Jeremy Kemp, 1941 – 2014

Jeremy Hugh Kemp, who was a specialist in Thai studies and the social organisation of rural lowland Southeast Asia, died at his Kentish home in Faversham on Sunday 13 April after a long illness.

Jeremy was born in 1941 and brought up in Shropshire. He learned his anthropology at the London School of Economics and Political Science and went on to undertake PhD studies with Stephen Morris, Raymond Firth and Maurice Freedman in 1963. In was through this route that he participated in the London-Cornell Project for East and Southeast Asia, under whose auspices he held a fellowship at Cornell during 1964-5, being supervised by Oliver Wolters, William Skinner and Lauriston Sharp. At Cornell he learned Thai, formed a connection with other anthropologists working in Thailand such as Gehan Wijewardene, and undertook library research that formed the background to his ethnography, and which more immediately led to the publication in 1969 of Aspects of Siamese kinship in the nineteenth century.

Following fieldwork in Thailand (1966-7), Jeremy was offered a position in the new School of Social Studies at the University of East Anglia where he taught social anthropology and the sociology on non-industrial peoples with, amongst others, John and Marie Corbin. This established a pattern of research and teaching interests – namely rural social organisation in an interdisciplinary social science setting - that was to continue throughout his career, and that was to blossom at the University of Kent in Canterbury.

University of Kent Centre for Southeast Asian Studies (c.1981), back row left to right: Barry Hooker (Law), Jeremy Kemp (Anthropology); front row left to right: John Bousfield (Philosophy, Religious Studies), Richard Vokes (Economics), Roy Ellen (Anthropology); Bill Watson (History, Literature, Anthropology)

University of Kent Centre for Southeast Asian Studies (c.1981), back row left to right: Barry Hooker (Law), Jeremy Kemp (Anthropology); front row left to right: John Bousfield (Philosophy, Religious Studies), Richard Vokes (Economics), Roy Ellen (Anthropology); Bill Watson (History, Literature, Anthropology).

In 1971 the Centre for Southeast Asian Studies had been established at Kent for only a few years (as a result of Hayter funding), under the directorship of Dennis Duncanson on the recommendation of Maurice Freedman. Jeremy was the first social anthropologist to be appointed to the Centre, where he held a joint post with Sociology. At the Centre, Jeremy was part of a small group that included, in addition to Duncanson (an expert on contemporary Vietnamese politics), Roger Kershaw (also a political scientist, who had worked in Thailand) and Barry Hooker (an expert on Malay adat law), with the remit to promote a social science approach to Southeast Asian studies. Here Jeremy developed courses in Southeast Asian societies, and pursued his interest in the analysis of the peasantry through new intellectual alliances with the Kent sociology and anthropology group, under the influence of Paul Stirling and John Davis. His work during the Kent years focussed on a small number of themes that emanated from problems he encountered during his fieldwork in Hua Kok, and radiating out into broader Southeast Asian issues: critiques of the ‘loose structure’ model associated with John Embree and with the received concept of community as applied to village studies, and with more sophisticated ways of understanding kinship in relation to other modes of association, such as neighbourhood, patron-clientage, and social stratification. His approach to anthropology was always rooted in empirical detail with a strong commitment to ethnographic accuracy and straightforwardness. In his most productive years – during the 1980s and early 1990s - Jeremy had forged important links with colleagues in Bielefeld (Hans-Dieter Evers) which led to Community and state in modern Thailand, 1988; with Jan Breman in Amsterdam, which led to Seductive mirage: the search for the village community in Southeast Asia (1988), and with Frans Hüsken, then at Njmegen, with whom he co-edited the important collection on Cognation and social organization in Southeast Asia (1991). A revised version of his PhD thesis (1976) was published in 1992 as Hua Kok: social organisation in north-central Thailand. Jeremy was not a prolific author, but everything he wrote was sharp, thoroughly considered and to the point, and although his theoretical interests evolved he never abandoned the particular vision of social anthropology that he had encountered at the LSE.

Jeremy retired in 1999, and moved to France with his second wife Mary where he enjoyed a new life in Seine Maritime, revolving around his love of gardening, wine, good food, cooking and violin restoration. During this time he developed a new interest in the First World War artist Paul Mansard, an illustrated edition of whose work he saw to print in 2012. A decline in his health brought him back to Kent in the few years before his death, though his joie de vivre, sense of humour and winning smile accompanied him to the end. He is survived by Mary, and his two children Aysha and Laila by his first wife Zarine.

ROY ELLEN

This obituary first appeared 2014 in ASEASUK News (Newsletter of the Association of Southeast Studies in the United Kingdom) 55 (Spring), pp. 8-9. Reproduced with permission.

Also see:
Hobart, Mark. 2014. “As I remember him”. ASEASUK News (Newsletter of the Association of Southeast Studies in the United Kingdom) 55 (Spring), pp. 10-11.
http://aseasuk.org.uk/3/obituary-jeremy-kemp

 

To cite this article:

ELLEN, R. 2015. ‘Jeremy Kemp, 1941-2014’. Obituaries. Royal Anthropological Institute, 14 November 2015. (available on-line: http://www.therai.org.uk/archives-and-manuscripts/obituaries/jeremy-kemp).