Marshall Sahlins

The Department of Anthropology is deeply saddened to learn of the death of Professor Marshall Sahlins, who passed away at his home in Chicago on Monday, April 5, 2021.  

Professor Sahlins once advised students at a graduation ceremony how to make their mark in life by using the aphorism, ‘If you go with the flow, no one will know.’  This saying well characterizes Sahlins’s own contributions to anthropology and the social sciences more widely.  Whether it was through his mediation of French structuralism to the Anglophone world, his argument that hunter-gatherers are the ‘original affluent society’, or his claim that ‘culture is the human nature’, Sahlins never went with the flow.  At the time of his passing, we remember and celebrate his career of iconoclastic and controversial productivity, which spanned almost seventy years.  His historical ethnographies of Fiji and Hawai‘i will always remind us that the grandest theory is only as good as the cultural and historical particularities it can illuminate.  

Sahlins was a long-time friend of the LSE Department of Anthropology, having given a number of guest lectures in the department and having multiple personal connections with present and former members of the department.  In 2011 he received an honorary degree – Doctor of Science (Social Sciences) – from the LSE.  His scholarship, political engagement, erudition, wit, and commitment to the discipline of anthropology will continue to inspire those who knew him in person, heard him speak, and those who encounter him through his writings. 

Oration for Professor Marshall Sahlins  given by Dr Michael Scott at the ceremony during which Sahlins received his honorary doctorate.