Rita Astuti is an expert in the anthropology of Madagascar. Her first period of extensive fieldwork among Vezo fishing people took place in the late 1980s, and focused on kinship, personhood, gender, and group identity. Since then, she has been involved in a programme of research aimed at integrating the study of culture and cognition. Through a combination of traditional ethnographic methods and experimental techniques used in developmental psychology, she has investigated how Vezo children and adults categorise the social world into distinct kinds of people, and how they conceptualise death and the afterlife.
2013. With M. Bloch Are ancestors dead? In: Boody, J. & Lambek, M. (Eds.) Companion to the Anthropology of Religion. Wiley-Blackwell, London, pp. 103-17
2012 Some after dinner thoughts on theory of mind Anthropology of This Century, 3.
2011. Death, ancestors and the living dead: Learning without teaching in Madagascar. In V. Talwar, P.L. Harris & M. Schleifer (Eds.), Children's understanding of death: From biological to supernatural conceptions, New York: Cambridge University Press, pp. 1-18.
2009. Revealing and obscuring Rivers’s natural pedigrees: Biological inheritance and kinship in Madagascar. In J. Leach & S. Bamford (Eds.) Kinship and Beyond: the genealogical model reconsidered, Berghahn, pp. 214-236.
2008. (with P.L. Harris) Understanding mortality and the life of the ancestors in rural Madagascar, Cognitive Science, 32, 1, pp. 1-29.
2007. La moralité des conventions: tabous ancestraux à Madagascar. Terrain, 48, pp. 101-12. http://terrain.revues.org/index5041.html
2007. Weaving together culture and cognition: an illustration from Madagascar. In Culture and Society: Some Viewpoints of Cognitive Scientists, F. Clement and L. Kaufmann (Eds.). Special issue of Intellectica. Revue de l'Association pour la Recherche Cognitive, 46-47, pp. 173-189.
2007. What happens after death? In Questions of Anthropology, Rita Astuti, Jonathan Parry & Charles Stafford (eds.), London School of Economics Monographs, Oxford: Berg, pp. 227-247.
2007. Ancestors and the afterlife. In Religion, anthropology, and cognitive science, Harvey Whitehouse and James Laidlaw (eds). Chapel Hill: Carolina Academic, pp. 161-178.
2004. (with G.E.A. Solomon and S. Carey) Constraints on conceptual development: A case study of the acquisition of folkbiological and folksociological knowledge in Madagascar. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, no.277, vol. 69, no.3
2001. Are we all natural dualists? A cognitive developmental approach. (The 2000 Malinowski Memorial Lecture) Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 7, pp. 429-447.
2000. Les gens ressemblent-ils aux poulets ? Penser la frontière homme / animal à Madagascar, Terrain, 34, pp. 89-105.
1998. "It's a boy!," "It's a girl!": Reflections on sex and gender in Madagascar and beyond. In Bodies and persons: Comparative perspectives from Africa and Melanesia, Michael Lambek and Andrew Strathern (eds). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
1995. People of the sea: Identity and descent among the Vezo of Madagascar. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.