Maurice Freedman (1920/12/11 - 1975/07/14), social anthropologist on Chinese society, was born in London to a Jewish immigrant couple (father from Poland and mother from Russia). He attended Hackney Downs Grammar School and studied for a shortened 2 year degree course in English at King’s College, London. Upon graduation he served in the Royal Artillery from 1941 to 1945, of which 3 years were spent in India. He developed an interest in race relation and enrolled as a graduate student of the Department of Anthropology at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) in January 1946. Later that year he married his fellow student Judith Djamour. He acquired his master’s degree in 1948 and his thesis title was: The Sociology of Race Relations in South-East Asia with Special Reference to British Malaya.
The couple conducted field research in Singapore from January 1949 to November 1950, with sponsorship from the Colonial Social Science Research Council. Maurice studied family life of the Hokkien speaking Chinese in Singapore while Judith researched on Malay family life in Singapore. Two reports were submitted to the colonial government of Singapore in 1953 and were subsequently published as monographs under titles Chinese Family and Marriage in Singapore (1957) and Malay Kinship and Marriage in Singapore (1959).
Maurice returned from Singapore to take up a lectureship at LSE in January 1951. In 1954 the couple visited Indonesia to conduct field research for the World Health Organization and Maurice produced a report with title: A Report on Some Aspects of Food, Health and Society in Indonesia (1955). He obtained his Ph.D. from University of London in 1956 (supervisor was Raymond Firth and his thesis title was: Kinship, Local Grouping and Migration : a Study in Social Realignment Among Chinese Overseas). His research then turned from overseas Chinese to traditional Chinese society and resulted in the book Lineage Organization in Southeastern China (1958). He was promoted to Reader in 1957.
In 1962, Freedman founded the London-Cornell Project with G. William Skinner to pool resources of LSE, School of Oriental and African Studies, and Cornell University to promote field research in East and Southeast Asia; and he served as chairman of the London Committee of the Project.
In 1963 he went to Hong Kong to conduct field research and published Chinese Lineage and Society in 1966. He became Professor in 1965 and moved to Oxford University to succeed Edward Evans-Pritchard as Professor of Social Anthropology in 1970.
Professor Freedman also served on many professional bodies. He was President of the Royal Anthropological Institute from 1967 to 1969, chairman of the Committee of the on South East Asian in the United Kingdom from 1971 onwards, and from 1972 chairman of the Social Anthropology Committee of the Social Science Research Council.
In the last few years before his death he worked on his long cherished project on the intellectual history of sinological anthropology. He spent time in Leiden and Paris interviewing people who had known J.J.M. de Groot (1854-1921) and Marcel Granet (1884-1940). He also translated Granet’s study on Chinese religion, The Religion of the Chinese People (1975), with a long and critical introduction.
Maurice Freedman is also noted for his contribution to Jewish studies. He edited A Minority in Britain : Social Studies of the Anglo-Jewish Community (1955) and had written many essays and reviews on Jewish affairs. In 1959 he helped establish The Jewish Journal of Sociology and served as its founding managing editor and then editor (1971-1975) until his death. His wife Judith then took up editorship of the journal until her death on 20 December 2009.
Rubinstein, William D., ed. Palgrave Dictionary of Anglo-Jewish History
. Basingstoke : Palgrave Macmillan, 2011.
Skinner, G. William. “Obituaries : Maurice Freedman, 1920-1975.” American Anthropologist
78:4 (Dec. 1976) : 871-885.