In Remembrance of Jane Guyer (’72 PhD)

January 17, 2024

The Department of Anthropology extends its sympathy to the family of Jane Guyer, a leading anthropologist with strong ties to the University of Rochester, who died Jan. 17 at the age of 80.

Guyer’s research focused on the social uses of money in West Africa, but her scholarship took root at Rochester, where she earned her doctorate in 1972.

She came to the University after spending time in Idere, a small town in Nigeria, studying the region’s farming system and how people there were making ends meet in a postcolonial world.

Her findings would make a lasting impression and influence the rest of her career. She was fascinated by how cultural values and market forces interact to shape how people make their living.

“Making a living is not just putting food on the table or a roof over your heard,” Guyer was quoted as saying in the 2012 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “A living is also a life; a living is a sense of dignity; a living is a sense of career.”

After earning her doctorate at Rochester, Guyer spent time teaching at the University of North Carolina, Boston University, Harvard University, and Northwestern University before joining the faculty at Johns Hopkins University in 2002.

She returned to the River Campus to deliver the 1997 Lewis Henry Morgan Lectures, which resulted in the book Marginal Gains: Monetary Transactions in Atlantic Africa, published in 2004 by the University of Chicago Press.

Professor Daniel Reichman, director of undergraduate studies in the Department of Anthropology at Rochester, called Guyer “one of our most esteemed graduates.”

“Guyer’s work exemplified how detailed ethnographic work can shed light on some of the most fundamental questions in the social sciences—not just about how people make a living, but also the myriad ways that people can define a good life,” Reichman said.  

To learn more about Guyer and her work, read her obituary from Johns Hopkins University.