Research seminar: 'Fraternising with the Africans. Godfrey Wilson and

Date: 1 February 2011 Time: 5.00 pm

Venue: Bowland North seminar room 1

'Fraternising with the Africans. Godfrey Wilson and "Good Company" in 1930s Bunyakyusa'

Rebecca Marsland (Social Anthropology, Edinburgh University)

Organised byLancaster UniversityAfrican Studies Group

All welcome!

The story of Godfrey Wilson is a tragic one in the history of anthropology. One of Malinowski's favourite students, and the husband of Monica Wilson who went on to become an eminent anthropologist based in South Africa, Godfrey was set to become one of the most outstanding anthropologists of his generation, not least because of his extraordinary ability as a field researcher. He was the first director of the Rhodes Livingstone Institute (RLI) -later to be made famous by Max Gluckman, but was forced to resign after just a few years after conflict with the colonial settlers in copperbelt Northern Rhodesia.

Godfrey's presence had become politically irksome for many reasons, his research findings contradicted colonial labour policy, and he was a conscientious objector who refused to encourage African men to join the war effort. Furthermore, he took his Malinowskian training seriously and insisted on fulfilling the 'participation' element of 'participant-observation' much more fully than his teacher ever did, which from the point of view of the racially charged politics of settler society looked too much like 'fraternising with the Africans'. Forced to resign, Godfrey joined the ambulance corps, but an earlier bout of mental illness returned and he took his own life in 1942.

This paper seeks to fill out an earlier stage in this sequence of events, and to shed light on Godfrey's fieldworker personality that was later to prove so provocative, and possibly fatal. Before taking up his post at the RLI, Godfrey had spent four years of intensive fieldwork in Bunyakyusa (in neighbouring Tanganyika) with his wife Monica. After his death, Monica wrote up the product of their joint effort in three of the richest ethnographies in Africanist anthropology. Through analysis of his fieldnotes, letters and other papers from this period, the paper reconstructs Godfrey's 'fieldwork style' -one that leaned heavily on the taking part in masculine pursuits with Nyakyusa men -sharing food, attending beer parties, hunting, and discussing women. The Wilsons also quite self-consciously styled themselves as 'not quite European'. Richly rewarding and successful in Bunyakyusa this fieldwork style yielded some quite remarkable and dense data, but transferred to the politically charged arena of the Copperbelt it was to have tragic results.

Event website:


Who can attend: Anyone


Further information

Associated staff: Charlotte Baker

Organising departments and research centres: European Languages and Cultures

Keywords: Africa, Cultural anthropology, Social history 18th - 20th centuries, Socio-Cultural Anthropology, Twentieth century history