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 (Men in Groups)  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 modern 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.
​"Three things happened from which everything else follows:  
One: the Big Bang when the matter of the universe originated.  Nothing has been made since; there has only been a reordering of that matter (hydrogen, helium and a dash of lithium.) 
Two: Some matter became able to replicate itself.  This self-replication of matter we call Life.  
Three: Some self-replicating matter became conscious, and then some of that became conscious of itself. And here we are."  

Opening paragraph of lectures for 'Introduction to Anthropology' and 'Anthropology of Consciousness' courses.
"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: Final paragraph of The Red Lamp of Incest: An Enquiry into the Origins of Mind and Society.

Apes 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 (reproduced in The Character of Human Institutions.)


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

Robin Fox was born in the Yorkshire Dales at the height of the Great Depression in 1934. His first home was in the Brontë village of Haworth in the Pennines of West Yorkshire.  He had very little formal schooling during WWII, moving all over England with his soldier father (ex-Indian Army - landed in Normandy on D2)  and his mother, then an army nursing aide. (See the dedication to Kinship and Marriage.) The Church of England, the Army, public libraries, the Cubs and Scouts and the BBC, substituted for school. He survived a close encounter with a German bomb in Hull, then 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 (State Scholarship). He did his undergraduate degree in Sociology (B.Sc. 1st class honors) including a heavy dose of Philosophy (Karl Popper, Ernest Gellner, Morris Ginsberg) and Social Anthropology (Raymond Firth, Isaac Shapera, Maurice Freedman.)

He went to Harvard for graduate work in the Department of Social Relations (Clyde Kluckhohn, Dell Hymes, Paul Friedrich) and - through the good offices of Evon Vogt - 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 (London University - external examiner Edmund Leach) a revised version of which was published as The Keresan Bridge: A Problem in Pueblo Ethnology, 1967.  He worked for one year as a research associate with John Whiting at the Laboratory of Human Development (Palfrey House).

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 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 seminal paper "Sibling Incest" in the British Journal of Sociology (1962), where he revived the work on incest avoidance of Edward Westermarck and coined the term "Westermarck effect" (as opposed  to
"Freud effect"): a term now standard in anthropology.

Under the influence of such figures as John Bowlby, David Attenborough (his student for a while) Robert Ardrey, Niko Tinbergen, Desmond Morris (then curator of mammals at the London Zoo), primatologists John Napier and Michael Chance, and Canadian sociologist 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. He and Napier jointly taught a course on non-human primate societies, the first of its kind at the School,  He and Tiger helped Attenborough and Morris launch their LIFE: In the Animal World, BBC TV program. 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 - including the Center for Human Evolutionary Studies,  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 an academic year at Stanford University School of Medicine  (Department of Psychiatry) as an NIMH special 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. (See "Guggenheim Foundation")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, Jane Goodall, Richard Dawkins, Robert Trivers, Napoleon Chagnon, Michael McGuire (who discovered the correlation between rank and serotonin), Robert Sapolsky, and Herb Terrace and the chimpanzee Nim. It also included such people as Daniel Kahneman, who received the Nobel Prize for economic sciences in 2003, and Eugene Redmond and the now famous International Primate Research Center on St. Kitts WI, and  leading  kin-selection theorist W. D. Hamilton with whom he helped to found the Human Behavior and Evolution Society (1988). 

He and Tiger worked for twelve years with the Foundation, sharing time with Rutgers, and during that time he did original research among Macaque monkeys on  an island off 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 (Institute of Social Anthropology), Paris (Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales), California at San Diego, and the Universidad de los Andes in Bogatá, Colombia, where he did a participant observer stint as a bullfighter. (See "The Bulls"  in Participant Observer.) 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 Francis Fukuyama and Amnesty International ("Is there a human right to revenge?")


(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 "Participant Observer" under "Books").

Readers may note in glancing at  my CV that 1997 and the years after showed a break in active participation in the academic world.  The 'reactive arthritis' (it used to be called 'Reiter's Syndrome') that had first been diagnosed in my late thirties became a total hindrance to travel and adventure and led to heart problems which laid me pretty low and left me weak.   Enough of that, but curious readers might wonder so I tell it. It cut me off from several interesting possibilities like the Board of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany, or the headship of the Anthropology department at University College London, or the same at the Institute for Aboriginal Studies in Canberra...  The roads not taken!

Meanwhile I live near Princeton, New Jersey, on a small farm (corn, rye, soybeans,  timber, bees, wildlife - including a family of foxes and a herd of deer) 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 - see "Verse/Art"), 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, who was a longstanding member of the U. S. Green Building Council, developed 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, and its sequel Admissions.  Anne, having studied Russian 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 from the beaches in the great escape of 2006 and now live in New Jersey. (See the dedication to Reproduction and Succession.)

I have recently worked on a revised view of the advantages of inbreeding and the relationship between consanguinity and fertility (with M. L. Herbert) , on animal dispersion and human sectarianism, and the origins and failures of civilization. I have, thanks to the courageous work of younger scholars, found a renewed interest in Amerindian languages and what they can tell us about the history of the American Southwest.  I have most recently taught  courses 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 Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, as the alternative candidate)  especially his possible education and the role of the Grammar Schools in the making of the Tudor miracle and the modern world. A book of essays on the issue has been published as Shakespeare's Education. A festschrift edited by Michael Egan is called The Character of Human Institutions. (See "Books")

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 (where I have spent the last 50 years and only reluctantly retired - 2018) 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 of acceptance and recognition for an immigrant!  

I hope you enjoy my ideas and read my books. Thank you.
"​If you wish to be believed you must accept the burden of falsifiability. You must accept that your statements are hypotheses that are in principle subject to refutation. If you refuse to accept this burden, on any grounds whatsoever, then there is no reason why we should pay any further attention to anything you say, since you could just as well utter complete nonsense or gibberish; it would make no difference." (Conjectures and Confrontations, 182, quoted on website of  David Jenkins.)
Top  Withens today.  The roof is gone. The trees and moors remain.

Some Personal Pictures: since I don't have social media. 

With Lin, 25th wedding anniversary
With Anne, Kate and Ellie, 80th birthday, 2014

                         With Alexander on the farm, looking for bobcats.

The Family: four generations down to Jason and Priya (and now Aidan).
Including Lin's mother, we have five living generations
Jason and Aidan, who are Anglo-Irish-Welsh-Lebanese-Punjabi-American
Children of the Twenty-first Century


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, a short time later, I bought at a second-hand book-stall 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 risen 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. Meanwhile I was almost embarrassingly over educated in scientific method, statistics, social psychology, criminology, demography, moral and social philosophy, and, of course, economics.  

At Harvard in the late 1950s, in Talcott Parsons' gallant attempt to create an intergratted social science, 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, Desmond Morris 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.


1st 15

Tiger & Fox, New York, 1970

Original CUP edition
Canadian Edition 1971

Top Withens - the inspiration for Emily Brontë's
 Wuthering Heights, near the village of Haworth, W.Yorkshire, UK. (Photo c. 1930) The landscape of early childhood.
School Play: (At Thornton G. S.) Young Marlow in Goldsmith's She Stoops to Conquer - c.1950

LSE, London, Houghton Street, Aldwych
Karl Popper
John Bowlby

Recent reprint                         Original Edition
Pueblo Indian Corn Dance  (Cochiti NM)

Tory Island - approach from the mainland (Donegal)
David Attenborough
(Getty Images)
Desmond Morris and Friend    
Bermuda Macaques (Stumptails)

"El Gringo Blanco"
Novillado in Mario Laserna's ring
Altamira de Coelho, Calí, Columbia, 1982

With the King of Tory Island, Patsy Dan Rogers (Padraic Domhnal MacRuaraigh), U of Ulster, 1997
RUTGERS, Old Queens, Winter.

​Olivetti Lettera. On one of these beautiful machines the early stuff was written, during sandstorms in the desert Southwest of America and gales in the Atlantic Ocean off the west coast of Ireland. The  prototype is rightly on exhibit in MoMA, NYC.  Mine (a 21st birthday present from  my parents) was stolen in a burglary in Princeton NJ.  I still miss it.
            First intercollegiate football game:
                  Rutgers vs Princeton 1869,
                       Rutgers 6 Princeton 0
With Alex (grandson) on Johnie's Honda
Henry (son-in-law) preparing to operate.
 New York Times

Aboard the LunaC in Pine Island Sound FL.
Gift to me from Geeta and the family when in recovery  from heart surgery (2016) and bearded like the pard.

Man the Hunter

Priya                           and     Uncle Lionel
Local Bambi - we love our deer, but they carry Lyme disease. We love them at a safe distance.
                                                                                    Imperial Animal - Japanese Vol.1
                                                                                           Patsy Dan's biography