School of Anthropology & Conservation

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Professor João de Pina-Cabral

Professor of Social Anthropology

The relationship between symbolic thought and social power; family and kinship; ethnicity in colonial and postcolonial contexts.


profile image for Professor João de Pina-Cabral

Academic background

Having been trained as a social anthropologist in Johannesburg (South Africa) and at Oxford, I have taught in the UK and in Portugal, where I founded the Portuguese Association of Anthropologists and participated centrally in the consolidation of the Social Sciences, which took place during the 1990s. 

My concern to expand the role of social anthropology in Europe led me to actively participate over the past decades in the launching and running of the European Association of Social Anthropologists. I have always favoured an approach to our discipline that emphasises the richness of its plurality and, to that extent, I was a member of the founding committee of the World Council of Anthropological Associations. 

Votive Offerings in St. Antony's Convent, Cairú (Bahia, Brazil)

Votive Offerings in St. Antony's Convent, Cairú (Bahia, Brazil).

More recently, I have engaged in a wide range of activities of academic exchange, namely in Brazil, Spain, France and the United States, where I have been Visiting Professor at various Universities. As Scientific Director of the Institute of Social Sciences of the University of Lisbon (1997-2004) and as Head of School at SAC, Kent (2013-2016), I was responsible for running two vast interdisciplinary projects of study and research.

Recently, I have been involved with HAU Books in producing a work where we lay out the theoretical conditions of possibility of ethnographic research from an interdisciplinary perspective: World. An anthropological examination (available online here).

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Also view these in the Kent Academic Repository

Book section
Pina-Cabral, J. (2017). Portugal and the Dynamics of Smallness. in: Hannerz, U. and Gingrich, A. eds. Small Countries: Structures and Sensibilities. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, pp. 161-174.
Pina-Cabral, J. (2017). World: An anthropological examination. [Online]. USA: Hau Books/University of Chicago Press. Available at:
João, P. (2018). Filiation as a Crossroads in Bahia. Anthropology Today [Online] 34:5-8. Available at:
Pina-Cabral, J. (2018). Familial Persons in Dark Times. Social Anthropology [Online] 26:376-390. Available at:
Pina-Cabral, J. (2017). Comment An Ecumenical Anthropology. American Anthropologist [Online]. Available at:
João, P. (2018). My Mother or Father. Person, metaperson and transcendence in ethnographic theory. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute [Online]. Available at:
Pina-Cabral, J. (2018). Anthropology, Social and Cultural. in: Callan, H. ed. The International Encyclopedia of Anthropology. United States: Wiley.
Pina-Cabral, J. (2017). Modes of Participation. Anthropological Theory.
Showing 8 of 41 total publications in KAR. [See all in KAR]


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Teaching Interests

A Member of the Sorority of the Good Death in Cachoeira (Bahia, Brazil)

My teaching interests are mostly in matters of anthropological theory, and on personhood and the family, with an ethnographic emphasis on southeast Africa, southern Europe, and Brazil. I am currently teaching the following modules:


  • SE596 - Theoretical Perspectives in Social Anthropology
  • SE588 - Advanced Social Anthropology I
  • SE587 - Ethnographies 2


  • SE801 -Theory and Ethnography in Social Anthropology I
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Research Interests

A fisherman returns home from fishing in Baiacu (Bahia, Brazil)

I am a Social Anthropologist whose work over the years has dealt with

(i) religion, symbolism and power;

(ii) family, kinship and the person;

(iii) ethnicity in colonial and post-colonial contexts; and

(iv) the history of ethnographic methodology.

Over the years, I have carried out prolonged fieldwork in northern Portugal (Alto Minho), southern China (Macau) and northeast Brazil (Bahia).  Presently I am writing about personhood, family and community in Bahia, with an emphasis on naming practices and on the way identity and emotion interact creatively in personal ontogeny.  I am also engaged in the general effort of rethinking kinship studies along a neurophenomenological perspective.

Current Research Projects:

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War in Europe and the Limits of Imagination


This is a lecture about human imagination and the failures of fraternity that João delivered at the School of Fine Arts of Paris on the 24th October 2014 as part of the panel “Voices of Urgency” integrated in the International Fair of Contemporary Art, Paris 2014 (FIAC 2014).

The lecture starts by discussing whether humans can just freely associate or whether they are prone to associate in regular and recurrent ways.  In order to exemplify how metaphoric thinking is shared by humans, João gives the example of the poem by E.E.Cummings that is posted below.  He discusses how cummings’ notion of “la guerre” (the war) that was so potent in 1914 as an abstract entity of power makes men and women move in spite of their wishes.  João argues that, as a crisis of European fraternity, the war continues to makes us move today.

Little ladies more than dead
Little ladies
than dead exactly dance
in my head,precisely
dance where danced la guerre.

Mimi à
la voix fragile
qui chatouille Des

the putain with the ivory throat
Marie Louise Lallemand
n’est-ce pas que je suis belle
chéri? les anglais m’aiment
tous,les américains
aussi….”bon dos, bon cul de Paris”(Marie

with the
long lips of
Lucienne which dangle
the old men and hot
men se promènent
doucement le soir(ladies

accurately dead les anglais
sont gentils et les américains
aussi,ils payent bien les américains dance

exactly in my brain voulez
vous coucher avec
moi? Non? pourquoi?)

ladies skilfully
dead precisely dance
where has danced la
guerre j’m'appelle
Manon,cinq rue Henri Mounier
voulez-vous coucher avec moi?
te ferai Mimi
te ferai Minette,
dead exactly dance
si vous voulez
mon lézard ladies suddenly
j’m'en fous des nègres

                        (in the twilight of Paris
Marie Louise with queenly
legs cinq rue Henri
Mounier a little love
begs,Mimi with the body
like une boîte à joujoux, want nice sleep?
toutes les petites femmes exactes
qui dansent toujours in my
head dis donc,Paris

ta gorge mystérieuse
pourquoi se promène-t-elle,pourquoi
éclate ta voix
fragile couleur de pivoine?)

                                with the
long lips of Lucienne which
dangle the old men and hot men
precisely dance in my head
ladies carefully dead



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Last Updated: 15/02/2017