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Marilyn Strathern

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Title: Marilyn Strathern  
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Subject: Henrietta Moore, Nature, Culture and Gender, Marriage, Feminist anthropology, Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland
Collection: 1941 Births, Academics of the University of Cambridge, Academics of the University of Manchester, Alumni of Girton College, Cambridge, British Anthropologists, Dames Commander of the Order of the British Empire, Fellows of Girton College, Cambridge, Fellows of the British Academy, Feminist Writers, Living People, Mistresses of Girton College, Cambridge, People Educated at Bromley High School, People from Bromley, Recipients of the Papua New Guinea Independence Medal, University of California, Berkeley Faculty, Women Anthropologists
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Marilyn Strathern

Dame Marilyn Strathern
Born Ann Marilyn Evans
(1941-03-06) 6 March 1941
Wales, United Kingdom
Residence United Kingdom
Citizenship British
Fields Social anthropology
Institutions Girton College
Trinity College
Columbia University
University of California, Berkeley
Manchester University
Alma mater Girton College
Thesis Women's status in the Mount Hagen area: a study of marital relations and court disputes among the Melpa-speaking people, New Guinea (1969)
Doctoral advisor Paula Brown Glick
Esther N. Goody

Dame Ann Marilyn Strathern, DBE (née Evans; born 6 March 1941)[1] is a British anthropologist, who has worked largely with the natives of Papua New Guinea and dealt with issues in the UK of reproductive technologies.[2] She was William Wyse Professor of Social Anthropology at the University of Cambridge from 1993 to 2008, and Mistress of Girton College, Cambridge from 1998 to 2009.


  • Early life 1
  • Career 2
  • Field Work in Papua New Guinea 3
  • Reproductive Technologies 4
  • Selected publications 5
    • Other Publications 5.1
  • Honours 6
    • Honorary degrees 6.1
  • References 7
  • External links 8

Early life

Marilyn Strathern was born to Eric Evans and Joyce Evans in North Wales on 6 March 1941.[2][3] She married fellow anthropologist Andrew Strathern in 1965 and they had three children together before ending their marriage. Her first formal education experience was at Crofton Lane Primary School, followed by her attendance at Bromley High School. Strathern excelled academically, in part thanks to support and guidance from her mother, a teacher by trade.[2] Following high school, she enrolled in Girton College to study Archaeology and Anthropology. She then became a research student there[4] and went on to obtain her PhD in 1968.[3]


Strathern has held numerous positions over her long career. All of which involved her work with the people of Papua New Guinea and her expertise in feminist anthropology. Her extensive career began in 1970, when she was a Researcher for the New Guinea Research Unit of Australian University followed by a stint from 1976 to 1983 where she was a lecturer at Girton College and then Trinity College from 1984-1985, occasionally making guest lectures at the University of California, Berkeley in the United States,[3] Europe and Australia.[5]

She left Cambridge to become Professor of Social Anthropology at Manchester University in 1985. She then returned to Cambridge for the final time to take the position of William Wyse Professor of Social Anthropology until her retirement in 2008. During this time, she also held the position of Mistress of Girton College from 1998 to October 2009.[4][6] Strathern was also co-opted member of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics while also chairing the Working Party on "Human bodies: donation for medicine and research" from 2000 to 2006 and 2010 until 2011.[7]

Field Work in Papua New Guinea

From her doctoral thesis published in 1972 titled "Women in Between"[6] to her more recent publications, Strathern is constantly challenging the definitions and social constructs of gender "norms". In her piece "Self-Interest and the Social Good: Some Implications of Hagen Gender Imagery" (1981), Strathern notes that "[g]ender imagery is… a symbolic mechanism whereby "collective" and "personal" interests are made to seem to be of different orders".[8] As editor of a collection of articles in "Dealing with Equality: Analysing gender relations in Melanesia and beyond", she also brings to the surface the issue of gender "equality" and what it really means, asking if the definitions of the Western world are in fact correct, or if there is still a sense of patriarchal dominance.[9]

Taking this approach when studying in such fields as societies in Papua New Guinea has allowed Strathern to push the boundaries of thought on such topics as reproductive technology, intellectual property, and gender in both Melanesia and the United Kingdom.[6]

Strathern has spent much time among the Hagen of Papua New Guinea.[8] From here she has developed one of the main themes occurring across her work, that the world is ontologically multiple.[8][9][10][11] The world is made up of identifiable parts; however, these parts are not separate from one another. She does not address society specifically, but rather looks at socially-constructed multiple realities which exist interdependently with one another.[11]

Reproductive Technologies

Strathern's work in the 1990s became the basis for a new subdiscipline in anthropology concerned with new reproductive technologies such as in vitro fertilization. In her two 1992 publications, After Nature: English Kinship in the Late 20th Century and Reproducing the Future: Essays on Anthropology, Kinship and the New Reproductive Technologies, Strathern argued that existing models of nature and culture were transformed by the explicit use of technology to achieve reproduction. In the co-authored study Technologies of Procreation: Kinship in the Age of Assisted Conception she and her colleagues proposed that new definitions of kinship and descent would emerge as a result of the expansion of new reproductive technologies. These studies paved the way for what has since come to be known as the new kinship studies.[12][13]

Selected publications

Strathern is the author of numerous publications, including 44 single-authored journal articles, 57 book chapters, and over 15 books written alone or with another author.[6] Her topics vary from Melanesian culture to the culture of the United Kingdom. Strathern’s publications on the Melanesian culture focus on gender relations, legal anthropology and feminist scholarship, while her publications on the culture of the United Kingdom lean towards kinship, audit culture, reproductive and genetic technologies.[4] The book she enjoyed writing the most, according to an interview with the American Anthropological Association in 2011, was Partial Connections, written in 1991.[5] Her most famous book, however, is The Gender of Gift published in 1988.[3]

In The Gender of Gift, she uses a feminist approach in a new way to argue that Papuan women are not being exploited, but rather the definition is different. Gender, she notes, is defined differently there than it is in the United Kingdom.[14] Strathern also brings to the surface the fact that theories are dominating themselves and while she knows as an anthropologist, she cannot separate herself from them, she does state that she offers a "narrative" over an analysis of the situation.[14]

Other Publications

  • Self-Decoration in Mount Hagen (1971)
  • Women in Between (1972)
  • No Money on Our Skins: Hagen Migrants in Port Moresby (1975) ISBN 0-85818-027-8
  • (ed. with C. MacCormack) Nature, Culture and Gender (1980) ISBN 978-0-521-28001-3
  • Kinship at the Core: an Anthropology of Elmdon, Essex (1981) ISBN 0-521-23360-7
  • The Gender of the Gift: Problems with Women and Problems with Society in Melanesia (1988) ISBN 0-520-07202-2
  • Partial connections. Savage, Maryland: Rowman and Littlefield (1991). Re-issued by AltaMira Press, Walnut Creek, CA. (2004)
  • After Nature: English Kinship in the Late Twentieth Century (1992) ISBN 978-0-521-42680-0
  • Reproducing the Future: Essays on Anthropology, Kinship and the New Reproductive Technologies (1992) ISBN 978-0-719-03674-3
  • (with Jeanette Edwards, Sarah Franklin, Eric Hirsch and Frances Price) Technologies of Procreation: Kinship in the Age of Assisted Conception (1993) ISBN 9780415170567
  • Property, substance and effect. Anthropological essays on persons and things. London: Athlone Press (1999) Collected essays, 1992-98 ISBN 0-485-12149-2
  • Commons and borderlands: working papers on interdisciplinarity, accountability and the flow of knowledge (2004) ISBN 0-9545572-2-0
  • (ed. with Eric Hirsch) Transactions and creations: property debates and the stimulus of Melanesia (2004), Oxford: Berghahn.
  • (ed) Audit Cultures. Anthropological studies in accountability, ethics and the academy. (2000) London: Routledge.
  • Kinship, law and the unexpected: Relatives are always a surprise. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (2005) ISBN 0-521-61509-7


In 1987, she was elected Fellow of the British Academy (FBA).[15]

  • Foreign Honorary Member, American Academy of Arts & Sciences (1996)[4]
  • Dame Commander of the British Empire for services to Social Anthropology (2001)[4]
  • Rivers Memorial Medal, Royal Anthropologist Inst. (1976)[4]
  • Viking Fund Medal, Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research (2003) (last awarded in 1972.[5])
  • Huxley Medal (2004)[4]
  • 30th Anniversary Independence Medal, Papua New Guinea (2005)[4]

In 2000, artist Daphne Todd was commissioned by Girton College, Cambridge, to paint a portrait of Mistress Marilyn Strathern. This painting, which depicted Marilyn with two heads on separate panels, went on to win Todd the Royal Society of Portrait Painters’ Ondaatje for Portraiture in 2001.[3][16]

Honorary degrees

  • Honorary Degree Sc. Edinburgh (1993)[4]
  • Honorary Degree Sc. Copenhagen (1994)[4]
  • Honorary Degree Lit, Oxford (2004)[4]
  • Honorary Degree Pol., Helsinki (2006)[4]
  • Honorary Degree, Panteion University, Athens (2006)[4]
  • Honorary Degree Sc., Durham (2007)[4]
  • Honorary Degree Philosophy, University Papua New Guinea (2009)[4]
  • Honorary Degree Social Sciences, Belfast (2009)[4]
  • Honorary Doctorate, Australian National University (2015)[17]


  1. ^ "Birthdays",  
  2. ^ a b c Video Recording of Marilyn Strathern by Alan Macfarlane, 6 May 2009.
  3. ^ a b c d e University of Cambridge, Marilyn Strathern.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p Girton College, 2010 Past Mistresses: Marilyn Strathern
  5. ^ a b c American Anthropological Association, 2011. Inside the Presidents Studio - Marilyn Strathern.
  6. ^ a b c d Association for Social Anthropology in Oceania by Mark Maosko and Margaret Jolly, April.
  7. ^ Nuffield Council on Bioethics, 2012. "Past Council Members." London, England.
  8. ^ a b c Marilyn Strathern. 1981 "Self-Interest and the Social Good: Some Implications of Hagen Gender Imagery." Pp. 370-391 in Readings for a History of Anthropological Theory,edited by Paul A. Erickson and Liam Murphy. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
  9. ^ a b Marilyn Strathern. 1987 "Dealing with inequality: analyzing gender relations in Melanesia and beyond." Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  10. ^ Mikala Hansbol, "Marilyn Strathern, ontological multiplicity and partial connections." Mikalas Klumme: A Researchers Blog.
  11. ^ a b Marilyn Strathern 2005. Kinship, Law and the Unexpected: relatives are always a surprise. New York: Cambridge University Press.
  12. ^ Carsten, Janet (2004). After Kinship. Cambridge University Press.  
  13. ^ Franklin, Sarah; McKinnon, Susan (2001). Relative Values: Reconfiguring Kinship Studies. Duke University Press.  
  14. ^ a b Mary Douglas 1989, "A Gentle Deconstruction." The London Review of Books. London: London Review of Books 11(9): 17-18.
  15. ^ "STRATHERN, Dame Marilyn". British Academy Fellows. British Academy. Retrieved 20 June 2014. 
  16. ^ Times Higher Education, 2001 "Capturing a two-headed creature." England:London.
  17. ^ "ANU honours influential anthropologist". Retrieved 2015-07-17. 

13. Strathern, M. (1992, 17 May). The decomposition of an event. Retrieved from

External links

  • Shayna Loree Collins, 'Marilyn Strathern 1941-'
  • List of Strathern's recent publications
  • 'A Community of Critics' R.A.I. Huxley Memorial Lecture, given at University College, London, 8 December 2004 (film)
  • Marilyn Strathern interviewed by Alan Macfarlane 6 May 2009 (film)
  • Virtual Society? Get Real! Marilyn Strathern paper
  • Summary of Marilyn Strathern on English kinship
Academic offices
Preceded by
Juliet Jeanne d'Auvergne Campbell
Mistress of Girton College, Cambridge
Succeeded by
Susan J. Smith
Preceded by
Ernest Gellner
William Wyse Professor of Social Anthropology
at the University of Cambridge

Succeeded by
Henrietta Moore
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