Emeritus Professor of Social and Cultural Anthropology

Career History

Professor Anthony Cohen is one of Scotland’s senior social anthropologists. He became Principal of Queen Margaret University College, Edinburgh in 2003. In January 2007, following the approval of the Privy Council and the Scottish Government, the University College became Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh. Previously, Professor Cohen was Professor of Social Anthropology at the University of Edinburgh from 1989—2003 (where is now an Honorary Professor), and served as the University’s Provost of Law & Social Sciences, and as Dean of Social Sciences from 1997 – 2002. Prior to that, he was the University Convener of Postgraduate Studies.

Professor Cohen was previously a research fellow at Memorial University of Newfoundland (1968—70), and then held lecturing positions in social anthropology at the Queen's University at Kingston, Ontario (1970—71), and at the University of Manchester (1971—89).

Specialist Areas (Research and Scholarship)

Professor Cohen was one of a small group of British, Scandinavian and north American anthropologists who, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, recreated the anthropological study of western industrialised societies.

He was instrumental in revitalising the anthropological study of Britain; and, following his doctoral research in Newfoundland, has focused all his own empirical research on Scotland. His theoretical areas of research and writing have been, initially, in issues of local-level politics; later, and more substantially, in identity; symbolism; and selfhood.

Following many years of field research in Whalsay, Shetland (then the longest continuous ethnographic study ever undertaken in the British Isles), he began in 1994 to lead research on issues relating to national identity in Scotland. He contributed to the design, led by Professor David McCrone, of Edinburgh's successful application to the Leverhulme Trust for a £1.1m five-year programme grant for research on national identity and political and constitutional change. Professor Cohen was involved in the formulation of the brief to the Economic and Social Research Council for the creation of its programme on Devolution and Constitutional Change. He is the author and/or editor of ten books, and author of more than fifty published academic papers and chapters.

Professor Cohen is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh and of the Royal Anthropological Institute, and holds an honorary D.Sc of the University of Edinburgh. He was awarded the CBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List for 2008.



  1. The Management of Myths: the Politics of Legitimation in a Newfoundland Community, Manchester: Manchester University Press; St John's ISER, 1975.
  2. The Symbolic Construction of Community, London & New York: Tavistock, 1985 (CHOICE award: Outstanding Book of the Year).

(Published in Turkish (1999) and in Japanese (2005).

  1. Whalsay: Symbol, Segment and Boundary in a Shetland Island Community. Manchester: Manchester University Press; New York: St Martin's Press, 1987
  2. Self Consciousness: an Alternative Anthropology of Identity, London & New York: Routledge, 1994.

(Published in Danish as Selv-Bevidsthed: En Alternativ Identitets-Antropologi, Frederiksberg: DET lille FORLAG, 1995).

  1. A.P. Cohen et al, Villages Anglais, É cossais, Irlandais , Toulouse: Editions le Mirail, 1993.
  2. (ed.) Belonging: Identity and Social Organisation in British Rural Cultures, Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1982.
  3. (ed.) Symbolising Boundaries: Identity and Diversity in British Cultures, Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1986.
  4. (ed. with K. Fukui) Humanising the City? Social Contexts of Urban Life at the Turn of the Millenium, Edinburgh University Press, 1993.
  5. (ed. with N.J. Rapport) Questions of Consciousness, (ASA Monographs, 33) Routledge, 1995.
  6. (ed.) Signifying Identities: Anthropological Perspectives on Boundaries and Contested Values, Routledge, 2000.