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Deceased Honorary Fellows
Born in New Zealand in 1901, Raymond Firth completed a master's degree in economics (1922), and a diploma in social science (1923) at Auckland. When he went to the London School of Economics in 1924, Raymond planned to focus his doctoral work on economics-- indeed, on the frozen meat industry in New Zealand (Freedman 1967:viii). He was interested in anthropology, but as he told David Parkin in a recent interview (1988:330), "there were no anthropological posts available whatsoever in New Zealand at the time." That, of course, is a consideration well understood by many today. Fortunately for anthropology and especially the Oceanic branch thereof, circumstances at LSE and the opportunity to study with Malinowski led him to cast his lot with Polynesian anthropology anyway. He wrote his doctoral dissertation (later published as a monograph) on Maori economics, receiving his Ph.D. in 1927.
Raymond has had an enormous impact on anthropological theory and method, and on the development of Pacific anthropology. His most significant theoretical contributions have been in economic anthropology and the study of social relations through the perspective of social organization. These contributions have grown out of his fieldwork among the Maori, the Malay, and the Tikopia. His extensive ethnography, We, the Tikopia, based on his first period of field research in 1928-29, is an anthropological classic--a model for building theory from the details of everyday life. His work has been eclectic in method and content, for he has ignored virtually no aspect of human behavior. Because of his continuing research commitment for the past 60 years, Tikopia is one of the most comprehensively documented societies in the ethnographic record. His major publications have included: Primitive Economics of the New Zealand Maori (1929); We, the Tikopia: A Sociological Study of Kinship in Primitive Polynesia (1936); Primitive Polynesian Economy (1939); Malay Fishermen, Their Peasant Economy (1946); Elements of Social Organization (1951); History and Traditions of Tikopia (1961); Essays on Social Organization and Values (1964); Tikopia Ritual and Belief (1967); Rank and Religion in Tikopia (1971); Symbols: Public and Private (1973); and his Tikopia dictionary, Taranga Fakatikopia ma Taranga Fakainglisi (1985).
Many generations of students in social anthropology owe a great intellectual debt to Raymond. From 1930-32 Raymond taught anthropology at the University of Sydney with Radcliffe-Brown. In 1933 he returned to LSE where he remained (except for periods of leave) until his retirement in 1968. In the 1967 festschrift presented to Firth by his British students, editor Maurice Freedman credits Raymond's intellectual leadership and commitment with having created a school of anthropology out of "a small band of scholars" at LSE, where over several decades, he "welcomed new ideas, encouraged pioneers, and promoted innovations in research" (p. ix).
Many ASAO members were fortunate enough to have been in graduate school during Raymond's North American tour after his retirement from LSE. From 1968-1974, he accepted invitations as visiting professor from a number of American universities: Hawai'i (1968- 69), British Columbia (1969), Cornell (1970), Chicago (1970-71), Graduate School of the City University of New York (1971), and UC Davis (1974). The tour came at a time when British and American schools of anthropology were exchanging ideas and synthesizing perspectives on human behavior, and Raymond's teaching profoundly affected the intellectual development of many of us. A second festschrift for Raymond, this one from some of us who studied with him during his North American tour, recognized him as "perhaps the greatest living teacher of anthropology today," one whose seminars aptly illustrate his formulations of social organization and transaction (Watson-Gegeo and Seaton 1978:viii).
Freedman, Maurice, ed.
Watson-Gegeo, Karen Ann, and S. Lee Seaton, eds.
Karen Watson-Gegeo, University of Hawai’i (Fall 1988 Newsletter)