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Malinowski Memorial Lectures

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Maxim Bolt updated

Fluctuating formality: anthropology and the structure of difference

Dr Maxim Bolt, University of Birmingham

Date: Thursday, 17 May 2018 at 6.00pm

Venue: Sheikh Zayed Theatre, New Academic Building

This lecture reflects on an apparently dated concept: structure. Spanning institutions of state and market, it focuses on formality as a kind of structuring, and a lens for understanding the production of difference. Formality is both ethnographic object and theoretical emphasis. One of Malinowski’s legacies was a sensitivity to the ways lives and relationships weave in and out of institutional contexts and social-structural prescriptions. This has acquired fresh significance with the study of state idioms of power and bureaucratic organisation. At the same time, the history of anthropological theory is itself one of fluctuating formality: between the systemised specification of structure or network, and the looser evocation of a world that exceeds either of these. But, instead of picking one side or the other as point of departure, how might anthropologists weave in and out of formalised structures with their informants? The lecture explores these issues with a focus on the enduring entrenchment of racial distinctions in South Africa.

Maxim Bolt is Reader in Anthropology and African Studies at the University of Birmingham, and a Research Associate at WISER, University of the Witwatersrand. He is an anthropologist working on questions of economy, and increasingly law and the state, in southern Africa. His first monograph, Zimbabwe’s Migrants and South Africa’s Border Farms: The Roots of Impermanence (CUP 2015), won the 2016 British Sociological Association / BBC Thinking Allowed Ethnography Award. In 2016, Maxim began a three-year project on wills, inheritance and class reproduction in Johannesburg, connecting questions of socio-economic position to those of kinship, property, and legal and bureaucratic process.

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This event is free and open to all with no ticket or pre-registration required. Entry is on a first come, first served basis. 


Past lectures




Functional Origins of Religious Concepts
Dr P. Boyer, 13.05.1999

Erotic Dreams and Nightmares from Antiquity to the Present
Dr C. Stewart, 30.04.1998

If Malinowski met Boas in Barrow...:Looking across the Boundaries of Fieldwork from the 1890s to the 1990s
Dr B. Bodenhorn, 20.05.1997

Compassion for the Other: Kinship as Constituted Intentionality in Fiji
Dr C. Toren, 12.03.1996

Postcolonialism and the Political Imagination
Dr J. Spencer, 11.05.1995

The Soul's Body and its Afflictions - An Amazonian Perspective on the Nature of Being Human
Ms A. C. Taylor, 10.03.1994

Questions of Belief - Reflections from Film on Anthropological Practice
Dr H. Morphy, 18.03.1993

Tamed Violence: Genital Symbolism in Portuguese Culture
Dr J. de Pina-Cabral, 20.02.1992

Ritual as Intellectual Property
Dr S. Harrison, 09.05.1991

Basque Visionaries in Trance, 1931
Dr W. Christian, 17.05.1990


Malinowski's Precedent - The Imagination of equality
Dr R. Fardon, 11.05.1989

The Concept of the Person and the Ritual System
Dr A. Iteanu, 28.04.1988

Between Myth and History
Dr O. Harris, 11.05.1987

The Two Sides of Money
Dr K. Hart, 13.03.1986

The Gift, the Indian Gift and the Indian Gift
Dr J. Parry, 09.05.1985

Anthropology and Psychology
Dr D. Sperber, 06.03.1984

Sacred Models
Dr R. L. Stirrat, 15.03.1983

The Architect and the Bee: Reflection on the Work of Animals and Men
Dr T. Ingold, 03.03.1982

Egalitarian Societies
Dr J. Woodburn, 05.05.1981

Culture in a Netbag: The Manufacture of a Subdiscipline in Anthropology
Dr M. Strathern, 11.03.1980


Anthropology and the Analysis of Ideology
Dr Talal Asad, 06.03.1979

Modes of Reproduction
Dr A. McFarlane, 06.02.1978 

The Past and Present in the Present
Dr M. E. F. Bloch, 07.12.1976

On Asking Questions
Dr E. Goody, 04.03.1975

The Couvade: A Problem Reborn
Dr P. G. Riviere, 05.03.1974

Forms and Norms: The Economy of Social Relations
Dr J. H. R. Davis, 27.02.1973

The Golden Fleece
Mr J. A. W. Forge, 07.03.1972

The New Anthropology and its Critics
Mr E. W. Ardener, 23.02.1971

The Analysis of Social Situations
Dr G. Kingsley-Garbett, 24.02.1970


Theories of Myth
Dr P. S. Cohen, 08.05.1969

The Magical Power of Words
Dr S. J. Tambiah, 20.02.1968

In the Beginning
Dr J. R. Fox, 16.05.1967

Spirit Possession
Dr I. M. Lewis, 08.03.1966

Ritual and Social Change
Dr J. N. M. Beattie, 16.02.1965

Anthropological Perspectives
Dr M. P. Banton, 25.02.1964

A Chinese Phase in Social Anthropology
Dr M. Freedman, 30.10.1962

The Concept of Objectivity in Social Anthropology
Dr R. Leinhardt, 05.12.1961


Rethinking Anthropology
Dr E. R. Leach, 03.12.1959