1. University of Virginia
  2. Arts & Sciences

Frederick H. Damon


Ph.D. Princeton University 1978

Brooks Hall, 206


Muyuw, 1996 - with Amoen, "Sipum,"
hunter, woodsman and guide, deceased 2009.
Please see the beginning of my book:
Trees, Knots and Outriggers: Environmental Knowledge in the Northeast Kula Ring.

Entering the fall of my years—I started at UVa during the 1976-77 academic year—I have thoroughly enjoyed my teaching and research and value both for personal and professional reasons. Sprinkled among my primary teaching and research obligations I have participated in or organized a series of conferences, the two Kula Conferences (1978 at Cambridge University, 1982 at UVa) and most recently, with Carlos Mondragón from El Colegio de México and Wang Mingming from Beijing University, two workshops called ‘Ecology and Time Systems in Australasia and the Americas: New approaches to value systems and calendrical transformations across the Pacific Rim.’ These were held at UVa (2009) and Beijing University (2011) (See here for Programs).

My initial research in the Kula Ring of Papua New Guinea intended to use a structuralist version of exchange theory to describe Muyuw-Woodlark Island-as it existed in its regional setting. Indigenous understandings forced me to consider production, not exchange, as the organizing value among the people with whom I lived. Tensions between exchange and production views of society continue to animate my teaching and research. And I maintain an interest in the problem of how to understand and describe the regional systems in which all social life is embedded. If understanding the modern world-system remains one pole of that research and teaching, understanding the regions and regionalism centering on the Asias and Australia—the whole Indo-Pacific—is the other. It has a deeper and perhaps more useful history. For the remainder of my professional life I expect to consider these issues in light of recent concerns with chaos theory. I thus hope to be engaged in dialogues with fractal mathematics, perhaps knot theory and problems of climate and culture.

As intended, eleven returns to PNG between 1991 and 2014 along with new teaching interests have generated shifts in my original topical, theoretical and areal stances. Added to the exchange/production orientation are interdisciplinary research and teaching to explore how anthropogenic environments relate to better-known social structural and cosmological transformations in and beyond the Kula Ring. And I now view that area against the backdrop of the whole Indo-Pacific and its natural and human history going back to the mid-Holocene at least. Recent publications reflect the initial stages of this work and should climax soon in a book entitled TREES, KNOTS AND OUTRIGGERS: Reflections on Environmental Research in the Northeast Kula Ring. I was in China during the summer of 2008 to initiate language learning and to explore new research locales proximate to the separation between what became East Asia on the one hand and the Austronesian world on the other. I returned for the first half of 2013 in and around Quanzhou in Fujian Province further developing these interests; I return again in 2015.  Questions about social organization, including socio-ecological contexts, and collective forms of thinking will animate this research. On the plate at the moment are two interstitial projects: One contrasts Austronesian sailing craft I know from the Kula Ring with those that plied the waters of southeastern China from at least the Tang through the Qing Dynasties; the other is an inquiry into the use of flora references in Austronesian languages and cultures and in Chinese. The future is a pleasure with new friends and new ideas to explore.


OLDER CONTINUING COURSES: Transforming Everyday Life in America; Ecology & Society; Economic Anthropology. These three courses have been gems for me and for a good number of students. I look forward to teaching them and greeting a new bunch of students each time I start them over.

NEW COURSES IN DEVELOPMENT; Technology, Culture And Time (in which I consider recent work focusing on ‘materiality’ and the analysis of variation across different cultural regimes); and The Anthropology of Time and Space (from Kant to Anthropology, and Calendrical systems to Continental histories).


Structuralism, Marxism, world system theory, chaos theory; ethnobotony, historical ecology, ethnoastronomy; social structure, kinship, exchange and hierarchy; Melanesia, East and South Asia, US culture in the contemporary world system.

Selected Publications

2015 - Kula Ring, Anthropology of. In: James D. Wright (editor-in-chief), . International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences, 2nd edition, Vol 13. Oxford: Elsevier. pp. 139–143.

2012 - ‘Labour Processes’ Across the Indo-Pacific: Towards a Comparative Analysis of Civilisational Necessities. The Asia Pacific Journal of Anthropology 13(2): 163-191.

2009 - Afterword: Persistence and Transformation in Social Formations . In Hierarchy: Persistence and Transformation in Social Formations. Knut Rio and Olaf H. Smedal, eds. .Pp. 349-359. Berghahn Press.

2008 - On the Ideas of a Boat: From Forest Patches To Cybernetic Structures. The Outrigger Sailing Craft Of The Eastern Kula Ring, Papua New Guinea. In: Clifford Sather & Timo Kaartinen (eds.) Beyond the Horizon. Essays on Myth, History, Travel and Society. Studia Fennica Anthropologica 2. Helsinki: Finnish Literature Society. Pp. 123-144.  

2007 - A Stranger's View of Bihar-Rethinking Religion and Production: More than a Poetry of Properties. In Speaking of Peasants: Essays on Indian History and Politics in Honor of Walter Hauser. William Pinch, ed. New Deli: Manohar Publishers. Pp.249-276 New Deli: Manohar Publishers.

2005 - 'PITY' and 'ECSTASY,' The Problem of Order and Differentiated Difference Across Kula Societies. In On the Order of Chaos: Social Anthropology and the Science of Chaos. Mark Mosko, ed. Pp. 79-107. London and New York: Berghahn Books.

2003 - What Good are Elections? An Anthropological Analysis of American Elections. Taiwan Journal of Anthropology. 1(2):38-82.

2002 - Kula Valuables: The Problem of Value and the Production of Names. L'Homme April-June 162:107-136.

1998 - Selective Anthropomorphization: Trees in the Northeast Kula Ring. Social Analysis 42 (3).

1997 - Cutting the Wood of Woodlark: Retrospects and Prospects for Logging on Muyuw, Milne Bay Province, Papua New Guinea. In The Political Economy of Forest Management in Papua New Guinea. Colin filer, ed.  Pp. 180-203.

1990 - From Muyuw to the Trobriands: Transformations Along the Northern Side of the Kula Ring. Tucson: University of Arizona Press.

1989 - Death Rituals and Life in the Societies of the Kula. (With Roy Wagner). Dekalb: Northern Illinois University Press. 1983 - Muyuw Kinship and the Metamorphosis of Gender Labour. Man 18 (2):305-326.

1981 - The Kula and Generalized Exchange: Considering Some Unconsidered Aspects of the Elementary Structures of Kinship. Man 15(2):267-93.

Department Faculty

Ira Bashkow
Associate Professor
Frederick H. Damon
Eve Danziger
Professor and Chair; Affiliated Faculty: Linguistics Program; Cognitive Science Program
Lise Dobrin
Associate Professor & Director of the Interdepartmental Program in Linguistics
Carrie Douglass
Professor & Director of Undergraduate Studies
Gertrude Fraser
Associate Professor
Richard Handler
Professor & Director of Global Development Studies Program
Jeffrey L. Hantman
James Igoe
Associate Professor
Ravindra Khare
Professor & Director of the Center on Critical Human Survival Issues
Adria LaViolette
Associate Professor
Daniel Lefkowitz
Associate Professor & Director of Graduate Studies
Susan McKinnon
George Mentore
Associate Professor
Rachel Most
Associate Dean for Undergraduate Academic Programs & Professor
Fraser D. Neiman
Stephen Plog
David A. Harrison Professor of Archaeology
China Scherz
Assistant Professor
John Shepherd
Associate Professor
Mark Sicoli
Assistant Professor
Margaret Smith
Director & Curator, The Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection
Roy Wagner
Patricia Wattenmaker
Associate Professor
Kath Weston