An Interview with Roy Ellen

  • Nejm Benessaiah School of Anthropology and Conservation, University of Kent, Canterbury, Kent, UK CT2 7NZ


I decided to undertake this interview with Professor Ellen, simply because I thought such a distinguished career deserved to be marked as he was retiring. Roy was happy to make time for our interviews, in the form of loosely structured conversation which, like the Arabian Nights, Roy pointed out, could have gone on forever, but I decided to draw the line at three sessions. Perhaps it could, and will go on to form part of a more in-depth biography, as I continued to discover other aspects and adventures of Roy’s interesting life in the course of other contexts, much as one does in the field. Much is known about what ethnobiologists and anthropologists say about another people’s lives; less is known about their own, apart from rare reflections, diaries and memoires. I found Roy’s reflections a source of comfort as I embarked on my own PhD fieldwork, reassuring me as I fumbled around, making my own unique but comparable mistakes among the insights I gleaned. The following is an edited version of the original interview. I hope it will be as enjoyable to the reader as it was to me working on it.

Author Biography

Nejm Benessaiah, School of Anthropology and Conservation, University of Kent, Canterbury, Kent, UK CT2 7NZ

Nejm Benessaiah is a PhD candidate in Ethnobiology at
the University of Kent. His research concerns how farming communities deal with and affect change in arid ecosystems of North Africa within the shifting negotiation of knowledge, power, and values in relation to the state and market economy.


Bicker, A., R. F. Ellen, and P. Parkes, eds. 2000. Indigenous Environmental Knowledge and its Transformations: Critical Anthropological Perspectives. Harwood Academic, Amsterdam.

Ellen, R. F. 1979. Sago Subsistence and the Trade in Spices: A Provisional Model of Ecological Succession and Imbalance in Moluccan History. In Social and Ecological Systems, edited by R. F. Ellen and P. Burnham, pp. 43-74. Academic Press, London.

Ellen, R. F. 1982. Environment, Subsistence and System: The Ecology of Small-Scale Social Formations. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Ellen, R. F. 1993. The Cultural Relations of Classification: An Analysis of Nuaulu Animal Categories from Central Seram. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Ellen, R. F. 2003. On the Edge of the Banda Zone: Past and Present in the Social Organization of a Moluccan Trading Network. University of Hawaii Press, Honolulu.

Ellen, R. F., ed. 2006. Ethnobiology and the Science of Humankind. Wiley-Blackwell, Oxford.

Ellen, R. F., and K. Fukui, eds. 1996. Redefining Nature: Ecology, Culture, and Domestication. Berg, Oxford.

Mansfield, J. C. 1952. Dawn of Creation. George G. Harrap, London.

How to Cite
Benessaiah, N. (2014). An Interview with Roy Ellen. Ethnobiology Letters, 5, 31-39.
Interviews & Reflections