Lektor John Liep er død – Københavns Universitet

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19. november 2014

Lektor John Liep er død

Lektor emeritus ved Institut for Antropologi John Liep er død. Han blev 78 år gammel. Hans tidligere kollega Jonathan Schwartz betegner i sit mindeord John Liep som den ”komplette, klassiske antropolog”

John Liep blev ansat som lektor ved Institut for Antropologi i 1979 og forblev i denne stilling til sin pension i 2003. I 2009 vendte John Liep tilbage til instituttet, hvor han forsvarede sin doktorafhandling med bogen ”A Papuan Plutocracy - A Ranked Exchange on Rossel Island".

Institutleder Helle Samuelsen fremhæver doktorafhandlingen som en bemærkelsesværdig afrunding på en flot akademisk karriere.

- Det er en fantastisk flot bog, som dokumenterer Johns dybe etnografiske indsigt i sit forskningsområde. Doktorforsvaret var mindeværdigt og fremstår som en imponerende afslutning på Johns faglige livsværk, siger Helle Samuelsen.

Bisættelsen af John Liep finder sted fra Bispebjerg Kapel onsdag den 19. november

John Liep´s gode ven og kollega lektor Jonathan Matthew Schwartz har skrevet følgende mindeord:

Remembering John Liep (1936-2014)

John Liep was my close colleague at the Institute for Anthropology, University of Copenhagen, for ten years, from 1993 until we both retired in 2003. He was also a fellow resident of Helsingør Kommune, where I have lived most of my 44 years in Denmark. We both reached the age of 78. Our children knew each other from childhood and were close friends. I trust that my remembrance of John, anedotal that it is, will result in a resemblance that others can share with their own.

John Liep was the ”compleat” anthropologist. I use the 18th century English spelling of ”complete”. Like no other anthropologist in Denmark could Liep in his teaching, research, and judgements of others’ work persistently incorporate the ”classical” anthropological perspectives in to our present days’ experience. John refused to be fashionable in his anthropological work.  His feet were firmly  planted in his chosen, life’s work, field of research, a small island’s people  in the Western Pacific: Rossel Island off the coast of New Guinea. 

It is precisely this small, presumably remote place, that modern anthropological research got its sustenance a century ago. Bronislaw Malinowski’s writings, based on field work in the Trobriand Islands during World War One, were perennial plants in John Liep’s ethnographic garden. Liep never let them be weeded out. Liep demonstrated, to use an other biological metaphor, a constant metabolism between the classic and the contemporary experience. John knew well  the metaphor, metabolism (in Danish ”stofskifte”). The word was also for many years the title of the Danish Anthropological journal, before it was renamed ”Tidsskriftet antropologi”. The choice of ”stofskifte” alludes to Karl Marx’s basic concept of work as a metabolism between man and nature.

Were I to choose an article from John Liep’s pen which exemplifies his metabolic method, it is  the one where he joins Malinowski’s analysis of ”seashell necklace exchange” (Kula) among the Trobriand Islanders with his own experience among Danish ornithologists, who exchange information about the sighting of birds and the direction of their flights.  John also drew upon his own field work on Rossell to the ornithological perspective. The article: ”Luftbåren kula: danske feltornithologers tilegnelse af fugle” was published in Tidsskriftet antropologi, 33:1996 and was published as well  in English”Airborne Kula: the Appropriation of Birds by Danish Ornithologists (Anthropology Today ( nr.17.October 2001). 

Liep’s everpresent interest in anthropology was the social economy of consumption. This was his key object of analysis which revealed the metabolism of past and present . If I know John rightly, he would be the first to object vigorously to my simplification of his research. Even worse he might say I completely misunderstood his project. What I could wish for, though,  was an appreciative response with his characteristic smile, followed by a brief laugh. Such a response expressed his consent, touched with  a bit of irony. ”Det har du ret i.” (”You’re right about that.”) was one of the sentences of assent which I learned from John Liep.

Now for a telling, concluding, anecdote, the anthropologist’s most useful tool in the field. 

I was  a teacher representative in the institute’s student-teacher council. John Liep was the leader of the council for a three-year period in the mid-1990’s. During that period, the council was expected to re-formulate a new set of guidelines for a teaching curriculum.  The students were determined to remove the requirement for at least two ”regional” seminars. For the students, ”themes” had absolute priority over ”regions.” Some of the details are admittedly fictional, as in any anecdote, but the gist of the narrative is not to be disputed.

John and I argued for the importance of place and region (i.e. Brazil, Latin America) as well as ”theme” ( i.e. land ownership/labor migration). The students were stubborn. So were John and I. There was a virtual tug of war between us two traditionalists and the  student representatives, who, after all, had a mandate from the students’ organization to abolish the regions. One of my arguments was practical. At an international meeting of anthropologists  in, say, San Francisco, there might be a thematic title for a session at which one presented her or his research in a twenty-minute talk. At a session titled: ”Violence among the Young”, one could submit a paper: ”Gang warfare”, but almost always the place where the gangs hung out was included, so the paper might be titled: ”Gang Warfare: The  Bronx or Berlin?”  Neither John nor I could justify the removal of place from the events under study. We admitted the relevance of ”multi-sited anthropology”, but that did not mean the annihilation of site(s). Globaliity meant also the re-examination of locality.

John and I won! The revised curriculum reduced, but did not eradicate, the regional fields.

It took many long meetings, and after a two-hour session, noon-time arrived. John Liep became very hungry, and we proposed a lunch break, at least for the time John could go downstairs to the take-out sandwich shop and order a large  pastrami sandwich, toasted on a broad roll and loaded with a tasty dressing. He came back and the meeting resumed, while John consumed. I remember the sound of the crunch of his well-deserved lunch. I could continue the debate all while John ate.

In this way will I always remember the singular importance of  stofskifte (metabolism) in Denmark’s anthropological history and John Liep’s magistral contribution to it.

Jonathan Matthew Schwartz,
Lektor Ph.D. emeritus
Helsingør, Denmark d.17.11.14