Peter Burke on Jack Goody

Peter Burke, one of the editors of our recent section on Occidentalism: Jack Goody and Comparative History, writes about the three careers of Jack Goody.

In his long life, Jack Goody, one of Britain’s leading intellectuals (along with his friend Eric Hobsbawm) has had three careers. The first was as a professional anthropologist, specializing on West Africa (his fieldwork was in Gonja in Northern Ghana). His work in this field (on property, the family, the state etc) was extremely original but followed the tradition of British social anthropology.

Jack’s second career has been in the study of literacy, beginning in the 1960s in collaboration with a friend, the literary historian Ian Watt, and continuing through a series of books of which the most important is probably The Domestication of the Savage Mind.

Jack’s third career is that of a historical sociologist or comparative historian, focused on the contrast between the trajectory of Africa on one side and Eurasia on the other. From comparative work on literacy and the family he has turned to a full-scale attack on western ethnocentrism in which the Chinese and Islamic contributions to culture receive particular stress.

Occidentalism: Jack Goody and Comparative History was a special section of the TCS Annual Review, published in December 2009. It was edited by Mike Featherstone, Peter Burke and Stephen Mennell, and featured articles by Burke and Goody himself. You can see the table of contents for the issue here, or go here to access the articles. SD

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