In Memoriam

Pnina Werbner (3/12/1944–17/1/2023)

The EASA Exec is saddened to learn of the death of longtime EASA member, Pnina Werbner. She frequently gave papers at EASA conferences and her robust and often brilliant comments will be remembered by many who encountered her over the years.

Pnina Werbner talking in 2018

Pnina talking a couple of years ago

Professor Emerita of Keele University, UK, Pnina’s anthropological scholarship was highly original, thoroughly rigorous and unusually wide-ranging. Her inclusive and interdisciplinary approach to anthropology made her a natural fit for Keele's combined Department of Sociology and Social Anthropology. Trained first in Israel and then in the UK, at Manchester, where she did her PhD, she was highly attuned to the transnational, which was a major theme feature in her work. This included her first authored book, The Migration Process. Capital, Gifts and Offerings among British Pakistanis (1990), which quickly became a classic not only for the Anthropology of Britain but for studies of migration more widely. Just over a decade later, she published two more single-authored books in quick succession: Imagined Diasporas among Manchester Muslims. The Public Performance of Transnational Identity Politics and Pilgrims of Love. The Anthropology of a Global Sufi Cult – both showing her adept ability to address transnational questions in a thoroughly anthropological and illuminating way.

In between was a set of books with various co-editors in which she addressed developments in the UK and also Pakistan, as well as themes cutting across both and beyond. These include landmark volumes, The Politics of Multiculturalism in the New Europe. Community, Identity, Racism and Debating Cultural Hybridity. Multicultural Identities and Anti-Racism, both co-edited with Tariq Modood. Women, Citizenship and Difference, co-edited with Nira Yuval-Davis is another influential classic. All of these publications show how she could move with unusual agility between in-depth ethnography and work with a wider theoretical and also political scope. She was not afraid to tackle highly controversial topics, such as the Rushdie affair, veiling, suicide-bombing and the Muhammed cartoons.

Her ASA edited monograph, Anthropology and the New Cosmopolitanisms. Rooted, Feminist and Vernacular Perspectives (2008) likewise showed an exceptional ability to show anthropology’s relevance to wider social developments and theorizing. In 2012 a panel, Vernacular Cosmopolitanism in and Age of Anxiety, was organized at the EASA conference to address issues she had raised.

In more recent years she continued with and expanded on some of these earlier themes, including an EASA panel that she jointly ran in 2016, on gendering everyday Islam. She also conducted new fieldwork in Botswana, alongside her husband, anthropologist and film-maker, Dick (Richard) Werbner. Last year they published African Customary Justice. Living Law, Legal Pluralism and Public Ethics, as well as presenting a paper together on law at EASA Belfast last summer.

Pnina had a well-earned reputation for being direct. She could also be tremendous fun and good humoured, as well as attentive and kind. At the EASA conference in Vienna back in 2004, I suddenly felt a cardigan being draped around my shoulders. Pnina had noticed that I was cold and had gone back to her hotel room to fetch an extra layer for me.

Pnina died suddenly and far from home, while holidaying in Barbados. She will be greatly missed. We send our condolences to Dick, and to her children Ben Werbner and Donna Ferguson, and granddaughter Flora.

Sharon Macdonald, Berlin, January 2023