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Professor Ruth Finnegan

Profile summary

  • Visiting Informal Academic
  • Emeritus Professor
  • Faculty of Social Sciences
  • Sociology

Professional biography


MA, Dip Anthrop, BLitt, DPhil (Oxon), FBA

Research interests

  • The comparative sociology/anthropology of artistic activity (especially verbal art and music), communication, and performance
  • Debates relating to literacy, 'orality' and multimodality
  • Amateur and other 'hidden' activities, including knowledge production and nonverbal communicating at a distance

Current research includes:

  1. Local radio in Fiji, with special reference to music, linking with colleagues' work on migrating music's and the BBC World Service.
  2. The study of 'entrancement': investigating a range of innovative sources and methods concerning dreams, telepathy and nonverbal communicating at a distance.
  3. As anthropologist, experiencing and reflecting on narrative- and poetic-creation from dreams (under name of Catherine Farrar)
  4. Editing classical texts for a wider readership (Greek and Latin)

Recent publications

A selection of my research publications can be viewed at The Open University's Open Research Online.

The 'Oral' and Beyond: Doing Things with Words in Africa, Oxford, James Currey; Chicago, University of Chicago Press; Scottsville, University of KwaZulu-Natal Press, 2007.

Why do we quote? The culture and history of quotation, Cambridge, Open Book, 2011.

Oral Literature in Africa, 2nd [illustrated] edition, World Oral Literature Series, Cambridge: Open Book, 2012 (print and kindle, audio/visual material as part of the World Oral Literatore Project )

Thoughts and Reflections: Language, Literature and Performance. Milton Keynes: Callender Press, 2012.

Studying Oral Texts, A Handbook for Researchers, CreateSpace, 2012.

Music and Creation, Milton Keynes: Callender Press, 2012.

Beyond the Walls: Researchers Outside the University (ed.) CreateSpace / Callender Press 2013.

The search for African orality, Callender Press, 2012

Communicating, 2nd updated edition with new chapter (suitable for course adoption), Routledge 2013.

'Language as talisman: a story of dreaming and waking', Journal of British Association for Applied Linguistics 2012

'Dreams and communication revolutions: A personal exploration', Compaso (Journal of Comparative Research in Anthropology and Sociology), 2012

' "Oral literature": a case of dissolving boundaries?', in Jasmina Nicolic et al. (eds) Advances in Oral Literature Research, Belgrade: Aula Virtual Belgrado, 2013

 Where is Language?  Bloomsbury 2015

(ed.) Entrancement. The Integration of Consciousness  in Dreaming, Death and Music: A New Approach, University of Wales Press ( in press)

In preparation

From there and thither to here and hence: the moving story of Fiji music,  monograph submitted to Wesleyan University Press, Music/Culture series.

New editions of earlier oral literature books now out of print to be published as e-books.

Early Irish Kingship; A Contribution to Anthropological History The Secret Lives of Taxi Drivers The Shared Mind: Living in Dream, Knowledge and Music (for Garn Press, 2016)

Published books

Survey of the Limba people of northern Sierra Leone, Overseas Research Publication No.8, 1965.

Limba stories and story-telling, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1967, Reprinted, Greenwood Press, Connecticut, 1981 (new edition in preparation).

Oral Literature in Africa, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1970; paperback OUP, Nairobi, 1976. Japanese translation (chapter 1) 1971 (2nd (illustrated) edition, Cambridge Open Book Publications 2012).

Modes of thought. Essays on thinking in Western and non-Western societies (ed. with Robin Horton), Faber and Faber, London, 1973.

Oral Poetry: Its Nature, Significance and Social Context, Cambridge University Press, 1977, illustrated; paperback, 1980; 2nd edition, Indiana University Press 1992 (new edition in preparation).

The Penguin book of oral poetry (ed.), Allen Lane, 1978; also published as A world treasury of oral poetry, Indiana University Press, 1978; paperback, Penguin 1982.

Essays on Pacific literature (ed. with Raymond Pillai). Oral Tradition Series, 2, Suva, Fiji Museum, 1978.

Conceptions of inquiry (ed. with Stuart Brown and John Fauvel), Methuen, 1981.

New approaches to economic life (ed. with Bryan Roberts and Duncan Gallie), Manchester University Press, 1985.

Information technology: social issues (ed. with G.Salaman and K.Thompson), Hodder and Stoughton, 1987.

Literacy and orality: studies in the technology of communication, Oxford, Blackwell, 1988; Sydney, Allen and Unwin; La Fine di Gutenberg: Studi sulla tecnologia della comunicazion [Italian translation], Firenze, Sansoni, 1990.

The Hidden Musicians: Music-Making in an English Town, Cambridge University Press, 1989; 2nd edition, Wesleyan University Press (Music/Culture series), 2007; Japanese translation, Hosei University Press, 2011.

Oral Traditions and the Verbal Arts: A Guide to Research Practices, Association of Social Anthropologists Research Methods series, Routledge 1992.

From family tree to family history (ed. with Michael Drake), Cambridge University Press/Open University, 1994.

Sources and methods for family and community historians: a handbook (ed. with Michael Drake), Cambridge University Press/Open University, 1994; 2nd edn. 1997.

South Pacific Oral Traditions (ed. with Margaret Orbell), Indiana University Press, 1995.

Tales of the City: A Study of Narrative and Urban Life, Cambridge University Press, 1998.

Communicating: The Multiple Modes of Human Interconnection, illustrated, Routledge, 2002; Comunicare: le molteplici modalità dell’interconnessione umana [Italian translation], Novara, De Agostini, 2009.

(ed.) Participating in the Knowledge Society: Researchers Beyond the University Walls, Palgrave-Macmillan, 2005.

The 'Oral' and Beyond: Doing Things with Words in Africa, Oxford, James Currey; Chicago, University of Chicago Press; Scottsville, University of KwaZulu-Natal Press, 2007.

Why Do We Quote? The Culture and History of Quotation, Cambridge, Open Book , 2011.

Carried by a mystic wind: B W Andrzejewski on the Somali passion for poetry and language, (ed. with Martin Orwin and Graham Furniss), special issue, Journal of African Cultural Studies, 2011.

Selection of articles and papers since 2000

'Oral literature', in Peter France (ed.) Oxford Guide to Literature in English Translation, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000, Part 1 'Theory and History', pp. 112-115.

'Musical practices and hidden musicians: a perspective from sociology and anthropology', in David Greer (ed.) Musicology and Sister Disciplines, Oxford University Press, 2000, pp. 299-308.

' "Not the message": media, meanings and magicality', in Knoblauch, H. and Kotthoff, H. (eds) Verbal Art across Cultures. The Aesthetics and Proto-Aesthetics of Communication, Tuebingen: Narr, 2001, pp. 33-61.

'Learning to research: background and context', in Robin Humphrey and Chris Middleton (with Ruth Finnegan, Sue Hemmings and David Phillips) Learning to Research , Sheffield: SSP2000 Resources for Learning and Teaching in Sociology and Social Policy, Vol. 1 Reflections on Learning to Research, 2001, pp.1-19.

'Epilogue: ways back and forward', in Russell H. Kaschula (ed.), African oral literature: functions in contemporary contexts, Claremont: New Africa Books, 2001, pp. 274-85.

'Oral and literate expression', International Encyclopedia of the Social and Behavioral Sciences, Amsterdam: Elsevier, 2001, vol. 16, pp. 10887-10891.

'Must modern ways inevitably oust those of the past?', Foreword to R. Kaschula, The bones of the ancestors are shaking: Xhosa oral poetry in context, Cape Town: Juta, 2002, pp. v-xi.

'Music, experience, and the anthropology of the emotions', in Martin Clayton, Trevor Herbert and Richard Middleton (eds) The cultural study of music: a critical introduction, New York: Routledge, 2003, pp. 181-92.

'Where is the meaning? the complexities of oral poetry and beyond', in Fotis Jannadis, Gerhard Lauer, Matias Martinez and Simone Winko (eds) Regeln der Bedeutung. Zur Theorie der Bedeutung literarischer Texte (Revisionen: Grundbegriffe der Literaturtheorie, 1), Berlin and New York: de Gruyter: 2003, pp. 384-400.

'Anonymity and pseudonyms' [comment] Anthropology Today 19, 2, April 2003, p. 22.

'"Oral tradition": weasel words or transdisciplinary door to multiplexity?', Oral Tradition 18, 1, 2003, pp. 84-6.

'Orality and literacy: epic heroes of human destiny?', International Journal of Learning 10, 2003, pp. 1551-60.

' "Oral literature": issues of definition and terminology' and 'The Oxford Library of African Literature', in Philip Peek and Kwesi Yankah (eds) Encyclopedia of African Folklore, New York: Routledge, 2004, pp. 310-13, 327-8.

'The how of literature', in Andrew Gerstle, Stephanie Jones and Rosalind Thomas (eds) Performance Literature, special issue, Oral Tradition 20, 1-2, 2005: pp. 164-87.

'It's not just the words … : the arts and action of performance', in Goodman, S. and O'Halloran, K. (eds) The Art of English: Literary Creativity, Basingstoke, Hants, Palgrave Macmillan, 2006, pp. 183-94.

'Not by words alone: reclothing the oral', in Michael Cole and David Olson (eds), Technology, Literacy and the Evolution of Society: Implications of the Work of Jack Goody, Mahwah NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2006, pp. 265-87.

'Should we notice researchers outside the university?', British Academy Review 10, 2007, pp. 58-61.

'Literature: oral', in John Middleton and Joseph C. Miller (eds) New Encyclopedia of Africa, 5 Vols, 2nd edition, Detroit: Gale Cengage Learning, 2008, Vol. 3 pp 335-40.

"O que vem primeiro: o texto, a música ou a performance?" [translated into Portuguese from English original 'Which comes first: the words, the music or the performance?'], in Cláudia Neiva de Matos, Elizabeth Travassos, and Fernanda Teixeira de Medeiros (eds) Palavra cantada: ensaios sobre poesia, música e voz, 7 Letras: Rio de Janeiro, 2008, pp. 15-43 (English translation in Essays for Isidore Okpewho, 2013).

'Data – but data from what?' Language Documentation and Description 5, 2008, pp.13-28.

'Creativity – but where do you look? A tale of musicians in Milton Keynes', Oral History 37, 2 (special issue Community and creativity: a life stories perspective), 2009, pp. 45-50.

'Studying the oral literatures of Africa in the 1960s and today', special issue, eds Itala Vivan and Maria Renate Dolce, Journal des Africanistes 80, 1/2, 2010: 15-28.

'Response from an Africanist scholar', in Werner Kelber and Paula Sanders (eds) Oral tradition in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, special issue, Oral Tradition 25, 1, 2010 pp. 7-16.

'Rewards and issues in studying oral literature: some personal reflections', Language Documentation and Description 8, 2010 (special issue, eds Imogen Gunn and Mark Turin), pp. 8-28.

'Oral composition', in Patrick Hogan (ed.) The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the Language Sciences, Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, 2011, pp. 570-72.

'What migrates and who does it? A mini case study from Fiji', in Jason Toynbee and Byron Dueck (eds) Migrating music, Routledge, 2011, pp. 135-149.

'Introduction' (with Martin Orwin), in Carried by a mystic wind: B W Andrzejewski on the Somali passion for poetry and language, special issue, Journal of African Cultural Studies 23, 1, June, 2011.

'Creativity looks at language', in Joan Swann, Rob Pope and Ronald Carter (eds) Creativity in language: the state of the art, Palgrave Macmillan, 2011.

'Music, experience, and the anthropology of the emotions', revised version, in Martin Clayton, Trevor Herbert and Richard Middleton (eds) The cultural study of music: a critical introduction, 2nd edition, New York: Routledge, 2011.

'Language as talisman: a story of dreaming and waking', Journal of British Association for Applied Linguistics, 2012.

'Integration or separation? A story of music in Fiji' in Morag Grant (ed.) The soundtrack of conflict, Gottingen, 2012 (in press).

'Performance and competence: a fresh look at an old contrast', in Sandra Bornand et Cécile Leguy (eds) De competences en performances, Paris, 2012 (in press).

'Dreams and communication revolutions: a personal exploration', Journal of Comparative Anthropology and Sociology (in press).

Editions of classical texts etc.

Cato distichs, the oldest Latin primer Milton Keynes: Callender Press, 2012.

Xenophon on horsemanship Milton Keynes: Callender Press, 2012.

Alexander the Great, Milton Keynes: Callender Press, 2012.

Varro on Roman farming Milton Keynes: Callender Press, 2012.

Greek lexicon for the New Testament, Milton Keynes: Callender Press, 2013.

The Greek New Testament, Milton Keynes: Callender Press, 2013.

Catullus carmina, (ed.)CreateSpace, 2012.

Lucretius, The world and its nature, 2012.

Reprinted papers

'Senderos en la vida urbana' in Francisco Cruces et al. (eds) Las culturas musicales: lecturas de etnomusicología, Madrid: Editorial Trotta, 2001, pp. 437-74 [Spanish translation from The hidden musicians pp. 298-326].

'Communicating humans … but what does that mean?' (from Communicating … Chap. 1), in M. Robb et al. (eds) Communication, Relationships and Care. A Reader, London: Routledge, 2004 pp. 7-13.

'Pathways in urban living' (from The hidden musicians pp. 297-326) in Simon Frith (ed.) Popular music. Critical concepts in media and cultural studies, London and New York: Routledge, 2004, Volume 4 (Music and identity) pp. 48-78.

'Communicating touch' (from Communicating … pp. 206-19, abridged) in Constance Classen (ed.) The Book of Touch, Sensory Formations Series, Berg, 2005 pp. 18-25.

'Recording stories' (from Limba Stories and Story-Telling p. 107) in Haring, L. (ed.) Manual of Safeguarding Oral Traditions and Expressions, UNESCO, 2008.

'A mix of arts' (Chapter 8 of Communicating … (pp. 223-43)) in Guy Cook (ed.) The Language of Advertising: Major Themes in English Studies, Routledge, 2008 [published October 2007], Volume 3 pp. 44-67.

'¿Por qué estudiar la música? Relexiones de una antropóloga desde el campo' [Why study music? an anthropologist's reflections from the field], in Cruces, Francisco and Galán, Beatriz Pérez (eds) Textos de Antropología Contemporánea, Madrid; Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia, 2010, pp. 203-29 (reprinted from Antropología: Revista de Pensamiento Antropológico y Estudios Ethnográficos 15/16, 1999).


1996-2001, joint ed. with L. Faulkner and (2001) D. Weinbren of Project Reports in Family and Community History, CD-ROM annual series, Milton Keynes, The Open University (available from Faculty of Social Sciences (CD-ROM orders), The Open University, Milton Keynes MK7 6AA).

1998-2002 founder editor and joint general editor of Family and Community History, the twice-yearly academic journal founded in 1998 which extends the interests generated by the research-based Open University honours course DA301, Studying Family and Community History: 19th and 20th Centuries (1994-2001) and its CD-ROM archive of student research. The journal's focus is on small-scale studies in family and community history set within a scholarly framework and directed to independent as well as institutionally based researchers.

'Oral poetry' [article plus audio examples] Encarta, Microsoft, 1999 [multi-media CD-ROM encyclopaedia].

As 'Catherine Farrar' relevant for research on dreams: The Wild Thorn Rose, The Little Angel and The Three Wisdoms (also Houston: SBPRA), Three Ways of Loving; Lili ole Lil, The Heavenly Rocker; The Dragon's Tale, all Callender Press 2012 amd (as e-books) Smashwords editions.

For further background on research interests and personal experiences over the years see the Interviews with leading thinkers with Alan Macfarlane and the Pioneers of qualitative research with Paul Thompson. Resource audio-visual page of photographs relating to oral literature in Africa, and audio tapes (narratives and a small amount of  music from fieldwork in Limba country northern Sierra Leone 1961 and 1963-4)

A repository of research publications and other research outputs can be viewed at The Open University's Open Research Online

Creative writing

(as Catherine Farrar) The Wild Thorn Rose, Callender Press 2012.

(as Ruth Finnegan) Black Inked Pearl. A Girl's Quest (epic novel), Garn Press, 2015.

The Self Quartet (novellas)

Three Ways of Loving, Callender Press, 2012.

The Little Angel and the Three Wisdoms, SBPRA. 2013.

Li'l ole Lil the Heavenly Rocker, Callender Press, 2013.

The Dragon's Tale, Callender Press, 2013.

In preparation ( as Ruth Finnegan)

Kate's Cantos (poetry)

Betrothed (film script)

Monsieur the Comte de Tavannes (film script)

The Seven Deadly Sins (novel)