Brian Street (Inducted 2016)


Brian Vincent Street

September 22, 2017

October 24, 1943—June 21, 2017


Brian Vincent Street, professor emeritus at King’s College London and visiting professor at the University of Pennsylvania, died on June 21, 2017. Street was known for hisanthropological studies of literacy which transformed literacy theory and literacy education worldwide.


Street grew up in Buckfastleigh, England, studied at Buckland College, followed by an MA and PhD at the University of Oxford under the eminent scholar Evans Pritchard. After conducting anthropological fieldwork in Iran and Afghanistan, he spent the first 20 years of his career at the University of Sussex, teaching social and cultural anthropology. He then moved to King’s College London as professor and chair of the language in education department. He retired from King’s College London in 2010 but continued to be active as a scholar and professor. Street was the longstanding chair of the Royal Anthropological Institute Education Committee.


Street lived most of his life in Brighton, England. In 1976, he married Joanna Lowry and they had three children—Chloe, Alice, and Nicholas—and three grandchildren—Robinson, Thomas and Oliver. Although they divorced they remained friends. In 2017, Street married his long-time partner, Maria Lucia Castanheira, a professor at Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais, Brazil.


Street died after a long and determined fight with cancer; true to his nature, until nearly the very end he was writing, engaging colleagues and friends in scholarly conversations, connecting people with similar ideas, opening opportunities for others, lovingly storytelling about his children and grandchildren, and sharing his optimism and zest for life.


Street’s most prominent scholarly contribution was in literacy studies. He viewed literacy as a social practice involving the non-trivial use of written language. Underlying Street’sscholarship of literacy practices is an insistence on respect for ordinary people in their everyday lives and for the ways they address the circumstances in which they find themselves. From Street’s early fieldwork in an Iranian village to studies of children in schools in the United States, the United Kingdom, and India, ordinary people writing for the Mass-Observation Project, and university students acquiring academic literacies, Street foregrounded how people addressed the difficult situations in which they found themselves by attending ethnographically to how they took up, adapted, and sometimes transformed extant literacy practices.


Street authored, co-authored, edited, and co-edited more than 30 books and over 100 articles and book chapters. He was a fellow of the Royal Anthropology Institute and he received the Literacy Research Association’s Distinguished Scholar Lifetime Achievement Award in 2008, as well as other numerous awards and honors. Those who knew him will most remember conversations with him, perhaps over coffee in Kemptown cafes, or a bottle of red wine at the Bristol pub, walking along the sea front or on the downs, or together in a university seminar room. For Street, conversation was a way of building friendships and family, a way of learning and teaching, a way of researching, a way of connecting people with each other, and a way of being in the world.


(David Bloome)


Cite as: Bloome, David. 2017. “Brian Vincent Street.” Anthropology News website, September 22, 2017. doi: 10.1111/AN.636