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In Celebration of Dr. Drid Williams, D. Phil., Oxford1

Figure 1
Figure 1. Drid Williams in `Forms 1,' a group composition she created in 1960.

We are gathered

in this vibrant, cosmopolitan city of Hong Kong in the summer of 2008 to celebrate the eightieth birthday of Dr. Drid Williams. During the next three days, through our papers, discussion, and performances, we seek to honor her seminal contributions to the Anthropology of Human Movement, a subfield of sociocultural anthropology that she conceived over thirty years ago and has nurtured and developed ever since through her outstanding teaching, research, and writing.

Figure 1
Figure 2. Dr. Williams enjoys an evening with students and friends at New York University in 1984.

Dr. Williams was a pioneer in a number of ways, first, because she insisted on the theoretical value of including a broad range of human movement systems within the scope of the subject, rather than focusing solely on dances and dancing. Her 1975 doctoral dissertation in Social Anthropology exemplified this position, with an ethnographically rich examination of three distinct types of movement systems: a European dance idiom (classical ballet), a Chinese exercise system (Tai Chi Chuan), and a European liturgical ritual (the Roman Catholic Mass).

     Dr. Williams achieved this broad comparative perspective by developing a new theoretical approach called "semasiology." Inspired by Saussurian semiotics, semasiology is also grounded in Harré's "new realist" philosophy of science, which resolves certain Cartesian problems and those involving causality and human agency. Dr Williams succeeded in articulating a radically new theory of "dynamically embodied human action" capable of handling the cultural complexity at the heart of anthropological investigations.

Dr. Williams holds three postgraduate degrees from Oxford University and served on the faculties of New York University; the University of Sydney; and Moi University, Kenya, prior to joining United International College, Zhuhai, in 2007. Her many contributions to the field include Anthropology of the Dance: Ten Lectures (2nd edition, University of Illinois Press, 2004); two volumes in the series Readings in the Anthropology of Human Movement: vol. 1: The Study of Dances and vol. 2: The Problem of Origins (Scarecrow Press, 1997, 2001); and a special issue of the journal Visual Anthropology, titled The Signs of Human Action (1996). She is the founding editor of the Journal for the Anthropological Study of Human Movement.


1 This brief biographical statement about Dr. Williams appeared in the conference program as written here in the present tense. It is illustrated with a slideshow of photographs and video clips from the opening ceremonies, during which participants were ritually prepared for the events to come with an exciting performance of the Lion Dance.



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