School of Social and Political Science

Alan Barnard

Job Title

Professor Emeritus; Honorary Professorial Fellow; formerly Professor of the Anthropology of Southern Africa


Alan Barnard has done fieldwork with Naro Bushmen (San) and other population groups in Botswana, Namibia and South Africa. He has written a dozen books and about a hundred research articles, mainly on Bushmen (San) and other hunter-gatherers, on kinship, and on the history of anthropology. He has edited eight collections, and his work has been translated into eighteen languages. His  recent books include  Social Anthropology and Human Origins (2011), Genesis of Symbolic Thought (2012), Language in Prehistory (2016) and Bushmen: Kalahari Hunter-Gatherers and Their Descendants (2019). He also co-edited (with Jonathan Spencer) the Routledge Encyclopedia of Social and Cultural Anthropology (second edition, 2010). 

His latest book is Hunter-Gatherers: What Can We Learn from Them. It is intended for teenagers and was published by Balestier Press in January, 2020. His next project is the publication of a second edition of his History and Theory in Anthropology. (The first edition was published by Cambridge University Press in 2000.)

Professor Barnard served as Honorary Consul of Namibia in Scotland for eleven years, and he is a Fellow of the British Academy.

His recent ESRC-funded project, with Dr Gertrud Boden, was on language and kinship in the Kalahari Basin:

Recent Publications  

Alan Barnard and Jonathan Spener (eds). The Routledge Encyclopedia of Social and Cultural Anthropology (second edition). London: Routledge. (2010)

‘When individuals do not stop at the skin’. In Robin Dunbar, Clive Gamble and John Gowlett (eds), Social Brain, Distributed Mind (Proceedings of the British Academy, 158). Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp 253-72. (2010)

'Culture: the indigenous account'. In Deborah James, Evlie Place and Christina Toren (eds), Culture Wars: Context, Models, and Anthropologists' Accounts (EASA Series, Vol. 12). New York: Berhgahn Books. pp 73-85. (2010)

'Mythology and the evolution of language'. In Andrew D.M. Smith, Marieke Schouwstra, Bart de Boer and Kenny Smith (eds), The Evolution of Language: Proceedings of the 8th International Conference (EVOLANG8). Singapore: World Scientific Press. pp 11-18. (2010)

Social Anthropology and Human Origins. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. (2011)

‘John Arundel Barnes, 1918-2010’. Proceedings of the British Academy (Biographical Memoirs of Fellows 10) 172: 27-45. Oxford: Oxford University Press. (2011)

‘Widening the net: Returns to the field and regional understanding’. Signe Howell and Aud Talle (eds.), Returns to the Field: Multitemporal Research and Contemporary Anthropology. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. pp 230-39. (2012)

Genesis of Symbolic Thought. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. (2012)

'Cognitive and social aspects of language origins'. In Claire Lefebvre, Bernard Comrie and Henri Cohen (eds), New Perspectives on the origins of language. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company. pp. 53-71. (2013)

'Defining hunter-gatherers: Enlightenment, romantic, and social evolutionary perspectives.  In Vicki Cummings, Peter Jordan, and Marek Zvelebil (eds), The Oxford Handbook of the Archaeology and Anthropology of Hunter-Gatherers. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp 43-54. (2014)

'Social origins: sharing, exchange, and kinship'. In R.I.M Dunbar, Clive Gamble, and J.A.J. Gowlett (eds), Lucy to Language: The Benchmark Papers. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp 446-60. (2014)

Alan Barnard and Gertrud Boden (eds.). Southern African Khoisan Kinship Systems. Cologne: Rudiger Koppe Verlag. (2014)

'The Ju/'hoan-Naro contact areai'. In Alan Barnard and Gertrud Boden (eds), Southern African Khoisan Kinship Systems. Cologne: Rudiger Koppe Verlag. (2014)

Language in Prehistory. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. (2016)

'Unity vs interdisciplinarity: a future for four-field anthropology'. Current Anthropology 57 (Supplement 13): 145-53. (2016)

'Why are social anthropologists not interested in the study of human origins?' In Adam Bedrich and Tomas Retka (eds.), Knight from Komarov: To Petr Skalnik for his 70th Birthday. Prague: Antroweb. (2016)

'Human origins: the case to include social anthropology'. Cuicuilco 23: 227-36. (2016)

'Afterword'. In Camilla Power, Morna Finnegan and Hillary Callan (eds.), Human Origins: Contributions from Social Anthropology. New York: Berhahn. pp. 319-35. (2017)

'Egalitarian and non-egalitarian sociality'. In Jon Henrik Ziegler Remme and Kenneth Sillander (eds.),  Human Nature and Social Life: Essays in Honour of Professor Signe Howell. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 83-96. (2017)

'Was the first language a Khoisan language?' In Klaus Beyer, Gertrud Boden, Bernhard Koehler and Ulrike Zoch (eds.), Linguistics across Africa: Festschrift for Rainer Vossen. Cologne: Ruedikger Koeppe Verlag. (2018)

‘Culture: The indigenous account’. In M.C. Behera (ed.), Shifting Perspectives in Tribal Studies: From an Anthropological Approach to Interdisciplinarity and Consilience. Singapore: Springer Nature. pp. 37-51. (2019)

Bushmen: Kalahari HunterGatherers and Their Descendants. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. (2019)

Hunter-Gatherers: What Can We Learn from Them. Singapore: Balestier Press. (2020)

Research interests

Research interests

Southern Africa, Hunter gatherers, Human origins, Origins of language, Archaeology and anthropology, History of anthropology

  • comparative ethnography in southern Africa
  • contemporary hunter-gatherers
  • the history of anthropology
  • social anthropology and human origins
  • origins of language and symbolic thought
  • the co-evolution of language and kinship
  • the interface between archaeology and social anthropology

PhD Supervision

Alan Barnard has supervised PhD students both in the Centre of African Studies and in the Subject Area of Social Anthropology. He is especially interested in working with students and colleagues planning to do fieldwork in Southern or Central Africa and those interested in human origins.

Topics interested in supervising

My research interests have covered southern Africa, hunter-gatherers, kinship theory, the history of anthropology, and particularly the Khoisan hunters and herders. I have supervised a number of students in these fields. In general, I am not taking on any new students but happy to meet people with a serious interest.

Works within