Audrey Richards

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Audrey Richards
Born (1899-07-08)8 July 1899
London, England
Died 29 June 1984(1984-06-29) (aged 84)
Midhurst, West Sussex, England
Nationality United Kingdom
Fields social anthropology

Audrey Isabel Richards, CBE, FBA (8 July 1899 – 29 June 1984), was a pioneering British social anthropologist who worked mainly in sub-Saharan Africa.

Early life and education[edit]

Audrey was the second of four girls born to a well-connected family in London, England. Her father, Sir Henry Erle Richards, was posted in Calcutta, India, where she spent her early childhood, and later from 1911 to 1922 was Chichele Professor of Public International Law at Oxford. Richards was educated at Downe House School and Newnham College, Cambridge, where she read biology. She served as a relief worker in Germany for two years before returning to England and beginning graduate work. She received her doctorate in 1931 from the London School of Economics, where she was supervised by Malinowski.

Academic career[edit]

Though she was widely regarded for her academic accomplishments, Richards never held a chair in anthropology. She held lectureships at the London School of Economics, the University of Witwatersrand in South Africa, and the University of London. She also held various positions in the Colonial Office, participating in the formation of the Colonial Social Science Research Council (1944). In 1950 she became the first director of the East African Institute of Social Research (Makerere College, Kampala, Uganda).

In 1956, Richards returned to her alma mater Newnham College, Cambridge, where she had been elected a fellow.[1] From 1956 to 1967, she was also director of the African Studies Centre at the University of Cambridge.[1] She was Smuts Reader in Anthropology at Cambridge between 1961 and 1967.[1] She served as president of the Royal Anthropological Institute and as the second President of the African Studies Association of the UK, 1964-65.


Richards conducted fieldwork in Zambia (then Northern Rhodesia), in 1930-31, 1933–34, and 1957. where she worked primarily among the Bemba. Later, Richards worked in the Transvaal region of South Africa in 1939-40 and in Uganda intermittently between 1950 and 1955. She later carried out an ethnographic study of the village of Elmdon, Essex, England, where she lived for many years.

Audrey Richards' careful studies of daily life set a new standard for field research and opened a door for nutritional anthropology by concentrating on practical problems and working interdisciplinarily. Richards is probably best known for her work Chisungu (1956), a study of girls' initiation rites. She is also regarded as a founder of the field of nutritional anthropology.


Richards received the C.B.E. in 1955 and became a fellow of the British Academy in 1967. She was elected a Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1974.[2] In later life, she lived in Highsett, Cambridge. She died in 1984 near Midhurst, West Sussex, England.


  1. ^ a b c "RICHARDS, Audrey Isabel". Who Was Who. Oxford University Press. April 2014. Retrieved 20 April 2017. 
  2. ^ "Book of Members, 1780–2010: Chapter R" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 29 July 2014. 
  • Raymond Firth, (1985) "Audrey Richards 1899-1984." Man, New Series, 20(2): 341-344.
  • J. S. La Fontaine, (1985) "Audrey Isabel Richards 1899-1984" Africa: Journal of the International Africa Institute, 201-206.
  • Jo Gladstone, (1986) "Significant Sister: autonomy and obligation in Audrey Richards' early fieldwork" American Ethnologist, 13(2):338-362.

Select Publications[edit]

  • Richards, Audrey. (1932) Hunger and work in a savage tribe: a functional study of nutrition among the Southern Bantu. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.
  • Richards, Audrey. (1939) Land, Labour, and Diet in Northern Rhodesia: and economic study of the Bemba tribe. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Richards, Audrey. (1956) Chisungu: a girl's initiation ceremony among the Bemba of Northern Rhodesia. London: Faber.
  • Strathern, Marilyn and Audrey Richards. (1981) Kinship at the Core: An Anthropology of Elmdon, a Village in North-west Essex in the Nineteen-Sixties. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
  • Richards, Audrey I. (1969) The Multicultural States of East Africa. Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press.

External links[edit]