Aidan Southall Source: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aidan_Southall

Aidan Southall (11 September 1920 – 17 May 2009) was a British cultural anthropologist recognised for his fieldwork in urban settings in post-war Africa. Often identified as a pioneer in the study of African cities, Southall is said to have played a significant role in the development of urban anthropology.[1] In 2009, Aidan Southall died.[2] He was married to Betty Stogdon (1945-1966), Isis Ragheb (1966-1973) and Christine Obbo who survived him together with his children with Betty: daughter Lucinda; and son Mark and his wife Madeline with their children Christopher, Catherine and Andrew.

Early life and education[edit]

Southall, the son of a Church of England parson, was born in Warwickshire, England. Having been born into an impoverished family, Southall was unable to attend boarding school with his friends. He attended a preparatory school, The Perse School in Cambridge, England, at the age of 8 years old. At the age of 11, Southall began his secondary education and eventually worked his way up to Cambridge University where he initially studied Classics. During his last year at Cambridge, at the age of 18, Southall had the opportunity to travel to Jamaica—his first exotic experience. Shortly after this, Southall switched over to anthropology after having been persuaded by one of his professors. At Cambridge University, he gained his bachelor's degree in social and cultural anthropology. After graduating in 1942, Southall followed his colleagues to Uganda with the interest of pursuing social anthropology as a career. He eventually attended the University of London where he gained his PhD.[1][3]


Southall was given the opportunity to apply for a position at Makerere University in Uganda, and in 1945 he became a professor of social studies at this institution. He had the opportunity to carry out research in that particular area among others in Africa, and eventually conducted fieldwork in Nyanza with a Luo student in Kenya. In Karachuonyo, South Nyanza, being restricted to a short-term study over the span of his vacation, Southall found it difficult to conduct long-term fieldwork and therefore focused on food and lineages. While researching the Luo People, Southall made a short visit to Alur, which became one of his most significant life changing experiences from which he published his first written work called Alur Society. He returned to Alur in 1948 and spent two years there conducting doctoral fieldwork. In the 1950s, Southall became more interested in urban anthropology, and some his work focused on the complexity of developing urban areas. Unlike most anthropologists of his time, Southall was generally interested in urbanisation and the development of African cities in particular.[1]

After completing his PhD in 1952 in London, he returned to Makerere as a member of East African Institute of Social Research. During his years at Makerere, he obtained a UNESCO fellowship which slowly contributed to the expansion of his notability and connection through a visit to the United States. There, he encountered other influential researchers, including sociologist Talcott Parsons, who influenced Southall in developing an appreciation for Max Weber's work. As it reflected in his publications, there was a gradual shift in Southall's theoretical position as he began adopting more Marxist views.

After teaching at Makarere University, Southall taught at several other schools including the University of East Africa, the University of California, and Syracuse University. He taught from 1969 at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, becoming professor emeritus in 1990.[4] Due to extensive fieldwork and research, Southall was also able to become fluent in several languages including Nilotic languages, Swahili and French. He also became a member of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland. Furthermore, Southall was also a member of International African Institute, The African Studies Association of USA and the American Anthropological Association.[5]


For his doctoral dissertation, Aidan Southall wrote Alur Society: A Study in Processes and Types of Domination (1956), which dealt with political structures among the Alur people of Northwest Uganda. He carried out anthropological fieldwork among the Alur people for approximately two years between 1949 and 1952. Southall described a continuous process of political and cultural domination, done almost entirely without the use of force.[6]

His next publication was Townsmen in the Making: Kampala and its Suburbs (1957), featuring two specific reports that were developed as part of a general study of African life in greater Kampala, Uganda. Examining such issues as land, housing, economic activity, and marriage, Southall drew upon the survey results for specific information while also supplementing quantitative data with qualitative material and anecdotes.[7]

As Aidan Southall grew more experienced in observing urban systems, he released Social Change in Modern Africa (1961), which contained the proceedings of the First International African Institute Seminar at Makarere, a Kampala school where he taught. This seminar and publication speculated about how complex social systems should be studied.[8]

"The Illusion of the Tribe" was published in 1970 in The Passing of Tribal Man, edited by P.C.W. Gutkind, and reprinted in 2010 in Perspectives on Africa: A Reader in Culture, History, and Representation.[9]

Southall later published a collection of papers, originally presented at the Wenner-Gren seminar of 1964, about cross cultural similarities in the urbanisation process. This collection of papers was titled Urban Anthropology: Cross Cultural Studies of Urbanization (1973) and attempted to identify and characterise significant issues in urban anthropology.[10]

Later that decade, Southall published a collection of essays entitled Small Urban Centers in Rural Development in Africa (1979). His essays are broken down in different categories, the first of which represented the social and anthropological perspective. Other essays took historical or political viewpoints, followed by economic case studies, and finished with an argument about whether their findings are conceptual or theoretical in nature.[11]

Aidan Southall's next big published work, in conjunction with Greg Gulin, was entitled Urban Anthropology in China (1993). This text originated at the First International Urban Anthropology Conference in China in December 1989, after being postponed and put on hold many times. This collection of essays involves Chinese urban ethnicity, finished off by Chinese urban culture and life cycles. [12]

His final book was The City in Time and Space (2000), written about cities on a grand scale. Having studied urbanisation his entire life, this book was an overview of what he believed the life process to encompass. The book starts off as a survey of implications, varying across time and space, of demographic, social, cultural, political, and economic concentration for society as a whole.[13]

According to social anthropologist Ray Abrahams:[4][5]

Despite the range and undoubted importance of so many of his works, Aidan's impact on his fellow anthropologists was more diffuse than that of some more prominent British figures, partly because he worked outside the boundaries of major "schools" in Cambridge, Manchester and Oxford. The Marxist theoretical position he adopted became less fashionable, and the grand scope of his last book was almost "an impossible act to follow".


  1. ^ a b c Jeff Isminger, "Doctor Aidan Southall: Urban anthropologist who pioneered the study of African cities", The Independent, 13 August 2009.
  2. ^ Obbo, Christine (8 August 2009). "Aidan Southall: A Tribute and Partial Memoir". Journal of Colonialism and Colonial History. 10 (2). doi:10.1353/cch.0.0075. ISSN 1532-5768. S2CID 162121739.
  3. ^ Burton, John W. (1992). "An Interview with Aidan Southall". Current Anthropology. 33 (1): 67–83. doi:10.1086/204037. S2CID 143722074.
  4. ^ a b Ray Abrahams, " Aidan Southall: Anthropologist who studied tribal societies and urbanisation in Africa", The Guardian, 17 August 2009.
  5. ^ a b Abrahams, Ray (2009). "Aidan Southall Obituary". Anthropology Today. 25 (5): 26–27. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8322.2009.00692.x.
  6. ^ Baxter, P.T.W. (1959). "Alur-Society: A Study in the Processes and Types of Domination by Aidan Southall – A Review". Man. 59: 32–33. doi:10.2307/2796543. JSTOR 2796543.
  7. ^ Banton, Michael (1958). "Townsmen in the Making: Kampala and its Suburbs by Aidan Southall and Peter Gutkind – A Review". Man. 58: 164.
  8. ^ Gutkind, Peter (1962). "Social Change in Modern Africa – A Review". Man. 62: 157.
  9. ^ Southall, Aidan (2010). "The Illusion of Tribe". Perspectives on Africa: A Reader in Culture, History, and Representation (2nd ed.). Chichester: John Wiley & Sons. p. 3. ISBN 978-1-4051-9060-2.
  10. ^ Jacobson, David (1978). "Urban Anthropology; Cross Cultural Studies of Urbanization by Aidan Southall – A Review". American Anthropologist. 80 (4): 949–950. doi:10.1525/aa.1978.80.4.02a00170.
  11. ^ Norcliffe, G.B. (1981). "Small Urban Centers in Rural Development in Africa by Aidan Southall – A Review". Canadian Journal of African Studies. 15 (2): 390–392. doi:10.2307/484440. JSTOR 484440.
  12. ^ McGee, Terry (1995). "Urban Anthropology in China by Aidan Southall and Greg Gulin – A Review". The China Journal. 34: 307–308. doi:10.2307/2950159. JSTOR 2950159.
  13. ^ Collins, Peter (2001). "The City in Time and Space by Aidan Southall – A Review". The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute. 7 (2): 376–377.

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