Professor Pat Caplan MA PhD

Staff details

Professor Pat Caplan MA PhD


Emeritus Professor of Anthropology




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A founding member of the department, Pat has researched gender, social inequality and food, health and risk.

Professor Caplan was one of the founding members of the Anthropology Department at Goldsmiths. She taught in the department from 1977-2002, as well as at other universities in the UK, USA, Canada and South Africa.

Her interests have included gender and social inequality; food, health and risk; reflexivity and anthropological ethics; social justice and human rights; personal narratives and biography. Fieldwork has been carried out on Mafia Island, Tanzania since 1965; Chennai (Madras) since 1974, and West Wales since 1992.

Professor Caplan has authored five monographs, edited five books and co-edited a further four, in addition to publishing some 80 journal articles and book chapters. In addition, she has constructed a number of websites about her research and made a film about Mafia Island.

Academic qualifications

  • School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. B.A. Hons. African Studies (Swahili branch) 1963
  • University of London. M.A. Social Anthropology (by dissertation) 1965
  • Social Anthropology, University of London. 1968

Research interests

Current projects
Research on food poverty in UK

Past projects

Concepts of Healthy Eating (in the UK)
Phase I (Lewisham)
Phase II (West Wales)

All of the data from the ESRC food projects have now been archived in the ESDS ESRC Qualidata Archive.

Local Understandings of Global Processes: Food as a Vehicle of and Metaphor for Modernity on Mafia Island
A website on and for Mafia Island, Tanzania
Historical photo gallery of Mafia Island
• Writing a historical biography of a man from Mafia Island, Tanzania
• Archiving of textual, photographic and audio material from Mafia Island, Tanzania' for the British Library (Digital archive of music recordings made on Mafia Island in the 1960s - pdf) and the School of Oriental and African Studies

Changes in Food Consumption Patterns in Middle-Class Households in Chennai (Madras), India

Research in Nepal, 1969

Publications and research outputs


Caplan, Pat. 2016. About Mikidadi: Individual Biography and National History in Tanzania. Hertfordshire, United Kingdom: Sean Kingston Publishing. ISBN 978-1-907774-48-5

Caplan, Pat. 2016. Mikidadi: individual biography and national history in Tanzania. Sean Kingston Publishing. ISBN 978-1-907774-48-5

Caplan, Pat. 2014. ‘Mikidadi wa Mafia: maisha ya mwanaharakati na familia yake nchini Tanzania’ (Mikidadi of Mafia: the life of an activist and his family in Tanzania). Dar es Salaam: Mkuki na Nyota Press. ISBN 978-9987082957

Edited Book

Caplan, Pat and Topan, Farouk, eds. 2006. Swahili Modernities: Identity, Power and Development on the East African Coast. Africa World Press. ISBN 978-1592210466

Caplan, Pat and Topan, Farouk, eds. 2004. SWAHILI MODERNITIES : Culture, Politics, and Identity on the East Coast of Africa. Lawrenceville, NJ: AFRICA WORLD PRESS. ISBN 978-1592210466

Caplan, Pat, ed. 2003. The Ethics of Anthropology: Debates and Dilemmas. London and New York: Routledge. ISBN 978-0415296434

Book Section

Caplan, Pat. 2015. ‘The Transcendent Subject? Biography as a medium for writing ‘life and times’’. In: N. Rapport; James Staples; Isak Niehaus and Katie Smith, eds. Anthropology and Biography. New York and Oxford: Berghahn Publications.

Caplan, Pat. 2015. ‘Two weddings in northern Mafia – changes in women’s lives since the 1960s’. In: Erin Stiles and Katherine Daly Thompson, eds. Gendered Lives in the Western Indian Ocean: Islam, Marriage, and Sexuality on the Swahili Coast. Ohio University Press. ISBN 978-0821421871

Caplan, Pat. 2013. ‘Death on the farm: badger culling in North Pembrokeshire’. In: Hilary Callan; Brian Street and Simon Underdown, eds. Introductory Readings in Anthropology. New York and Oxford: Berghahn Books and RAI. ISBN 0857459694, 978-0857459695


Caplan, Pat. 2020. Struggling for food in a time of crisis: Responsibility and paradox. Anthropology Today, 36(3), pp. 8-10. ISSN 0268-540X

Caplan, Pat. 2016. Big Society or Broken Society?: Food Banks in the UK. Anthropology Today, 32(1), pp. 5-9. ISSN 0268-540X

Caplan, Pat. 2014. ‘An anthropologist among the film-makers: A cautionary tale’. Part 2. ‘The politics of circulation’. Anthropology Today, 30(1), pp. 15-19. ISSN 0268-540X

Conference or Workshop Item

Caplan, Pat. 2009. ''Changing Swahili cultures in a globalising world: An approach from anthropology’'. In: ‘Cultural Dynamics of Pre-colonial and Colonial Swahili society’. Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, Seoul, Korea, Republic of 14-15th May 2009.

Caplan, Pat. 2006. ''But is it real food? Responses to globalisation in Tanzania and India'. In: SCOFF panel of the BSA Annual Conference on Order and Disorder. Harrogate, United Kingdom.

Caplan, Pat. 2005. ''Towards a feminist ethics of anthropology''. In: LOVA (Gender and Anthropology) conference. , Radboud University, Nijmegen, Netherlands.


Caplan, Pat. 2020. Food Poverty nd Charity in the UK: Food Banks, the Food Industry and the State. Working Paper. Goldsmiths, University of London, London.

Professional projects

• British Association for the Advancement of Science: Committee member; 1994-8: President, Anthropology and Archaeology Section 1994-5.
• Director of the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, School of Advanced Study, University of London, 1998-2000
• Chair of the Association of Social Anthropologists of the UK and Commonwealth 1998-2002
• Board member and Trustee, Actionaid UK, 2007-2010. During this period served on evaluations of AA country programmes in Uganda, Nepal, India and Rwanda.
• Member, Advisory Board, Progress in Development Studies, Arnold Publishers
• Member, Advisory Board, Journal of the Humanities, Dodoma University Tanzania
• Member, Advisory Board, Anthropology in Action
• Member, Editorial Board, Swahili Forum (e-journal from University of Leipzig)
• Fellow, Royal Anthropological Institute, 1995-present, Trustee and Council member 2014-2016
• Advisor, Research Programme on food poverty in Switzerland

Food Research in UK

Digital archive of research on food and health conducted in South London and West Wales, 1992-6
• Wellcome Library. 2011. Pat Caplan collection of secondary material on food

Research on Mafia Island, Tanzania

Research on Mafia Island website
• British Library 2008. Pat Caplan collection (field recordings made during research on Mafia Island Tanzania on Swahili poetry and performance genres). British Library collection-number C1335.
• 2011: Caplan photo collection: Zanzibar and Kilwa, Tanzania
• 1978. Pat Caplan participated in the making of two BBC film anthropological series ‘Face Values’ and ‘Other People’s Lives’ which included material on her field site of Mafia Island. See 'Chole — Circumcision' and 'Chole — A woman's Place'

Research in Nepal, 1969

• Primary material on research in Nepal is held at the archives of the School of Oriental and African Studies
• Nepal Historical Photo Gallery. They are also available, together with those of Lionel Caplan, on the Himalayan website of the University of Virginia. See the Caplan Collection held by the Tibetan and Himalayan Library and the collections held by SHANTI, the scholarly collections at the University of Virginia


When Pat Caplan was appointed to Goldsmiths College in 1977, there was no anthropology department in existence and only one other lecturer, Brian Morris, teaching the subject. By the mid 1980s, there were full degrees at undergraduate, masters and doctoral level, new courses, and a department which is now recognised as one of the best in the UK, receiving top ratings in recent assessment exercises.

While most of Pat Caplan’s curriculum development and teaching has taken place at Goldsmiths, she has also taught at the University of London’s School of Advanced Study, the London School of Economics, Birkbeck College London, and the University of Cape Town and given lectures at the University of Bergen, University of Oslo, York University Toronto, University of Illinois Chicago, University of Kyoto, University of Tokyo. She has also and acted as external examiner for a wide range of universities both in the UK and abroad.

Although no longer teaching full-time, Pat Caplan continues to give occasional lectures both in Goldsmiths and elsewhere. She gave the Gold lecture in Anthropology in 2015 and the Mary Douglas Memorial Lecture in 2017