In Memoriam: Jane I. Guyer (1943-2024)
January 25, 2024
The Department of Anthropology mourns the loss of former Anthropology Professor and Program of African Studies Director, Jane Guyer, who passed away on January 17, 2024. Jane was a Professor of Anthropology at Northwestern from 1994 to 2001. During her time at Northwestern, Jane played a critical role in building and invigorating our department, directed Northwestern’s Program of African Studies, and wrote her most influential book, Marginal Gains: Monetary Transactions in Atlantic Africa.
Anthropology Professor Robert Launay reflects on her impact on the field of Anthropology:
Jane Guyer was a path-breaking economic anthropologist who worked for many years with the Yoruba of Nigeria. Indeed, she received an honorary tribal chieftaincy designation from Idere, the Nigerian town in which she conducted much of her field work. She first achieved prominence for her incisive critique of the use of “households” as a unit of analysis for African economies, pointing out that, as a rule, the incomes of husbands and wives were kept rigorously separate, and that while they often collaborated they maintained separate interests and spheres of control. Later, she was to develop the notion of wealth in persons as an African paradigm. She worked on the problems of feeding African cities, on the anthropology of money, and a variety of other issues where her insights were always novel and persuasive.
Colleagues who worked with Jane in our department collectively reflect on her impact on our program, students, and ourselves:
As a Professor of Anthropology and Director of the Program of African Studies, Jane was an ideal colleague who always supported the efforts of colleagues and students without putting her own interests and perspectives first. Her leadership of the Program of African Studies and critical role in building and invigorating our department impressed us all. For colleagues who were just starting their careers in Anthropology at Northwestern in the late 1990s, Jane was a senior colleague who was always willing to reach out and help shape emerging careers.
Jane was a program and department builder from the outset, seeing her mission as drawing together and helping her colleagues and students build towards their most exciting work. In effect, she brought to us her model of investing in "wealth in people", which she derived from Africa, and she applied it seamlessly to students and colleagues seeking to make their careers in academia. Jane was the galvanizing force behind a number of major initiatives at Northwestern, which remain vital strengths for the Department of Anthropology and Program for African Studies. One of Jane's most important legacies at Northwestern is the Institute for the Study of Islamic Thought in Africa (ISITA). Her vision, involvement, and support for ISITA was central in its founding and continued success. She did this bridge-building and research amplifying work, albeit on smaller scales, with faculty and students across our department. She engaged directly with us in our individual research questions, helping us to draw out the excitement in them. In doing so, she helped us to do the hard work of moving these potentials toward original grants, seminars, publications, and lasting collaborative research networks - all to levels we wouldn't have envisioned before. This she did in such low-key, circumspect ways that we could later imagine that the polished ideas we eventually produced were all our own.
Jane was a kind, generous, and thoughtful colleague whom we all admired and respected greatly. She was inspirational to graduate and undergraduate students. She wore her impressive intelligence lightly which made her such a good colleague as well as mentor to students. Jane will be greatly missed.
Jane’s funeral service is January 25, 2024, at noon at the at the Sol Levinson Funeral Home Chapel in Pikesville, MD. A webcast of the memorial is available here: Jane I. Guyer (vimeo.com).
To learn more about Jane’s career and life please see: