Professor David Zeitlyn

David Zeitlyn

Professor of Social Anthropology

Fellow of Wolfson College

Anthropology of religion, especially divination, visual anthropology (photography), West/Central Africa (especially Cameroon); life writing; uses of technology, decision making processes and futurology, sociolinguistics, visualisation, archives, archiveology, anthropological studies of ICT and research methods.

Recent books:

An Anthropological Toolkit: Sixty Useful Concepts. 2022 Oxford: Berghahn ISBN-13: 9781800735354.

Mambila Divination: Framing Questions, Constructing Answers (Routledge Studies in Anthropology) 2020. London: Routledge.  ISBN 9780367199500.

Recorded interview about spider divination and visual anthropology in Cameroon. Accessible from The Know Show and

As well as general supervision of doctoral research in Cameroon/Nigeria and indeed anywhere in Africa I am also interested in working with students who would like to research the following topics:

  • Social networks in Photographic Supplies in Nigeria
  • Studio Photographers and Videographers in Cameroon (and elsewhere)
  • Photo elicitation and languages of work
  • Photo sharing from albums to flickr and beyond
  • Photographing "photographers at work". History and current valency / meaning of the trope
  • Social Relations mediating technology
  • sociolinguistics and conversation analysis in anthropology
  • Meaning making
  • Divination: particularly investigating the clients side view eg of tarot cards and other divination systems round the world
  • Varieties of Cameroonian French
  • Pygmies on the Tikar Plain
  • History of Mbouda football club and its photography


Telephone: +44 (0)1865 612374 

Unique identifiers for my work:
Google Scholar profile
ORCID Researcher id 0000-0001-5853-7351 Scopus Author ID 6602478625
ISNI: 0000 0001 2433 0782
VIAF ID: 22235364

Teaching and research interests

I have been working with Mambila in Cameroon since 1985, research various topics including traditional religion, sociolinguistics, kinship and history. I also work with Cameroonian photographers and on the history of photography in Cameroon.

In 2003/4 I was the Evans-Prichard lecturer at All Souls College, Oxford, presenting a series of lectures on the life-history of Diko Madeleine, the first wife of Chief Konaka of Somié (see

In 2005, as part of Africa'05, an exhibition of two Cameroonian studio photographers was held at the National Portrait Gallery, London, in a display called 'Cameroon-London'. This led to an exhibition at the Fowler Museum in 2021. Some images from an earlier showing in Cameroon are online at

Other Interests:  I have long standing interests in multimedia and how internet technologies can be used to illuminate and access museum collections and archives. My work on Mambila spider divination as a 'technology of choice making' led to some pioneering observational work on how library users choose which books to read.  From this I became involved in how academic research infrastructure is managed. In recent years I have been supervising students working on visual repatriation of early films, ritual in online computer games, the social consequences of the adoption of ICT in Spain and the documentation of endangered languages (the last with funding from AHRC).  In a collaboration with staff at the Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford, I used social networking techniques to produce visual representations of the relationships between museum objects and the people who gave them to the museum. I have served on the ESRC's Research Resource Board and on the JISC Digital Content Advisory Group.

Other webpages: The Virtual Institute of Mambila Studies
A small AHRC funded project on "Facing the Future (with an eye on the Past)" running in 2013.

Evans-Pritchard Lectures 2003/04

In the Autumn of 2003, Professor David Zeitlyn delivered the 2003/2004 Evans-Pritchard Lectures. His subject was 'The life of Diko Madeleine and the History of Somié, Cameroon, in the Twentieth Century'. You can find the links to listen to five of the lectures below.

Lecture 1 (further information)
Lecture 2 (further information)
Lecture 3 (further information)
Lecture 4 (further information)
Lecture 5 (further information)

The final lecture, Summing up a Life?, was not recorded but you can read the transcript here. Further information can be found here.

Current DPhil students
Selected past DPhil students

Completed in Oxford:

Tomas Walker-Borsa (OII) 2024 Future Proof: The Meanings and Makings of ‘The Fibre Project’ on Haida Gwaii

Benedict Taylor-Green 2023 'Empathic Predators': On the Affects and Optics of Brain-Computer Interface Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Research

Leonie Schulte 2021 Learning to Integrate, Waiting to Belong: Language, Time and Uncertainty Among Newcomers in Berlin

Ewa Majczak 2021 Senses of Self: visual self-fashioning among Bamileké women in Yaounde, Cameroon

Theodora Sutton 2021 (OII) Digital Re-Enchantment: Mental Health and Primitivism in a New Age Digital Detoxing Community

Julia Binter 2020 African Cosmopolitanism and the Atlantic. Trade, Imperial Contact and Memory in the Niger Delta (Nineteenth to Twenty-First Centuries)

Miriam Driessen 2014 Asphalt Encounters: Chinese Road Building in Ethiopia

Former Research Students (Kent) include:

Michael Pearson 2013 The Discordant Accord: Romania and the European Union

Marieke Martin 2012 A grammar of Wawa: an endangered language of Cameroon

Catherine Moore 2012 Gestures of Watching: The Powell-Cotton Oukwanyama film archive viewed in the region in which it was made

Olivia Swinscow-Hall 2012 Navigating moral dilemmas: participatory conservation and development among the egalitarian BaAka of the Central African Republic

Laura Robson 2011 Documentation of the Language Ecology of Njanga - a Moribund Language of Cameroon

Sideris, Ioannis 2011 The reproduction of the Greek nautical ethos through education and practical training

Francine Barone 2010 Urban Firewalls: place, space and new technologies in Figueres, Catalonia

Charles Che Fonchingong 2008 Gender Dynamics of Elderly Welfare and Semi-Formal Protection in Cameroon

Mary A Adams 2007 Making Houses, Keeping Kitchens: Exchange, Gender and Generation in an Out-of-Town Settlement, Zimbabwe 

Selected publications


2022. David Zeitlyn. An Anthropological Toolkit: Sixty Useful Concepts. Oxford: Berghahn.

2020. David Zeitlyn, Mambila Divination: Framing Questions, Constructing Answers (Routledge Studies in Anthropology) . London: Routledge.

2015. Marcus Banks and David Zeitlyn, Visual methods in social research (Second Edition), Sage: London.

2014. David Zeitlyn and Roger Just, Excursions in Realist Anthropology. A Merological Approach, Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.

2005. David Zeitlyn, Words and Processes in Mambila Kinship: the Theoretical Importance of the Complexity of Everyday Life, Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books (Rowman & Littlefield).

Articles and chapters

2022. Archiving ethnography? The impossibility and the necessity. Damned if we do, damned if we don't.’ Feb. 2022 Ateliers d’anthropologie vol. 51 ISSN: 2117-3869.

2021. ‘For Augustinian archival openness and laggardly sharing: trustworthy archiving and sharing of social science data from identifiable human subjects’. Frontiers in Research Metrics and Analytics 6 (63). DOI: 10.3389/frma.2021.736568.

 2021. ‘Divination and ontologies: a reflection’. Social Analysis 65(2), 139-160. 139–160 doi:10.3167/sa.2021.650208 Online ISSN: 1558-5727 Print ISSN: 0155-977X.

2021. Connell, Bruce, Zeitlyn, David, Griffiths, Sascha, Hayward, Laura and Marieke Martin. 2021. "Language ecology, language endangerment, and relict languages: Case studies from Adamawa (Cameroon-Nigeria)" Open Linguistics ISSN: 2300-9969 7(1): 244-300. The research was supported by an AHRC grant AR112306 ‘Documentation of Endangered languages’ to David Zeitlyn

‘2021. Cite, Plagiarise, Pass-Off: Deixis, Bibliographic imposture and Photography’ 2020 (published 2021) Philosophy of Photography 11 (1-2): 121-132. Doi: 10.1386/pop_00032_7.

2020. ‘Haunting, Dutching and Interference: provocations for the anthropology of time', Current Anthropology.

2019. ‘Photo History by Numbers: Charting the Rise and Fall of Commercial Photography in Cameroon’, Visual Anthropology 32:3-4, 309-342. DOI:10.1080/08949468.2019.1637683 ISSN  - 1545-5920.

2019. Zeitlyn, D. & Hook, D. ‘Perception, Prestige and PageRank’, PLOS One PONE-D-18-12909R3 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0216783.

2019.' Des archives pour l’anthropologie : futurs possibles et passés contingents', Ateliers d'anthropologie [En ligne]. DOI : 10.4000/ateliers.10817 Translation of Zeitlyn 2012 Annual Reviews Paper.

2018. Zeitlyn, D. & M. Beardmore-Herd. ‘Testing Google Scholar Bibliographic Data: Estimating Error Rates for Google Scholar Citation Parsing’. First Monday 23 (11). DOI: 10.5210/fm.v23i11.8658.

2017. ‘No Vacation from Citation’, Times Higher Education Supplement 25 May 2017.2307, p.30.

2017. Sikveland, Rein and David Zeitlyn ‘Using prosodic cues to identify dialogue acts: methodological challenges’, Text & Talk 37, 311-34 DOI: 10.1515/text-2017-0007.

2015. Francine Barone, David Zeitlyn and Viktor Mayer-Schönberger, ‘Learning from failure: The case of the disappearing web site’, First Monday 20 (5 - 4 May).

2015. David Zeitlyn, ‘Looking Forward, Looking Back’, History and Anthropology 26 (4), pp. 381-407.

2015. Geoffroy de Saulieu, David Zeitlyn, Bienvenu Denis Nizésété and François Ngouoh, ‘Notes sur Ndéba, une enceinte fortifiée à la frontière du Cameroun et du Nigéria’, Afrique : Archéologie & Arts [Online] 11 (10 December 2015).

2015. David Zeitlyn, ‘Archiving a Cameroonian photographic studio’, In Maja Kominko (ed.) From Dust to Digital: Ten Years of the Endangered Archives Programme, Cambridge: Open Book Publishers, pp. 529-544.

2015. David Zeitlyn. ‘Redeeming Some Cameroonian Photographs: Reflections on Photographs and Representations’, In D. Newbury and C. Morton (eds) The African Photographic Archive: Research and Curatorial Strategies, London: Bloomsbury Publishing, pp. 61-75.

2014. David Zeitlyn, ‘Antinomies of representation: Anthropology as an ekphrastic process’, Hau: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 4 (3), pp. 341-362.

2014. David Zeitlyn, ‘Lévy-Bruhl and ontological déjà vu: an appendix to Vigh and Sausdal’, Journal of the Anthropological Society of Oxford-online (JASO) VI, pp. 213-217.

2013. M. Thomae, David Zeitlyn and M. Van Vugt, ‘Intergroup Contact and Rice Allocation via a Modified Dictator Game in Rural Cameroon’, Field Methods 25 (1), pp. 74-90.

2012. David Zeitlyn, ‘Anthropology in and of the Archives: Possible Futures and Contingent Pasts. Archives as Anthropological Surrogates’, Annual Review of Anthropology 41, pp. 461-80.

2012. David Zeitlyn, ‘Divinatory logics: diagnoses and predictions mediating outcomes’, Current Anthropology 53 (5), pp. 525-546.

2012. David Zeitlyn and S.M. Lyon, ‘Varieties of openness and types of digital anthropology: Avoiding confusion in discussing Danny Miller’, Durham Anthropology Journal 18 (2), pp. 97-110.

2011. David Zeitlyn, ‘Finding Meaning in the Text: The Process of Interpretation in Text-Based Divination’, Using Documents and Records in Social Research (L. Prior).

2011. L.J. Horsfall, David Zeitlyn, A. Tarekegn, E. Bekele, M.G. Thomas, N. Bradman and D.M. Swallow, ‘Prevalence of Clinically Relevant UGT1A Alleles and Haplotypes in African Populations’, Annals of Human Genetics 75, pp. 236-246.

2011. David Zeitlyn, ‘Review of 'Lancit, Matthew. Funeral season (la saison des funérailles): marking death in Cameroon. 2010'’, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute (N.S) 17, pp. 632-680.

2011. David Zeitlyn, ‘You can't build a car with just one wheel (why duplication may not be such a bad thing), and some limitations of internet search/retrieval’, First Monday 16 (9).

2010. David Zeitlyn, ‘Diary Evidence for Political Competition: Mambila Autoethnography and Pretensions to Power’, African Studies Review 53 (2), pp. 77-95.

2010. David Zeitlyn, ‘Photographic Props / The Photographer as Prop: The Many Faces of Jacques Tousselle’, History and Anthropology 21 (4), pp. 453-477.

2010. David Zeitlyn, ‘Representation/Self-representation: A Tale of Two Portraits; Or, Portraits and Social Science Representations’, Visual Anthropology 23 (5), pp. 398-426.

2010. David Zeitlyn and Ananth Garre, ‘The Archive. Where Is the Archive?’, Photography & Culture 3 (3), pp. 331-342.

2010. B. Connell and David Zeitlyn, ‘Sociolinguistic studies of West and Central Africa’, In M.J. Ball (ed.) The Routledge Handbook of Sociolinguistics around the World, London: Routledge, pp. 201-213.

2009. David Zeitlyn, ‘A dying art? Archiving photographs in Cameroon’, Anthropology Today 25 (4), pp. 23-26.

2009. David Zeitlyn, ‘Archiving a Cameroonian Photographic Studio with the help of the British Library 'Endangered Archives Programme'’, African Research and Documentation 165, pp. 13-26.

2009. David Zeitlyn, ‘Understanding Anthropological Understanding: for a merological anthropology’, Anthropological Theory 9 (2), pp. 209-231.

2008. David Zeitlyn, ‘Life history writing and the anthropological silhouette’, Social Anthropology 16 (2), pp. 154-171.

2008. David Zeitlyn and J. Bagg, ‘Making Sense of Anthropological Synonyms’, Anthropology News 49 (1), pp. 34-35.

2008. K.R. Veeramah and David Zeitlyn, ‘Sex-Specific Genetic Data Supports One of Two Alternative Versions of the foundation of the ruling dynasty of the Nso´ in Cameroon’, Current Anthropology 49 (4), pp. 707-714.

2008. David Zeitlyn, ‘Mambila Pottery. African Terracotas’, In F. Morin and B. Wastiau (eds) A Millenary Heritage in the Barbier-Mueller Museum Collections, Geneve: Barbier-Mueller Museum, pp. 254-257.

2008. M.D. Fischer, S. Lyon, David Zeitlyn  et al, ‘The Internet and the Future of Social Science Research’, In N. fielding (ed.) The Sage Handbook Of Online Research Methods, London: Sage, pp. 519-536.

2007. A.E. Keen and David Zeitlyn, ‘Language, Diet, and Ethnicity in Mayo-Darlé, Adamaoua, Cameroon’, Anthropos 102 (1), pp. 213-219.

2007. David Zeitlyn,‘Rolling Paper? Anthropology News smells bad’, Anthropology News 48 (9), pp. 8.

2007. F. Larson, A. Petch, David Zeitlyn  et al, ‘Social Networks and the Creation of the Pitt Rivers Museum’, Journal of Material Culture12 (3), pp. 211-239.

2006. David Zeitlyn, ‘Visual anthropology and properties of the medium (or The visual anthropologist in the digital library: From filmstrips to salient stills and back to Barthes)’, Visual Anthropology Review 21 (1 and 2), pp. 3-13.

2005. David Zeitlyn, ‘The documentary impulse: archives in the bush’, History in Africa 32, pp. 415-434.

2005. David Zeitlyn, ‘Introduction’, In I. Swenson (ed.) Joseph Chila and Samuel Finlak. Two Portrait Photographers in Cameroon, London: Peer, pp. 4-8.

2004. David Zeitlyn, ‘Review of "Sterner 2003. The Ways of the Mandara Mountains. A Comparative Regional Approach"’, African Studies Review 47 (2), pp. 147-148.

2004. David Zeitlyn and F. Barone, ‘Small ads as first steps to Internet business: A preliminary survey of Cameroon's commercial Internet usage’, First Monday 9 (9).

2004. David Zeitlyn, ‘The Gift of the Gab: Anthropology and conversation Analysis’, Anthropos 99, pp. 452-468

2004. David Zeitlyn, ‘The Experience Rich Anthropology project and the Computer Simulation of Mambila Divination’, In L. Pourchez (ed.) ultural diversity and indigenous peoples: Oral, written expressions and new technologies (CD), Paris: UNESCO Publishing.

2003. David Zeitlyn, ‘Don't Cut There But There’, Anthropology News 44 (6), pp. 68.

2003. David Zeitlyn and B. Connell, ‘Ethnogenesis and Fractal History on the African Frontier: Mambila-Njerep-Mandulu’, Journal of African History 44 (1), pp. 117-138.

2003. David Zeitlyn, ‘Gift economies in the development of open source software: anthropological reflections’, Research Policy 32, pp. 1287-1291.

2003. David Zeitlyn, ‘Portals and Collaboration’, Anthropology News 44 (8), pp. 12.

2003. M. Weale, T. Shah, David Zeitlyn et al. ‘Rare Deep-Rooting Y Chromosome Lineages in Humans: Lessons for Phylogeography’, Genetics 165, pp. 229-234.

2003. David Zeitlyn, ‘The talk goes outside: argument, privacy and power in Mambila society. Towards a sociology of embedded praxis’, Africa 73 (4), pp. 606-622.

2002. David Zeitlyn, ‘Lessons learnt from the Experience Rich Anthropology Project’, Assignation 19 (4), pp. 28-33.

2002. David Zeitlyn, ‘Review of 'Danny Miller and Don Slater 2000 The internet: an ethnographic approach'’, Anthropological Theory 2, pp. 127-128.

2002. David Zeitlyn, ‘Review of 'Danziger, E. 2001. Relatively Speaking. Language, Thought, and Kinship Among the Mopan Maya'’, Anthropological Theory 2 (3), pp. 375-378.

2002. David Zeitlyn and M.D. Fischer, ‘Ritual, ideation and performance: A Case Study of Multimedia in Anthropological Research - the Mambila Nggwun Ritual (paper presented to16th European Meeting on Cybernetics and Systems Research (EMCSR), April 2-5, 2002)’, Austrian Society for Cybernetic Studies 1, pp. 393-398.

2002. David Zeitlyn, ‘A Computer Simulation of Mambila Divination’, In P. A. Baker and G. Carr (eds)Practitioners, Practices and Patients. New Approaches to Medical Archaeology and Anthropology, Oxford: Oxbow Books, pp. 74-80.


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