In many of our discussions we see the meme that describes anthropology as a tool of first imperialism and then globalization. We now have an opportunity to reflect on the experience of those who entered the field and participated in U.S. government-funded research and outreach programs in the 1950s and 60s. Forwarded from EASIANTH:



Robert Textor, one of the first anthropologists to carry out research in Thailand, died in Portland, Oregon on January 3, 2013. I would like to remember him by offering a few thoughts about his contributions to Thai studies as well as to other fields of scholarship.

            Bob first became interested in Asia during World War II. Having been sent to study Japanese while serving in the military, he was posted to Japan after the war. He had the opportunity to observe first hand the consequences of the war on Japanese society and the American effort to remake Japan for the postwar period (see his account of his experience in Failure in Japan: With Keystones for a Positive Policy, 1972).He would later write: “In 1946 I saw Hiroshima. I promptly committed myself to a career of seeking better ways to handle human problems. This commitment took the form of professional sociocultural anthropology” (Textor, “The Ethnographic Futures Research Method: An Application to Thailand,” Futures, 1995).

            In the early 1950s he entered the PhD program in anthropology at Cornell where he studied under Professor Lauriston Sharp. Bob became one of the original members of the Cornell Thailand Project that was focused primarily on the study of Bang Chan, then a village in Minburi district, not far from Bangkok. During his own fieldwork in Bang Chan he ordained as a Buddhist monk. This experience clearly led to his own personal transformation and even relatively recently when his interest turned to ‘future’s research’ one of his students observed: “He brought a Buddhist sensibility to thinking about the future, detached and compassionate.”(

            I first met Bob in 1959 when I entered graduate school at Cornell and decided I would specialize on Thailand. Professor Sharp introduced me to Bob. Bob was then engaged in writing his dissertation, “An inventory of non-Buddhist supernatural objects in a central Thai village”. I have to admit I was rather intimidated by the impressive number of things Bob had accomplished by that time as well as his knowledge of Thai society. He was, however, encouraging to a novice anthropologist.

His monograph From Peasant to Pedicab Driver, which came out just before my wife and I began our fieldwork in rural northeastern Thailand, had a significant influence on me as I wrote my dissertation. I sought in the dissertation to understand how rural northeastern Thai saw themselves within the larger society of Thailand and Bob was the first to examine what would become a major pattern of migration of rural northeasterners to Bangkok to work. I have again drawn on this monograph for my forthcoming book that traces the transformation of political identity of rural northeasterners from their peasant roots to their role today when they have significant influence in the Thai political system. I had told Bob of my book and had looked forward to being able to discuss it with him more.

            Bob played a key role in the establishment of the Peace Corps in Thailand, having been hired in 1961-62 to train the first group of volunteers for Thailand. He has described with pride from the vantage of a half-century later the fact that more than 5,000 PCVs have now served in Thailand (  

            After his time spent in training the first group of PCVs for Thailand, Bob took up a faculty position at Stanford where he held a joint appointment between anthropology and education. He was instrumental in shaping a new curriculum on anthropology of education and he trained several Thai PhDs in this field. His legacy in this field will long be felt not only at Stanford but also in the Council on Anthropology and Education of the American Anthropological Association that he founded. Bob's work at Stanford in the field of international education again influenced me. I recall a workshop held at Stanford in the late 1970s that was instrumental in my deciding to undertake a project on the role of education in rural Southeast Asia. 

            In the mid-1970s Bob’s interest became focused on what he termed “ethnographic futures research”. “Ethnographic Futures Research (EFR) is a method invented in 1976 which futures researchers employing a sociocultural approach can use with a sample of interviewees to elicit their perceptions and preferences among possible and probable alternative futures for their society and culture. EFR is an adaptation of the spirit and method of cultural anthropology and ethnography to the needs and constraints of futures research” (from abstract of Textor, 1995, cited above). His work in this field not only had strong influences in the past but will continue to do so through the Textor Family Prize for Excellence in Anticipatory Anthropology offered through the American Anthropological Association (

            In 1990 after Bob retired from Stanford, he settled in Portland. Soon afterwards he and several friends began meeting regularly at a local pub. These meetings evolved into a new semi-organization that became known as “Thirsters”. As Bob explained to me when I first went to one of the Thursday evening gatherings, the name referred to ‘thirsting’ after knowledge as well as beer. For the past 15 or so years, Thirsters have met weekly, often to hear a short (the time carefully monitored by Bob) presentation by a member or a visitor, usually about a topic related to international events or development (local as well as international). On occasion the formal as well as informal discussion has been about politics. Thirster membership grew greatly as many who were not resident in Portland became virtual Thirsters, connected by Bob’s ‘thirster-grams’.

His role in fostering Thirsters epitomizes his life. In his research in Thailand and elsewhere, his role in midwiving the Peace Corps birth in Thailand, in his futures research and in leading Thirsters Bob continued until his death at nearly 90 to pursue the commitment that he first made after witnessing Hiroshima. He leaves a significant legacy, not only in several professional fields and the community of Thirsters, but above all in Marisa and Alex, his children, both of whom imbibed his love of making sense out of being in different cultures.



(Charles Keyes)

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