Webb Keane is the George Herbert Mead Collegiate Professor of Anthropology. At the University of Michigan he is affiliated with the Social-Cultural and the Linguistic subfields in the Anthropology Department, as well as the Interdisciplinary Program in Anthropology and History and the Center for Southeast Asian Studies.
His writings cover a range of topics in social and cultural theory, the philosophical foundations of social thought and the human sciences, and the ethnography and history of Southeast Asia. In particular, he is interested in religion and ethics; semiotics and language; material culture; gifts, commodities, and money; and media. At present he is involved in three major projects. The first concerns the relations between ethical and political conflict, the second religious and economic value, and the third centers on piety, language, and media in Indonesian Islam and Euro-American secularism, with a special interest in semiotic transgressions such as blasphemy, obscenity, and defamation.
His regular undergraduate course offerings include Language and Culture; Anthropology of Religion; Exchange, Commodities, and Money; and Southeast Asia. His regular graduate seminars are the Traditions 2 (the second part of the core course on anthropological theory), Semiotic Anthropology, and Southeast Asia.
His most recent book, Ethical Life: Its Natural and Social Histories was published by Princeton University Press. Now in paperback
- Here’s a review in the Times Literary Supplement
- You can read the Introduction here: Ethical Life: Introduction
- Read a Symposium about Ethical Life in the journal Hau (at the link, scroll down to the Book Symposium section)
- Review in Public Books
- Review in Marginalia, Los Angeles Review of Books
- Review in Anthropology of this Century
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 and the project of being modern from colonial mission to postcolonial church. Read a review of the book and some critical responses.
He participated in the collaborative venture Four Lectures on Ethics: Anthropological Perspectives which can be downloaded for free.