William Lancaster (anthropologist)
William Osbert Lancaster (born 1938) is a British social anthropologist
Social anthropology
Social Anthropology is one of the four or five branches of anthropology that studies how contemporary human beings behave in social groups. Practitioners of social anthropology investigate, often through long-term, intensive field studies , the social organization of a particular person: customs,...

 who has specialised in the study of the Arab world, particularly the bedouin
The Bedouin are a part of a predominantly desert-dwelling Arab ethnic group traditionally divided into tribes or clans, known in Arabic as ..-Etymology:...

 tribes in the Levant
The Levant or ) is the geographic region and culture zone of the "eastern Mediterranean littoral between Anatolia and Egypt" . The Levant includes most of modern Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Israel, the Palestinian territories, and sometimes parts of Turkey and Iraq, and corresponds roughly to the...

 and Middle East
Middle East
The Middle East is a region that encompasses Western Asia and Northern Africa. It is often used as a synonym for Near East, in opposition to Far East...


Life and work

Lancaster was born in 1938, the son of Sir Osbert Lancaster
Osbert Lancaster
Sir Osbert Lancaster, CBE was an English cartoonist, author, art critic and stage designer, best known to the public at large for his cartoons published in the Daily Express.-Biography:Lancaster was born in London, England...

 and his first wife Karen Elizabeth Harris. He was schooled at Eton College
Eton College
Eton College, often referred to simply as Eton, is a British independent school for boys aged 13 to 18. It was founded in 1440 by King Henry VI as "The King's College of Our Lady of Eton besides Wyndsor"....


Together with his wife Fidelity, Lancaster has studied various tribes, communities and regions in the Arab world since 1971. The couple have worked in Syria
Syria , officially the Syrian Arab Republic , is a country in Western Asia, bordering Lebanon and the Mediterranean Sea to the West, Turkey to the north, Iraq to the east, Jordan to the south, and Israel to the southwest....

, Jordan
Jordan , officially the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan , Al-Mamlaka al-Urduniyya al-Hashemiyya) is a kingdom on the East Bank of the River Jordan. The country borders Saudi Arabia to the east and south-east, Iraq to the north-east, Syria to the north and the West Bank and Israel to the west, sharing...

, Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia , commonly known in British English as Saudi Arabia and in Arabic as as-Sa‘ūdiyyah , is the largest state in Western Asia by land area, constituting the bulk of the Arabian Peninsula, and the second-largest in the Arab World...

, Oman
Oman , officially called the Sultanate of Oman , is an Arab state in southwest Asia on the southeast coast of the Arabian Peninsula. It is bordered by the United Arab Emirates to the northwest, Saudi Arabia to the west, and Yemen to the southwest. The coast is formed by the Arabian Sea on the...

 and the United Arab Emirates
United Arab Emirates
The United Arab Emirates, abbreviated as the UAE, or shortened to "the Emirates", is a state situated in the southeast of the Arabian Peninsula in Western Asia on the Persian Gulf, bordering Oman, and Saudi Arabia, and sharing sea borders with Iraq, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, and Iran.The UAE is a...


Lancaster's 1981 publication The Rwala Bedouin Today has been called "one of the best modern ethnographies on Middle Eastern ethnic groups" and a "highly regarded, unromanticized account of Bedouin life". Lancaster and his family lived with the Rwala
The Ruwallah are a large Arab tribe of northern Arabia and the Syrian Desert, including modern-day Jordan. Until the demarcation of borders in the Middle East in the early 20th century, the Ruwallah were an almost entirely a warrior tribe centered in the region of al-Jauf and Wadi al-Sirhan in...

 tribe of the Anazah
`Anazzah are the largest Arab tribal confederation of the Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and the Levant.-Genealogy and Origins:Currently the largest of the Arab tribes, `Anazzah's existence as an autonomous tribal group, unlike that of many prominent modern tribes, predates the rise of Islam in the 7th...

 confederacy in Eastern Jordan and northern Saudi Arabia for several years while gathering data for the book.

Between 1991 and 1994 Lancaster was Director of the British Institute at Amman for Archaeology and History (BIAAH) at Amman
Amman is the capital of Jordan. It is the country's political, cultural and commercial centre and one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. The Greater Amman area has a population of 2,842,629 as of 2010. The population of Amman is expected to jump from 2.8 million to almost...

 in Jordan (now the Council for British Research in the Levant
Council for British Research in the Levant
The Council for British Research in the Levant was formed in 1998 with the amalgamation of the British Institute at Amman for Archaeology and History and the British School of Archaeology in Jerusalem...

, CBRL). He was recently editor of Nomadic Peoples, the journal of the Commission on Nomadic Peoples.

When not undertaking anthropological fieldwork in the Middle East, Lancaster lives with his family at Lyness
Lyness is a village on the east coast of the island of Hoy, Orkney.During the 1920's Lyness was briefly the headquarters of the metal salvage firm of Cox and Danks's raising of the German High Seas Fleet, scuttled by the Germans on June 21st 1919 during the Armistice.During the Second World War it...

 on the island of Hoy
Hoy is an island in Orkney, Scotland. With an area of it is the second largest in the archipelago after the Mainland. It is connected by a causeway called The Ayre to South Walls...

 in the Orkney Islands
Orkney Islands
Orkney also known as the Orkney Islands , is an archipelago in northern Scotland, situated north of the coast of Caithness...

, off the northern coast of Scotland.

Selected publications

  • 1981 The Rwala Bedouin Today Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. (Second edition 1997)
  • 1982 "The Logic of the Rwala Response to Change" in Studies in Third World Societies No 18: Papers from IUAES Intercongress, Commission on Nomadic Peoples in Amsterdam 1981 Edited by Philip C. Salzman

Co-authored with Fidelity Lancaster

  • 1986 "The Concept of Territory among the Rwala Bedouin" Nomadic Peoples 20: 41–48
  • 1987 "The Function of Peripatetics in Rwala Bedouin Scoiety" in Rao, A. (ed) The Other Nomads: Peripatetic Minorities in Cross-Cultural Perspective 311-321
  • 1988 "Thoughts on the Bedouinisation of Arabia" Proceedings of the Seminar for Arabian Studies 18: 51-62
  • 1990 "Modern ar-Risha: A Permanent Address" in Helms, Svend, Early Islamic Architecture of the Desert: A Bedouin Station in Eastern Jordan Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press
  • 1990 "Desert devices: the pastoral system of the Rwala Bedu" in J.G. Galaty and D.L. Johnson, eds. The world of pastoralism: herding systems in comparative perspective New York, Guilford Press; London, Belhaven Press, 177-194
  • 1991 "Limitations on sheep and goat herding in the Eastern Badia of Jordan: an ethno-archaeological enquiry" Levant 23: 125-138
  • 1993 "Graves and funerary monuments of the Ahl al-Ǧabal, Jordan" Arabian Archaeology and Epigraphy 4/3: 151–169
  • 1993 "Sécheresse et stratégies de reconversion économique chez le bédouins de Jordanie" in R. Bocco, R. Jaubert and F. Metral, eds. Steppes d'Arabie, États, pasteurs, agriculteurs et commerçants: le devenir des zones sèches Geneva, Cahiers de l'IUED
  • 1995 "Nomadic Fishermen of Ja'alan" Nomadic Peoples 36/37: 227-243
  • 1997 "Indigenous resource management systems in the Bâdia of the Bilâd ash-Shâm" Journal of Arid Environments 35/2: 367-378
  • 1998 "Who are these nomads? What do they do? Continuous Change or Changing Continuities?" in Jinat, Joseph and Khazanov, Anatoly M., eds, Changing Nomads in a Changing World Brighton 24-38
  • 1999 People, land and water in the Arab Middle East: environments and landscapes in the Bilâd ash-Shâm Co-authored with Fidelity Lancaster Harwood Academic Publishers
  • 1999 "On the nature of power in the works of Orientalist scholars and its contribution to a history of Bedouin society and nomad-sedentary relations at the Bilâd ash-Shâm" in Chatelard, G. and Tarawneh, M. (eds) Antonin Jaussen. Sciences sociale occidentales et patrimoine Arab Beirut: Centre d'Etudes et de Recherches sur le Moyen-Orient Contemporain, 143-178
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