The Department of Anthropology mourns the loss of Professor Emerita Jane I. Guyer, who passed on at the age of 80 on January 17, 2024. Known widely for her original mind and deeply influential ideas, Guyer had taught in the department from 2002 onward, serving the university as George Armstrong Kelly Professor of Anthropology until her retirement in 2015.
A leading anthropologist and Africanist of her generation, Guyer studied at the London School of Economics and the University of Rochester, holding faculty positions at Harvard University, Boston University, and Northwestern University before coming to Johns Hopkins. Guyer was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 2008, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2009.
As the American Academy observes, “her research focuses on the organizational forms through which social and material life are being constantly recreated and reconstructed. She has shaped understanding of the growth of economic institutions in the popular economy of West and Equatorial Africa… particularly the productive economy, the division of labor and the management of money. Theoretically she focuses on the interface between formal and informal economies, and particularly the instabilities that interface gives rise to.”
Guyer authored many books, including, most recently, Legacies, Logics, Logistics: Essays in the Anthropology of the Platform Economy, published by the University of Chicago Press in 2016. The same year, she published a new translation and expanded edition of the classic text by Marcel Mauss, The Gift. Her most influential work perhaps was the 2004 book based on her Lewis Henry Morgan Lectures at Rochester University, Marginal Gains: Monetary Transactions in Atlantic Africa. The article she wrote for American Ethnologist in 2007 – “Prophecy and the Near Future: Thoughts on Macroeconomic, Evangelical, and Punctuated Time” – remains a benchmark work of anthropological theory.
An innovative leader at Johns Hopkins and in the profession, Guyer was also a beloved teacher to many students and mentor to younger faculty colleagues. On the eve of her retirement, anthropology graduate students at Johns Hopkins organized a conference called “Possibilities” in her honor. The proceedings were inspired by Guyer’s understanding of possibility as “an ethical stance, demanding courage… an aesthetic of coexistence, demanding discernment,” and “a vision of politics, demanding study and steadfastness.”
Guyer’s capacity for optimism was remarkable, her compassion a gift. Often, under difficult circumstances, as chair and colleague, she signed off her emails with “avanti,” urging us to move forward and have hope in possibilities as she wrote in her essay, “The Quickening of the Unknown.” We remain grateful for all that she made possible, within our department and field, and the world beyond.
For support, please feel free to reach out to the Counseling Center at 410-516-8278, the Crisis Counselor at 410-516-8278 (press “1” to connect to the on-call counselor anytime) or to Naveeda Khan, Chair of Anthropology, available at email@example.com, for help help finding appropriate support services.