UCL Anthropology


Daryll Forde Lecture

28 November 2018, 6:00 pm–7:30 pm

A drawing depicting Kaberry during her fieldwork in the Kimberley

This lecture is presented by Dr Diane Losche on the occasion of an exhibition of materials drawn from the personal papers and field notes of Phyllis Kaberry, a member of UCL Anthropology from1949 until her death in 1977.

Event Information

Open to



UCL Anthropology


Archaeology LT
14 Taviton Street

Phyllis Kaberry in the Archive: Figure in an Expanded Field

Dr Diane Losche

Phyllis Kaberry (1910-1977)
Phyllis Kaberry (1910-1977) was a significant figure in a generation of female anthropologists who came of age in the inter-war period. Her field research focused on understanding the role of women in society and her first published ethnography was a groundbreaking study of women in the Kimberley region of Western Australia: Aboriginal Woman: Sacred and Profane (1939). In addition to her work in Australia, Kaberry also carried out extensive fieldwork in Africa and Papua New Guinea. Her archive, like her life, traces the globe. While her papers and field notes can be found in many institutions, by far the largest collection is housed in the archives of University College London, where she worked for over a quarter of a century. The questions raised in this lecture stem from an attempt to refine the methods by which we interpret the personal papers and field notes of anthropologists.

Since the archival turn of the 1990s, document collections have become a significant conceptual domain in anthropology as in other disciplines. While this framework has proven a powerful lens for new research, it has produced its own hegemonic mythologies. These tenets suggest that such collections contain only traces, fragments and fictions, reflecting absence and incompleteness. To highlight the problems with such assumptions Diane Losche reflect on her own experiences in the archives of Phyllis Kaberry. Borrowing from Rosalind Krauss’s iconic 1979 essay, ‘Sculpture in the Expanded Field’, the second part of her lecture situates the archival Kaberry as a ‘figure’ in an expanded field of disciplines and practices. This framework, borrowed from the formal analysis of art objects, mines a methodology known as figure/field configuration. Losche illustrate this approach through the lens of the Kaberry papers and field notes to demonstrate how it can address problems brought about by the premise that archival research can produce only fragmentary and fictional forms of knowledge.

Head image ©http://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/55459266/4610578A drawing depicting Kaberry during her fieldwork in the Kimberley (Australia, 1936) 

About the Speaker

Dr Diane Losche

Dr Diane Losche was a founding member of the School of Art History and Theory at the University of New South Wales where she was a member of the academic staff for 26 years. She currently teaches at Macquarie University and is an Associate at the University of Sydney where she recently completed an exhibition about Phyllis Kaberry. Dr Losche received her PhD from Columbia University (1982) based on fieldwork in the Abelam area of the Sepik region, Papua New Guinea, where she followed in the footsteps of Phyllis Kaberry, who is the subject of this lecture and a forthcoming UCL exhibition.