Murray Leaf

This personal home page is intended to give a very brief sketch of what I am and what I do (which are much the same thing) and introduce you to the links that provide more information that may be of interest, including courses taught.

What I am:

I am a social-cultural anthropologist, holding a PhD in social anthropology from the University of Chicago and a BA in philosophy from Reed College.  I am often asked what my “specialty” is – am I a symbolic anthropologist, an applied anthropologist, an interpretative anthropologist, an economic anthropologist, a political anthropologist, a legal anthropologist, or what?  The answer is yes to all, but then again also no.  My basic interest is in how people think and in what the fact that we think has to do with the fact that we have organization.  My basic conviction is that to understand this, we have to look at all kinds of thought – economic, symbolic, and so on, not just one, and we have to see how they are related to one another.  And finally, my basic philosophical orientation is skeptical and pragmatic. Correspondingly, my methodological orientation is what William James called radical empiricism.  Observation must be separated from imputing. Observation, in social science, requires closely disciplined restraint. We understand what other people think by letting them tell us and following it out to the last implication while working as hard as we possibly can to avoid imposing our own preconceptions.  This is not easy.

My aim is to contribute to the development of social science as true science, and I have little patience with people who argue that it is impossible. The grounds claimed for such arguments are consistently under-educated and self-defeating and the plain fact is that we have already done quite a lot of it.   There is a large chunk of anthropological research that is solidly empirical, and while it is not comparable to most of modern chemistry or biology in the level of consensus on its methods and the the extent to which those methods consistently generate advances in a more or less routine manner,  it is far ahead of most of economics (for example), closely tied in with much good work in the physical and biological sciences, and far ahead of what anthropology itself was  a hundred  years ago.

What I Do:

My initial and still most important area of geographic interest was South Asia, specifically Northern India and most specifically a village in Punjab.  Since first doing the field work for my dissertation there in 1964-66, I have tried to extend my understanding upward and outward by empirical links to wider and wider geographical horizons and more of what can be thought of as the institutions of the “higher” societal levels – organized religion, economics, government, and so on, and to more of India and more of Asia.  By steps that would be too lengthy to recount, my initial study of the strategies behind household marriage decisions in Sidhupur Kalan has led me to studies of the green revolution, irrigation management, economic development and the relation between governmental structure and economic growth, and to consultancies in India on irrigation management, Bangladesh on flood responses, with the United Nations on sub-national development in Southeast Asia, and in the United States on comparative law and asylum law, including service as an expert witness before civil and immigration courts. Most recently, a lifetime of interest and participation has finally resulted in what I hope will be recognized as a ground-breaking and useful description of faculty governance in American universities and colleges.

I have been teaching at UT Dallas since 1975, starting as associate professor. Before that I taught for six years as an assistant professor at UCLA, and for one year at Pomona College.