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Lars Rodseth

Lars Rodseth

Contact Information:


516 Eggers Hall

Lars Rodseth

Associate Professor, Anthropology Department

Senior Research Associate, South Asia Center


  • 2023 Fall
    • ANT 121 Peoples and Cultures of the World
  • 2023 Spring
    • ANT 311 Anthropological Theory
    • ANT 111 Introduction to Cultural Anthropology
  • 2022 Fall
    • ANT 611 History of Anthropological Theory
    • ANT 400/600 Selected Topics - Ungoverned Spaces
  • 2022 Spring
    • ANT 300 Selected Topics - Global Culture Through Film
    • ANT 400/600 Selected Topics - Politics, Religion & Violence

Highest degree earned

Ph.D., Department of Anthropology, University of Michigan, 1993


Unlike most cultural anthropologists, I have been especially interested in that “foreign country” we call the past.  Most of my work has been, in one way or another, historically oriented. The transformation of societies presents a basic conundrum: in what sense are these “the same” people as their ancestors of two or three hundred years earlier, given the astonishing changes in their morality, ideology, social organization and everyday life? What is the nature of the continuity that we assume so easily in tracing the history of a nation or an ethnic group? Assuming that the answer must involve culture, what is culture and how can its own apparent changeability be reconciled with its supposed role as a constant across generations? These are some of the questions that have consistently guided my research and teaching.

On one level, my work has involved comparisons in “deep time”—the long chronology of primate and human evolution.  With training in both social and evolutionary theory, I’ve always tried to conceptualize human society as a distinct pattern in contrast to the social systems of other species. In a series of publications since 1991, my aim has been to identify the uniquely human variables that might account for the patterning of social groups under specific historical conditions.  More recently, I’ve come to focus on varying political arrangements as the key to understanding other dimensions of social life, including kinship, gender, community organization and the relations between junior and senior males.          

In my fieldwork, I’ve been especially interested in how political power and religious leadership tend to intertwine or blur together. Thus, at a series of pilgrimage sites in the Kathmandu Valley, I studied the power networks of Buddhist lamas whose ancestors in the 1850s had struck lasting political deals with the Hindu monarchy of Nepal. More recently, in the southern and western United States, I’ve focused on the Mormon Church and its often vociferous critics, including the descendants of some 120 overland migrants who were massacred by a Mormon militia in 1857. In both cases, I’ve come to realize how talking about historical events can be a way of talking about present conditions, and vice versa. The challenge in such cases is not so much to determine what “really” happened (though this can be an important goal in itself), but to understand what people believe about the past, what they “remember” or seem to have “forgotten,” and why.

Historical memory has been important to my work in another way: much of what I’ve offered in the classroom has been the history of anthropology and related fields, from the mid-19th century to the present. While intellectual life is often portrayed as a progressive march (or at least a stumbling advance) on the part of truth-seeking elders, I have tried to see it instead as a series of struggles within and between social networks, each of which is shifting demographically and in relation to a wider field of cultural politics.

Selected Publications

  • Journal Articles
    • Rodseth, L. T., "Hegemonic concepts of culture: The checkered history of dark anthropology." American Anthropologist, 2018.
    • Rodseth, L. T., "Back to Boas, forth to Latour: An anthropological model for the ontological turn." Current Anthropology, 2015.
    • Rodseth, L. T., "Historical massacres and mythical totalities: Reading Marshall Sahlins on two American frontiers." Histories of Anthropology Annual, 2014.
    • Rodseth, L. T., "From bachelor threat to fraternal security: Male associations and modular organization in human societies." International Journal of Primatology, 2012.
    • A., N. S., Rodseth, L. T., "Remembering Mountain Meadows: Collective violence and the manipulation of social boundaries." Journal of Anthropological Research, 2006.
    • Rodseth, L. T., "Giving up the Geist: Power, history, and the culture concept in the long Boasian tradition." Critique of Anthropology, 2005.
    • B., F., Borofsky, R., Rodseth, L. T., Shweder, R. A. and Stolzenberg, N. M., "WHEN: A conversation about culture." American Anthropologist, 2001.
  • Book Chapters
    • Rodseth, L. T., Novak, S. A., "Placing the dead at Mountain Meadows." In Battles and Massacres on the Southwestern Frontier: Historical and Archaeological Perspectives. Wetherington, R. K., Levine, F. (eds.) University of Oklahoma Press, 2014.
    • Rodseth, L. T., Novak, S. A., "The political significance of gender violence." In Sexual Coercion in Primates: An Evolutionary Perspective on Male Aggression Against Females. Muller, M. N., Wrangham, R. W. (eds.) Harvard University Press, 2009.
    • Rodseth, L. T., Novak, S. A., "The impact of primatology on the study of human society." In Missing the Revolution: Darwinism for Social Scientists. Barkow, J. H. (ed.) Oxford University Press, 2006.
    • Rodseth, L. T., Parker, B. J., "Introduction: Theoretical considerations in the study of frontiers." In Untaming the Frontier in Anthropology, Archaeology, and History. Parker, B. J., Rodseth, L. T. (eds.) University of Arizona Press, 2005.
    • Rodseth, L. T., "The fragmentary frontier: Expansion and ethnogenesis in the Himalayas." In Untaming the Frontier in Anthropology, Archaeology, and History. Parker, B. J., Rodseth, L. T. (eds.) University of Arizona Press, 2005.
    • Rodseth, L. T., Wrangham, R. W., "Human kinship: A continuation of politics by other means?." In Kinship and Behavior in Primates. Chapais, B., Berman, C. (eds.) Oxford University Press, 2004.
  • Dissertation
    • Rodseth, L. T., Travel and Transcendence: Lamaist Expansion in the Himalayan Kingdoms. , 1993.
  • Edited Volume
    • Untaming the Frontier in Anthropology, Archaeology, and History. Parker, B. J., Rodseth, L. T. (eds.) University of Arizona Press, 2005.
  • Encyclopedia Entries
    • Rodseth, L. T., "Neo-Boasianism." In Theory in Social and Cultural Anthropology: An Encyclopedia. McGee, J., Warms, R. (eds.) SAGE Publications, 2013.
    • Rodseth, L. T., "Human evolution: History of ideas." In Encyclopedia of Evolution. Pagel, M. (ed.) Oxford University Press, 2002.
  • Replies and Reviews
    • Rodseth, L. T., "Review of Constructing Tibetan Culture." Korom, F. J. (ed.) American Anthropologist, 1999.
    • Rodseth, L. T., Browne, J., "Review of Charles Darwin Voyaging." American Anthropologist, 1997.
    • Rodseth, L. T., Chapais, B., "Complex kinship patterns as evolutionary constructions." Current Anthropology, 1991.
    • Rodseth, L. T., Smuts, B. B., Harrigan, A. M. and Wrangham, R. W., "On the human community as a primate society." Current Anthropology, 1991.
    • Rodseth, L. T., Knauft, B. M., "Violence and sociality in human evolution." Current Anthropology, 1991.

Presentations and Events

Biennial meeting of the Society for Cultural Anthropology, "The pandit and the pujari: Class, collaboration, and conflict among Guyanese Hindus in North America" (2016)

Rodseth, L. T., Freedenberg, R., American Anthropological Association Annual Meeting, Washington, "Bonded labor and bourgeois freedom: The paradox of indenture in the British Caribbean" (2014)

Fall 2010 Speaker Series, Department of Anthropology, "Historical massacres and mythical totalities: Reading Marshall Sahlins on two American frontiers" (2010)

American Anthropological Association Annual Meeting, "Making the rounds: Temples, hearths, and homelands in the construction of relatedness" (2010)

Annual Meeting of the American Anthropological Association, "Reinventing Sapir? From the psychology of culture to the epidemiology of representations" (2007)

Honors and Accolades

Appleby-Mosher (2013)

University Research Committee (2003)

Wenner-Gren Foundation Conference Grant (2000)

(1999 - 2000)

Rackham Graduate School Dissertation Grant (1992)