Chris Knight (anthropologist)

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Chris Knight in 2016.

Chris Knight (born 1942) is a British anthropologist and political activist.



Following an MPhil in Russian Literature from the University of Sussex in 1975,[1] Knight gained his PhD in 1987 at the University of London for a thesis on Claude Lévi-Strauss's four-volume Mythologiques. He became a lecturer in anthropology at the University of East London in 1989 and a professor at the same institution in 2000.[2] Knight is a founding member of the "Radical Anthropology Group" (RAG).[3] He is currently a Senior Research Fellow in the Department of Anthropology, University College London.[4]

Since graduating from the University of Sussex in 1966, Knight has been exploring the idea that language and symbolic culture emerged in the human species through a process of Darwinian evolution culminating at a certain point in revolutionary change. Becoming human was, according to this theory, a classic instance of a dialectical process, i.e. one in which quantitative change culminates eventually in a qualitative leap. In pursuing this line of thought, Knight takes inspiration not only from modern Darwinian theorists such as Eörs Szathmáry and John Maynard Smith but also from Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, who in their later years were fascinated by what was then the new science of anthropology.[5]

Published in 1991, Knight's first full-length book, Blood Relations: Menstruation and the origins of culture was favourably reviewed in The Times Higher Educational Supplement, The Times Literary Supplement and The London Review of Books; it also received publicity through an interview on the BBC World Service Science Now programme, a debate with Dr. Henrietta Moore on BBC Radio 4 Woman’s Hour, a front-page news report in The Independent on Sunday and Daily Telegraph and coverage in many other periodicals.[6] The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute described Blood Relations as ‘a very readable, witty, lively treasure-trove of anthropological wisdom and insight.’[7] In April 1998, the Independent on Sunday featured a two-page article on Knight's work by science correspondent Marek Kohn, who described his approach as ‘drawing together some of the most dynamic lines of argument in current British evolutionary thought’.[8] A dissenting voice was the Socialist Worker's Party's Chris Harman, who dismissed Knight's argument as "menstrual moonshine".[9]

Although Knight's theory remains controversial, in the years since Blood Relations was published, it has become central to an increasing body of archaeological research and debate on how symbolic culture emerged in the human species.[10][11][12][13]

In 1996, Knight co-founded the EVOLANG series of international conferences on the origins of language, since when he has become a prominent figure in debates on the origins of human symbolic culture and especially the origin of language. In recognition of his contribution to evolutionary linguistics, Knight was awarded the Evolutionary Linguistics Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award at an event held in Vienna in April 2014.[14]


Initially a supporter of the Militant tendency, Chris Knight was later a founder editor of the journal Labour Briefing[15] (he remains on the board[16]) and has a long record of political activism. Knight defines himself intellectually as a Marxist.[17]

During the build-up to the 2009 G-20 Summit in London, he was involved in a street theatre group known as The Government of the Dead. Statements he made at this time in an interview[15] for the London Evening Standard[18] (and the PM programme[19]) led the Corporate Management Team at the University of East London to charge him with 'gross professional misconduct', 'insubordination' and 'bringing the university into disrepute'. He was suspended on 26 March 2009[2] and, despite a petition signed by 600 academics and others, was 'summarily dismissed' on 22 July 2009.

On 28 April 2011, Knight was one of three people arrested "on suspicion of conspiracy to cause public nuisance and breach of the peace". The three were planning a mock execution of the Duke of York in Central London the following day, to coincide with the wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton.[20][21][22][23] On 30 November 2011, he was one of 21 'Occupy London' activists arrested and later charged with public order offences for occupying the Haymarket (Central London) offices of the mining company Xstrata. On 8 August 2012, Knight and his co-defendants were all found not guilty.[24]

He supported Ken Livingstone in the controversy over allegdely anti-Semitic remarks made in 2016.[25]

Selected works[edit]



Decoding Noam Chomsky
Popularising "The Human Revolution"

Radio Broadcast[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Robin Dunbar, Chris Knight and Camilla Power (eds), The Evolution of Culture: an Interdisciplinary View (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1999), p. viii
  2. ^ a b Richard Rogers and Paul Lewis, "Professor suspended over claims he incited G20 violence" The Guardian, 27 March 2009
  3. ^ A Brief History of RAG. Retrieved 30 April 2011
  4. ^
  5. ^ Frederick Engels, 1884. The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State
  6. ^ Reviews of Chris Knight, 1991. Blood Relations: Menstruation and the origins of culture.
  7. ^ R. E. Davis-Floyd, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute.
  8. ^ Marek Kohn, 'Survival of the Chattiest.' Independent on Sunday, April 4, 1998.
  9. ^ Harman, C. 1992. Blood Simple, International Socialism 2 : 54, pp. 169–75.
  10. ^ Knight, C.; Power, C.; Watts, I. (April 1995). "The Human Symbolic Revolution: A Darwinian Account" (PDF). Cambridge Archaeological Journal. 5 (1): 75–114. doi:10.1017/S0959774300001190. 
  11. ^ Watts, I. 2009. Red ochre, body painting, and language: interpreting the Blombos ochre. In R. Botha and C. Knight (eds), The Cradle of Language. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 62-92.
  12. ^ Power, C. 2010. Cosmetics, identity and consciousness. Journal of Consciousness Studies 17, No. 7-8, pp. 73-94.
  13. ^ Watts, I. M. Chazan and J. Wilkins, 2016. Early Evidence for Brilliant Ritualized Display: Specularite Use in the Northern Cape (South Africa) between ~500 and ~300 Ka. Current Anthropology Volume 57, Number 3, pp. 287-310.
  14. ^
  15. ^ a b David Cohen, "Meet Mister Mayhem", Archived 20 January 2011 at the Wayback Machine. Evening Standard ( website), 25 March 2009
  16. ^ "About Labour Briefing" Retrieved 30 April 2011 (Labour Briefing is the present title)
  17. ^ Interview for Ready Steady Book, 2 March 2006 Retrieved 30 April 2011
  18. ^ Melanie Newman, "UEL suspends 'Mr Mayhem' and cancels alternative G20", Times Higher Education, 2 April 2009
  19. ^ Fiona Hamilton, "Anarchist professor Chris Knight suspended after G20 'threat'", The Times, 26 March 2009
  20. ^ David Batty, "Royal wedding protest: three anti-capitalist activists arrested" The Guardian, 28 April 2011. Retrieved 29 April 2011
  21. ^ Zombie Wedding invitation Archived 29 April 2011 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved 29 April 2011
  22. ^ Robert Booth, Sandra Laville and Shiv Malik, "Royal wedding: police criticised for pre-emptive strikes against protesters" The Guardian, 29 April 2011. Retrieved 30 April 2011
  23. ^ Knight, C. and C. Power 2012. Arrest for Attempted Street Theatre. Anthropology Today, Vol. 28 No. 1, pp. 24–26.
  24. ^ 16 Occupy London activists found not guilty Archived 1 December 2012 at the Wayback Machine.
  25. ^ Letter to The Guardian 12-April-2017

External links[edit]