JOHN MILTON ROBERTS

December 8, 1916–April 2, 1990

BY WARD H. GOODENOUGH

JOHN ROBERTS, “JACK” to all who knew him,1 has been justly characterized as “one of the most brilliant and creative antropologists of the second half of the twentieth century.” 2 His brilliance and creativity were not only in anthropology, in the prevailing understanding of that term, but more broadly in behavioral science. He had a penchant for looking at things that others thought unimportant or took for granted and for coming up with intriguing insights and discoveries, at times with profound implications for anthropological and social psychological theory, at other times with equally profound implications for the practical conduct of human affairs.

Roberts was intrigued by problems that seemed too “messy” to most social scientists and not easily amenable to systematic data gathering, quantification, or rigorous analysis. Thus, although experimental in his approach, his work was largely in relation to subjects where carefully controlled experiments were often impossible and where the kinds of cultural and societal data available were far from adequate for controlled comparison. Creative in this as in other respects, Roberts relied on the approach that examines an idea in relation to several independent lines of evidence, where



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