SOAS University of London

Department of Anthropology and Sociology

Professor Richard Fardon

BSc (Econ), PhD (London), FBA
  • Teaching
  • Research
  • Expertise
  • Publications


Richard Fardon
Department of Anthropology and Sociology

Emeritus Professor

Professor Richard Fardon
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I have been associated with SOAS for over thirty years: I joined as a lecturer from the University of St Andrews in 1988 and was promoted to a professorship in West African Anthropology in 1996, retiring as emeritus in September 2018. A year on, I returned as Interim Head of the Doctoral School in November 2019, reverting to emeritus status from September 2020. My various roles at SOAS included two terms as, what was then called, Chairman of the University of London Centre of African Studies (1993-97 & 2001-5), Head of the Department of Anthropology and Sociology (2003-5 jointly; 2006-10) and founding Head of the SOAS Doctoral School (2012-16, 2019-20).

Outside SOAS, I served as Chair of the Association of Social Anthropologists (2001-05) and as a Vice-President of the Royal Anthropological Institute (2006-9). Roles in Higher Education included membership of the RAE subject panels (for the 2001 and 2008 exercises), and membership of the Research and Higher Education Policy Committee of the British Academy (2006-12) and Chair of BA Section S3 (Anthropology and Geography) (2018-21).

Publication roles have included editor or co-editorship of AFRICA, the journal of the International African Institute (2001-7), and membership of the Publications Committees of the British Academy (2007-13) and of the Royal Anthropological Institute (2004-13).
I am current Chair of Trustees of the International African Institute (2016-) and a member of the Council of the Royal Anthropological Institute (2021-).



My research has been focused on the ethnography and history of West Africa, and on contemporary anthropological theory seen in the light of its twentieth-century history.
My initial fieldwork, among Chamba living in Nigeria in the mid-1970s, was written up as a UCL doctorate in Anthropology (1980). Further research in Cameroon in the 1980s provided comparative ethnography that, along with archival materials, provided the substance of a pair of monographs: the first on Chamba politics and history, and the second on variations in religious practice (1988 Raiders and Refugees and 1990 Between God, the Dead, and the Wild). Around this time, I was particularly interested in ethnicity and processes of identification, about which I wrote theoretically and comparatively (some of these essays are among those collected in 2014, Tiger in an African Palace).

During the 1990s, my research concentrated on the twentieth-century history of British social anthropology: writing an intellectual biography of the anthropologist Mary Douglas (1999), who was one of my teachers at UCL, and, with Jeremy Adler, editing and introducing the selected writings of the Jewish Czech exile Franz Baermann Steiner, who was one of Douglas’s teachers at Oxford (1999). These interests continued: as her literary executor, I edited the final two volumes of Mary Douglas’s collected essays, published (2013) as A Very Personal Method and Cultures and Crises; and Jeremy Adler and I co-wrote a biography, Franz Baermann Steiner: a stranger in the world (2022). As well as occasional essays about Douglas and Steiner, I have also written on Robin Horton, V.W. Turner and my SOAS colleague, J.D.Y. Peel, several of whose posthumous works I edited as his literary executor.

My main focus returned to West Africa at the beginning of the twenty-first century, particularly to art history in a broad sense, again combining ethnography with archival and museum research. Two books appeared under the general title ‘Chamba Arts in Context’. The first, co-authored with Christine Stelzig [Kron], Column to Volume: Formal Innovation in Chamba Statuary (2005), set out to solve the conundrum of a stylistic departure in Chamba figure sculpture; the second, Fusions: Masquerades and Thought Style East of the Niger-Benue Confluence, West Africa (2007), extended an early interest in patterns of transformation between neighbouring societies in middle Nigeria and Cameroon, by looking at variations in the forms and conceptions of their masquerades.

This comparative interest in historic artworks was broadened regionally to collaborate on a major exhibition and catalogue, Central Nigeria Unmasked: Arts of the Benue River Valley (2011, with Marla Berns and Sidney Kasfir). This project had a particularly long gestation since it had been initiated before his death by Arnold Rubin in the 1980s. The exhibition opened at the Fowler Museum (UCLA), before travelling to the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, the Cantor Center at Stanford and the Musée du quai Branly in Paris where it closed in 2013. The catalogue won the 2014 Triennial Award for the best multi-authored book on African Arts from the Arts Council of the African Studies Association.

Around the same time, my visits to German and Swiss archives added a historical dimension to my field experience of a ceremony that spread and mutated with the Chamba migrants who eventually reached the Grassfields of Cameroon during the nineteenth century (2006, Lela: History through Ceremony in Cameroon). Lela became a contemporary festival of regional significance the development of which, unusually, could be tracked for two centuries, including, from the early twentieth century, in photographic as well as written records.

This continuing interest in historical African arts has more recently led me to write about Mumuye figure sculptures (2020), and to co-author a book-length collaborative study (2021, with Tim Chappel and Klaus Piepel) on the arts, particularly in copper alloy, of the Verre of Nigeria. A spin-off from my necessary interest in the early German ethnography of this region was an essay on the Leo Frobenius and his expedition artist Carl Arriens written together with Richard Kuba (2021). A twentieth-century African creator is the subject of another collaborative book, Learning from the Curse (2017), conceived with the artist Sènga la Rouge, which explores the impact of the Senegalese novelist and film maker, Ousmane Sembene’s classic novel and film Xala. Although in part a result of coincidences, I see in retrospect that biographical works have figured largely in my career, including essays on the Tiv intellectual and author Akiga Sai (2015) and the Chamba Chief Garbosa II (2021).

In relation to anthropological theory, the Association of Social Anthropologists’ Handbook of Social Anthropology, of which I was managing editor, appeared in two hefty volumes with Sage in mid-2012, and encouraged me to return to theoretical concerns (for example, conferences published in 1985, 1990, 1995) that had been in abeyance while my work took an, at least on the surface of it, more substantive turn.
As is evident from this brief survey, I have enjoyed working with others across disciplines. In addition to the collaborators already cited, I have done so particularly often with the linguist Raymond Boyd (1992, 2041), whose research on Chamba language has been inspirational, and with the SOAS literary scholar Graham Furniss (1994, 2000), our most recent project involving an introduction to the translation of an extensive history of his own people written in Hausa by a Chamba Chief of the mid-twentieth century, Garbosa II, the Gara Donga (2021).

My current writing and researching will, I hope, progress towards a general account of historical colour interactions in African conception and practice.


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Available for
  • Press
  • Briefings
Regional Expertise
  • Africa
Country Expertise
  • Cameroon
  • Nigeria


Authored Books

Adler, Jeremy and Fardon, Richard (2021) Franz Baermann Stainer: a stranger in the world. New York and Oxford: Berghahn.

Chappel, Tim and Fardon, Richard and Piepel, Klaus (2021) Surviving Works: context in Verre arts. Vestiges: traces of record.

Fardon, Richard and la Rouge, Senga (2017) Learning from the Curse: Sembene's Xala. London: C. Hurst and Co.

Fardon, Richard (2014) Tiger in an African Palace, and other thoughts about identification and transformation. Cameroon: Langaa RPCIG.

Berns, Marla C. and Fardon, Richard and Kasfir, Sidney Littlefield (2011) Central Nigeria Unmasked: Arts of the Benue River Valley. Los Angeles: Fowler Museum at UCLA.

Fardon, Richard (2007) Fusions: Masquerades and Thought-Style East of the Niger-Benue Confluence, West Africa. London: Saffron Press.

Fardon, Richard (2006) Lela in Bali: History through Ceremony in Cameroon. Oxford: Berghahn.

Fardon, Richard and Stelzig, Christine (2005) Column to volume: formal innovation in Chamba statuary. London: Saffron Books.

Fardon, Richard (1999) Mary Douglas: an Intellectual Biography. London; New York: Routledge.

Fardon, Richard (1999) Contrast and comparison : notes from a middle-belt West African practice.. London: School of Oriental and African Studies.

Fardon, Richard (1990) Between God, the dead and the wild: Chamba interpretations of religion and ritual. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press for the International African Institute.

Fardon, Richard (1988) Raiders and refugees: trends in Chamba political development, 1750-1950. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press.


Fardon, Richard and Kuba, Richard (2021) 'Adding Colour to Und Afrika Sprach: Carl Arriens’ Image and Leo Frobenius’ Text'. Bérose: Encyclopédie internationale des histoires de l’anthropologie, pp 1-37.

Fardon, Richard and Furniss, Graham (2021) 'The histories of an enlightened ruler: Malam Muhamman Bitemya Sambo, Garbosa II of Donga, Central Nigeria'. Vestiges: Traces of Record, (7) 2, pp 28-61.

Fardon, Richard (2020) 'Negative spaces of Mumuye figure sculpture – style and ethnicity'. Afriques. Débats, méthodes et terrains d’histoire, (10).

Fardon, Richard (2018) 'Immortality yet? Or, the permanence of Mary Douglas'. Anthropology Today, (34) 4, pp 23-26.

Fardon, Richard and Sarró, Ramon eds. (2017) 'T'he Iconoclastic Impulse in Yoruba Culture [J.D.Y. Peel]'. Religion and Society: Advances in Research, (8) 1, pp 30-41.

Fardon, Richard (2015) ''Do you hear me? It is me Akiga' Akiga’s 'Story' and Akiga Sai’s 'History’'. Africa: Journal of the International African Institute, (85) 4, pp 572-598.

Boyd, Raymond and Fardon, Richard (2014) 'Naming powers: Hausa tsafi and Tiv tsav'. Journal of African Cultural Studies, (26) 1, pp 33-55.

Fardon, Richard (2013) 'Citations out of place: or, Lord Palmerston goes viral in the nineteenth century but gets lost in the twentieth'. Anthropology Today, (29) 1, pp 25-27.

Fardon, Richard (2011) 'Feigning the market: funding anthropology in England'. Anthropology Today, (27) 1, pp 2-5.

Berns, Marla C. and Fardon, Richard (2011) 'Central Nigeria Unmasked: Arts of the Benue River Valley'. African Arts, (44) 3, pp 16-37.

Fardon, Richard (2010) 'Margaret Mary Douglas 1921-2007'. Proceedings of the British Academy, (166), pp 133-158.

Fardon, Richard and Iyenda, Guillaume (2007) 'Dame Mary Douglas (1921-2007) with bibliographic supplement'. Anthropology Today, (23) 5, pp 25-27.

Fardon, Richard (1996) '<< Destins croisés >> : histoires des identités ethniques et nationales en Afrique de l’Ouest'. Politique Africaine, (61), pp 75-97.

Fardon, Richard and Boyd, Raymond (1992) 'Bisiweeri: the songs and times of a Muslim Chamba woman'. African Languages and Cultures, (5) 1, pp 11-41.

Fardon, Richard (1990) 'Malinowski's Precedent: The Imagination of Equality'. Man (New Series), (25) 4, pp 569-587.

Fardon, Richard (1985) 'Sisters, wives, wards and daughters: a transformational account of the political organisation of the Tiv and their neighbours, Part Two: ‘The neighbours’'. Africa, (55) 1, pp 77-91.

Fardon, Richard (1984) 'Sisters, wives, wards and daughters: a transformational account of the political organisation of the Tiv and their neighbours, Part One: ‘The Tiv’'. Africa, (54) 4, pp 2-21.

Edited Books or Journals

Fardon, Richard, (ed.), (2013) Mary Douglas. A very personal method: anthropological writings drawn from life. London: Sage.

Fardon, Richard, (ed.), (2013) Mary Douglas. Cultures and criss: understanding risk and resolution. London: Sage.

Berns, Marla C. and Fardon, Richard, (eds.), (2012) Nigeria: arts de la vallee de la Benoue. Paris: Musee du Quai Branly.

Fardon, Richard and Harris, Olivia and Marchand, Trevor H.J. and Nuttall, Mark and Shore, Cris and Wilson, Richard A., (eds.), (2012) Handbook of Social Anthropology. London: Sage.

Alder, Jeremy and Fardon, Richard and Tully, Carol, (eds.), (2003) From Prague Poet to Oxford Anthropologist: Franz Baermann Steiner Celebrated - essays and translations. Munich: Ludicium; London: London Institute of Germanic Studies.

Fardon, Richard and Furniss, Graham, (eds.), (2000) African Broadcast Cultures: Radio in Transition. Oxford: J. Currey.

Fardon, Richard and van Binsbergen, Wim and van Dijk, Rijk, (eds.), (1999) Modernity on a shoestring : dimensions of globalization, consumption and development in Africa and beyond : based on an EIDOS conference held at The Hague, 13-16 March 1997. Leiden: EIDOS in association with the African Studies Centre Leiden and the Centre of African Studies London.

Fardon, Richard and Adler, Jeremy, (eds.), (1999) Franz Baermann Steiner: Selected Writings. Vol. 1, Taboo, truth and religion. Oxford; New York: Berghahn.

Fardon, Richard and Adler, Jeremy, (eds.), (1999) Franz Baermann Steiner: Selected Writings. Vol. 2, Orientpolitik, Value and Civilisation. Oxford; New York: Berghahn.

Fardon, Richard, (ed.), (1995) Counterworks: managing the diversity of knowledge. London; New York: Routledge.

Fardon, Richard and Furniss, Graham, (eds.), (1994) African Languages, Development and the State. London: Routledge.

Fardon, Richard and Baxter, P.T.W., (eds.), (1991) Voice, genre, text: anthropological essays in Africa and beyond. Manchester: John Rylands University Library. (Bulletin of the John Rylands University Library of Manchester, 73(3)).

Fardon, Richard, (ed.), (1990) Localizing strategies : regional traditions of ethnographic writing. Edinburgh ; Washington: Scottish Academic Press ; Smithsonian Institution Press.

Fardon, Richard, (ed.), (1985) Power and knowledge: anthropological and sociological approaches. Edinburgh: Scottish Academic Press.

Book Chapters

Fardon, Richard (2016) 'Purity as danger: “Purity and Danger revisited” at fifty'. In: Duschinsky, Robbie and Schnall, Simone and Weiss, Daniel H., (eds.), Purity and Danger Now: New Perspectives. Abingdon; New York: Routledge, pp 23-33.

Fardon, Richard (2014) 'Franz Baermann Steiner as contemporary anthropologist: an anachronistic suggestion'. In: Adler, Jeremy and Dane, Gesa, (eds.), Literatur und Anthropologie. H.G. Adler, Elias Canetti und Franz Baermann Steiner in London. Goettingen: Wallstein, pp 197-210.

Fardon, Richard (2008) 'Cosmopolitan nations, national cosmopolitans'. In: Werbner, Pnina, (ed.), Anthropology and the New Cosmopolitanism: rooted, feminist and vernacular perspectives. Oxford: Berg, pp 233-259.

Fardon, Richard (2005) 'Tiger in an African Palace'. In: James, W. and Mills, David Shane, (eds.), The Qualities of Time: Anthropological Approaches. Oxford: Berg, pp 73-93.

Fardon, Richard (2004) 'Turner, Victor Witter (1920–1983)'. In: Matthew, H.C.G. and Harrison, Brian, (eds.), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Furniss, Graham and Fardon, Richard (2000) 'African broadcast cultures'. In: Furniss, Graham and Fardon, Richard, (eds.), African Broadcast Cultures: Radio in Transition. Oxford: James Currey, pp 1-20.

Fardon, Richard and Boyd, Raymond (2000) 'Sauvé par un chanson: patriarchie et experience dans les versions Tchamba de <<La Fille Difficile>>'. In: Seydou, Christiane and Görög, Veronika, (eds.), La fille difficile: un conte-type africain. Paris: CNRS.

Fardon, Richard (1999) 'Ethnic pervasion'. In: Allen, Tim and Seaton, Jean, (eds.), The Media in Conflict: War Reporting and Representations of Ethnic Violence. London: Zed, pp 64-80.

Fardon, Richard (1999) 'Consumption and identification: the question of public goods'. In: Fardon, Richard and van Binsbergen, Wim and van Dijk, Rijk, (eds.), Modernity on a Shoestring: Dimensions of Globalization, Consumption and Development in Africa and Beyond. Leiden: EIDOS in association with the African Studies Centre Leiden and the Centre of African Studies London, pp 401-416.

Fardon, Richard (1993) 'Alliance et ethnicité: un système regional de l’Adamawa'. In: Héritier-Augé, Françoise and Copet-Rougier, Elisabeth, (eds.), Les Complexités de l’Alliance, Volume III Economie, politique et fondements symboliques (Afrique). Paris: Editions des Archives contemporaines, pp 165-210.

Fardon, Richard (1992) 'Post modern anthropology? Or, an anthropology of post-modernity'. In: Doherty, J. and Graham, E. and Malek, M., (eds.), Post-modernism and the Social Sciences. London: Macmillan, pp 33-47.

Fardon, Richard and Davies, Catherine (1991) 'African fictions in representations of West African and Afro-Cuban culture'. In: Fardon, Richard and Baxter, P.T.W., (eds.), Voice, Genre, Text - Anthropological Essays in Africa and Beyond. Manchester: John Rylands University Library, pp 125-145.

Hobart, Mark (1990) 'Who do you think you are? the authorized Balinese'. In: Fardon, Richard, (ed.), Localizing strategies: regional traditions of ethnographic writing. Edinburgh: Scottish Academic Press, pp 303-338.

Fardon, Richard (1987) 'African Ethnogenesis: limits to the comparability of ethnic phenomena'. In: Holy, Ladislav, (ed.), Comparative Anthropology. London: Basil Blackwell, pp 168-188.


Furniss, Graham and Fardon, Richard (2021) 'History and Customs of the Chamba M. S. Garbosa II (Gara Donga)' Vestiges: Traces of Record, (7) 2, pp 62-159.

Book Reviews

Fardon, Richard (2008) 'Fabian as investigative style'. African Studies Review, pp 165-168.


Fardon, Richard (2017) 'Peel, John David Yeadon, 1941-2015' Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the British Academy, XVI.

Fardon, Richard and Onyejiako, Joy (2017) 'From an African Score: artists, events and exhibitions in the Brunei Gallery, SOAS 1995-2015'.

Fardon, Richard (2016) 'Preface to the 2000 Frazer Lecture, “Time and difference in the anthropology of religion” by J. D. Y. Peel' HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory, 6.

(2016) 'Letters from Liberia [J.D.Y. Peel]'.


This list was last generated on Friday, 12th August 2022, 16:43 Europe/London.