Marcus Banks obituary

Richard Vokes
·2-min read

My academic mentor and friend Marcus Banks, who has died aged 60 of epilepsy, was a social anthropologist. He played a leading role in promoting the sub-discipline of visual anthropology, which is concerned with studying cultures through photography, film and other media.

Spending his entire career at Oxford University, from the late 1980s onwards Marcus showed how visual artefacts should be thought of as a central – perhaps the central – means through which all people, everywhere, forge their identities, and through which they order and transform the worlds around them.

Born in Liverpool to Jack Banks, a chemistry lecturer at a further education college, and his wife, Nan (nee Holt), Marcus went to New Heys Comprehensive school in Liverpool and then, in 1978, to Christ’s College, Cambridge. He gained a first class degree in social anthropology and stayed on for a PhD, completing his thesis there in 1985.

He went on to study film-making at the National Film and Television School in Beaconsfield, Buckinghmashire, before being appointed a lecturer at the Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology in Oxford (1987). He remained at the department for the rest of his life, later becoming professor (2001) and director of the university’s larger School of Anthropology and Museum of Ethnography (2012-2016).

He held visiting professorships at the universities of Vienna (2010), Paris Descartes (2011) and Canterbury, New Zealand (2012), and sat on the Royal Anthropological Institute’s film committee (2001 onwards) and the European Association of Social Anthropologists’ executive committee (2017-19).

Marcus’s partner for more than 30 years was Barrie Thomas, whom he had met while walking around the University Parks in Oxford. They repeated that same walking route through the Parks innumerable times, and in all seasons.

Marcus is survived by Barrie, his brother, Martin, and his niece, Tessa.