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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

Highest degree earned

Ph.D., 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.

Areas of Expertise

Political and historical anthropology, social theory, history of the human sciences, kinship, nationalism, violence, ideology, South Asia, Tibet, United States


Rodseth, Lars
2018   Hegemonic concepts of culture: The checkered history of dark anthropology. American Anthropologist 120 (3):398-411

Rodseth, Lars
2015     Back to Boas, forth to Latour: An anthropological model for the ontological turn. Current Anthropology 56(6):865-882.

Rodseth, Lars
2014     Historical massacres and mythical totalities: Reading Marshall Sahlins on two American frontiers.  Histories of Anthropology Annual.  

Rodseth, Lars and Shannon A. Novak
2014   Placing the dead at Mountain Meadows. In Battles and Massacres on the Southwestern Frontier: Historical and Archaeological Perspectives, pp. 190-207. Ronald K. Wetherington and Frances Levine, eds. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press. 

Rodseth, Lars
2012    From bachelor threat to fraternal security: Male associations and modular organization in human societies.  International Journal of Primatology, special issue on multilevel societies. 

Rodseth, Lars and Shannon A. Novak
2009     The political significance of gender violence.  In Sexual Coercion in Primates: An Evolutionary Perspective on Male Aggression Against Females, pp. 292-321.  Martin N. Muller and Richard W. Wrangham, eds.  Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Novak, Shannon A. and Lars Rodseth
2006     Remembering Mountain Meadows: Collective violence and the manipulation of social boundaries.  Journal of Anthropological Research 62 (1):1-25.

Rodseth, Lars and Shannon A. Novak
2006     The impact of primatology on the study of human society.  In Missing the Revolution: Darwinism for Social Scientists, pp. 187-220.  Jerome H. Barkow, ed.  New York: Oxford University Press.

Rodseth, Lars   
2005     Giving up the Geist: Power, history, and the culture concept in the long Boasian tradition.  Critique of Anthropology 25 (1):5-11.

Parker, Bradley J. and Lars Rodseth (eds.)
2005     Untaming the Frontier in Anthropology, Archaeology, and History.  Tucson: University of Arizona Press.

Rodseth, Lars and Bradley J. Parker
2005     Introduction: Theoretical considerations in the study of frontiers.  In Untaming the Frontier in Anthropology, Archaeology, and History, pp. 3-21.  Bradley J. Parker and Lars Rodseth, eds.  Tucson: University of Arizona Press.

Rodseth, Lars
2005     The fragmentary frontier: Expansion and ethnogenesis in the Himalayas.  In Untaming the Frontier in Anthropology, Archaeology, and History, pp. 83-109.  Bradley J. Parker and Lars Rodseth, eds.  Tucson: University of Arizona Press.

Rodseth, Lars and Richard W. Wrangham
2004     Human kinship: A continuation of politics by other means?  In Kinship and Behavior in Primates, pp. 389-419.  Bernard Chapais & Carol Berman, eds.  New York: Oxford University Press.

Barth, Fredrik, Robert Borofsky, Lars Rodseth, Richard A. Shweder, and Nomi Maya Stolzenberg
2001     WHEN: A conversation about culture.  American Anthropologist 103(2):432-46.

Rodseth, Lars and Shannon A. Novak
2000     The social modes of men: Toward an ecological model of human male relationships. Human Nature 11(4):335-366.

Rodseth, Lars and Jennifer Olsen
2000     Mystics against the market: American religions and the autocritique of capitalism. Critique of Anthropology 20(3):265-88.

Rodseth, Lars
1998     Distributive models of culture: A Sapirian alternative to essentialism.  American Anthropologist 100(1):55-69.

Rodseth, Lars, Richard W. Wrangham, Alisa M. Harrigan, and Barbara B. Smuts
1991     The human community as a primate society.  Current Anthropology 32(3):221-54.