. This marriage reinforced Werbner’s role as keeper of the Manchester School inheritance after Gluckman's demise in 1975. The person in the middle is Maurice Ginsburg, without obvious connection with the Manchester School.

Sigmund Freud (1856 - 1939), founder of psychoanalysis, in his Vienna study. Concentrating on the small-scale social process at the level of the village and the urban ward, mainly in Africa, the Manchester School never had much of a discourse on the hidden, subconscious drives in human behaviour. Instead it emphasised the explanatory value of agency: the individual actor's conscious strategies of manipulating social norms and inchoate structures on the basis of the preceding historicity (the unique and unpredictable, accumulative unfolding) of the social process. However, psychoanalysis (albeit not by Freud of course, who had died in London before Gluckman ever set foot in Barotseland) was alleged yet to play a role at Manchester as an uninvited guest: as the intended remedy for Gluckman's profound midlife and leadership crises. Rumour (that is, my interview with Jaap van Velsen, Manchester, April 1976) has it that Gluckman's remarkable book production in the late 1950-mid 1960s had much to do with the need to pay his therapist's bills; not unlike the isanusi or isangoma diviners at a Zulu king's court (the setting of Gluckman's Ph.D. research), those involved attributed to this therapist disproportionate influence over the affairs of the anthropology department.

Victor Turner (1920-1983), the one Manchester figure who strayed furthest from the Manchester path, and in the process gained world fame with his lasting contributions to religious studies. A persistent Manchester rumour interprets Turner's first major book, Schism and continuity in an African society (1957), as a key novel echoeing the struggles for leadership and recognition, 'order and rebellion' (the title of one of Gluckman's books), that constituted the Manchester School.

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The most detailed and convincing example of the Manchester School approach to rural communities in South Central Africa was Jaap van Velsen's The politics of kinship (1964, based on his 1957 Ph.D.), dealing with Tonga villages in Nyasaland (now Malawi). The book is classic ethnography in its methodology of taking the combination of a village map and a genealogy (as shown here) as essential point of departure for social analysis. However, the book demonstrates that it is not corporate group interests and fixed norms, but momentary concerns and strategies in an ongoing social process, which determine the shape and outcome of conflicts; what makes Central African villages tick, is not a kinship-centred culture ('custom'), but local-level politics within the kinship realm. The preface of the book was written not by Gluckman but by Clyde Mitchell, not only as the Malawi specialist, but also as someone who probably contributed as much to the success of Manchester as Gluckman did himself. Mitchell was the intelligent, modest, socially skilful, patient lieutenant who could negotiate, much better than Gluckman himself, between local ethnographic facts, complex and diverse methodological requirements (including numerical ones), and conflictive and exuberant researcher personalities, like Jaap van Velsen's. The latter was a Dutchman with an Indonesian background, whose justified disgust with Dutch colonial politics (especially the violent 'Politional Actions', after WW II) had made him turn to Great Britain. The politics of kinship was his first and last book, and its writing was agony; not only because of oppressive power relations and bizarre personality clashes, but also because the book was at the same time the culmination and the swan's song of Manchester rural ethnography -- bringing out beyond repair the limitations of its paradigm, especially its extreme conception of the social process as a drama confined to a strictly local theatre. Characteristic of this agony was that van Velsen felt compelled to excise, from the book's very galley proofs, an entire chapter on labour migration, which (with that amount of empirical detail, and in the organic context of the overall ethnographic argument on Tonga society) was never to appear in print elsewhere. Yet it was a unique opportunity to show how the social drama in the Tonga villages reflected much wider structural arrangements in the political economy of South Central Africa, and of the world at large, regardless of whether the villagers were conscious of such arrangements, and made them part of their conscious maximalisation strategies.

While for the analysis of rural settings in South Central Africa the Manchester School relied on the notion of an inchoate social structure full of contradictions and options, gradually emerging in the social process and best visible in conflict situations, for urban settings the pioneering Copperbelt studies of Epstein and Mitchell began to stress the model of the social network between individuals. Here we see Bruce Kapferer's inticate model of the network informing an workshop conflict in Zambia, described in Mitchell's seminal collection on urban networks (1969)

Andre Kobben (1925- ), focal point of classic cultural anthropology in the Netherlands in the 1950s to early 1970s, here depicted in 2004, at the age of 79, still going strong. Although his own fieldwork (Ivory Coast, Surinam), his theoretical passions (cross-cultural comparison) and his international network in the North Atlantic (mainly USA and Oxford) put him at considerable distance from Manchester in his own work, he successfully mediated the Manchester School influence to his main students. From the mid-1970s onwards, he has concentrated on North Atlantic sociology, methodology and the philosophy of the social sciences, and has been less of a leading force in Dutch anthropology




page last modified: 08-02-06 13:28:06