Participant Observer: Memoir of a Transatlantic Life

Overview

Robin Fox, one of the preeminent anthropologists of our time, takes us on an exuberant personal, intellectual and cultural journey through the 1930s to the 1970s. This is a personal, historical, intellectual journey, one that is at once intriguing, hilarious, and moving. Like Browning's Sordello (who recurs throughout the book), Fox is telling the story of "the development of a soul." Fox's method is to depend entirely on memory to select the people, events, and ideas that have driven him towards what was called ...

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Overview

Robin Fox, one of the preeminent anthropologists of our time, takes us on an exuberant personal, intellectual and cultural journey through the 1930s to the 1970s. This is a personal, historical, intellectual journey, one that is at once intriguing, hilarious, and moving. Like Browning's Sordello (who recurs throughout the book), Fox is telling the story of "the development of a soul." Fox's method is to depend entirely on memory to select the people, events, and ideas that have driven him towards what was called at the time a "revolution in the social sciences." This revolution was the founding of the biosocial, or what came to be called the sociobiological, movement in the study of human behavior. It was a long road peppered with strange events, brain-bending ideas, odd adventures, dangers and sorrows, and a cast of lively, often eccentric characters.

Fox describes himself as an observer of a series of endings: the last gasps of now extinct ways of life. He witnessed the last of the old steam and horse-powered northern wool towns of the industrial revolution and the pre-industrial Hardy countryside of southern England. He saw the ancient grammar schools before their destruction by doctrinaire socialism; the old LSE when it was still an international family, not just a big college; the brave but failed experiment that was Talcott Parsons' Social Relations Department. In the United States, he experienced the innocent but troubled America of the 1950s and the last gasp of traditional Indian life in New Mexico. He lived in genteel Jane Austen England in Devon and experienced peasant-crofter life in the Irish islands.

Participant Observer is a report from the cultural and social battlefront, seen through the personal lens of a combatant. Fox has given us a kind of Cook's Tour through the ideas and intellectual movements of mid-century, when the world changed and the foundations of the twenty-first century were set. It is the history of an education by a narrator in love with learning.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"This is a great read for aficionados of biographical method, autobiography, and the history of 20th-century ideas." —Choice "Robin Fox has had a fascinating, adventurous and funny life. It would make a great movie." —Peter Cattaneo, director of Academy Award nominee for Best Picture, The Full Monty "Participant Observer is so well written, so high-table picaresque, so obsessively learned, so slant, so provocative and skitterish. Who is this remarkable third-person writer pirouetting all around me? An important work stylistically and an important account of a chapter in intellectual history." —E. O. Wilson, Sociobiology: The New Synthesis "Participant Observer describes a fascinating intellectual odyssey. It is both a commentary on a career and, equally, an interpretation of the significant changes in the development of the social sciences during the period. He evokes forceful memories of English university life as it was poised to be transformed from an elite to a mass system of tertiary education…. It is a celebration of the interconnectedness between thought and action." —Lord Smith of Clifton, former vice-chancellor, The University of Ulster "A whirlwind ride through the formative years of modern anthropology. Robin Fox has never failed to entertain me." —Desmond Morris, The Naked Ape "Participant Observer, is a romp at blazing speed and with unfailing wit and verve through the great period of anthropology.... [It] is full of brilliant portraits of the great actors of that drama, and indeed of many of the leading figures of the last several decades in politics, show business, the arts and the sciences in general. It represents a worldview that we need now more than ever: one that loves the human race in all its self-ignorance, its tragic contradictions, and its foolish hopes." —Frederick Turner, Genesis: An Epic Poem "Robin Fox writes with great charm, directness and wit. His thinking is always independent and original. The unusual idea of combining a history of anthropology with the anthropologist's personal memoirs opens unexpected emotional and intellectual depths." —Mary Douglas, Purity and Danger "A memoir that deftly blends the nascence of the tectonic shift in the way humans perceive themselves with the way one human sees his own fascinating life. The result is a witty, artfully written autobiography, that is both important in the history of ideas and a joy to read." —William Wright, Lillian Hellman: The Image, The Woman "Robin Fox has written a spirited, poetic, amusing and erudite account of his journey through life and science. As his thoughtful and adventurous narrative unfolds, you come to understand the major twentieth-century ideas and events that have revolutionized the social sciences and are setting the intellectual trends today. It's a grand read: learned and an awful lot of fun." —Helen Fisher, Why We Love "Robin Fox's account of his long, rich life is gracefully crafted, consistently interesting, frequently funny, and all in all a pleasure to read. Since it has been a life of the mind, it is also a lively history of the ideas and events of the mid-to-late twentieth century." —Melvin Konner, The Tangled Wing "Robin Fox, once young rebel, now eminent explainer of social origins, smiter of chicanery and academic pap, is also a literary man, linguist, poet, singer, artist and adventurer. Friend and precept find him loyal. Fools he suffers suffer from him. He wears emblematic names, and you recognize him. Hideous shapes dance with beauty. Fear pursues glory. Buy it, steal it, keep it safe between the cinnamon and the ginger." —Richard de Mille, My Secret Mother: Lorna Moon In the tradition of Levi-Strauss's Tristes Tropiques (crossed with Angela's Ashes) “There is scarcely a misplaced word or unconvincing sentence throughout the 575 pages of this memoir.” —Lionel Tiger, The New York Sun
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780765802385
  • Publisher: Transaction Publishers
  • Publication date: 10/1/2004
  • Pages: 534
  • Product dimensions: 6.36 (w) x 9.38 (h) x 1.52 (d)

Meet the Author

Robin Fox is University Professor of Social Theory at Rutgers University. Among his best known works are The Imperial Animal (with Lionel Tiger); Kinship and Marriage; The Red Lamp of Incest; The Violent Imagination; The Search for Society and Encounter With Anthropology.

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