Jack Goody

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Sir John Rankine Goody, FBA (/ˈɡʊdi/; 27 July 1919 – 16 July 2015), known as Jack Goody, was a British social anthropologist. He was a prominent lecturer at Cambridge University, and was William Wyse Professor of Social Anthropology from 1973 to 1984.

Among his main publications were Death, property and the ancestors (1962), Technology, Tradition, and the State in Africa (1971), The myth of the Bagre (1972) and The domestication of the savage mind (1977).[1]

Early life

Born 27 July 1919, Goody grew up in Welwyn Garden City and St Albans, where he attended St Albans School. He went up to St John's College, Cambridge to study English Literature in 1938, where he met leftist intellectuals like Eric Hobsbawm.

Military service

Goody left university to fight in World War II.[2] Following officer training, he was commissioned into the Sherwood Foresters (Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire Regiment), British Army, on 23 March 1940 as a second lieutenant.[3] Fighting in North Africa, he was captured by the Germans and spent three years in prisoner-of-war camps.[4] At the end of the war he held the rank of lieutenant.[5] Following his release, he returned to Cambridge to continue his studies.[2]

He officially relinquished his commission on 19 January 1952.[5]

Academic career

Inspired by James George Frazer's Golden Bough and the archaeologist V. Gordon Childe, he transferred to Archaeology and Anthropology when he resumed university study in 1946. After fieldwork with the LoWiili and LoDagaa peoples in northern Ghana, Goody increasingly turned to comparative study of Europe, Africa and Asia.

Between 1954 and 1984, he taught social anthropology at Cambridge University, serving as the William Wyse Professor of Social Anthropology from 1973 until 1984.[6] He gave the Luce Lectures at Yale University—Fall 1987.

Goody has pioneered the comparative anthropology of literacy, attempting to gauge the preconditions and effects of writing as a technology. He also published about the history of the family and the anthropology of inheritance. More recently, he has written on the anthropology of flowers and food.

Later life

Goody died on 16 July 2015, aged 95. His funeral was held on 29 July at the West Chapel, Cambridge City Crematorium.[4]


In 1976, Goody was elected Fellow of the British Academy (FBA).[1] He was an associate of the US National Academy of Sciences. In the 2005 Queen's Birthday Honours, he was appointed a Knight Bachelor "for services to Social Anthropology", and therefore granted the use of the title sir.[7] In 2006, he was appointed Commandeur dans l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French Republic.[2]


Jack Goody explained social structure and social change primarily in terms of three major factors. The first was the development of intensive forms of agriculture that allowed the accumulation of surplus – surplus explained many aspects of cultural practice from marriage to funerals as well as the great divide between African and Eurasian societies. Second, he explained social change in terms of urbanisation and growth of bureaucratic institutions that modified or overrode traditional forms of social organisation, such as family or tribe, identifying civilisation as "the culture of cities". And third, he attached great weight to the technologies of communication as instruments of psychological and social change. He associated the beginnings of writing with the task of managing surplus and, in a paper with Ian Watt (Goody and Watt 1963), he advanced the argument that the rise of science and philosophy in classical Greece depended on the invention of the alphabet. As these factors could be applied to any contemporary social system or to systematic changes over time, his work is equally relevant to many disciplines.[8]


  • 1956 The social organisation of the LoWiili (London, H.M.S.O.), 2nd ed. 1976 (London, published for the International African Institute by the Oxford University Press)
  • 1962 Death, Property and the Ancestors: A Study of the Mortuary Customs of the LoDagaa of West Africa (Stanford, Stanford University Press, ISBN 0-422-98080-3). reviews: [1] [2] [3]
  • 1968 ed., Literacy in Traditional Societies (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press); translated into German and Spanish. reviews: [4] [5]
  • 1971 Technology, Tradition, and the State in Africa (Oxford, Oxford University Press)
  • 2010 Renaissances: The One or the Many? (Cambridge University Press, 2010).

Selected articles

  • GOODY, J. 1959. The Mother's Brother and the Sister's Son in West Africa. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 89:61–88 response
  • 1963 Jack Goody, Ian Watt The Consequences of Literacy Comparative Studies in Society and History, Vol. 5, No. 3 (Apr. 1963), pp. 304–345
  • 1972 Taboo Words Man, New Series, Vol. 7, No. 1 (Mar. 1972), p. 137
  • 1973 Goody, J. [Polygyny, economy and the role of women]. In J. Goody (Ed.), The character of kinship. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1973
  • 1996 Comparing Family Systems in Europe and Asia: Are There Different Sets of Rules? Population and Development Review: 22 (1).


  1. 1.0 1.1 "The Fellowship – Fellows Archive". British Academy. Retrieved 11 July 2007.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 "Sir Jack Goody, social anthropologist - obituary". The Daily Telegraph. 30 July 2015. Retrieved 31 July 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 34821. pp. 1900–1902. 29 March 1940. Retrieved 31 July 2015.
  4. 4.0 4.1 "Professor Sir Jack Goody: 1919 - 2015". St John's College, Cambridge. 17 July 2015. Retrieved 31 July 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. 5.0 5.1 The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 39442. p. 380. 15 January 1952. Retrieved 31 July 2015.
  6. Venn database of Cambridge University offices and officers
  7. The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 57665. p. 1. 11 June 2005. Retrieved 31 July 2015.
  8. David R. Olson, ed. (2006). Technology, Literacy and the evolution of society: implications of the work of Jack Goody. Michael Cole. Mahwah, New Jersey – London: Lawrence Erlbaum Associated, Publishers.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links

Academic offices
Preceded by
Meyer Fortes
William Wyse Professor of Social Anthropology
University of Cambridge

1973 to 1984
Succeeded by
Ernest André Gellner