Words by Richard Vokes

A UNIVERSITY of Oxford professor who transformed anthropology has died aged 60.

Marcus Banks was born in Liverpool in a working-class household, attending New Heys Comprehensive School, before taking up a place at Christ’s College, Cambridge, in 1978, to read Social Anthropology.

Having achieved a first, he stayed on for a PhD, completing his thesis in 1985.

Even at that stage, Mr Banks’ work was breaking new ground, his doctorate being a study of Jainism in Leicester and Jamnagar, India.

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At a time when anthropology was still generally equating cultures with singular places, his study, was an exemplar for understanding how cultural forms may be also extended and transformed across transnational fields.

Mr Banks was appointed as a ‘demonstrator’ at the University of Oxford’s Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology in 1987, remaining at the university for the rest of his life.

He was promoted to professor in 2001, and to director of the School of Anthropology and Museum Ethnography, a position he held from 2012 to 2016.

From the time Mr Banks arrived at Oxford, he focussed his energies upon the then developing sub-discipline of visual anthropology.

Oxford Mail:

Over the following three decades he went on to establish himself as one of the world’s pre-eminent scholars in that field.

He played an influential role in the wider transformation of anthropology, from a discipline once framed as a study of ‘exotic’ faraway peoples, towards one primarily concerned with the politics of social and cultural difference in the world around us.

It was not only Mr Banks’ research that was ahead of its time, so too was his teaching.

At a time when Oxford’s anthropology syllabi were still marked by the legacy of structuralist theories – with their emphasis upon concepts such as rules, roles, offices, and obligations – from early on Mr Banks’ teaching centred around refreshing new ideas of post-colonial theory, deconstruction, and the ‘new’ gender and queer theories.

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His textbook Ethnicity: Anthropological Constructions (1996) was equally forward looking and remains in common use for university courses on that subject.

Mr Banks was a stalwart of the Wolfson College community.

Scrupulously calm, balanced, and erudite, in his advice and judgements on all matters, Mr Banks quickly gained the trust of the wider college body, and went on to be elected to the governing body in 1995, and to hold a series of senior college offices, including that of vicegerent from 2014 to 2016.

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Following a term in the university proctor’s office (2007-2008), Mr Banks also had the respect of the wider Oxford community.

He leaves his mark on Wolfson in various ways, having been heavily involved in the college’s recent redevelopment scheme, having introduced humanist ‘prayers’ for Wolfson’s formal dinner nights, and having influenced the college’s decision to hoist the LGBTQI+ flag up its flagpole.

Mr Banks’ funeral was held on Tuesday. He is survived by his partner Barrie Thomas, his brother Martin, and by Tessa, the daughter of his late sister.