Michael Moffatt

Anthropology is More Cautious Than Ever About What Observers Can See and Understand in Another Culture

Marston Michael Moffatt ’66, November 26, 2011


An internationally recognized anthropologist, Michael was born in Hartford, Connecticut, and grew up in a household “filled with love, industry, a firm belief in eccentricity, wonder, and the value of art in its myriad forms,” writes Pamela Claxton-Moffatt, Michael’s widow. “From 4 a.m. newspaper deliveries, to archeological digs and a 1,000-mile-plus bicycle ride through the New England countryside with high school chums, Michael vigorously engaged in the world around him, and reveled in its most mysterious inhabitants: human beings.” Michael attended Dartmouth before transferring to Reed, where he received a BA in anthropology. He earned a BLitt in social anthropology at Oxford, studying with social anthropologist Rodney Needham, and an MA and PhD at the University of Chicago, where he trained with anthropologist McKim Marriot. In 1973, Michael joined the faculty at Rutgers, where he served as department chair for anthropology and graduate and undergraduate director. Colleagues Sue Gal and Dorothy Hodgson note in an Anthropology News memorial that he mentored junior colleagues about the politics and practices of the profession. “Clever and nonconforming, Michael challenged post-modern theorists with satire and classical theorists by turning the tables on them,” says Pamela. “His prose in casual conversation was ever erudite, full of plums plucked and coddled from his voracious reading. Whatever he read took on a literary spin with an anthropological twist coupled with humor.” Michael’s early research on the lives of rural and urban Harijans in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu grew out of his grandfather’s work as a missionary in the country, report Gal and Hodgson. His first book, An Untouchable Community in South India: Structure and Consensus, is widely respected as a controversial contribution to the field of anthropology. His next book, Coming of Age in New Jersey: College and American Culture, based on observations made when he posed as an undergrad living in the Rutgers dorms, became even better known. Years later, it continues to be popular with professors and students alike. Michael’s historical research from colonial days through the ’80s, The Rutgers Picture Book: An Illustrated History of Student Life in the Changing College and University, remains popular with alumni as well. He assessed ethnographic studies of U.S. 


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