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Robin Fox, anthropologist, historian of ideas, occasional poet and essayist, is University Professor of Social Theory at Rutgers.  Born in England in 1934 he was educated at the London School of Economics and Harvard, with post-doctoral work at the Stanford University School of Medicine.  He did fieldwork among the Pueblo Indians of New Mexico and Arizona, and with the Gaelic-speaking Irish of Tory Island off the coast of Donegal.  He also worked with primate groups (Macaques and Vervets) in Bermuda and the Caribbean. After teaching at the universities of Exeter and London in the UK, where he revived Edward Westermarck’s ideas on incest avoidance (the “Westermarck Effect”) he came to Rutgers to start up its department of anthropology in 1967. With his colleague Lionel Tiger he was a director of research for the H. F. Guggenheim Foundation for twelve years and helped start up the revolution of ideas about social behavior now known as Sociobiology.  Together they wrote The Imperial Animal (1970), which introduced evolutionary and ethological thinking to the social sciences. He has written or edited nineteen books, the best known of which is probably Kinship and Marriage:An Anthropological Perspective (1967), which in all its editions and translations remains one of the most widely used anthropological texts in the world. His autobiography (of his first 40 years) was published in 2000 as Participant Observer: Memoir of a Transatlantic Life. His latest two books are The Tribal Imagination: Civilization and the Savage Mind (Harvard 2011) and Shakespeare’s Education: Schools, Lawsuits, Theater and the Tudor Miracle (Laugwitz Verlag 2012), reflecting his life-long interest in the Shakespeare authorship question.  He currently works on the archaeology of the Calusa Indians in SW Florida, and the light this can shed on the origins and failures of complex societies. In 2013 he was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in the anthropology and evolutionary biology sections.
"We are a species among all the others, rather a special one, but one that will be judged like the others. We have no dispensation from nature; we are not cut loose from the requirements of natural selection; intelligence is not peculiar to us, nor does it guarantee our superiority or our success; we must measure up or join her list of interesting but extinct experiments in living and reproducing. Our only uniqueness is that if we go, it will be in full consciousness of what we do, which is no compliment to our uniqueness."

From: The Red Lamp of Incest: An Enquiry into the Origins of Mind and Society.

Chimps with existential questions

And did some sly, malicious god
when an ape first stood and faced the sky,
prepare a two-edged gift, a rod
it sought to cure this hubris by?
It did, and so the creature choked,
then straining through its tears it croaked
the first, pathetic "why?."

From: The Passionate Mind: Sources of Destruction and Creativity (and from The Character of Human Institutions.)

The following is a publisher's summary, so please bear with the impersonal style.

Robin Fox was born in the Brontë village of Haworth in the Yorkshire Dales, at the height of the Great Depression in 1934. He had very little schooling during WWII, moving all over England with his soldier father, and his mother, then an army nursing aide. (See the dedication to Kinship and Marriage.) The Church of England, the Army, public libraries, the Boy Scouts and the BBC, substituted for school. Through a series of scholarships (including one to the Grammar School in the village of Thornton where the Brontës were born) he made his way to the London School of Economics in 1953, and did his undergraduate degree in Sociology (1st class honors) including a heavy dose of Philosophy and Social Anthropology. He went to Harvard for graduate work in the Department of Social Relations, and found himself in New Mexico studying language and society among the Pueblo Indians. He concentrated on the Pueblo of Cochiti, on the Rio Grande, on which he wrote his Ph.D. thesis, a revised version of which was published as The Keresan Bridge: A Problem in Pueblo Ethnology, 1967.

He returned to England where he taught for four years at the University of Exeter, starting fieldwork on Tory Island – a remote Gaelic-speaking community off the coast of Donegal in Ireland, and writing his first museum-series publication: Kinship and Land Tenure on Tory Island. His work on the island eventually resulted in a book The Tory Islanders: A People of the Celtic Fringe (1978), for which the University of Ulster awarded him a doctor of science (D.Sc.) degree. He then returned to the LSE for four more years, lecturing mainly on kinship, and producing the widely used text Kinship and Marriage: An Anthropological Perspective (1967.)  He published what became a classic paper "Sibling Incest" in the British Journal of Sociology (1962), where he revived the work on incest of Edward Westermarck and coined the term "Westermarck effect." Under the influence of such figures as John Bowlby, David Attenborough (his student for a while) Robert Ardrey, Niko Tinbergen, Desmond Morris and Lionel Tiger, he became interested in Ethology – the science of the evolution of behavior. He and Tiger wrote a paper on "The Zoological Perspective in Social Science" (1965.) This was one of the first salvos in the great debate on the nature/nurture issue that was to flare up in the sixties and seventies. During this time he saw three daughters into the world, Kate, Ellie and Anne. (See the dedication to Encounter with Anthropology.)

Rutgers University offered him a chair of anthropology in 1967, and the chance to start a new department, including Tiger. This has grown to be a major research department and graduate program. In 2010 its two degree programs (evolutionary anthropology and cultural anthropology) were ranked in the top ten in the country by Academe, the journal of the American Association of University Professors. He and Tiger completed their joint work, The Imperial Animal, in 1970, a book that galvanized the nature/nurture debate and provoked a mix of enthusiasm and vituperation. He spent a year at Stanford University (Department of Psychiatry) as an NIMH fellow, studying behavioral biology and the brain with David Hamburg and Karl Pribram.

In 1972, The Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation, through its president Mason Gross (ex-president of Rutgers) made them joint Research Directors, and started a program of support for work particularly on violence and dominance. The list of their grantees is a Who's Who in the early development of what came to be known as Sociobiology: E. O. Wilson, Richard Dawkins, Robert Trivers, Napoleon Chagnon, Michael McGuire (who discovered the correlation between rank and serotonin), and Herb Terrace and the chimpanzee Nim. It also included such people as Daniel Kahneman, who received the Nobel Prize for economics in 2003, and Eugene Redmond and the now famous International Primate Research Center on St. Kitts WI. They worked for twelve years with the Foundation, and during that time he did original research among Macaque monkeys on Bermuda, with Dieter Steklis, and produced several books including Encounter with Anthropology, Biosocial Anthropology (editor), The Red Lamp of Incest, and Neonate Cognition (edited with Jacques Mehler of CNRS.)

During this same period he was a visiting professor at Oxford, Paris (Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales), California at San Diego, and the Universitad de los Andes in Bogatá, Colombia, where he did a participant observer stint as a bullfighter. In 1985 Rutgers made him a University Professor, the highest honor it can give a faculty member. He wrote The Search for Society, his "equal time response" to the interpretive anthropology of Clifford Geertz, and The Violent Imagination, a book of essays, verse, satire, drama and dialogue. He was then a Senior Overseas Scholar at St. John's College, Cambridge, and wrote a series of related collections of his essays. The first was Reproduction and Succession, relating his part in both the appeal of a Mormon policeman to the Supreme Court, and the famous "Baby M" surrogate mother trials in New Jersey. Then followed The Challenge of Anthropology, and Conjectures and Confrontations. In 2001 he added significantly to the material in The Violent Imagination, plus a foreword by his neighbor and friend Ashley Montagu, which came out as The Passionate Mind. He has published a number of papers on contemporary affairs in The National Interest – nationalism, the nature of war, the Northern Ireland problem, and a series of exchanges on human rights, with Frank Fukuyama and Amnesty International.

(Now I am in my own voice again.) The dry bones of biography do not convey the richness and excitement of a life lived between the two worlds of Europe and America, and amongst some of the most energizing ideas of the century. To try to capture some of this I have completed a memoir of the first forty years of my "accidental life," called Participant Observer: Memoir of a Transatlantic Life (see "Memoir" under "Books"). Meanwhile I live near Princeton, New Jersey on a small farm (corn, rye, soy beans,  timber, bees, wildlife) with my wife Lin, a former associate professor of health sciences at Kean University NJ. (See the dedication to The Passionate Mind. - originally The Violent Imagination)) We have a winter retreat on Sanibel Island in S. W. Florida, where I pursue a research interest in the archaeology of the Calusa Indians with the help of local boatmen and sailors. When not working I try my hand at art (pastel and watercolor), music (choral singing - from barbershop to oratorio, classical guitar, songwriting,) and follow college football, especially the Scarlet Knights: an acquired passion replacing ancestral Rugby.

Lin, a longstanding member of the U. S. Green Building Council, had a project to educate us on The Healthy House. Two of my daughters, after education in England, France, the USA and Ireland, live and work in England. Kate is a director of the Social Issues Research Center in Oxford, and has written a best seller: Watching the English. (Kate is married to Henry Marsh CBE, who was the subject of the award-winning film The English Surgeon and is now the author of the best-selling memoir Do No Harm.) Anne, having studied at George Washington University and in the old USSR (Leningrad) founded and runs Galahad SMS Ltd., a social-science research firm. She has completed a doctoral dissertation for London University on the drinking culture of the British army, and produced my latest grandson. Ellie lived for nine years in the Bekaa Mountains of Lebanon with her husband and my other four grandsons (and now two great-grandsons). She and they speak fluent Arabic. They were rescued off the beaches in the great escape of 2006 and now live in New Jersey. (See the dedication to Reproduction and Succession.)

I am currently working on a revised view of the advantages of inbreeding and the relationship between consanguinity and fertility, on animal dispersion and human sectarianism, and the origins and failures of civilization. I teach courses on the latter and on the history of anthropology, comparative mythology, incest in literature, and American Indians (see "Courses.") My latest book is The Tribal Imagination: Civilization and the Savage Mind (Harvard 2011.) (See "Books") I am also working on my interest in the Shakespeare authorship question ( I favor the Earl of Oxford as the alternative candidate) especially the issue of his possible education and the role of the Grammar Schools in the making of the Tudor miracle and the modern world, and translating his and my favorite, Ovid, on the side. A book of essays on the issue is being published as Shakespeare's Education. A festschrift edited by Michael Egan is called The Character of Human Insitutions. 

In response to the events of 9/11, I became an American citizen in 2002: better late than never. I am deeply fond of, and grateful to, the USA, (and especially Rutgers) for the chances and rewards it has given me, while never losing my affection for my native British Isles. To crown the whole unlikely episode, in April 2013 I was elected a member of the US National Academy of Sciences, the highest honor the national community of scientists can bestow: an especially moving moment for an immigrant!  

I hope you enjoy my ideas and read my books. Thank you.

                                                                With Lin, 25th wedding anniversary
With Lin, 80th birthday

With Anne, Kate and Ellie. 80th birthday.
                                         With Alexander on the farm, looking for bobcats.


Some more (intellectual)  biography taken from a draft for The Tribal Imagination.


A little background is in order to put these essays into context, both personal and professional. I have been intrigued by the rise and fall of civilizations since a schoolboy interest in Arnold Toynbee in post WWII England, when we were desperate to know what went wrong. A second-hand copy of the abridged edition of A Study of History was the most thumbed and annotated tome in the small collection that my very small allowance permitted. This was augmented by Edward Gibbon ’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (school library) and H. G. Wells’ The Outline of History (a gift from my mother), and the game was afoot.

Also, at about this time, I bought at a second-hand bookstall in Ireland two precious volumes of Montesquieu’s The Spirit of Laws. (The bookseller had no idea of their value.) This was an English translation published in Dublin in 1751, with “corrections and additions” by the author, and bearing the owner’s signature “Henry Hamilton 1776.” (The Hamiltons were a prominent Scots-Irish family, but the notorious Governor Henry was off fighting the American Revolutionaries in Canada on that date. Could it have been his father who was aso Henry? No. He died in 1743. Mystery.) These leather-bound, faded volumes seemed to speak to me directly from the eighteenth century as I struggled to understand them. They gave me an emotionally powerful connection to the philosophers of the Enlightenment and their driving ambition to find the causes for the rise and decline of civilizations.

What was civilization? Was its appearance inevitable? How had it arisen from the primitive tribal condition and why did it seem so vulnerable and so inevitably to fail? Was civilization indeed an advanced stage that left the tribal behind, or was the tribal always with us in some form, beckoning us back? How far from the tribal state could we stray without going adrift and foundering? For Toynbee the threatening tribes on the fringes of civilization (the “external proletariat”) were never so dangerous as the “failure of will” inside civilization itself.

Well-stocked public and college libraries sent me to Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, to Hegel and Marx (and more interestingly Engels), to Sartre, Schweitzer, Freud and Spengler, and produced a lot of information and even more puzzlement. I was immensely fortunate to find a sympathetic degree course in sociology at the London School of Economics in the early 1950s. We were encouraged to read the philosophers of history even though the prevailing empiricism did not hold their methods in high regard. I had to deal directly with Karl Popper and his criticisms of Historicism. I was smitten with Popper and took his point, but still thought the questions could be asked in a way that was subject to falsification. Popper himself, as we shall see in Chapter 12, asked them in his own way, which became my way.

I did not find either British Empiricism or Continental Existentialism much help in this matter, but I did find the Sociology of Knowledge and Comparative Sociology more than enough to compensate. I was led to Max Weber and Herbert Spencer, to Emile Durkheim and the developmental anthropologists, particularly E. B. Tylor and James Frazer. I was in fact specializing in social anthropology, but found to my disappointment that in the form of Functionalism it had not only abandoned the questions that drew me to the study of the tribes, but it positively banned them. There was no point, I was told, in dealing with known error, however interesting it might be. So Freud and Jung were out too.

At Harvard in the 1950s I found the questions still alive among the Americans, (Sorokin, Kroeber, Steward, White.) Freud was front and center, but mostly the clinical Freud not the philosopher of history. In any case I got skillfully sidetracked to the Pueblos of the Southwest and socio-cultural anthropology and, to be fair, it has made me a decent living. But the questions still nagged. As I watched anthropology drift further and further away from them, I finally, in the London of the 1960s, discovered Darwin and the relevance of Darwinism to the questions. It was meeting John Bowlby and Lionel Tiger that gave me the nudge that turned into a push that became a vocation. (See Participant Observer for details.) Anthropologists, embarrassed by the laissez-faire capitalist propaganda of Social Darwinism (so-called) and by the ugly use of Darwinism in Germany and among advocates of racism generally, scooted in the other (ideologically safer) direction, energetically disavowing their own heritage and their purpose and status as a science.

But my curiosity was still there with Toynbee and Spengler and Spencer and Morgan, with Freud and Popper and all those for whom the question of the origin, nature and viability of civilization was an issue that could not be avoided. I found through the amazing upsurge of developments in social biology and evolutionary science, combined with Comparative Ethnography (anthropology’s precious archive of human social behavior in pre-literate societies) a route back to the question of civilization and the savage mind. I have been exploring it ever since. What we have in this book (Tribal Imagination) then, are a few more explorations in that same direction.


Dad in India: Pictures from the Raj 1929-32

In his first tour of India Dad had no camera, but from 1929 (after a leave in England where he met my mother) he had a small Kodak Brownie box camera - more or less a box with a fixed lens and a shutter, and sent snaps to my mother to illustrate his many letters.  Most have disappeared but these few were salvaged and they present a unique view of the Anglo-Indian world through the eyes of young trooper.  His comments on the backs are in quotes.

The picture below is my favorite.
"Indian Dancing Lady"

The tribal men and boys (visiting Peshawar for a taste of urban thrills) don't look  much different from those we see today almost ninety years later, except that the long-barreled rifles would likely now be Kalashnikovs. 

"2nd Battalion King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry trooping the color, Peshawar Cricket Ground."

(Trooping the Color on the cricket ground!  What could more graphically epitomize the Raj and the curious love-hate affair between Britain and India?))

"Agra, the Red Fort. Taken from outside.  Quite a good snap."

He had a few of the Taj Mahal across the way from the fort, but they have been lost.  He told my mother the love story of Shah Jehan and Mumtaz Mahal in his letters.
Dad with a cannon at the Red Fort

This is one of the notorious cannons to which mutineers were strapped (across the muzzle) and then blown apart.

"2nd Battalion, KOYLI.  From John with Love."

"Two of The Lads" with their signal equipment and their sergeant.

"Signallers at rest". X marks Signaller First Class John R. Fox. The green pom-poms in the topees were a badge of the KOYLI Regiment. We still have Dad's, sun bleached but intact.  There was no Royal Corps of Signals in those days.  Each regiment had its own company - and each  battalion its own platoon - of signallers. And these were still the days of signal flags  and Morse code by heliograph.  Radio was primitive.  An officer told him to raise a battalion on the radio.  He pointed out that they were twenty miles away and the radio had a range of only ten miles.  "That's your problem sonny," was the unanswerable reply.

More of the signal company

"In the city (Peshawar) Christmas Day 1931"  

(Riot duty was the thing he disliked the most.  There was honor in battling the tribes who were fierce fighting men, and it was a "fair fight" - man-to-man, bayonet-to-sword -  but "crowd control was for coppers, not soldiers" he used to say.
Marching unarmed was meant to show "benign resolve" the men were told.

"Kashmir. On leave 1931."

"Kashmir.  The Venice of India."  (It was all "water and palaces" he said.)

"Khyber Pass
Punitive Expedition"

Against the Pathan (Pashtun) tribesmen.
Dad standing center.  One of many such punitive expeditions - which. he said, were rightly so named, "because we always got punished." The young Winston Churchill was mentioned in despatches for his action on one such expedition.  Part of the young Winston's tenacious and often reckless search for early recognition to parlay into political success at home (see W. S. Churchill, , 1898. The Story of the Malakand Field Force. Reprinted 2006 by Wildside Press LLC. and the good movie "Young Winston")

Dad was largely interested in just getting back alive.  But you always, he said, saved one bullet just in case you  were the last man standing, considering what they did to the captured "Johnnies. "

"Marching through the city (Peshawar) Christmas 1931"  With weapons this time!

"Peshawar City.  The bazar during the riots." Street crowded, then street cleared.
"Mule duty."

This is not dad but a mate who was responsible for the mules which carried everything for the soldiers.  The mules were much admired as sure-footed and tough animals, and were well cared for.  Horses were for the officers and considered generally useless by the men, occupying too much of a soldier's time and effort with no tangible benefits.

"Occupying the Congress House during the riots, Peshawar."   These were riots by "the Gandhi men."

"Road from Cherat by Peshawar."

The lads again.  (With the native water carrier. Shades of Gunga Din.)

The Lads had a deal among themselves that none of them would "go in for promotion" while they were in India, because that would split them up.

Peshawar Zoo and more of the trooping of the colors.

"Bombay. The Gateway to India.  Prince of Wales visit."

"Prince of Wales in Peshawar."  

This was the future Edward VIII at the height of his popularity as PoW.  After the abdication his name was never spoken in our house.  Something about this snapshot epitomizes the Raj: an English prince with a handful of British officers and Indian servants (note the page boys on the stairs) looks out over the native  masses, with the unseen regiments offstage, but ready.  These photos are unique and have a real historical value. The reason Dad could take this "from above" photo was that as a first-class marksman he was stationed on "sniper duty" on one of the highest buildings, and took his Brownie with him.
"Yours truly with a smile on his face."

(Note the children of the regiment in their solar topees. How I regretted not being one of them.)

"Waiting for the second relief from Kabul."

Pictures of this extraordinary episode are in Participant Observer with details of the action.  Here British dignitaries, officers and their wives wait at a British airfiled (outside Peshawar)  for the "Relief from Kabul" carrying members of the King's court.  Dad was one of the signallers assigned to this operation and took these unofficial pictures with his Brownie box camera.

​"Relief from Kabul.  King of Afghanistan." (1929)

 This is the fleeing King of Afghanistan getting out of the plane. I sent a copy of these to the Imperial War Museum. This was the first time the British army used a plane in a military operation.
I think this is a record of the flight of Amanullah Khan (1919-29)  It could be his brother, who reigned for a few months after his abdication.  Either way the royal family was finished.  He had been a great reforming monarch, and if they had succeeded, Amānullāh's reforms would have totally transformed Afghanistan after the manner of Ataturk, whom he greatly admired. The history of our time might have been different. Most of his proposals, however, died with his abdication. His transforming social and educational reforms included: adopting the solar calendar, requiring Western dress in parts of Kabul and elsewhere, discouraging the veiling and seclusion of women, abolishing slavery and forced labor, introducing secular education (for girls as well as boys); adult education classes and educating nomads. His economic reforms included restructuring, reorganizing, and rationalizing the entire tax structure, anti-smuggling and anti-corruption campaigns, a livestock census for taxation purposes, the first budget (in 1922), implementing the metric system (which did not take hold), establishing the Bank-i-Melli (National Bank) in 1928, and introducing the Afghani as the new unit of currency in 1923.  (From the Wikipedia entry on Amanullah.)

But Russian intrigue, conservative opposition and above all the revolt of rival tribes, drove him out and the country collapsed back into its tribal, feuding condition.  The thing my father remembered most was a survivor of the King's entourage telling how the tribal rebels had crucified many royal supporters on each side of the road into Kabul.  When I told him just before he died that  the Russians were back in Afghanistan, he replied: "They were never out." A few years later they invaded in earnest.  He was dead then, but it was his opinion to the end that Western Civilization might founder in Afghanistan.

"From John to Nancy with love"

Dad in Dress Uniform (unusual!)  Note the flags indicating signaller, and the small bugle with a white rose at the center on the collar, the badge of the KOYLI regiment.

 with Alexander (grandson) on the Honda.
North West Frontier Medal 1932

Not bad for boy who at sixteen ran away from his family because they wouldn't save his dog, unjustly put down for attacking a neighbour who had provoked it.  He lied about his age and was enlisted in the KOYLI regiment in Pontefract, Yorkshire and sent to Dover Castle on the south coast where he stood guard in an ill-fitting uniform and with an unloaded gun, before being immediately shipped off to India.  (See Participant Observer for more details of his life.)


For a brilliant and harrowing modern novel about war in Afghanistan today read Green on Blue: A Novel by Elliot Ackerman, NY Scribner, 2015. They don't come better than this.