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George Collier, a distinguished sociocultural anthropologist who taught at Stanford University (1969–1999) and served as chair of its Department of Anthropology (1990–1994) and director of its Center for Latin American Studies (1984–1989), passed away at his home on November 14, 2023. His work on agrarian change and politics illuminated the political forces shaping Indigenous and peasant social movements in southern Mexico and western Andalusia. George was a rigorous scholar, an extraordinary mentor to his students and junior colleagues, and a self-effacing leader who left a lasting impact on his colleagues and on the department.

George had gone to study physics at Harvard, but after a freshman seminar on the Navajo with Clyde Kluckhohn, decided to major in anthropology. He joined an undergraduate fieldwork program led by Evon Vogt in Chiapas, Mexico, to study Mayan culture change. During that trip, he fell in love with Jane Fishburne, another member of the team, and they married in 1962. Their lifelong partnership took them to fieldwork in Spain and Chiapas over the next few decades, in addition to serving as colleagues on the faculty at Stanford.

Collier’s research in the highland Maya communities of Chiapas resulted in the book Fields of the Tzotzil: The Ecological Bases of Tradition in Highland Chiapas (1975). In this book, he documented Indigenous communities’ participation as peasants in the Mexican agrarian reform and traced how they negotiated ethnic relations with one another and with Mexican nationals in the face of the country’s Indianist policies. When the Zapatista rebellion broke out in 1994, Collier analyzed the roots of the uprising in a landmark text, Basta! Land and the Zapatista Rebellion in Chiapas (1994). While there was a great deal written about the Zapatista and its charismatic leader, Subcomandante Marcos, Collier’s analysis showed the value of long-term fieldwork that brought a deeper understanding of the conditions that birthed the rebellion. Combining thick contextual understanding with accessible prose, this book was reprinted several times and became a staple in many classrooms.

Collier was one of a few anthropologists who did research in two completely different culture areas. Along with Jane Collier, he began research in Andalusia’s western province of Huelva in 1963. Subsequent rounds of fieldwork documented how people in the village named “Los Olivos” abandoned small farming and sharecropping for urban-industrial wage work in other parts of Spain. This work led to an ethnohistorical study in which Collier reconstructed the agrarian politics of the town in Socialists of Rural Andalusia: Unacknowledged Revolutionaries of the Second Republic (1987). Los Olivos’s socialists were more interested in reforming agrarian hiring practices than their party leaders in other parts of Spain, who focused more on land redistribution. Both causes were crushed by the Spanish Civil War and subsequent repression.

In addition to his scholarship, George Collier was an extraordinarily generous mentor and human being. He left his students and younger faculty colleagues with a very high bar for academic rigor, intellectual generosity, openness to new ideas, and professional integrity. Although by nature quite shy, he proved to be an excellent department chair in anthropology and director of the Center for Latin American Studies. I have never attended department meetings run better than those by George: organized with a previously circulated agenda, clear goals, democratic process, and a series of outcomes. In addition, he and Jane were legendary in their hospitality. They put up countless visitors in their homes in San Francisco and on campus, and George, who was a fantastic cook, fed everyone with genuine delight and generosity. Anybody who got to know George appreciated his sincerity and his willingness to put the collective first.

George Collier is survived by his partner and spouse, Jane Fishburne Collier; by his daughter, Lucy Jane Collier; and by three grandchildren from his late son, David Collier, who died tragically a few months earlier. George came from a distinguished anthropological family: he was a grandson of John Collier Sr., Commissioner of Indian Affairs during the New Deal, and a nephew of anthropologists Donald and Malcolm Collier and John Collier Jr. He will be missed tremendously by all those whose lives were graced by his presence.

George Collier, December 2021

(Akhil Gupta)