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Durham University

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Staff Profile

Prof Michael B. Carrithers

Emeritus Professor in the Department of Anthropology

Contact Prof Michael B. Carrithers (email at


My most recent ethnographic interest has been public culture in Germany, particularly East Germany. This goes with a more general, theoretical, concern with how cultural, social and political changes come about -- or, to put that more exactly: what must generally be true for human social life to be so changeable as it is?

In an earlier round of this theoretical question I proposed that we think of human beings as having a particularly intense form of intersubjectivity, and a particularly rich and creative capacity for social forms. Recently, though, I have begun to concentrate on rhetoric as a key to such change. (See my home page here for some more thoughts on that.) For one feature of our particularly human sociality is our capacity to persuade, convince, teach or cajole one another, always in circumstances in which the outcome is not foreordained.

Rhetoric is also another way of thinking about a long-standing concern (of myself and so many others) with the role of narrative, and narrative thinking, in human life.

And then there is another, associated, question, and that is: what is the difference between societies in which rhetoric is almost always applied face to face, to known people, and societies made up of both known people and strangers? Especially since strangers are so often both the producers, and the object, of rhetorical action?

In one way or another all these questions inform my current research. One project, a Professorial Fellowship from the ESRC, examines these questions in respect to East Germany, a place so very fecund in historical mutability. On another project, concerning Angling in the Rural Environment (led by Dr Elizabeth Oughton of Newcastle University), I am a co-investigator, studying the rhetoric of different institutions and persons bearing on angling and the river environment.

Research Groups

Department of Anthropology

Research Projects

Department of Anthropology

  • Rhetoric, Agency, and Farmers’ Knowledge in the Management of Upland Environmental Processes in the UK
  • Sociality and Rhetoric Culture in the Interpretation of Situations: an Anthropological Theory and its Application in East Germany

Research Interests

  • Narrative as a form of social and cultural understanding
  • Nature of publics and public sphere
  • Sociality
  • Theories of interaction, dialogism and mutualism, activity theory
  • Rhetoric and culture
  • Rhetoric of photography
  • East Germany


Edited book

Chapter in book

  • Carrithers, M. (2018). How to open a world 1: humanism as method. In Anthropology as Homage: Festschrift for Ivo Strecker. Girke, F., Thubauville, S. & Smidt, W. Cologne: Rüdiger Köppe Verlag. 225-250.
  • Carrithers, M. (2017). Sociality, Socialities and Sociality as a Causal Force. In Human Nature and Social Life: Perspectives on Extended Sociality. Remme, J.H.Z. & Sillander, K. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 124-140.
  • Carrithers, M.B. (2000). Hedgehogs, Foxes and Persons: Resistance and Moral Creativity in East Germany and South India. In Being Human: Anthropological Universality and Particularity in Transdisciplinary Perspectives. Roughey, N. New York: Walter de Gruyter. 356-379.

Journal Article


Selected Grants

  • 2006: ANGLING IN THE RURAL ENVIRONMENT (£68142.00 from ESRC)
  • 2006: SOCIALITY AND RHETORIC CULTURE (£353073.60 from ESRC)