Michelle Zimbalist Rosaldo, Associate Professor of Anthropology at Stanford University, died on 11 October 1981 in the Philippines, while she and her husband, anthropologist Renato I. Rosaldo, Jr., were preparing to do fieldwork among the Ifugao. She was walking with two Ifugao women guides along the edge of a cliff, misstepped, and fell into a river below. Although she was only 37, she leaves behind both a rich body of work and a group of colleagues and students profoundly influenced by her thinking.

Shelly Rosaldo’s work contributed to a number of anthropological subfields, including Philippine ethnography, symbolic anthropology, socio-linguistics, and the study of gender; at the same time it conveyed her commitment to transcending classification schemes rather than to fitting into them. Her book on the Ilongots of Northern Luzon, is itself a passionate argument against the use of such conventional and overlapping analytic dichotomies as denotative/connotative, literal/symbolic, cognitive/affective, and pragmatic/magical, because these dichotomies lead us to miss both the symbolic in the practical and the practical in the symbolic. As a corrective, her book offers a vivid demonstration of how to understand the ‘bond that connects habitual ways of talking about experience to the organization of that experience itself.'(1) She refused to separate talking from doing, but rather explored the ways in which talking gives form and meaning to experience, even as experience shapes the meaning of words. The ‘organization of experience’ she studied, however, was always the lived experience of specific people. She held that while speaking may always be a form of acting, the kind of act a speaker intends cannot be understood apart from cultural concepts of personhood and motives.

In her writings on gender, Shelly Rosaldo displayed her willingness to revise the answers she gave along with the questions she asked. She moved from an early interest in explaining ‘universal sexual asymmetry’, as represented by her theoretical overview in Woman, Culture and Society, the volume she edited with Louse Lamphere, to a concern for understanding differences in the ways gender is socially constructed. Her article on ‘The Use and Abuse of Anthropology: Reflections on Feminism and Cross- Cultural Understanding,’(2) argues — like her book — that concepts cannot be understood apart from experience. The task she sets for feminist anthropologists is not to document a universal, pervasive sexism or to find more compelling explanations for it, but rather to ‘provide new ways of linking the particulars of women’s lives, activities, and goals to inequalities wherever they exist.’

As her academic beneficiaries, we are grateful that at the time of her death Shelly Rosaldo had completed so many of the projects she had in hand. What we have lost are the projects she was just beginning: an examination of gender in recent Philippine novels, a study of Ifugao notions of rank, and a feminist re-thinking of nineteenth century social theory. But our loss involves more than this. Shelly Rosaldo was an intellectual provocateur whose energetic commitment pushed her colleagues and students to constantly re-examine, re-analyse, refine, and build again.

Jane F. Collier, Margery Wolf, Sylvia J. Yanagisako

1.    Michelle Z. Rosaldo. 1980. Knowledge and Passion: Ilongot Notions of Self and Social Life. Cambridge University Press, p.20.
2.    SIGNS 5 (3), Spring 1980, p. 417.

This obituary first appeared as: Collier, Jane F., Wolf, Margery and Yanagisako, Sylvia J.. 1982. 'Obituary'. RAIN, No. 48, p. 15 Reproduced with permission.


To cite this article:

COLLIER, JANE F., WOLF, MARGERY and YANAGISAKO, SYLVIA J.. 1982. 'Obituary'. RAIN, No. 48, p. 15 (available on-line: https://therai.org.uk/archives-and-manuscripts/obituaries/michelle-zimbalist-rosaldo).


Link to relevant records by or concerning the listed person on the RAI’s bibliographic database Anthropological Index Online https://aio.therai.org.uk/aio.php?action=doadvancedsearch&filter=*&cw=OR&as_method=get&as_resultsmode=fullkeywords&f0=author&o0=LI&v0=M*%20Rosaldo&f1=title&o1=CT&v1=M*%20Rosaldo