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 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 new volume, Ethical Life. The second project centers on religious 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 current 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.