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Lucy Philip Mair

(1901—1986) social anthropologist


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(1901 –1986) A prominent British anthropologist who specialized in social change in African tribal, colonial, and postcolonial societies. Mair was educated at the University of Cambridge and taught at the London School of Economics in the late 1920s, where she participated in the seminars of Bronislaw Malinowski. Despite Malinowski's considerable influence, Mair's work is remarkable for its consistent refusal of the timeless, ahistorical approach of much of British social anthropology—including that of Malinowski—which tended to ignore the context of colonialism, modernization, and historical change. Mair refused the notion of a purely academic anthropology geared toward scientific research; rather, she was concerned with the practical potential and consequences of anthropological work. Much of her research, therefore, was oriented toward problems of colonial administration, which might be solved through better understanding of the governed societies. At the same time, she was highly critical of the structural condescension of the colonial regimes and of the failure of the developed nations to recognize the significance of decolonization. Mair was a clear writer whose treatments and syntheses of diverse topics in anthropology earned her a wide audience. Her major works include Primitive Government (1962), New Nations (1963), Anthropology and Social Change (1968), and Anthropology and Development (1984).

From Dictionary of the Social Sciences in Oxford Reference.

Subjects: Social Sciences.


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