ScienceAndRevolution.org is a blog that explores how science might connect with revolutionary politics, questions prompted initially by Noam Chomsky's work. It is edited by Chris Knight (email: chris.knight AT live.com)

The scientific community needs to defend itself against political interference, no matter how cleverly it is concealed. If science is to come first, we don’t have a choice as to whether to become politically active. If you’re inactive, you’re colluding in someone else’s politics.
— Chris Knight, 'The Enigma of Noam Chomsky'. Radical Anthropology, 4, Nov. 2010.

CHRIS KNIGHT

After many years as Professor of Anthropology at the University of East London, I retired in 2009 and am currently a senior research fellow in the Department of Anthropology, University College London.

        Why Do Only Humans Talk? At last, scientists have come up with an explanation

        Decoding Chomsky: Science and revolutionary politics

 Blood Relations: Menstruation and the origins of culture

 

Responses to Blood Relations: Menstruation and the origins of culture

Reviews and comments PDF.                                                           Caroline Humphrey's review in the London Review of Books.

  • David Lewis-Williams: “A most important, novel, well-argued and monumental piece of work.”                           
  • Alex Walter: “This book may be the most important ever written on the evolution of human social organization.”                    
  • Marek Kohn:Blood Relations is an extraordinary work, in which imaginary creatures and magical events are orchestrated on a global scale, from Australia to Amazonia, into a single vision of how humans created humanity…."
  • Mario Rendon: "This is truly a magnificent work that will influence all human sciences for a long time to come. Scholarly, well written, a landmark that subverts the field."
  • Jean-Louis Dessalles: “Chris Knight’s great achievement is to put logic in what, otherwise, looks like a vast mess of anecdotal anthropological facts.”  
  • Robin Dunbar: “Revolutions in science seldom appear ready made, but I suspect that the basis of a new synthesis between anthropology and biology may well lie within the pages of this book.”
  • Peter Redgrove: “Chris Knight in Blood Relations has this ‘extraordinary resolve’. His is an immense work of documentation and close argument. For all its obvious risks, the model offers no hypothesis which is not rigorously testable. Not only this, but it appears to solve most of the outstanding conundrums in contemporary anthropology.”                   
  • Michael Chance:Blood Relations is magnificent. Comprehensive in design, powerfully informed in execution – this book clarifies not only the problems of the past, but posits the need for a new cultural leap if we are to survive the present.”
  • Marilyn Strathern: “A quite remarkable contribution to our subject.”
  • Cris Shore: “A refreshing alternative to the plethora of prosaic and sexist variations on the ‘Man-the-Hunter’ theory of the origins of human culture.”  
  • Clive Gamble: Blood Relations points us all in a refreshingly new direction.”                           
  • Mary Douglas: “This is the most ambitious project on the origins of culture to have emerged for decades. The effort to establish a collectivist point of departure for the theory of human communication has had to struggle against the individualist assumptions that dominate cognitive science, but this very struggle makes the book original and important”.  
  • Diane Bell: “A man writing about menstruation as empowering not polluting; a Marxist analysis in which sex solidarity and class analysis assume equal explanatory power; a fully social and revolutionary account of our human cultural origins that privileges women; an explicitly political narrative of science in the first person; an interweaving of anthropology, biology, history of ideas, and philosophy; an attempt not just to interpret the world but to change the world: Blood Relations is all this and more”.                       
  • Chris Stringer: “From the evidence of burials and symbolic objects, rituals and religious beliefs probably go back more than 100,000 years, but could they actually have been central to the origins of modern humans? A British anthropologist, Chris Knight, certainly thinks so, and in a wide-ranging synthesis of data from present-day anthropology, primatology and sociobiology, together with archaeology, he and his collaborators have argued that women collectively produced a social revolution in Africa over 100,000 years ago.
  • Keith Hart: “I suspect that it will be a slow burning classic, revived from time to time, but then discarded because it repudiates bourgeois metaphysics.”                     
  • R. E. Davis-Floyd: “Chris Knight has taken on the task of explicating not only the whys and hows of human cultural evolution, but also vast constellations of cultural behaviour covering Australia, Africa, Europe and all of the Americas. His scholarship is impeccable.”
  • Earl Hazell: “Read this book and be changed. It is another of the great books of our time whose far-reaching influence in modern culture has not even begun to be felt.”
  • Emily Lyle: “One of Knight’s chapters is headed ‘The Revolution’, but his whole book might well have had this in the title for his thesis has revolutionary implications for modern scholarship as well as hypothesising a revolution in the remote past.”                                     
  • Mick Hartley: “This book was a revelation to me. It was thrilling to read such an ambitious clear-sighted and compelling account of the origins of human culture, together with an excellent critique of much current anthropological thinking. A wonderfully stimulating book”.                                                
  • Caroline Humphrey:  “Chris Knight has a political agenda, and he is not going to hide it from us. He is a good Marxist, believing in class struggle, trade-union activism, workers’ solidarity, and most of all in Engels’s version of primitive communism and the early matriarchate. This theory is designed to cock a snook at every premise which sleeps undisturbed in our current assumptions. The result is an exhilaratingly original edifice of astonishing range.”
  • Dorothy Macedo: Blood Relations is an incredible work of scholarship, and in particular of Marxist scholarship – a vindication of scientific socialist theory at a time when Marxism is supposed to be dead. I don’t think it’s too strong to say that in time to come it will be seen as significant perhaps in the way Darwin was seen as significant, in really changing the way we look at what it is to be human.”                                                            
  • Leonora Lloyd: “As women all over the world fight for control over their own sexuality and fertility, Chris Knight in Blood Relations has performed a service. We can now prove that we’re demanding nothing new. We once had collective control over our own bodies; our fight now is to regain it.”                             
  • David Holt: “What I want to convey here is the excitement – and the quite extraordinary sense of homecoming and comradeship – which this magnificent book has caused me. The release of tension as I read page after page of the detailed, passionate and ironic argument was extraordinary, and something for which I still feel great waves of gratitude.”                             
  • Keith Veness: “This book is a revolutionary textbook for socialists and feminists. It turns upside down the reactionary developments in biology and evolutionary theory that dominated the 1980s. Communism – the ideas of revolutionary change, of solidarity, of feminism and of a society organised for the benefit of everyone – is not only still the spectre that haunts Europe, but it is the very thing that created us as human beings.”                            
  • Amazon.com reviewer: “The many words used to describe Chris Knight’s Blood Relations include, monumental, encyclopedic, brilliant, original, ingenious, and a tour-de-force. It is all of these and more! This work is simply the most brilliant and imaginative book about human cultural development ever written.
  • Jim Perry:  “How did human language and culture first emerge? The answer has now been found. It points us back to the very place where we all learned our craft. Human solidarity and culture began on the picket line.”

CO-EDITED VOLUMES

  • Knight, C., J. Hurford and M. Studdert-Kennedy (eds) (1998). Approaches to the Evolution of Language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Dunbar, R., C. Knight and C. Power (eds) (1999). The Evolution of Culture. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
  • Knight, C., J. Hurford and M. Studdert-Kennedy (eds) (2000). The Evolutionary Emergence of Language: Social function and the origins of linguistic form. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Botha, R. and C. Knight (eds) (2009). The Prehistory of Language. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Botha, R. and C. Knight (eds) (2009). The Cradle of Language. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Dor, D., C. Knight and J. Lewis (eds) (2014). The Social Origins of Language. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

 SELECTED PUBLICATIONS

  • Knight, C. (1997). The Wives of the Sun and the Moon. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 3 (1): 133-153.

  • Knight, C. (2002). Language and revolutionary consciousness. In A. Wray (ed.), The Transition to Language. Oxford : Oxford University Press, pp. 138-160.

  • Knight, C. (2008). Honest fakes and language origins. Journal of Consciousness Studies, 15(10-11): 236-48.

  • Knight, C. (2008). Language co-evolved with the rule of law. Mind and Society: Cognitive Studies in Economics and Social Sciences, 7 (1): 109-128.

  • Knight, C. (2008). Early Human Kinship Was Matrilineal. In N. J. Allen, H. Callan, R. Dunbar and W. James (eds.), Early Human Kinship. Oxford: Blackwell, pp. 61-82.

  • Knight, C. and C. Power (2011). Social conditions for the evolutionary emergence of language. In M. Tallerman and K. Gibson (eds), Handbook of Language Evolution, Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 346-349.

  • Knight, C. (2014). Language and symbolic culture: an outcome of hunter-gatherer reverse dominance. In D. Dor, C. Knight and J. Lewis (eds), The Social Origins of Language. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 228-246.

  • Knight, C. (2014). The evolution of EVOLANG. In: E. A. Cartmill, S. Roberts, H. Lyn and H. Cornish (eds), The Evolution of Language. Proceedings of the Tenth International Conference (EVOLANG 10), p. 16.

  • Knight, C. 2016. Puzzles and mysteries in the origins of language. Language and Communication, vol. 50, pp. 12-21.

RESEARCH INTERESTS

In anthropology, I have focused on the structural analysis of myths and fairy tales, on the evolutionary emergence of language and on early human kinship. In my most recent book, Decoding Chomsky: Science and revolutionary politics, I approach the scientism which has prevailed over US intellectual life since World War II as an anthropologist might analyse the belief system of a preliterate tribe. My first postgraduate thesis (completed in 1975) explored the theoretical writings of the Russian futurist poet Velimir Khlebnikov. In my activist role I have written on the Liverpool dockers' dispute of 1995-1998 and, more recently (with Camilla Power), on the strange experience of being arrested by the police for attempted street theatre.

My 1975 M.Phil thesis: 'Past, future and the problem of communication in the work of V. V. Khlebnikov'. You can download this here: parts A, B. C, D and E.

My 1987 Ph.D. thesis: 'Menstruation and the origins of culture: a reconsideration of Lévi-Strauss' work on myth and symbolism'. You can download this here.