Rodney Needham

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Rodney Needham (15 May 1923 – 4 December 2006 in Oxford) was one of the leading British social anthropologists.

Born as Rodney Phillip Needham Green, Needham changed his name in 1947,the same year he married Claudia (Ruth) Brysz, they had two children, one of whom, Tristan became a professor of mathematics.

His fieldwork was with the Penan of Borneo (1951-2) and the Siwang of Malaysia (1953-5). He was University Lecturer in Social Anthropology, Oxford University, 1956-76; Professor of Social Anthropology, Oxford, 1976-90; Official Fellow, Merton College, Oxford, 1971-75; and Fellow, All Souls College, Oxford, 1976-90.

Together with Sir Edmund Leach and Mary Douglas, Needham brought structuralism across the Channel and anglicised it in the process. A prolific scholar, he was also a particularly inspiring teacher and an indefatigable rediscoverer of neglected figures in the history of his discipline, such as Arnold Van Gennep or Robert Hertz.

Among other things, he made a significant contribution to the study of family resemblance, introducing the terms "monothetic" and "polythetic" into anthropology.


  • 1962 Structure and sentiment
  • 1971 Rethinking kinship and marriage
  • 1972 Belief, language and experience
  • 1973 Right and left. Essays on dual symbolic classification
  • 1974 Remarks and inventions – Skeptical essays about kinship
  • 1975 Polythetic classification: Convergence and consequences
  • 1978 Primordial characters
  • 1978 Essential perplexities
  • 1979 Symbolic classification
  • 1980 Reconnaissances, U. of Toronto Press, ISBN 0-8020-2365-7
  • 1981 Circumstantial deliveries, Berkeley: University of California Press, ISBN 0-585-28111-4
  • 1983 Against the tranquility of axioms
  • 1983 Sumba and the slave trade
  • 1985 Exemplars, Berkeley: University of California Press, ISBN 0-520-05200-5
  • 1987 Counterpoints
  • 1987 Mamboru, history and structure in a domain of Northwestern Sumba

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