Raymond Firth: A Theoretician in King Arthur’s Court
Engagement and Detachment: Reflections on Applying Social Anthropology to Social Affairs
Raymond Firth (1901–2002) did not consider himself an applied anthropologist, but he was concerned with orienting anthropological research toward the solution of social problems and with integrating anthropology into pre-college education. Originally from New Zealand, Firth studied with Bronislaw Malinowski at the London School of Economics (LSE) beginning in 1924. After a short period in Australia he returned to Great Britain where he spent his career at the LSE and the University of London. Most of his research was on Pacific peoples, and he is best known for his writings on social organization. In his 1981 Malinowski Award address, Firth reflected upon recurring problems in applied anthropology, among them the public’s lack of knowledge concerning anthropology and its potential applications and the absense of an adequate career structure in applied anthropology. Like other Malinowski Award recipients, Firth also addressed the significance and interconnection of fieldwork, theory, and application.