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Eleanor Kathleen Gough Aberle (16 August 1925 – 8 September 1990) was a British anthropologist and feminist who was known for her work in South Asia and South-East Asia. As a part of her doctorate work, she did field research in Malabar district from 1947 to 1949. She did further research in Tanjore district from 1950 to 1953 and again in 1976, and in Vietnam in 1976 and 1982. She was known for her Marxist leanings and was on an FBI watchlist.

Early life and education

Kathleen Gough was born on 16 August 1925 in Hunsingore, a village near Wetherby in Yorkshire, England, that then had a population of 100, no electricity and no piped water. She had a brother and a half-sister. Her father, Albert, was a blacksmith who became involved in the introduction of agricultural machinery to the area and has been described by David Price as being a "working-class radical".[1][2]

She was educated at the church school in Hunsingore, from where she obtained a scholarship to King James's Grammar School, Knaresborough and then, in 1943, to Girton College, Cambridge. She excelled in anthropology at Girton and pursued postgraduate research. In July 1947, while undertaking that research, she married Eric John Miller, who was also a student. The couple undertook anthropological fieldwork in Kerala, with Gough being supervised by the old-fashioned J. H. Hutton until his retirement and then by the more modern-thinking Meyer Fortes. Gough and Miller found the strain of fieldwork impacted on their marriage and they divorced amicably in 1950.[1] She completed her doctorate in anthropology from Cambridge University in the same year and returned to India alone to pursue further fieldwork.[3]


Gough's research in India were primarily in the Malabar district from 1947 to 1949 and in the Tanjore district from 1950 to 1953.[3] Her efforts were groundbreaking and she published five papers in the 1950s. She contributed over half of the content published as Matrimonial Kinship in 1961, of which Heike Moser and Paul Younger say that "Her analysis is a brilliant example of the structural-functionalist anthropology associated with Britain in her day, and everyone since has begun from her explanations or matriliny of marumukatayam as descent through the female line. ... The debates that raged about matriliny, marriage ceremonies, hypergamy, and polyandry after these definitive studies were complex."[4]

She returned to India in 1976 and it was after this visit that most of her research work on India was published. She visited Vietnam in the same year and again in 1982.[3]

Gough was employed in teaching positions at Brandeis University from 1961 to 1963, the University of Oregon from 1963 to 1967 and Simon Fraser University from 1967 to 1970. She was an Honorary Research Associate at the University of British Columbia from 1974 until her death in 1990.[3]

Later life and death

Gough married anthropologist David Aberle in 1955 and died in Vancouver on 8 September 1990 after a four-month illness with cancer. She was buried on 13 September 1990 at Capilano View cemetery.[1]


Gough was a Marxist and the responses of some university administrations to her leftist leanings sometimes landed her in trouble. She supported Cuba during the Cuban missile crisis and was outspoken in her condemnation of police brutalities. As a result most of the stipulated pay hikes during her teaching career were cancelled.[5] Moreover, Gough's membership in the Johnson-Forest Tendency and her work for civil rights and against the war in Vietnam triggered the interest of the FBI, who placed her and her husband, fellow anthropologist David Aberle, on their watchlist.[2]


Some of Gough's more important works include Ten More Beautiful: The Rebuilding of Vietnam (1978), Rural Society in Southeast India (1981), Rural Change in Southeast India, 1950s–1980s (1989) and Political Economy in Vietnam (1990).[3]

  • The Traditional Kinship System of the Nayars of Malabar. Harvard University. 1954. 
  • Cult of the dead among the Nayars. 1958. 
  • Anthropology and Imperialism. Radical Education Project. 1960. 
  • Nayar:Central Kerala. University of California Press. 1961. 
  • David Murray Schneider and Kathleen Gough (1961). Matrilineal Kinship. University of California. 
  • The Decline of the State and the Coming of World Society: An Optimist's View of the Future. Correspondence Publishing Company. 1962. 
  • Female Initiation Rites on the Malabar Coast. 1965. 
  • John Rankin Goody, ed (1968). Literacy in Traditional Societies. University Press. 
  • Caste in a Tanjore Village. Department of Archaeology and Anthropology at the University Press. 1969. 
  • The Struggle at Simon Fraser University. Thurston Taylor. 1970. 
  • Kathleen Gough, Hari P. Sharma, ed (1973). Imperialism and Revolution in South Asia. Monthly Review Press. ISBN 9780853452737. 
  • The Origin of the Family. New Hogtown Press. 1973. 
  • Class developments in South India. Centre for Developing-Area Studies, McGill University. 1975. 
  • Ten times more beautiful:The Rebuilding of Vietnam. Monthly Review Press. 1978. ISBN 9780853454649. 
  • Dravidian Kinship and Modes of Production. Indian Council of Social Science Research. 1978. 
  • Rural Society in Southeast India. Cambridge University Press. 1981. ISBN 9780521040198. 
  • Southeast Asia: Facing the Challenge of Socialist Construction. Synthesis Publications. 1986. 
  • Rural Change in Southeast India:1950s to 1980s. Oxford University Press. 1989. ISBN 9780195622768. 
  • Political Economy in Vietnam. Folklore Institute. 1990. 
  • Saghir Ahmed. Class and Power in a Punjabi Village (Introduction). ISBN 9780853453857. 
  • Women in Asia. WIRE. 


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Frankenberg, Ronald (2004). "Oxford Dictionary of National Biography". Oxford University Press. Retrieved 8 November 2013.  (subscription or UK public library membership required)
  2. 2.0 2.1 Price, David H. (2004). Threatening anthropology: McCarthyism and the FBI's surveillance of activist anthropologists. Duke University Press. pp. 307–325. ISBN 978-0-8223-3338-8. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 "Biography of Kathleen Gough at the University of British Columbia Archives". University of British Columbia. Archived from the original on 21 March 2008. 
  4. Moser, Heike; Younger, Paul (2013). "Kerala: Plurality and Consensus". In Berger, Peter; Heidemann, Frank. The Modern Anthropology of India: Ethnography, Themes and Theory. Routledge. p. 141. ISBN 9781134061112. 
  5. "Biography of Kathleen Aberle". Minnesota State University. Archived from the original on 3 June 2010. 

Further reading

  • Mencher, Joan. "Kathleen Gough and Research in Kerala". Canadian Anthropology Society. pp. 195–201. JSTOR 25605731.  (subscription required)

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