Meyer Fortes, (born April 25, 1906, Britstown, Cape Province, S.Af.—died Jan. 27, 1983, Cambridge, Cambridgeshire, Eng.), British social anthropologist known for his investigations of West African societies.
After studying at the University of Cape Town in South Africa, Fortes received his Ph.D. in psychology from the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) in 1930. In 1932 he turned from psychology to anthropology and studied under Bronisław Malinowski at the LSE. During 1934–37 he worked in Ghana and, upon his return, was appointed lecturer in social anthropology at the LSE. Subsequently, he was appointed research lecturer in African sociology at the University of Oxford. He was professor of social anthropology at King’s College, Cambridge, from 1950 to 1973.
Fortes’s special interests were the political anthropology and kinship systems of various African peoples, especially the Tallensi. Most of his studies were conducted in nations along the Guinea coast of Africa. Among his major works are The Dynamics of Clanship Among the Tallensi (1945), The Web of Kinship Among the Tallensi (1949), Kinship and Social Order (1969), and Time and Social Structure, and Other Essays (1970).
Meyer Fortes (April 25, 1906 – January 27, 1983) was a South African-born anthropologist, best known for his work among the Tallensi and Ashanti in Ghana.
Originally trained in psychology, Fortes employed the notion of the "person" into his structural-functional analyses of kinship, the family, and ancestor worship setting a standard for studies on African social organization. His famous book, Oedipus and Job in West African Religion (1959), fused his two interests and set a standard for comparative ethnology. He also wrote extensively on issues of the first born, kingship, and divination.
Fortes received his anthropological training from Charles Gabriel Seligman at the London School of Economics. Fortes also trained with Bronisław Malinowski and Raymond Firth. Along with contemporaries A. R. Radcliffe-Brown, Sir Edmund Leach, Audrey Richards, and Lucy Mair, Fortes held strong functionalist views that insisted upon empirical evidence in order to generate analyses of society. His volume with E. E. Evans-Pritchard, African Political Systems (1940) established the principles of segmentation and balanced opposition, which were to become the hallmarks of African political anthropology. Despite his work in Francophone West Africa, Fortes' work on political systems was influential to other British anthropologists, especially Max Gluckman and played a role in shaping what became known as the Manchester school of social anthropology, which emphasized the problems of working in colonial Central Africa.
Fortes spent much of his career as a Reader at the University of Cambridge and was the William Wyse Professor of Social Anthropology there from 1950-1973.
In 1963, Fortes delivered the inaugural Lewis Henry Morgan Lecture at the University of Rochester, considered by many to be the most important annual lecture series in the field of Anthropology.
- 1940. African Political Systems (editor, with E. E. Evans-Pritchard). London and New York: International African Institute.
- 1945. The Dynamics of Clanship among the Tallensi.
- 1949. The Web of Kinship among the Tallensi.
- 1959. Oedipus and Job in West African Religion.
- 1969. Kinship and the Social Order.
- 1970. Time and Social Structure.
- 1970. Social Structure (editor).
- 1983. Rules and the Emergence of Society.
- Parker, John (November 2013). "The dynamics of fieldwork among the Talensi: Meyer Fortes in northern Ghana, 1934-7'". Africa. Cambridge University Press. 83 (4): 623–645.