Sociology Index

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John Rankine Goody

Sir John Rankine Goody FBA (1919–2015), known as Jack Goody, was a 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).

Between 1954 and 1984, he taught social anthropology at Cambridge University, serving as the William Wyse Professor of Social Anthropology from 1973 until 1984. He gave the Luce Lectures at Yale University. Sir John Rankine Goody was elected Fellow of the British Academy in 1976. He was an associate of the US National Academy of Sciences.

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

Sir John Rankine 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. 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. Sir John Rankine Goody 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.