Edmund Leach

Sir Edmund Ronald Leach


11/7/1910 – 1/6/1989.  British Social Anthropologist and Knight


Photograph of Sir Edmund Ronald Leach


Strengths: Thinks outside of the box, willing to look at the individual as a means for social change


Weaknesses:  Simplifies social structure by labeling its base as power distribution


Special features: Named Fellow of the British Academy in 1972 and knighted in 1975


Sign:  Scorpio


Edmund Leach was a student of Malinowski and Firth whose major anthropological focuses were kinship, mythology, and the social anthropology of southern Asia.  In his first major anthropological study, Political Systems of Highland Burma, he describes the genesis and growth of political structure.  Leach broke from Levi-Strauss, pioneering the British branch of structuralism.  His study revealed that the Kachin people manipulate the social relationships for gain even if it contradicts normative behavior; however, it was Leach’s desire to create a broad theory linking kinship and social relationships to matters of the economic and political arenas – implying that power distribution is the root of the larger social structure – that truly set him apart.  After completing his study in Burma, Leach became interested in Sri Lanka.  From his fieldwork there, Leach wrote Pul Eliya, a Village in Ceylon: A Study of Land Tenure and Kinship, a classic ethnography focusing on life in a peasant society, especially the economic aspects.