Anarchism in Anthropology: Kenneth Maddock on the intellectual relationship between Kropotkin and Radcliffe-Brown



Emeritus Professor Kenneth Maddock (1937–2003) was an eminent anthropologist in Australia and respected, rigorous scholar of ‘Australian Aboriginal societies.’ He was also an anarchist.

Until recently I had only come across one piece that Maddock wrote for a general audience on anarchism, namely Pluralism and Anarchism, which is available online. However, with the kindly assistance of a few folk in the anarchist community, I have come into the possession of a collection of articles that Maddock wrote for the anarchist journal Red and Black: An anarchist journal. You can probably imagine how stupidly excited I was, not least to see if, how, and the extent to which he integrated his ethnography with his thoughts and writing on anarchism and related topics.

Many things. One thing. I had to stop myself from throwing one of the journal issues across the room I was so excited to discover that Maddock evidently spent a great deal of time tracing the intellectual relationship between Pyotr Alexeyevich Kropotkin and A.R. Radcliffe-Brown. The former was a Russian zoologist and anarchist, now considered a ‘classic’ theorist and writer in the anarchist tradition. The latter was, of course, the eminent anthropologist that we all know and love whose works are now considered ‘classics’ in anthropology.

Not only is this exciting in itself – Maddock having made this connection and found a great deal of evidence to support the claim the Radcliffe-Brown was heavily influenced by Kropotkin – but following Maddock’s train of thought as a fellow ethnographer, ‘Australianist’ anthropologist and anarchist, has been something really quite special. I feel that we would have had a lot to talk about were he still alive today. As well as the many questions I’d like to ask, I would love to tell him about the somewhat parallel intellectual relationship that I have been speculatively tracing between the thought and ideas of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, Émile Durkheim and his nephew Marcel Mauss.


Anyhow, may you rest in peace Mr. Maddock, I think you are wonderful.


And on that note, a note from Maddock himself:


‘For the mature Radcliffe-Brown social anthropology involved the description of “forms of social life”, the aim being to discern “general features” in the midst of the  “immense multitude of actions and interactions of human beings.”(14) In the case of the Australian Aborigines, for example, he recognised “three principal types of relationship between persons or groups”. There were relations of “simple solidarity,” relations of “emnity and strife” and relations of what he called “opposition”. It was Radcliffe-Brown’s opinion that some of the “simpler societies” showed a virtual “absence of all conflict” – here he presumably had in mind relations within the group of people who shared a common territory. (15)


The condition of simple solidarity or absence of conflict would seem to correspond to Kropotkin’s mutual aid, expressed in the rule of “each for all.” The condition of emnity and strife would seem to correspond to Kropotkin’s conception of relations with “outsiders,” the persons who do not share membership of the tribe (or other relevant group). Radcliffe-Brown’s distinction between two “principal types of relationship” can accordingly be correlated with Kropotkin’s “double conception of morality.” But what of this third principle type, the relationship of opposition? To see how this might relate to Kropotkin’s theory it is necessary to give further consideration to his treatment of solidarity.


Kropotkin thought that progress required the double conception of morality to be eradicated. But though “we have in some measure extended out ideas of solidarity . . . over the nation, and partly over other nations as well, we have lessened the bonds of solidarity within our own nations, and even within our own families.” (16) It was a though the widening of solidarity diminished its intensity. The point appears to have become plain to Radcliffe-Brown some time around his 1910-12 work in Western Australia, if we can judge by the jottings in a notebook from that period which is now held in the Sydney University archives.’



– Maddock, K. (1994) ‘Through Kropotkin to the Foundation of Radcliffe-Brown’s Anthropology,’ Red and Black: An anarchist journal, No. 24, pp. 14-15.†





† ‘Red and Black: An anarchist journal‘ was founded by Jack Grancharoff in 1965.



Filed under Anthropological Awesome, Anthropology, Current social issues

2 responses to “Anarchism in Anthropology: Kenneth Maddock on the intellectual relationship between Kropotkin and Radcliffe-Brown

  1. This really was a surprise.

    My only knowledge of Maddock prior to reading this was as the expert witness for Victoria and NSW (I think) in the Yorta Yorta native title claim in which he helped undermine Yorta Yorta people’s claim to land (basing his knowledge in literature rather than by actually speaking to Yorta Yorta people).

    In any case, this is a bit of a head explosion given that I always took him to be among the most reactionary of arm-chair anthropologists (obviously with a touch of imagination on my part).

    thanks for this, really fascinating. 🙂

  2. Anarchism & anthropology were not uncommon partners at times. Ken was a mate & mentor of mine in the 70’s & 80’s. I’m afraid in later years his “anarchism” was of a decidedly conservative bent.

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