Dr Robert Parkin



Telephone: 01865 274686

Teaching and research interests

Kinship; South Asia; French anthropology; Anthropology of Europe

Kinship. My original area of interest was India, in particular the so-called ‘tribal’ peoples of Bihar and Orissa, the subject of my doctorate and first major publication (The Munda of central India) being the kinship and social organization of these peoples. One theme here was the transitional nature of these kinship systems between the more clearly differentiated practices of south and north India. This led me to take history into account in tracing possible changes in kinship terminologies and marriage practices in these regions. But I was also interested in the place of kinship in the overall social organisation and cultural ideas of the Munda, which led me to consider their connection with religious ideas concerning the reincarnation of ancestors. I have extended this interest in kinship in more general papers, as well as in an introductory book for students (1997) and a reader (2004, edited with L. Stone). I have also translated Dumont’s lectures on kinship (Two theories of social anthropology). Currently my interests here revolve round the general issue of changes in terminological patterns connected with the break-up of prescriptive systems and subsequent trends. This can be seen as an aspect of the anthropology of cognition and classification.

South Asia. My interest in South Asia is also reflected in a collection of lectures (Perilous transactions, 2001, including essays on kinship and the nature of caste) and my study of Louis Dumont (Louis Dumont and hierarchical opposition, 2002), the latter covering the work of his followers too. It thus ranges widely over other parts of the world than India, and dealing with such themes as symbolism, ritual and exchange. Since then (field trip, 1998) I have become interested in the formation and contestation of socio-cultural identities, including the modern shift to an ethnic identity among the Munda tribes and others in India, as well as the nature of tribal political movements generally in South Asia (article in Anthropos 2000). Interest in this has been stimulated by the recent creation of supposedly ‘tribal’ states, namely Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh, out of Bihar and Madhya Pradesh and their implications for tribal identities, given their present dominance by caste-based political parties such as Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party. This can be placed within the wider framework of the anthropology of regionalism in India, an ostensibly federal state with a strong central government that is both able and willing to stifle regional democracy in its own interests on occasion.

French anthropology. As well as indicating my interest in religion, ritual and forms of transcendence generally, my book on Dumont is also part of my continuing interest in the history of the French school of anthropology, exemplified by my earlier study of Robert Hertz (The dark side of humanity, 1997). In 2002 I lectured on the French school in Halle, Germany, as part of the formal opening of the Max Planck Institute of Social Anthropology there. These lectures have now been published by the University of Chicago Press as part of a joint project covering also the British, American and German schools of anthropology (One discipline, four ways, 2005). In 2005 a French colleague, Dr Anne de Sales, and I held a conference on ethnography in France in Oxford, the proceedings of which were published by Berghahn in 2010 under the title Out of the Study and Into the Field. As well as writing on this school, I have also translated Robert Hertz (on sin), Henri Hubert (on time) and Dumont (on kinship) into English.

Anthropology of Europe. In the past fifteen years or so, Europe has become an area of equivalent importance to South Asia in my research and teaching. In the early 1990s I conducted two brief research trips (one with Prof. Jeremy MacClancy) to Alpine Italy, originally in the context of my book on Hertz, though also because this is an interesting area from the point of view of local identities (Francophone, French Alpine, Piedmontese etc.). This led to an interest in Europe as another area in which regional identities are changing rapidly. The background to these changes is provided by increasing moves to European integration and the challenge this may or may not present to the autonomy, indeed identity, of the nation state. These changes are giving regional politicians and movements the freedom to develop new local policies and even to create cross-border alliances among themselves, often with the specific intention of helping dilute the significance of national borders within the European Union. In this respect they frequently find themselves in alliance with the emerging European centre in Brussels. One key aspect here is the role of local bureaucracies in promoting and even sometimes producing such new identities through cooperative activities and agreements that are always prone to contestation, especially by conflicting with understandings of such activities within their local constituencies. In the late 1990s I conducted research into these questions in Brussels and Britain. Another context for these developments is the recent expansion of the EU eastwards, and more recently I have been conducting fieldwork on the border between western Poland and eastern Germany on these issues. See articles in Anthropological Journal of European Cultures 22(1); and Bacas/Kavanagh (eds) Border Encounters (Berghahn 2013).

Previous appointments

Since 1990, Dr Parkin has taught at the Free University of Berlin, Germany; the Jagiellonian University at Cracow, Poland as Visiting Lecturer); Oxford Brookes University; Utkal University, Bhubaneswar, India (as Visiting Lecturer); the University of Kent at Canterbury; and Goldsmiths College, London (Professional and Continuing Education Unit). In 2006 he was Writer in Residence for two months at the Institute of Anthropology, National Tsing Hua University, Hsinchu, Taiwan.

Research and editorial posts

In 2002 Dr Parkin spent two months as a Research Fellow at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology, Halle, Germany. In 1996 and 1997 he was employed successively on two ESRC research projects, one on Government, Society and the Jewish Minority in Poland since 1989, led by Dr Jonathan Webber, the other on the European Union, led by Dr Crispin Shore. He is co-editor of the Journal of the Anthropological Society of Oxford.


Dr Parkin teaches on the MSc and MPhil degrees in Social Anthropology, including the South Asia and Europe options.  He supervises doctoral theses mainly in these two geographical areas.

NB: Dr Parkin is no longer taking doctoral students.


A list of books and translations.

A list of articles.

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