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Ray Abrahams's Biography (Books)

Dr Abrahams is retired from a full-time position in the University Department of Social Anthropology, but continues to teach Churchill undergraduates. He has carried out field research in East Africa, Finland and Estonia. His research interests include vigilantism and other features of relations between local communities and the State, post-Soviet society, witchcraft, family property and personal identity.

Ray Abrahams College positions:


1981 - Director of Studies - Archaeology & Anthropology
1969 - 1999 Teaching Fellow
1975 - 1986 Tutor

Some Ray Abrahams's publications (not readily available online):

"Two East African Entrepreneurs", Cambridge Anthropology, 12, 1, 1-14, 1987.
"Edmund Leach. Some early memories", Cambridge Anthropology, 13, 3, 19-30, 1989-90. (This personal memoir of my first teacher in anthropology was written for the Cambridge Anthropology memorial volume for Edmund Leach. For a recent generous comment on it, see Tambiah. S. Edmund Leach: an Anthropological Life, CUP. 2002, p.57-8.)

"Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose?" in Shapiro (ed) On the Generation and Maintenance of the Person, Special Issue No.1 The Australian Journal of Anthropology, 131-46, 1991. (A Finnish version of this paper on aspects of organ transplantation was published in Journal of Social Medicine, Helsinki, 1991. The paper was part of a 70th birthday festschrift for John Barnes.)
"Villagers and the State among the Baloney?", Cambridge Anthropology, 17, 1. (An autobiographical discussion of the development of, and connections between, my research interests 1957-94.)

"The Vigilantes Ride Again",Cambridge Anthropology, 23, 2, 67-8, 2003.(A short comment on the Iraq war looked at as a piece of international vigilantism. I was interested to see in November 2008 that a senior British legal figure had come to a similar conclusion.)

"Isaac Schapera - recollections and thoughts", Cambridge Anthropology, 24, 1, 53-6, 2004. (Since publishing this paper shortly after his death, I have come across an interesting interview given by Schapera to Jean and John Comaroff [Comaroff J. and J., Schapera I. "On the Founding Fathers, Fieldwork and Functionalism: A Conversation with Isaac Schapera", American Ethnologist, 15, 3, 554-65,1986]. There, in sharp contrast to his 1953 paper, and with possibly playful hyperbole, he is quite dismissive of 'comparative anthropology', suggesting it is liable to eliminate "everything but the lowest common denominators - and then you miss everything worthwhile, don't you?" (p.562). It will be clear that I myself prefer to seek a viable middle way between undue abstraction on the one hand and ideographic excess on the other.)

"A Modern Witch-hunt among the Lango of Uganda", Cambridge Anthropology, 10, 1, 32-44, 1985. (This paper was written as a memorial tribute to Audrey Richards, my main Ph.D supervisor and a pioneer analyst of such phenomena. In retrospect, I might sensibly have made more comparative use of its disturbing material on the treatment of suspects than I have done in subsequent publications on vigilantism and witchcraft. A further point of comparative interest is its reference to local fears that increased travel by labour migrants and others facilitates the acquisition of ever more powerful medicines for sorcery.)

"The Name of the Game", Cambridge Anthropology, 11, 2, 15-20, 1987. (A critical commentary on, and co-published with, a paper by Leach on ethnography as fiction.)

"Fortune's Last Theorem", Cambridge Anthropology, 23, 1, 60-2, 2002. (This brief paper, written with Huon Wardle, recalls a little known contribution which the eccentric and enigmatic anthropologist Reo Fortune made to the study of prime numbers. More accurately termed 'Fortune's Conjecture', it came as a considerable surprise to Cambridge number theorists in the 1960s.)

"Vigilantism: further thoughts on comparative study" (forthcoming in a volume edited by Thomas Kirsch and Tilo Grtz on African Vigilantes and Militias, based on papers presented to a workshop of the German Anthropological Association Conference, in Halle, October 2005. The paper explores possibilities for comparison between local forms of vigilante organization and pays particular attention to differences between 'sungusungu' groups in the Nyamwezi/Sukuma area of Tanzania,where the groups first began as a grass roots development, and among the Kuria of the Tanzania/Kenya border area to which they were imported largely through governmental influence. A factor of some importance appears to be differences between indigenous society and culture in the two areas.)