Gerald Berreman, September 2, 1930 - December 23, 2013

Gerry Berreman, September 2, 1930-December 23, 2013Our renowned and beloved colleague, Gerald Berreman, died at the age of 83 on December 23. He joined the Department of Anthropology soon after completing his Ph.D. at Cornell University in 1959, and remained on our faculty until his retirement in 2001.His celebrated work on social stratification in both rural Garhwal and urban Dehradun became critical to international debates on the organization of caste and of race. Lawrence Cohen, Professor of Anthropology and Chair of Berkeley’s Center for South Asian Studies, writes: “Drawing on and rethinking debates in U.S. sociology as well as social anthropology, Gerry troubled analyses that framed either form of stratification, race in the United States or caste in South Asia, as widely shared cultural values free from contestation: he insisted that anthropological analyses closely examine the processes by which struggles over position and status are silenced in the name of culture.  He was thus well ahead of his time in troubling the culture concept in U.S. anthropology and in turning critical scholarship in South Asia to engagement with Dalit struggles and to the building of solidarities across different forms of oppression.” At Berkeley, Cohen continues, he was“famous as one of the faculty most closely associated with the anti-war movement of the Vietnam era and with the exposure of the growing ties between U.S. anthropology and the CIA over the years of the Cold War.”

Professor Berreman’s survivors include his wife, Dr. Keiko Yamanaka, a member of the Ethnic Studies Department at Berkeley. Details concerning a memorial gathering, and an extended obituary, will be posted as they become available.

Included below is a remembrance by Professor Nancy Scheper Hughes. I invite others to post remembrances by sending them to May his soul rest in peace. -Beth Berry

Gerald Berreman took anthropology to the forefront of a public and politically engaged anthropology. His fifty-plus-year career was dedicated to the longtitudinal study of what was previously called social stratification theory and what Berreman labeled Institutionalized Inequality, focusing on class, caste, ethnicity, and gender. He compared caste in the Hindu villages of the Himalayas with caste as it was “performed” in the pluralistic marketplace and central bazaar of Dehra Dun in the central plains. Long before Judith Butler introduced the notion of performativity, Berreman wrote and taught generations of graduate students to understand social roles as shaped by public performances of the multiple selves behind malleable social roles, depending on the nature of the particular social interactions and contexts in which these were played out, as if on a stage. His article "Behind Many Masks" is a classic statement of Berreman's understanding of self and other from a social psychological and ethnomethodological perspective.

One of my favorite photos of Gerry is one in which he is standing proudly and smiling ear to ear in front of the "Data Hotel" in his beloved field sire in Degra Dun. My reflections will focus on Gerry as an activist and public anthropologist.

Gerry Berreman's anthropological writings were deeply influenced by the social movements of the 1960s and 1970s: the US civil rights movement, the anti-Vietnam War movement, the Free Speech movement, and, later, the anti-apartheid divestment movement during which he and dozens of Berkeley faculty were arrested. His article in Dell Hymes' game-changing edited volume Reinventing Anthropology, "Bringing it All Back Home," in which Gerry rages against US entanglements in the Cold War, introduced the idea of an engaged ethnography, a "scholarship with commitment,” as Pierre Bourdieu would later call it. From his blistering address on "The Greening of the American Anthropological Association”(delivered at the plenary session of the American Anthropological Association's 69th Annual Meetings, San Diego, November 19, 1970 and published in Critical Anthropology in 1971) through his 2003 article on "Ethics versus 'Realism'” (in Ethics and the Profession of Anthropology, 2nd edition, edited by Carolyn Fluehr-Lobban) Berreman's insistence on a transparent and critically ethical approach to social and public issues was inspired by his own intellectual mentor, C .Wright Mills.

When Professor Berreman was awarded an honorary doctorate at the University of Stockholm, Sweden in 1974 he was honored for “having been a courageous spokesman for a practice of social science which remains independent and critical in its stance toward political interests.” One of Gerry’s closest Indian colleagues, Ved Prakash Vatuck, praised Gerry for having “supported the freedom of Indians, but also the freedom of Vietnamese, Cubans, Blacks of the U.S. and Brazilian Indians. During the Vietnam crisis, his dignified method of non-cooperation was apparent. He not only opposed the war but he refused to train Peace Corps Volunteers going to India because he thought that a nation which was annihilating a people in one country cannot be truly interested in doing good to another. His friends chose power, money, and comfort, while he laid his life on the line to voice the fears and hopes of the downtrodden.”

I was introduced to Gerry Berreman in1969, soon after I arrived in California, by our mutual friend and my first anthropological mentor, HortensePowdermaker, who had recently retired from Queens College in NYC and come to live at the Alfred Kroeber compound on Arch Street in North Berkeley. Krober had died in 1960 but Hortense and Theodora Koeber held frequent salons in their neighboring homes at which Gerry Berreman and I were frequent guests. Hortense, Gerry, and I joked about our representing three successive generations of critical or, as Hortense preferred, "avant-garde" anthropologists. We shared a few formative experiences, each of us having gone to the American “South” at a decisive moment in the transformation of American race relations there. Hortense went to Sunflower County, Mississippi in the 1930s to study the effects of the Jim Crow laws on race relations there (see her book After Freedom, reissued in 1993). Gerry lived in Montgomery, Alabama, where he was stationed in 1953-55 at Maxwell Air Force base just when the US Supreme Court abolished official race segregation in the public schools and when the military services were undergoing racial integration.It was also the time of the first rumblings of the Montgomery bus strike that lead to the American civil rights movement. Gerry considered those years decisive with respect to his development of a broadly comparative theory of social inequality that allowed him, for example, to compare caste relations in India, the American South and, by further extension, to South Africa during apartheid. I also went South for two years in 1967-1968, joining a SNCC-affiliated project in Selma, Alabama where I coordinated a field survey in several Black Belt counties on hunger and malnutrition among tenants and sharecroppers that was presented as evidence in a class action suit,"Peoples v. the Department of Agriculture" (1968), in the US App. Court, Washington DC 291,427 F.2d 561 Washington DC.

In Berkeley, HortensePowdermaker, Gerry Berreman, and I formed a close bond around the view that anthropology could be a tool for human liberation. Gerry’s lifelong commitment to the study of social inequality (see Berreman 1960, 1962b, 1972a, 1976, 1980) alongside his masterful theoretical and methodological contributions to anthropological "symbolic interactionism" (see  Berreman 1962a, 1971, 1972b 1984) shaped and transformed generations of Berkeley graduate students, among whom I was extremely lucky and  extremely grateful to  have been numbered.  

Nancy Scheper-Hughes 

January 7, 2014

(Parts of this reflection appeared in a special festschrift honoring Gerald Berreman in the 2009 KAS, Kroeber Anthropological Society Papers.)

Works by Gerald Berreman Cited Above

1960    “Caste in India and the United States” inAmerican Journal of Sociology 66:120-127.

1962a  Behind Many Masks: Ethnography and Impression Management in a Himalayan Village.  Ithaca, NY:  Society for Applied Anthropology.

1962b  “Caste, Racism and Stratification” in Contributions to Indian Sociology 6:511-512.

1971    “Self, Situation, and Escape from Stigmatized Ethnic Identity” in 1971 Yearbook of the Ethnographic Museum, University of Oslo, pp. 11-25.  Oslo: Universitetsforlager.

1972a  “Race, Caste and Other Invidious Distinctions in Social Stratification,” Theme issue, Race 23(4):385-414.

1972b  “Social Categories and Social Interactionism in Urban India” inAmerican Anthropologist 74(3):567-586.

1976    “Social Mobility and Change in India's Caste Society” in Responses to Change, pp. 294-322. Ed. George DeVos.  New York: D. Van Nostrand.

1980    “Social Inequality: A Cross-Cultural Analysis” inSocial Inequality: Comparative and Developmental Approaches, pp. 3-40.  Ed. Gerald Berreman. New York: Academic Press.

1984    “Identity Definition, Assertion, and Politicization in the Central Himalayas” in Identity: Personal and Socio-Cultural, pp. 289-319.Ed. Anita Jacobson-Widding. Stockholm: Almqvist and Wiksell.

1993     "Sanskritization as Female Oppression in India" in Sex and GenderHierarchies, pp. 366-92. Ed. B. Miller.  New York: Cambridge University Press.

1999     "Seeking Social Justice: Ethnic Politics in India, the United States andJapan" inPlenary Lectures of the Second International Human Rights Seminar, 1998, pp. 45-112. Osaka, Japan: Kansai University Press.


2001  "Inequality, Comparative Aspects" inInternational Encyclopedia of the Social and Behavioral Sciences, pp. 7377-82. Ed. Michael Lax.; section ed. Ulf Hannerz.Oxford: Elsevier Science.



1993    After Freedom: A Cultural Study of the Deep South.  Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.

Ved PrakashVatuk.

1979  "Forward" inCaste and Other Inequalities: Essays in Inequality, pp. vii-ix. Ed. Gerald Berreman.  Meerut, India: Folklore Institute (distributed byManohar Book Service, New Delhi).