Worsley Peter

Peter Worsley

Peter Maurice Worsley was born on the 6th May 1924 into a middle-class Catholic family in Birkenhead. His father, who had been an infantry officer in the first world war, was an auctioneer and estate agent. Later, the family moved to Wallasey, where Peter completed his education at the local grammar school.

In 1942, he went to Emmanuel College, Cambridge, to read English and, within weeks, had joined the Communist Party.

He served with the King's African Rifles during the Second World War.  In India, he made contact with the Indian Communist Party.

After the war, he switched to social anthropology, gaining a first from Cambridge in 1947. His first job was in Tanganyika (now Tanzania), where he was supposed to design an English textbook for Africans, then a Swahili course for Europeans, but he also started his own research on the language and traditions of the Hehe people of southern Tanzania.

The course of Worsley's career was decisively shaped by the interventions of MI5, on account of his politics. His plan to do fieldwork in central Africa was thwarted by the secret service.

He completed his PhD thesis on Aboriginal kinship on an island in the Gulf of Carpentaria at the Australian National University, Canberra.

Afterwards, yet again blocked by MI5, he decided that he had no choice but to move from anthropology into sociology. In 1956 he was appointed to his first teaching post, a lectureship in sociology at Hull University. This brought him close to John Saville and others who left the Communist Party in this period. Worsley had written on colonial issues in the New Reasoner.

As a sociologist, he did much to develop the idea that developing countries constituted a "third world".

In 1957 he published his first book, The Trumpet Shall Sound, a study of cargo cults in Melanesia.

He was professor of sociology at Manchester University, where he wrote some important textbooks. He was dean of the social sciences faculty at Manchester (1979-81).

He took early retirement in 1984, settling in Hackney; Worsley died aged 88 on the 15th March 2013.

Sources: The Guardian 28th March 2013; `Peter Worsley: A Life’, interviewed by Alan Macfarlane (25th February 1989)

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