Meyer Fortes

Meyer Fortes FBA FRAI (25 April 1906 – 27 January 1983) was a South African-born anthropologist, best known for his work among the Tallensi and Ashanti in Ghana.

Meyer Fortes
Born(1906-04-25)25 April 1906
Died27 January 1983(1983-01-27) (aged 76)
Cambridge, England
NationalitySouth African
Known forTallensi and Ashanti
Scientific career
Academic advisorsBronisław Malinowski

Originally trained in psychology, Fortes employed the notion of the "person" into his structural-functional analyses of kinship, the family, and ancestor worship setting a standard for studies on African social organization. His celebrated book, Oedipus and Job in West African Religion (1959), fused his two interests and set a standard for comparative ethnology. He also wrote extensively on issues of the first born, kingship, and divination.


Fortes received his anthropological training from Charles Gabriel Seligman at the London School of Economics. Fortes also trained with Bronisław Malinowski and Raymond Firth. Along with contemporaries A. R. Radcliffe-Brown, Sir Edmund Leach, Audrey Richards, and Lucy Mair, Fortes held strong functionalist views that insisted upon empirical evidence in order to generate analyses of society. His volume with E. E. Evans-Pritchard, African Political Systems (1940) established the principles of segmentation and balanced opposition, which were to become the hallmarks of African political anthropology. Despite his work in Francophone West Africa, Fortes' work on political systems was influential to other British anthropologists, especially Max Gluckman and played a role in shaping what became known as the Manchester school of social anthropology, which emphasized the problems of working in colonial Central Africa.

Fortes spent much of his career as a Reader at the University of Cambridge and was the William Wyse Professor of Social Anthropology there from 1950–1973.

In 1963, Fortes delivered the inaugural Lewis Henry Morgan Lecture at the University of Rochester, considered by many to be the most important annual lecture series in the field of Anthropology.[1]

Fortes was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1964,[2] was President of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland from 1965–67 and recipient of the Institute's highest honour, the Huxley Memorial Medal in 1977. He was also an elected member of the American Philosophical Society.[3]

Selected bibliographyEdit

  • 1940. African Political Systems (editor, with E. E. Evans-Pritchard). London and New York: International African Institute.
  • 1945. The Dynamics of Clanship among the Tallensi.
  • 1949. The Web of Kinship among the Tallensi.
  • 1959. Oedipus and Job in West African Religion.
  • 1969. Kinship and the Social Order.
  • 1970. Time and Social Structure.
  • 1970. Social Structure (editor).
  • 1983. Rules and the Emergence of Society.


  1. ^ Kavoussi, Bonnie J (16 September 2008). "Matory To Join Duke Faculty". The Harvard Crimson. Retrieved 19 July 2014.
  2. ^ "Meyer Fortes". American Academy of Arts & Sciences. Retrieved 18 August 2022.
  3. ^ "APS Member History". Retrieved 18 August 2022.

External linksEdit

Academic offices
Preceded by William Wyse Professor of Social Anthropology Cambridge University
1950 - 1973
Succeeded by