Webb Keane is the George Herbert Mead Collegiate Professor of Anthropology. He grew up in New York City and studied at Yale College and the University of Chicago. After several years on the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania, he joined the Department of Anthropology at the University of Michigan, where he is associated with both the Social-Cultural and the Linguistic Anthropology subfields. His other affiliations include the Program in Anthropology and History and the Center for Southeast Asian Studies.
His most recent book, Ethical Life: Its Natural and Social Histories will be published by Princeton University Press in 2015.
His first book, Signs of Recognition: Powers and Hazards of Representation in an Indonesian Society is based on 2 years of fieldwork on the island of Sumba in Indonesia.
The second book Christian Moderns: Freedom and Fetish in the Mission Encounter concerns the impact of Protestantism from colonial mission to postcolonial church. Read a review of the book and some critical responses.
His writings cover a range of topics in social and cultural theory and the philosophical foundations of social thought and the human sciences. In particular, he is interested in semiotics and language; material culture; gift exchange, commodities, and money; religion, morality, and ethics; media and public cultures. At present he is involved in two major projects. The first concerns morality, ethics, and virtue as special, even constitutive, problems for social science. It is especially concerned with exploring the points of intersection and divergence between ethnography and its borderlands with psychology, on the one hand, and social history, on the other. This is the subject of his forthcoming volume, Ethical Life. The second project centers on religious piety, language, and media in Indonesia, with a special interest in semiotic transgressions.
Professor Keane has received fellowships from the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, NJ, the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences in Stanford, CA, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation. He has been a visiting professor at the London School of Economics, Cambridge University, the University of Oslo, and National Taitung University (Taiwan), and has taught at the School of Criticism and Theory at Cornell University. He has been a Senior Fellow in the Michigan Society of Fellows, a recipient of the Henry Russel Award for scholarship and teaching from the University of Michigan, and has delivered the Edward Westermarck Memorial Lecture in Helsinki, the D. R. Sharpe Keynote Lecture on Social Ethics at the University of Chicago, the Annette B. Weiner Memorial Lecture at New York University, the biannual Roy A. Rappaport Distinguished Lecture of the Society for the Anthropology of Religion, the William T. Mulloy Lecture at the University of Wyoming, and the Munro Lecture at the University of Edinburgh.