Considered the best of the sciences and humanities, modern anthropology necessitates an interdisciplinary approach. Among our list of top anthropologists today, you will find famous anthropologists of every race and gender, exploring complex problems with innovative solutions. These scholars are teachers, mentors, and practitioners who work every day to advance the field and help prepare the next generation of anthropologists.
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Anthropology (from Greek: ánthrōpos [human being] + logia [study]) is the study of human behavior throughout history, and that study may take a variety of approaches. Modern anthropology originated during the Age of Enlightenment, when the aim to understand of the universal history of mankind was analogous to the ultimate goal of enlightenment. Writings from previous centuries are considered proto-anthropological — without the structure of the formal discipline we know today.
Considered the best of the sciences and humanities, modern anthropology necessitates an interdisciplinary approach. This has given rise to multiple specializations within the field, including medical anthropology, biological anthropology, linguistic anthropology, socio-cultural anthropology, physical anthropology, forensic anthropology … the list goes on.
Whatever the approach, concentration or methods, the goal of anthropology is to better understand the full spectrum of the human experience and uncover some truths about where we’ve come from and where we are going. It examines the relationship between humans, their environment, their society, and their culture, in an effort to reduce conflict and promote cultural understanding.
The anthropologists on this list are major contributors to the field. Among them you will see anthropologists of every race and gender, exploring complex problems with innovative solutions. These scholars are teachers, mentors, and practitioners who work every day, advancing the field and preparing the next generation of anthropologists.
In what follows, we look at influential anthropologists over the last decade. Based on our ranking methodology, these individuals have demonstrated significant academic impact on the discipline of anthropology within 2012–2020. Influence can be achieved through a variety of means. Some scholars have had revolutionary ideas, while others may have gained influence through popularity — but all are academicians, and most primarily work in anthropology.
Note: This isn’t simply a list of the most influential anthropologists alive today. Here we are focused on the number of citations and the web presence of scholars in the last ten years. We acknowledge that there are other famed anthropologists and highly influential scholars who simply haven’t been cited frequently or discussed widely in the last decade, whereas some new faces have been making a splash in the news, speaking at events, and publishing, publishing, publishing. Our machine learning algorithms are time-sensitive. To find some of the influential scholars you might be missing here, we encourage you to use our dynamic ranking system and check influence over the past 20 and 50 years.
Note: The time-speciifc links above take you to rankings that dynamically change as our AI learns new things!
Areas of Specialization: Urban and Media Anthropology
Ulf Hannerz is an emeritus professor of social anthropology at Stockholm University, which is where he also earned his Ph.D. As an anthropologist, he has focused his research on urban and media anthropology. His research has taken him to locations in the United States, the Caribbean, and West Africa.
His current interests involve post-Cold War future facing scenarios with impacts on a global scale. He examines apocalyptic predictions as a product of culture and spread around the world by way of ubiquitous technology. He has written books such as World Watching: Streetcorners and Newsbeats on a Journey through Anthropology and Writing Future Worlds: An Anthropologist Explores Global Scenarios.
Areas of Specialization: Economic Anthropology, Historical Anthropology
Marshall Sahlins was the Charles F. Grey Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus of Anthropology and Social Sciences at the University of Chicago. Sahlins earned his B.A. and M.A. degrees from the University of Michigan, and his Ph.D. from Columbia University.
An activist since the Vietnam War, Sahlins coined the phrase,
teach-in, an academic exercise inviting open discourse, barring any limitation on where the discussion may lead. His work explored the power of culture to shape ideas and beliefs, and the relationship between agency and structure. Sahlins is most famous for his notable contributions in the fields of economic and historical anthropology and he performed most of his research in Hawaiʻi and Fiji.
Sahlins began his trajectory toward becoming one of the world's most famous anthropologists when he started writing and publishing scholarly works in the late-1950s. His works have included Moala: Culture and Nature on a Fijian Island, The Use and Abuse of Biology: An Anthropological Critique of Sociobiology, and Apologies to Thucydides: Understanding History as Culture and Vice Versa.
Areas of Specialization: Medical Anthropology
Nancy Scheper-Hughes is a program director and professor for medical anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley. She graduated from University of California at Berkeley with a B.A. in social science and a Ph.D. in anthropology. She also served a postdoctoral fellowship at the National Institute of Mental Health, Laboratory of Human Development at Harvard University.
Her research has specialized in many areas, including, but not limited to: cultural forensic anthropology, human organ trafficking, invisible genocides, Pope Francis, violence, death squads, and epidemics. She won the Margaret Mead Award from the Society for Applied Anthropology for her very first book, Saints, Scholars and Schizophrenics: Mental Illness in Rural Ireland. Her controversial work, Death Without Weeping: The Violence of Everyday Life in Brazil, was a shocking description of Brazilian mothers having to choose which of their children lives or dies, due to extreme poverty and their life of horrific suffering. Her work in medical anthropology is critical to the field.
Areas of Specialization: Social Anthropology
David Graeber was a professor of anthropology at the 's School of Economics. He earned his B.A. from the State University of New York at Purchase and his M.A. and Ph.D. from University of Chicago. From there, he spent twenty months conducting research in Madagascar on a Fulbright fellowship.
Graeber became a famous anthropologist for his work on anarchism. Graeber published notable works such as Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology, Bullshit Jobs: A Theory, and his major work, Debt: The First 5000 Years, in which he raises criticisms about the actual harm/benefit caused by the International Monetary Fund and their loans to struggling nations.
Areas of Specialization: Medical Anthropology
Marcia C. Inhorn is the William K. Lanman Jr. Professor of Anthropology and International Affairs at Yale University. She earned her MPH and Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley. She is a recognized expert in gender, fertility, and women's health. Her research into the social impacts of infertility in Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Lebanon made her the first anthropologist to conduct such a study in the Middle East.
She found the stigmatization of infertility for Egyptian women and the social pressures faced by childless women. She investigated the cultural and societal forces at work when assistive reproductive technologies became an option. She likewise studied these impacts in Lebanon, where male infertility is quite common. In Lebanon, the use of assistive reproductive technologies was not only acceptable, but a demonstration of masculinity.
Areas of Specialization: Anthropology of Reason
Paul Rabinow was Professor of Anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley and director of the Anthropology of the Contemporary Research Collaboratory (ARC). He earned his B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. in anthropology from the University of Chicago. He has also studied at the École Pratique des Hautes Études in Paris, France. He has held Fulbright fellowships at the National Museum in Rio de Janeiro and the University of Iceland.
A recognized scholar on the works of Michel Foucault, and his “anthropology of reason,” Rabinow became a famous anthropologist for his willingness to, and propensity for, "tinkering" with current modes and methods of inquiry and seeking to invent and employ new methods.
A prolific author, Rabinow published many critical works, such as Symbolic Domination: Cultural Form and Historical Change in Morocco, French Modern: Norms and Forms of the Social Environment, and Marking Time: On the Anthropology of the Contemporary.
Areas of Specialization: Cultural Anthropology
David Price is a professor of anthropology at Saint Martin's University. He was born in 1960 and earned his B.A. from The Evergreen State College, an AM from University of Chicago, and a Ph.D. from University of Florida.
Early in his career he studied in Egypt, Yemen, and Palestine, conducting research on the evolution of irrigation systems from modern to ancient times, before moving on to his current field. An expert in cultural anthropology and intellectual history, Price has written numerous books about the interactions between government/military/intelligence agencies and anthropologists. His analysis of the impacts of politics, culture, and ethical concerns on the work of anthropologists has advanced our understanding of those complex issues. He has written a book, Threatening Anthropology: McCarthyism and the FBI's Persecution of Activist Anthropologist, about the experience of activist-anthropologists during the McCarthy era, as they combated efforts by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation to stifle their work. He also wrote a book titled, Anthropological Intelligence: The Use and Neglect of American Anthropology in the Second World War, in which he explored the efforts of anthropologists during World War II.
Areas of Specialization: Digital Anthropology
Daniel Miller is a Professor of Anthropology at UCL Institute of Education. He earned his Ph.D. in Anthropology and Archaeology from University of Cambridge. He is the founder of University College of London's digital anthropology program and the director of Why We Post: Global Social Media Impact Study, an international anthropological study of human social media usage. In so doing, he pioneered the study of digital anthropology, which investigates the experience of human/technology interactions. Why We Post generated a body of research that has been downloaded more than half a million times.
Miller is a critic of materialism, an ethos in which the material is valued more highly than the cultivation of relationships with other people. He has studied people's relationships with their possessions in works such as A Theory of Shopping, which suggests that common purchases can be a window into a family's domestic life. He has written other books in this area, including Consumption and Its Consequences and Stuff.
Areas of Specialization: Actor Network Theory, Social Theory
Bruno Latour is an anthropologist, philosopher, and sociologist. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Tours. Soon after graduating, he became interested in anthropology, and set out on a study of race and decolonization in Ivory Coast.
He is best known for his work, Nous n'avons jamais ete modernes: Essais d'anthropologie symetrique (translated: We Have Never Been Modern). This theme, of challenging methods and findings of scientific inquiry, is revisited in his later work, Pandora's Hope. His work in Science, Technology and Modernity has been provocative, to say the least.
Latour's willingness to wade into controversy by questioning established norms and approaches in anthropological research has earned him more than a few detractors. He has faced harsh criticism of his work, and claims of a penchant for exaggeration, hyperbole and metaphors.
Areas of Specialization: Ethnography, History and Anthropology
Christopher Hann is one of the founding Directors of the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology and a well-known British social anthropologist. He studied philosophy, politics and economics at Jesus College at Cambridge, before taking on his graduate studies at University of Cambridge's Corpus Christi College. As a graduate student, he focused his research on Eastern Europe, learning to speak and read Hungarian, and conducting field work in the Hungarian village of Tázlár.
Perhaps best known for his ethnographic work, Hann has also explored the connections between anthropology and history. His work has investigated Marxist-Leninist-Maoist socialism and the evolution of civil society. His anthro-historical work has examined anthropology through the lens of social issues, capitalism, wealth distribution and politics. He collaborated with Thomas Hylland Eriksen on “Overheating”, a globalization research project at the University of Oslo.
Areas of Specialization: Anthropology of Sexuality
Tom Boellstorff is a University of California, Irvine-based anthropologist famous and respected for his work on the anthropology of sexuality, globalization, linguistics and more. He earned bachelor's degrees in music and linguistics and his Ph.D. in anthropology from Stanford University, where he went on to teach.
Boellstorff has been active in both LGBT activism and research, serving in roles with the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission and the Institute for Community Health Outreach. He has held chair for the Association for Queer Anthropology and is a fellow of the American Council of Learned Societies.
His research into LGBT issues has taken him from Indonesia to virtual worlds, including a study that took place within the online virtual reality game Second Life. His work was recognized with the Ruth Benedict Prize, awarded by the Society of Lesbian and Gay Anthropologists. He is the former Editor-in-Chief of American Anthropologist, and is co-editor of a Princeton book series titled, Princeton Studies in Culture and Technology.
Areas of Specialization: Social Anthropology
Thomas Hylland Eriksen is a professor of social anthropology at the University of Oslo and a member of the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters. He is a scholar of identity politics, cultural dynamics, the global response to accelerating change and crisis, and the Creole world. He has published numerous works, including Common Denominators: Ethnicity, Nationalism and the Politics of Compromise in Mauritius, Fredrik Barth: An Intellectual Biography, and Overheating: An Anthropology of Accelerated Change. He has also published many research articles showcasing his work, including, Confessions of a Useful Idiot (Or why Culture Should be Brought Back In), The Internet, the “Laws of Media” and Identity Politics, and Mind the Gap: Flexibility, Epistemology and the Rhetoric of New Work. At times a minor figure in Norwegian party politics, he has been a vocal critic of the emergence of Nationalism in Norway's public discourse.
Areas of Specialization: Economic Anthropology
Bill Maurer is the dean of the School of Social Sciences for the University of California, Irvine, the founding director of the Institute for Money Technology and Financial Inclusion, and a scholar of legal and economic anthropology. He earned his Bachelor of Arts from Vassar College and his Ph.D. from Stanford University.
His research has focused on a niche subfield, the anthropology of finance. In this area, Maurer became a famous anthropologist by studying finance and economics through the lens of human anthropology, with explorations of off-shore institutions in the Caribbean, Islamic finance, cryptocurrencies, and blockchain.
Maurer's work has received four major National Science Foundation research grants, funding studies into international finance and digital currencies. He is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and is the associate editor of the Journal of Cultural Economy.
Areas of Specialization: Culture and Technology
Genevieve Bell is the Florence Violet McKenzie Chair and Distinguished Professor for the Australian National University College of Engineering and Computer Science, a Senior Fellow at Intel, Director of the Autonomy, Agency and Assurance Institute (3A Institute) at Australian National University, and the first SRI International Engelbert Distinguished Fellow. She earned a Bachelor of Arts and Master of Philosophy from Bryn Mawr College. She went on to earn an additional Master's degree and a Ph.D. from Stanford University.
She is very well known for her work in technology, and her research into how humans interact with technology has been widely recognized. She was named one of the Top 25 Women in Technology to Watch, one of the 100 Most Creative People in Business and to Elle Magazine's list of influential women in technology.
Areas of Specialization: Linguistic Anthropology
Paul Kockelman is the editor of the Journal of Linguistic Anthropology, co-editor of The Cambridge Handbook of Linguistic Anthropology, and a professor of anthropology at Yale University. He is known as one of the last great system-builders in the field.
His work in linguistic anthropology has yielded significant insights into Qʼeqchiʼ, an ancient language of the Maya people of Guatemala, as well as his ethnographic work. He is the author of numerous books and articles, including Agent, Person, Subject, Self: A Theory of Ontology, Interaction, and Infrastructure, The Chicken and the Quetzal: Incommensurate Ontologies and Portable Values in Guatemala's Cloud Forest, and most recently, Kinds of Value: An Experiment in Modal Anthropology.
Areas of Specialization: Forensic Anthropology
William M. Bass is a forensic anthropologist, famous for his work on the study of human decomposition. He earned his B.A. from the University of Virginia, his MS from the University of Kentucky, and his Ph.D. in anthropology from the University of Pennsylvania.
He founded the University of Tennessee Anthropological Research, also known as “The Body Farm”. The Body Farm is a facility where researchers can study the decomposition of the human body under a variety of conditions. This research helps law enforcement and scientists to better understand time and manner of death, based on a better understanding of how the decomposition process works under a given set of conditions.
His research has yielded some surprising results as well, such as when he found that the maggots that fed on the bodies of recreational drug users could be distinguished from others, and that the bodies of cancer victims had a scent that was distinct from that of other bodies.
Areas of Specialization: Social Anthropology
Marilyn Strathern was born in 1941 in North Wales. She attended Crofton Lane Primary School and Bromley High School before moving on to study Archaeology and Anthropology at Girton College. She earned her Ph.D. from Girton College in 1968.
Strathern has spent her career working with the people of Papua New Guinea. Her approach to feminist anthropology has yielded important scholarship, including Self-Interest and the Social Good: Some Implications of Hagen Gender Imagery and Dealing with Inequality: Analysing Gender Relations in Melanesia and Beyond. Her work on reproductive technology opened up new lines of inquiry into the female experience and how procreation impacts society.
Aside from her feminist scholarship she has also devoted time to the understanding of kinship bonds and community, in works such as Kinship, law and the unexpected: Relatives are always a surprise, and After nature: English kinship in the late twentieth century.
Areas of Specialization: Ethnology, Social Anthropology
Philippe Descola is chair of anthropology at the Collège de France, most well-known for his research regarding the Achuar, an Amazonian community that was one of the last to be contacted by the outside world. He lived with and researched with the Achuar in Ecuador from 1976 to 1978.
He is a highly-sought lecturer, and has delivered many notable lectures including the Munro Lecture at Edinburgh, the Victor Goldschmidt Lecture at Heidelberg, the Clifford Geertz Memorial Lecture at Princeton, and the Radcliffe-Brown Lecture at the British Academy.
He has served as chair of the Société des Américanistes since 2002. He is an honorary fellow of the Royal Anthropological Institute and has received numerous prestigious honors. In 1997, he was named a Knight of the French Order of Academic Palms, in 2010 an Officer of the French Legion of Honor, and in 2016, he was named a Commander in the French Legion of Honor.
Areas of Specialization: Medical Anthropology
His career began in the medical field, during which time he served as an infectious disease specialist. He moved on to an anthropological approach, studying health inequities in Africa.
Fassin is founder of Iris, the Interdisciplinary Research Institute for Social Sciences and has served as a member of the Scientific Council of the French Institute of Health and Medical Research and the Scientific Council of the City of Paris.
His work has been recognized with numerous prestigious awards, including the Chevalier des Palmes Academiques, the Douglass Prize for the Best Book in the Anthropology of Europe, and the Research Prize of the French Red Cross Foundation. He continues his work to drive policy development and scholarship regarding immigration, social justice, and asylum.
Areas of Specialization: Cultural Anthropology, Military Anthropology
Montgomery McFate is the Minerva Chair of Strategic Research at the U.S. Naval War College. She earned her B.A. from the University of California, Berkeley, a Ph.D. from Yale University, and a JD from Harvard Law School.
After September 11, 2001, she determined that her mission in life was to try to infuse military decision making with the necessary background anthropological and cultural knowledge needed to make appropriate decisions. Over the course of her career, she has worked as a defense consultant for the Office of Naval Research, the United States Institute of Peace, and the Rand Corporation.
McFate's path to becoming a famous anthropologist has not been without controversy, however. Some feel that a collaboration between anthropologists studying a people, and military officials wishing to take action on or with those people, represents a breach of trust. McFate contends that this need not be the case, and that ethical practice of anthropology could yield important insights that could potentially prevent unintended cultural clashes. Her work with the Human Terrain System, a military initiative employing psychologists, anthropologists, sociologists, and others to provide insights to inform military policy, has been condemned by the American Anthropological Association, which feels that it is an unethical use of their expertise.
Areas of Specialization: Anthropology of Science
Hugh Gusterson is an anthropologist and professor at the University of British Columbia. He formerly held the position of Professor of Anthropology and International Affairs at George Washington University. He earned a B.A. from University of Cambridge, an M.A. from the University of Pennsylvania, and a Ph.D. from Stanford University.
His research has focused on the anthropology of science through the lens of international security and nuclear culture. He has been active in advocacy for the protection of the role of anthropologists as a founder of the Network of Concerned Anthropologists. His initial research efforts focused on nuclear weapons culture and most recently has focused on counterinsurgency operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as teenage alcohol consumption.
Areas of Specialization: Medical Anthropology
Michael Taussig is a professor at Columbia University. He earned a medical degree from the University of Sydney and a Ph.D. in anthropology from the London School of Economics.
He has published research in the area of medical anthropology and is known for his work with the idea of commodity fetishism. In his book, The Devil and Commodity Fetishism, he promotes the study of people living on the fringes of the economy, such as indigenous peoples, as a way of creating contrast with traditionally studied populations.
Much of his work is filtered through the lens of the work of Walter Benjamin. Mimesis and Alterity is one such work, exploring the phenomena of mimesis (assimilation) and alterity (opposition). His research involved the study of the Cuna, an indigenous people in Panama.
Areas of Specialization: Medical Anthropology
Arthur Kleinman is a medical anthropologist and the Esther and Sidney Rabb Professor of Anthropology in the Department of Global Health and Social Medicine at Harvard University. Kleinman is also the Professor of Medical Anthropology in Global Health and Social Medicine and Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. He earned his AB and MD from Stanford University and an M.A. in social anthropology from Harvard University. He completed his internship at the Yale University of Medicine, before completing his psychiatric residency in Boston's Massachusetts General Hospital. He ranks among famous anthropologists for his contributions to both medical anthropology and cultural psychiatry, as well as global health, social medicine, and medical humanities.
From 1961–1978, Kleinman conducted research in China and Taiwan studying mental illness and examining public health aspects of mental illness and social suffering. He was appointed as the Victor and William Fung director of Harvard University's Asia Center from 2008–2016.
Areas of Specialization: Evolutionary Anthropology, Paleoanthropology
Jean-Jacques Hublin is a paleoanthropologist, president of the European Society for the Study of Human Evolution, and a professor of anthropology at Leiden University, Max Planck Society, and the Leipzig University. He is also founder and director of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology's Department of Human Evolution.
Originally from Algeria, Hublin studied geology and paleontology at Pierre and Marie Curie University, where he earned his doctorate. He went on to earn a state doctorate at the University of Bordeaux.
In addition to his numerous teaching positions, including those at Stanford University, Harvard University, and the University of California, Berkeley, Hublin has also served in a number of leadership positions. He is the former deputy director for Prehistoric Archaeology, Biological Anthropology and Paleoenvironmental Sciences for the French National Center for Scientific Research. He founded the European Society for the Study of Human Evolution, and is still president.
Areas of Specialization: Feminist Anthropology, Urban Anthropology
Louise Lamphere is a feminist anthropologist and Distinguished Professor of Anthropology at the University of New Mexico. She earned her Ph.D. from Harvard University. Her research interests have included feminist anthropology, gender, de-industrialization, and urban anthropology. She has published extensively on Native American issues, such as kinship and cooperation, and on issues such as working mothers, immigration and women's lives and remains active in her advocacy on behalf of feminist causes.
Lamphere started as an assistant professor of anthropology at Brown University and the only woman in her department when she was hired in 1968. Louise Lamphere was surprisingly denied tenure in 1974 which lead to a landmark class action suit charging Brown University of sex discrimination, noting her tenure denial but also the larger patterns of discrimination of women at the university. Lamphere won the case which served as a catalyst for a series of actions that reformed policies around sex discrimination and affirmative action at Brown University. It is notable that Brown later awarded Lamphere an honorary LHD for her courage in standing up for fairness and equity.