History, Anthropology, Ethnicity & Cricket – An Afternoon with Michael Roberts

In this seminar, Michael Roberts used an incident at a 1981 cricket match between Sri Lanka and Australia to explore methodological and theoretical tensions between Anthropology and History. The incident involved verbal exchanges, witnessed by Roberts himself, among two Sri Lankan spectators and an Australian cricketer. Through his analysis of the event, he discussed aspects of Sri Lanka’s ethnic identities, including the generalised, popular understanding of Sri Lanka’s ethnic history and Sinhalese claims for primacy in the island.

Michael Roberts is a historian by training and has taught at the Department of History, Peradeniya University (1961-76) and the Department of Anthropology, Adelaide University (1977-2003). His major works are in agrarian history, social mobility, nationalism and ethnic conflict. His main focus has been Sri Lanka, but there also have been ventures into Indian socio-political history, Australian myth making and the sociology of cricket. Among his major works are Caste Conflict and Elite Formation: The Rise of a Karava Elite in Sri Lanka, 1500-1931 (1982); People Inbetween (1989); Exploring Confrontation (1994); Sinhala Consciousness in the Kandyan Period, 1590s-1818 (2004), Essaying Cricket: Sri Lanka and Beyond (2006) and Confrontations in Sri Lanka (2009).