Astuti, Rita

Professor Rita Astuti  


Position held

Professor of Social Anthropology, and Head of Department


Experience keywords:

cognitive anthropology; cognitive psychology; cross-cultural studies; developmental psychology; gender; identity; kinship

Research summary > [Click to expand]

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 identity. Since then, she has revisited her ethnographic findings through a research project on how Vezo children and adults categorise the social world and how they conceptualise the distinction between "us" and "them."

This work has been undertaken in close collaboration with leading developmental psychologists and has involved the use of experimental techniques in conjunction with more traditional anthropological methods.

Dr Astuti has since been awarded an ESRC Research Fellowship (2002-2005), which has allowed her to continue her interdisciplinary research. She has spent a year at the Laboratory of Developmental Studies at Harvard University, and has undertaken further research in Madagascar on Vezo children's acquisition of religious concepts and on the development of the concept of biological life and death.

Countries and regions to which research relates:



French [Spoken: Intermediate, Written: Basic]; Italian [Spoken: Fluent, Written: Fluent]; Malagasy [Spoken: Fluent, Written: Basic]

Contact Points

LSE phone number:

+44 (0)20 7955 7206

LSE email:



Astuti, Rita (2017) On keeping up the tension between fieldwork and ethnography HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory, 7 (1). 9-14. ISSN 2049-1115

Astuti, Rita (2017) Taking people seriously (the 2015 Robert H. Layton Lecture) HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory, 7 (1). 105-122. ISSN 2049-1115


Astuti, Rita and Bloch, Maurice (2015) The causal cognition of wrong doing: incest, intentionality, and morality Frontiers in Psychology, 6. 136. ISSN 1664-1078


Astuti, Rita and Bloch, Maurice (2013) Are ancestors dead? In: Boody, Janice and Lambek, Michael, (eds.) Companion to the Anthropology of Religion. Wiley-Blackwell, London, UK. ISBN 9780470673324


Astuti, Rita (2012) Some after dinner thoughts on theory of mind Anthropology of This Century, 3. ISSN 2047-6345

Astuti, Rita and Bloch, Maurice (2012) Anthropologists as cognitive scientists Topics in Cognitive Science, 4 (3). 453-461. ISSN 1756-8757


Astuti, Rita (2011) Death, ancestors and the living dead: learning without teaching in Madagascar In: Talwar, Victoria and Harris, Paul L. and Schleifer, Michael, (eds.) Children's Understanding of Death: From Biological to Religious Conceptions. Cambridge University Press, 1-18. ISBN 9780521194594


Astuti, Rita and Bloch, Maurice (2010) Why a theory of human nature cannot be based on the distinction between universality and variability: lessons from anthropology Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 33 (2-3). 83-84. ISSN 0140-525X


Astuti, Rita (2009) Revealing and obscuring Rivers’s pedigrees: biological inheritance and kinship in Madagascar In: Bamford, Sandra and Leach, James, (eds.) Kinship and Beyond: the Genealogical Model Reconsidered. Fertility, reproduction and sexuality (15). Berghahn Books, New York, USA, 214-236. ISBN 9781845454227


Knight, Nicola and Astuti, Rita (2008) Some problems with property ascription Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 14 (s1). S142-S158. ISSN 1359-0987

Astuti, Rita and Harris, Paul L. (2008) Understanding mortality and the life of the ancestors in rural Madagascar Cognitive Science, 32 (4). 713-740. ISSN 0364-0213


Stafford, Charles and Astuti, Rita and Parry, J. P, eds (2007) Questions of anthropology London School of Economics monographs on social anthropology, 76. Berg, London, UK. ISBN 9781845207496

Astuti, Rita (2007) Ancestors and the afterlife In: Whitehouse, Harvey and Laidlaw, James, (eds.) Religion, Anthropology, and Cognitive Science. Ritual studies monograph series. Carolina Academic Press, Durham, N.C., 161-178. ISBN 9781594601071

Astuti, Rita (2007) What happens after death? In: Astuti, Rita and Parry, Jonathan and Stafford, Charles, (eds.) Questions of Anthropology. London School of Economics monographs on social anthropology (76). Berg Publishers, Oxford, UK, 227-247. ISBN 9781845207489

Astuti, Rita (2007) La moralité des conventions: tabous ancestraux à Madagascar Terrain, 48. 101-112. ISSN 0760-5668

Astuti, Rita (2007) Weaving together culture and cognition: an illustration from Madagascar Intellectica: Revue de L'association Pour la Recherche Cognitive (46/47). 173-189. ISSN 0769-4113


Harris, Paul L. and Astuti, Rita (2006) Learning that there is life after death Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 29 (5). 475-476. ISSN 0140-525X


Astuti, Rita and Solomon, Gregg E. A. and Carey, Susan (2004) 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, 10.1111/j.1540-5834.2004.00297.x. Blackwell Publishing on behalf of the Society for Research in Child Development. ISBN 9781405132299

Astuti, Rita (2001) Are we all natural dualists? A cognitive developmental approach. The Malinowski Memorial Lecture, 2000 Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 7 (3). 429-447. ISSN 1359-0987


Astuti, Rita (2000) Kindreds, cognatic and unilineal descent groups : new perspectives from Madagascar In: Carsten, Janet, (ed.) Cultures of Relatedness : New Approaches to the Study of Kinship. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, 90-103. ISBN 052165193x

Astuti, Rita (2000) Les gens ressemblent-ils aux poulets?: Penser la frontière homme-animal à Madagascar / Do people resemble chickens? Thoughts about the animal-human borderline in Madagascar Terrain (34). 89-105. ISSN 0760-5668


Astuti, Rita (1999) At the centre of the market: a Vezo woman In: Day, Sophie and Papataxiarchis, Euthymios and Stewart, Michael, (eds.) Lilies of the Field: How Marginal People Live for the Moment. Studies in the ethnographic imagination. Westview Press, Boulder, CO, 83-95. ISBN 9780813335315


Astuti, Rita (1998) 'It's a boy', 'It's a girl!' : reflections on sex and gender in Madagascar and beyond In: Lambek, Michael and Strathern, Andrew, (eds.) Bodies and Persons : Comparative Perspectives From Africa and Melanesia. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, 29-52. ISBN 0521621941


Astuti, Rita (1995) People of the sea: identity and descent among the Vezo of Madagascar Cambridge studies in social & cultural anthropology. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK. ISBN 0521433509

Astuti, Rita (1995) 'The Vezo are not a kind of people': identity, difference and 'ethnicity' among a fishing people of western Madagascar American Ethnologist, 22 (3). 464-482. ISSN 0094-0496


Astuti, Rita (1994) Invisible objects: mortuary rituals among the Vezo of western Madagascar Res: Anthropology and Aesthetics, 25. 111-112. ISSN 0277-1322


Astuti, Rita (1993) Food for pregnancy. Procreation, marriage and images of gender among the Vezo of western Madagascar Social Anthropology, 1 (3). 277-290. ISSN 1469-8676

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