October 9, 1913–May 18, 2006
BY ROBERT V. KEMPER
GEORGE MCCLELLAND FOSTER JR. was one of the most influential leaders of American anthropology in the 20th century. Going far beyond his graduate training at the University of California in the 1930s, he became widely known for his pioneering contributions to medical anthropology and applied anthropology, his brilliant comparative analyses of peasant communities (especially his works on the “Image of Limited Good” and the “Dyadic Contract”), and his commitment to long-term research in the community of Tzintzuntzan, Michoacán, Mexico.
In reflecting on his life, Foster declared, “I think chance has been the leitmotif of my whole life” (2000, p. 40). He repeatedly turned “chance” into serendipity, which led in turn to innovative explanations about such widespread features of the human condition as the envy of others; the linkages between individuals, groups, and communities; the impact of technology on society and culture; and the tendency to resist change. The quantity, quality, and long-term value of his scholarly work led to his election to the National Academy of Sciences in 1976 and the awarding of numerous other honors, both before and after his retirement in 1979 as professor emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley.