Keith Hart

Interviewed by Alan Macfarlane
Filmed by Alan Macfarlane
Interview Length: 1 hour, 2 minutes, and 42 seconds

Interviewed on April 12, 2006
Supported by the Leverhulme Trust
(There are two parts to this interview, with an interval of fourteen years.) 

Description of Interview

Keith Hart was an excellent soprano. That is, until his voice broke and he subsequently gave it up. He explains to Alan Macfarlane that in ending his soprano career, he failed to learn a lesson from his father: “anything was worth doing for its own sake”. At the age of eight, the ambitious young Hart apparently informed his parents that he wanted to attend Cambridge. He went onto start the examination process for the Manchester Grammar School at nine and eventually became the first person from his area to attend the school. Yet despite his early academic successes, Hart always felt like somewhat of an outsider in a “largely middle-class society and couldn’t mix home with school.” Hart went onto write a memoir entitled Manchester on mind about the role the city had in shaping and influencing his anthropological perspectives. He says, “I live in Paris now and have a bottle of Manchester United Chardonnay on my desk, symbol of the change in both our fortunes.” 

Hart won a scholarship to Cambridge to read classics, winning prizes for translations. While he never questioned “being anything other than a professional academic,” Hart still had to decide what kind of intellect. While he enjoyed and was “besotted” by classics, he felt that it was too narrow a field to pursue. Anthropology he explains, “seemed to be sociology with travel thrown in.” Hart thus embarked upon his career as anthropologist, arriving at Bole (Ghana) for his fieldwork in 1965. Upon returning from the field in 1968, Hart wrote his PhD thesis about the life histories of entrepreneurs in a year and a half. In the interview Hart also tells us about his ideas of informal economies and his aims to “translate his ethnographic ideas into something economists could understand and use.” While Hart’s notion of the informal economy might have been well received, he wasn’t aware of its significance until decades later. Perhaps still not yet heeding his father’s advice, Hart explains “Peter Worsley suggested I wrote ‘reader on the informal economy’ and established it as my idea as I may never come up with a better idea; I thought that if I wasn’t going to come up with a better idea I should quit and went into denial about its significance for at least fifteen years.” 

Video Index and Transcript

0:05:05 Introduction, born 1943 in Manchester; parents and wider family; living in Old Trafford in a run-down area but with middle-class aspirations; father encouraged any interests and had numerous hobbies and talents himself; I was a boy soprano of some excellence but when voice broke just gave up singing because if I couldn't be the best didn't want to do it at all so failed to learn father's lesson that anything was worth doing for its own sake. 

4:12:16 Schooling - when I was eight visited Cambridge and accepted by parents that I wanted to go there; started the examination process for Manchester Grammar School at nine; could only enter if headmaster recommended child; 10,000 entrants every year reduced to 2000 by first exam and 200 by second; I was the first person from my area ever to go there; always felt I was a stranger in a largely middle-class society and couldn't mix home with school. 

6:21:19 I was a classicist and there were some excellent Latin and Greek teachers but the inspiring teachers taught English; now see that I lived a double life with future through exam passing and mastering of analytic techniques, but my passion was always for fiction, for plays, novels and movies. 

8:02:16 Thinking about a virtual Manchester of the mind; wrote a memoir called 'Manchester on my Mind' about the role the city played in my role as an anthropologist; I live in Paris now and have a bottle of Manchester United chardonnay on my desk, symbol of the change in both our fortunes. 

9:50:22 Won a scholarship to Cambridge to read classics; besotted with classics, mainly as a technical linguist; won prizes for translations; at that time limited option for pursuing a PhD in classics but never imagined being anything other than a professional academic, the question was what kind; felt an intellectual narrowness in classics so looked for an alternative career in the social sciences where job prospects were more promising; sociology in Cambridge unappealing as subordinate to economics at the time; heard of social anthropology which seemed to be sociology with travel thrown in; had a rowing coach - I was a cox for Lady Margaret - called Claudio Vita-Finzi, who was a geographer of the Mediterranean basin and every winter he went off to Sicily or Lebanon which seemed not a bad life, Jack Goody was in my college, St Johns, and was to some extent a drinking companion; Jack was running a seminar on clientship in about 1962-3 (I went up in 1961) as Maquet had produced his book on Ruanda; offered to talk on Roman clientship and Jack accepted; two days before the seminar was reminded so quickly mugged up a talk from library sources which was well received; thought that anthropologists could have no intellectual standards compared to classicists; admired them because they thought they could study anything; liked the idea of this expanding vision so transferred to social anthropology. 

15:54:02 Jack Goody was the only supervisor I had both as an undergraduate and a post-graduate; at the time thought he was a lousy teacher, couldn't engage with him, didn't think he read my stuff, particularly with my thesis; he supported me emotionally and socially; thought he was a lousy lecturer and considered teaching to be secondary to pursuing his own work; later read in short introduction to 'Production and Reproduction' Goody's three principles which I consider to be the most important in the anthropological project laid out as his agenda since 1950; discovered in retrospect that Jack had taught me in a way that I had been too arrogant to recognize at the time; maybe he taught me by example, not by instruction; in the long, still unfinished, festschrift my article is called 'Agrarian Civilization and World Society' is an appreciation of his work; feel he is one of the very few anthropologists of the second half of the twentieth century to embrace the study of world history as a project and escaped from the narrow limitations of ethnography where he was originally rooted; my book on West African agriculture is dedicated to him and Meyer Fortes; in the 1980's could appreciate them but in the 1960's we felt like orphans, owing nothing to our parents and teachers, and that our generation were going to remake the world in our own way. 

20:36:13 I had very little to do with Meyer Fortes as an undergraduate; my main guide and inspiration was Audrey Richards who was the Director of the African Studies Centre and gave a course on urbanization and migration which lodged in my mind for my own PhD project in Ghana; I was much closer to her and she was very supportive; also had a tutor called Ronald Robinson who was a leading historian of Africa who, together with Audrey, were big in African studies and the Smuts at Cambridge, and they got me my basic funding for fieldwork in Ghana; Audrey made me feel I had something to say although critical; gave me a jam thermometer as a wedding present and also encouraged my wife that if she saw something she liked she should buy four of them; I did not know Meyer at all and thought him a terrible teacher who wasn't interested in engaging with us; quit his seminar for final year students after one session as I couldn't stand it; paradox was that Jack set me up in Accra to do work on migrants [went into the field immediately after graduating - did two years of classics then changed to anthropology and got an extra year] and Meyer didn't know who I was; got a first; contemporaries included Jonny Parry, Caroline Humphrey and Enid Schildkrout who was also a student of Jack's going out to Ghana, now in New York; quite a large number of us ended up as professional anthropologists - Pepi Roberts was another; only lecturer I really enjoyed was Edmund Leach and Tambiah, who was in my college; wrote from the field to Meyer Fortes saying I intended to study the Tallensi as migrants to Accra and he was shocked and appalled by this and I had very difficult relations with him after that; he told me many years later when I had gained his confidence that this was a period when he was anticipating leaving the Chair and Jack was likely to be his successor. Meyer had built up social anthropology to be a powerhouse at Cambridge, sociology and political sciences (SPS) had just been created, and there was a lot of talk about social anthropology moving in with the other social sciences. Jack was writing articles supporting the wider comparative links as 'Death Property and the Ancestors' showed, and was encouraging his students to study non-traditional ethnographic subjects. Meyer thought I had been set up by Jack as a fifth column to denigrate his work by recasting in an unfamiliar light as a means of undermining his heritage; thus I had real difficulties with Meyer all the way through after that, but respected him much more because he gave me a hard time; I do feel Meyer Fortes is the greatest anthropologist I have been near, firstly because I knew his fieldwork technique and linguistic skill first hand, which were astonishing; of his two great monographs on the Tallensi - the first starts out with a real struggle on the particularism of social life there so is almost unreadable as a book, but he sees the society struggling to achieve a measure of cohesion; in 'Web of Kinship' he moves towards his greatest contribution in an attempt to marry a statistical and network-oriented approach to kinship to a structural one; after these he simplified his agenda to a point that I didn't agree with, but his idea that kinship is life as exemplified in 'Time and Social Structure' is brilliant; he worked with and was trained by Karl Pearson in pioneering statistical methods; I was also a statistician and learnt statistics mainly because I was interested in betting...; Meyer told me that his inspiration for his development cycle approach to kinship was D'Arcy Thompson's 'Growth and Form', a powerful metaphor for Meyer's most creative phase, when he was at Oxford, before he came to Cambridge, when he formed the gang of three with Radcliffe-Brown and Evans-Pritchard and Max Gluckman was a fellow traveller, when he was instrumental in setting up the A.S.A.; at Cambridge fought to get the colleges to extend the range of fellowships open to anthropologists; but both Meyer and E-P seemed to have the attitude that it was impossible to talk to people like us. 

34:35:10 I did four years as an undergraduate between 1961-65, spent from 1965-68 in the field, then wrote up my PhD in a year and a half and got it in September 1969 and took a job immediately. 

35:04:09 The dispute between Meyer Fortes and Edmund Leach were old hat by the time we arrived and we were either in Jack's camp and going to Africa or Edmund's and going to Asia; there were lively methodological arguments about where anthropology might go which pitched Jack against Edmund more than Edmund against Meyer; as a graduate student it became clear to me that our seminars were a grandstanding event where each got at the other; by then the dispute between Edmund and Meyer had got to very petty college politics level; I got on well with Edmund - anecdote which reflected Edmund's attitude to students and class; disappointed by the intellectual level of the seminar which seemed to be much personalized bickering and never pushed to rational discursive level and dissipated into ethnographic anecdotes; I once complained about this and Meyer said I was just too rational and that anthropology was not a rational discipline; during mid-seventies when I was already launched in my American career in an encounter with Meyer I had my first serious conversation with him on Time. 

39:52:02 Fieldwork and first impressions; both Jack and Esther were in Bole, Gonja when I first arrived and I was supposed to rendezvous with them first; got the bus to Northern Ghana and stopped at a ferry for the night as the bus driver had a girlfriend there, being eaten by mosquitoes; at Bole found Jack and Esther at 2pm asleep, naked, in the shower; Jack said I should go and stay in Bole's strangers quarter for a few days, where the only reason white men ever went there was for sex; at that time everyone was influenced by the work of Little and Banton in Sierra Leone on migrants, voluntary associations, new states - that was my line, but when I got there I found it was a one party state, there wasn't any actual politics on the ground, there wasn't anything there to study, but I came to live in a slum and noticed that everyone was moving something on the street from marijuana to refrigerators so decided to study that. 

43:49:02 Theory of the informal economy. Wrote my thesis on entrepreneurs based on life stories of individuals; after I finished my PhD took a job at East Anglia in a development studies outfit because I decided I wanted to know more about states and international history; urban economists were talking about the threat of urban unemployment in the Third World and I said they were not actually unemployed but were working for very little; came up with the idea of the informal economy at a conference in Sussex in 1971; my aim was to translate my ethnographic experience into a language economists could understand and use and they turned it into a concept; at the very same time I converted to Marxism and they hated it; Peter Worsley suggested I wrote a reader on the informal economy and established it as my idea as I may never come up with a better idea; I thought that if I wasn't going to come up with a better idea I should quit and went into denial about its significance for at least fifteen years; it surfaced again in the late eighties since when I have spoken and written on it. 

47:14:19 Was at East Anglia for two years and then went to Manchester from 1971-75; Max Gluckman was still there but died in Israel in 1973; found him a blustering bully but Emrys Peters had taken over the department; at this time 'Critique of Anthropology' being launched and they wanted Jack Goody and Max Gluckman to be the symbolic sponsors; Gluckman refused; I got on with Peter Worsley very well; his book 'Knowledges' summarizes his own version of cognitive anthropology; 'Trumpets shall Sound' was the first book that really caught my imagination as an undergraduate; I would be honoured to think that my career had echoes of his, but unlike me he was a great institutional leader. 

51:30:00 After Manchester I went to Yale; at Manchester four or us were more or less appointed at the same time - David Turton, John Comaroff, Ken Brown and me and we even founded the new residential segment of the department at Heaton Moor; we were very close but Emrys promoted David Turton to senior lecturer and this upset the group; I complained to the Vice-Chancellor and immediately wrote to four American departments and Yale and Chicago took me up and Yale offered me tenure, so I went; at that time Floyd Lounsbury, a linguist, most impressive intellectually; impressed by the professionalism of these American scholars - Hal Conklin, Harold Scheffler, David Pilbeam, Alison Richards who is now Vice-Chancellor of Cambridge - impressed by their literacy; I taught anthropology and political economy, Africa, I even taught a course on archaeology for a term 'From Bronze to Iron in the Eastern Mediterranean 1600-500 B.C.' with specialists from the area; could get away with it as I could pretend to be a classicist; I left after my marriage broke up followed by two mental breakdowns in the course of which I resigned; there followed a nomadic situations where I went from Michigan to McGill etc. on one year contracts, always hoping they would appoint me for longer but kept having mental breakdowns; would have liked to have stayed at Michigan which was a democratic society with very little overt competition and I loved Ann Arbor and Detroit for the Arab food, rock concerts and jazz; Ann Arbor was the place where the technique of teaching through seminars was pioneered in America; last place in America I was at was Chicago; there I realized how isolated I was without a safety net so returned to Britain.

[The interview ends here in 1984]

Further interview 16th January 2009

0:09:07 Came back to England in 1983 after being in the United States for eight years; inspired by Hazlitt’s contention that if a man is to fulfil his destiny he should go home; then the question of where was home, Manchester or Cambridge; decided to come back to Cambridge; had no job and the only means of support I had was my gambling stake; after a year a job as an assistant lecturer in anthropology came up; met Parker Shipton who suggested I should apply; Jack Goody was Head of Department, coming towards the end of his term; he was not happy as he thought these temporary three-year positions should rotate and not be turned into permanent jobs; he had his own young candidates; Paul Jorion, Michel Verdon and Sue Benson had come to the end of their time but were not given permanent posts, so it was an uncomfortable time; I applied as I knew I wanted to teach; Marilyn Strathern was another applicant for the same job; there were two jobs and Jack's candidates were Chris Hann and Paul Sant Cassia; it may be that there was an economic slant to the job; Chris and I were offered the jobs; it was just at the turnover of Head of Department because Ernest Gellner was at the interview; Jack later said it was not a good interview and it was only because of Ernest that I got the job; many years later, Gilbert Lewis said I had got the job because I had done such a good interview; I thought it didn't matter that I was untenured and low-ranking; I had had a tenured professorship at Yale at thirty-two; now I was forty-one and entering at the bottom of the ladder; over the next few years before I was given tenure it did get to me in various ways; it wasn't easy inserting myself at that level into the establishment; I didn't have a college fellowship at that time; I had been at St John's as an undergraduate and graduate student and I had many friends there; I used to just go into John's to eat and we were an identifiable clique; I was Director of Studies at Pembroke for a while; the main feature was my relationship with Ernest with whom I had a lot in common; he was not sure how to deal with me; he thought I was a Marxist, which was only partly true; he came to me and said he wanted me to be 'Mr Development' in the Department; I said I had not come back to Cambridge to do that; as soon as I arrived I got stuck with being the Secretary in the Department; I was quite abrasive in meetings and Ernest said he didn't care what I did as long as I supported him, which I refused to do if I thought he was wrong; at that time, as a Cambridge insider I could see that Ernest really didn't understand the politics of Cambridge; he had been adapted to LSE which was a very different bureaucracy and political system; he always had the view that it should be left to bureaucrats; this was the period when Giddens had taken over Social and Political Sciences and for various reasons was targeting Social Anthropology; this was now easier as Jack, who was a very good academic politician, had gone; although Ernest was intellectually and temperamentally the best person you could ever have as the Head of Department for consolidation with SPS he was not interested; as a junior I was not in a good position to help; I felt a tension between my political insight and lowly status; this period from 1983-1986 I now think was the worst period in my life; I was suffering from a long-term mental illness and I felt terribly hurt and humiliated by what had happened in America, by the loss of my family, by having at my age to scramble for position; I now realize, though didn't then, that I felt very bitter and angry; also, my mental condition made it very difficult to work in a sustained way; I was worried I wouldn't be writing enough as I couldn't maintain concentration for more than an hour at a time; I was worried that I would not be kept on and wondered what to do; thought that if I made myself a great teacher then the students might go to the barricades on my behalf; I put quite a lot of effort into thinking about my teaching techniques and style; I also put energy into the sociology and politics of academic life; I couldn't concentrate at home so would spend my time in seminars and committees; to some extent it got me through this terrible period but it was also very frustrating at a personal level; I wasn't sure that I would ever again have the means of doing the sustained written work that I knew that I was capable of which I felt this illness had prevented. 

15:17:07 The very first time I lectured for a living was in my first job at East Anglia; lectured on Marx, Weber and development, and I decided to ad lib and ground to a halt after fifteen minutes; staggered on for a little while but then had to cancel the lecture; for the next twenty years I wrote out my lectures as I had been so traumatized by the experience; however, I had the aspiration to improvise and at some stage I decided I would train myself to do so; the big thing to train yourself against is fear of failure; what I did was to gradually reduce the amount of time that I had to prepare; if it took three hours to prepare a written script I would give myself two hours, then an hour, then half an hour; this process of training myself took about a year and a half because the fear of failure is very great; what is at stake is learning to trust your unconscious mind rather than being dependent on a script; I would get to the point where I could make a list of five or six headings and lecture to that; then I got rid of all written aids; I would prepare my lecture on the walk to the lecture room; finally I reached the point when I realized that the only two things that count are what is the big idea of the lecture and where you should start; once you start improvising you are on a wave; everything you say and might say is in your mind; it is almost like a split screen, with so many levels going on, including seeing the audience; in the end I would go to Mill Lane for Part I lectures and I would wait until I was standing on the podium; there is energy in the room from the students, this energy you draw on to feed yourself and then give it back to them; I would stand and make it clear with my body language that I wanted to start; in this process I would think of how I would start; and I knew when I had to finish; A.J.P. Taylor used to do this as did C.L.R. James; when you start on this wave you have got lots of room; you have got to maintain a fairly tight link to the audience but you have room in the first fifteen minutes to experiment with the rhythm and the pace; after the half-way mark it is like an asymptotic curve; the discoveries that I made by this method always came at the end; I like Beethoven endings, to feel like a climax; I discovered that if I relied on what I had trained myself to be it came out very well organized; students often said to me that their notes on my lectures were often more clearly structured than by people who actually produced an outline; after all these years of going to Manchester Grammar School and being a classicist, of becoming a professional, analytical social scientist, my unconscious mind is highly disciplined. 

24:17:02 This method is the enemy of memory as I never know what I have said, I only know the feeling of it; that is why I encourage people to tape my lectures now; I have never used tapes because I don't think that getting it right is the point of the method; there is a story about Marcel Mauss in the Institute of Ethnology in the 1930's where all the leading intellectuals and artists of Paris used to come; people liked his lectures but nobody could remember what they were about; three surrealists decided to do an experiment on these lectures to see if they did take different notes, which proved to be so; they then confronted him and asked him what the lectures were really about; Mauss said it was never his intention to impose his thoughts on them and that the point was to help them discover their own; what I felt I was doing by making a live performance was that I was showing these students that ideas can be part of life; the way that we experience ideas by reading dead books gives the opposite impression; what I felt was more important than whatever they got in particular from the lectures was the sense they might have of enthusiasm for the ideas; you can lecture for knowledge or lecture for belief, and I lecture for belief; I want students to go rushing out of the lecture room to buy the book that I have been talking about and I am less concerned about what it was that I got across; I was aware that this didn't happen for all of them; I wrote something I rather like on Ernest in 'Cambridge Anthropology' which keyed off his posthumous book of essays on politics and anthropology; I called it 'The Bard with the Killer Touch'; I thought Ernest and I had something very profoundly in common in the way that we used oral memory to think, and for me that was one of the most striking things about him; he composed his books on a Dictaphone, staring at the ceiling, and he lectured in the same way; what happened after Cambridge was that I took this method and applied it to my writing; I wanted to learn to write using the same method. 

30:06:02 I always believe that I reflect first, speak second and write third; ideally a lot of what I write is something I have spoken about a lot already; that is another reason for adopting this improvised lecture style; by talking things through in this way I often discovered the kind of logic of how it fits together as well as some powerful anecdote that had not presented itself to me before; I liked doing supervisions at Cambridge on the same topic, and by the end of the term I may have discovered something that I hadn't figured out before; when I left Cambridge in the 1990's to go to Paris it was very much to get away from this engaged and performative style of intellectual life and to lock myself up in an attic and do much more writing; I don't work from notes; the first part is getting text out from scratch but for me increasingly writing is reworking text; now because of word processing, if I am going to write an essay I start by accumulating everything that I have written on the subject, and make a file of maybe fifty pages and then start using that as a resource; I very rarely now write anything from scratch; for me the big problem is how can you remain interested in something you have been working on for thirty or forty years; I am infatuated with my own prose and I never lose interest in my own work; if I am lacking in inspiration I can just go back to some part of my writing that I have already written and start tinkering with it; the process of working on the mechanics of the language gets me back into it in a new way; I can constantly reengage with my old ideas; people say to me that most of my ideas they have known for fifty years and that I am extremely consistent in what I say, but for me it all feels new all the time; my favourite screen writer [William Goldman] says there are only twelve stories and if you don't give the audience one of them they will kill you; the key is to tell this old story in a way that they feel they have never heard before; this is a very deep truth that my method of writing is tapping into; I don't mind if it is unoriginal to me or the world because every time it is written it is something new; for me the fact that it is anchored in oral memory is important; this is one of the reasons that I hate the notion of intellectual property and the drive in the academic universe to tell everybody to be original; I think I am part of a great conversation about the world and making a better society that has been going on for thousands of years; I am a classicist and read the people who made the big difference, I learn from them, I put my oar in, it may be significant or not, who cares, its not up to me. 

37:52:13 My book, 'The Memory Bank', came at the point where I left Cambridge to go and live in Paris; it involved deinstitutionalization as I knew that I wasn't going to have a job in France; I did find ways of garnering academic income from Britain while living in Paris, but is was also with a view to putting much more effort into writing; I remember organising a conference in Cambridge on the Torres Strait's expedition; at the dinner, John Davis, who was sitting next to me, asked why I was going to Paris and what was I going to do there; said I was going to write so that people who didn't have the privilege of being in the same room as me would know what I thought; I felt that I was going to make a transition from academic writing to free lance non-fiction and fiction, and the book that I wanted to write was going to be a homage to my thirty years as a teacher, drawing on the themes that I had lectured about and using the same faculty of memory; I got a contract with Polity to do something called 'Anthropology and the Modern Economy'; I wrote this which was supposed to be a textbook; but then I hated it because there was nothing about me in it; I knew a lot about economic life - I had been a gambler, had worked for the 'Economist', been a development consultant, a publisher - so wanted to write something that was more personal; then I remembered that I'd given the Malinowski Lecture in 1986 on money which turned out to be a slow-burning hit; thought that I would write on money, with more of me in it, in a way that was retrospective and drew on all the things I had lectured about for thirty years; thought what is it about us in the late 1990's that future generations will be interested in; in the middle of the dot-com boom that thing was the internet; I then came up with the formula for the book which is what is happening to money in this internet revolution; that is what 'The Memory Bank' is. 

42:15:13 The time that I got really excited with the digital revolution was with e-mail which really only took off in the early 1990's; I got very interested in the possibilities of desktop publishing and I set up, with Anna Grimshaw, 'Prickly Pear Pamphlets' and produced ten of them in a period of three years; in the course of this the World Wide Web was invented and began to be disseminated and I realized that I had got onto this revolution at the wrong end, through print publication, before mastering the potential of online dissemination; in the course of the mid-nineties I got involved in a number of experiments in new patterns of association - the Amateur Anthropological Association and Prickly Pear Pamphlets - but gradually I began to realize that I had to insert myself into this in a different way; one of the areas in which you and I collaborated in that period was as Chairman of the Council for the Humanities and Social Sciences AVA and IT committee; we met regularly to see what other people were doing; you were the anthropology representative; we met to review the possibilities of research and teaching with new technologies; the big issue was that Cambridge is an old place and why should it be getting involved with this; other places had been doing it a lot longer and were more advanced; I held the view that this revolution was so profound and moving so fast that it really didn't matter at what point you entered it as advances were being made all the time; it was the publication of the book that led me to create a web site named after the book, initially with the aim of disseminating it and making it accessible in other ways; it is now one of my key resources, pleasures and investments. 

46:47:16 I was Director of the African Studies Centre in Cambridge for six years from 1992-1998; I was an early supporter of Marilyn Strathern for the William Wyse chair; she and I had a very good relationship while she was in Manchester and I took her fellowship at Girton when she left; we had a correspondence that was really very interesting which indicated that she was a much better politician than I was; she encouraged me to cultivate border activities such as liaison with SPS, Archaeology and Biological Anthropology, and African Studies was very much part of that; remember after doing it for a few years I told her I wanted to give it up and do something else but was deterred; I gave up my college fellowship because I didn't think that the kind of energy I wanted to put into African Studies was compatible with being a college fellow; I had a great time as it was a very engaging period; there was the war in Angola, the murder of Ken Saro-Wiwa and Shell in Nigeria, Ruanda; South Africa was becoming independent then and a blood-bath was expected; I realised that Cambridge has enormous clout in the world and that the academics are too insular; in any of the events that I organised I always involved non-academic constituencies - diplomats, oil executives, soldiers, journalists etc.; I think I made a great success of creating a series of fora with a very diverse set of audiences; I organised a conference on Angola which was the first the two leading antagonistic parties attended anywhere in the 1990's, even though I had published a letter in the 'Independent' saying that UNITA was a genocidal organization; I also had to deal with the fact that Babangida the dictator of Nigeria offered £1,500,000 to establish the Maryam Babangida African Women's Research Fellowship; I said we should not take the money but the management committee thought we should; the Nigerian students were very upset as they claimed that the whole of Cambridge was built on dirty money so why should exception be made for theirs; the feminists said this was the only fellowship of its kind in the world and they would not be happy if we didn't take it; the solution came from a Nigerian visiting professor who suggested we should ask why the money was being given to Cambridge and not to a Nigerian university, and that we would be happy to take the money as long as a comparable effort was made in Nigeria; we heard nothing more; later when Babangida was overthrown people were thankful we had not taken the money; I really enjoyed that phase; felt it was intellectually stimulating but also a chance to be political, and I learnt an enormous amount from it. 

53:56:19 My line was that traditionally Cambridge scholars had treated Africa as an object to be studied; all the appointments that I made which were in my gift went to Africans, but I always had to fight; I thought that African studies should be about our relationship with them, a two-way stream between the West and Africa, and it takes in the history of slavery and the Caribbean; I was very much committed to developing that side of it but also I was limited; I was able to promote as my successor Ato Quayson, a Ghanaian literary critic; he was able to take this project of using the Centre as a resource for Africans to visit and contribute to and set up dialogue with Cambridge scholars; he was in a much better position to do that; I also had aspirations to develop collaborative relations with France on this, but the French Africanists were becoming very defensive; when I approached the man at Bordeaux, which is the leading African studies centre, to get more Africans involved he cited limited funds; it was the most obvious symbol that I was committing myself to active political work and social engineering; then, in the middle of the 1990's my mental illness cleared up after twenty years; suddenly I discovered that I had all the powers of concentration that I wanted, so I was hungry to use my new vigour to take up the writing project that I felt had been stalled for quite a long time; I have said that the period after I joined the Cambridge department was a bad time for me and I was worried about being around when I came up for tenure; Ray Smith from Chicago came up with the offer of a job as a professor in a new school for social sciences in the Caribbean that he had helped to establish; I wasn't sure how long I could go for and I went to see Ernest who said I could take two years; I did so and my promotion to tenure was decided while I was away; this time in Jamaica was, I believe, one of myformation as a mature anthropologist; something really profound happened there; I had been raised in Britain, had gone to West Africa, spent nearly a decade in the United States, and I was always triangulating these; there was something about the Caribbean and Jamaica in particular that seemed to synthesise all the other three; it was a new society but not at new as America; I found myself there being able to run through the different parts of my engagement with the world and the history of Atlantic racism; it was an enormous boost for me; in the course of that I had read everything that C.L.R. James had written and I wanted to see him; I arranged to do that and in the process, met his assistant, Anna Grimshaw and fell in love; in the meantime had decided I didn't want to come back to Cambridge and had been fishing for a job at Washington University, St Louis; I got an offer from them at the same time as I met James and Anna in the summer vacation between the two years of my Jamaican study; it was literally the best job I have ever been offered in my life - a full professor, $80,000, half-time teaching, half-time in Douglass North's Institute of Political Economy, and the main say in making five new appointments to turn its anthropology department into the main centre for anthropology and political economy in the United States; they made me this offer and then I met Anna. As soon as I got back to Jamaica she sent me a postcard saying she was not interested in going to the United States; I turned down the job and decided to come back to Cambridge; C.L.R. James was living in Brixton and she was working as his research assistant and general minder; back at Cambridge as a tenured lecturer, until James died a couple of years later, I divided my time between Cambridge and Brixton; I felt that there has never been a writer who has touched me so deeply; I was greatly in Jack's debt and Meyer's, but I have always felt since then that the only mentor I had was James; this mentorship was achieved simply by his writing; I had read about fourteen of his books while in Jamaica and I felt that what he was writing was specifically meant for me; I wrote a very peculiar letter to him when asking to see him; it came about in a rather magical way; I was staying in a house on the north coast of Jamaica that used to belong to Errol Flynn; I had my daughter, Louise, with me and she was playing in the sea while I was reading a collection of James's occasional cricket writings; he had been Neville Cardus's second in command as cricket correspondent for the Manchester Guardian in the 1930's and he lived in Lancashire; so I was reading reports of my father's cricketing heroes while watching my daughter play at the edge of a turquoise ocean, and suddenly had an epiphany in which the differences with this old man were collapsed into a sense of identity; I realized that he and I had been moving through the same places but in different sequence and direction; the groundwork for that was that I had never read a body of work by anyone that seemed to touch me so deeply, and thanks to Anna I had a chance to spend a couple of years with him before he died; we watched the Tiananmen Square incident together and he immediately saw it as a catalyst for the fall of the Soviet Union; from the seventies he used to say that there were only two world revolutions left, the second Russian revolution and the second American revolution; ever since Solidarity in Poland he had been looking for the breakup of the Soviet Union as the second Russian revolution; we are still perhaps waiting for the second American revolution.