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Obituary Marcus Banks (1960-2020)

EASA mourns the premature death of a valued member and colleague.

8. Obituary Marcus Banks (1960-2020)

by David Mills

The tragic and untimely death of Marcus Banks, Professor of Visual Anthropology at the University of Oxford, is a deep loss for the many anthropological communities of which he was a valued and committed member. European anthropology, British anthropology, Visual anthropology, South Asian anthropology and Oxford anthropology: all are mourning.

Marcus studied social anthropology at Cambridge as an undergraduate and research postgraduate. His 1986 PhD was entitled “On the Srawacs or Jains: processes of division and cohesion among two Jain communities in India and England”. The following year he took up a temporary ‘demonstrator’ post at the Oxford Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology. He remained in Oxford for the rest of his academic career.

Many of us will remember being inspired by his undergraduate lectures – whether on ethnicity, visual anthropology or fieldwork. They were masterful and accessible reviews of each field. Marcus would take us far beyond the discipline, offering capacious insights on contemporary theoretical debates, full of insightful gems but wary of imposing his own perspectives.

Marcus saw the importance of all students gaining practical fieldwork experience, and during the 1990s he developed a range of pioneering courses in research methods. He was deeply committed to his supervisees, and heavily involved in supporting innovations in doctoral training across the UK. In Oxford he helped launch the Visual Anthropology Masters degree. Closely interested in the technologies of visuality, both old and new, Marcus was ever curious, always learning new skills and engaging new debates.

Marcus had a strong sense of the scholarly virtues that should inform university administration. He embodied and exemplified fairness, balance, and calm reflection. He was endlessly generous with his time, and took on a huge range of service commitments. Along with his long-standing work for the RAI Film Committee, he was an Oxford University Proctor, and held leadership roles at Wolfson College and as Head of Department. He also made many contributions to European anthropology and to visual anthropology. Marcus was a valued member of EASA’s Executive Committee from 2017-19 and had been an EASA member since the early 2000s.

Marcus may have been a talented visual anthropologist with a rich diversity of research interests and administrative talents, but he will be most remembered for his generosity, kindness and compassion. He cared genuinely about the discipline, but much more about the wellbeing of his students, colleagues and everyone he worked with.

His scholarly modesty is captured in his 10 word facebook biography: “I teach and research in social anthropology and visual anthropology”. There is so much more to say. We remember Marcus as a scholar, a colleague, and a humanist. RIP.