Mahfoud Bennoune

1936 - 2004

This website pays tribute to the life and work of Mahfoud Bennoune, PhD. He was an Algerian anthropologist, professor, scholar, activist and humanist.

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Friday May 17 is the 20th anniversary of the passing of Mahfoud Bennoune, Algerian anthropologist, professor, writer, anti-colonial activist and powerful voice against extremism. Born in a peasant village in the mountains of northeastern Algeria during colonization, he went on to contribute to the liberation of his home country, to study at leading international universities and obtain a doctorate, to travel the world, to write books in multiple languages, to make a documentary film about the post-independence development of Algeria, to teach for many years at the University of Algiers, and to speak out in defense of humanity and reason even at great risk. On this occasion we remember Mahfoud, his commitment to global justice, his determination to defeat colonialism and fanaticism and to achieve equality, his humor and his wisdom. You can leave a message of remembrance in Arabic, English or French here: Remembrances.

His words, many of which can be found on this website, continue to be all too relevant today. In this sad spring racked by armed conflicts and repression around the world, with extremisms on the rise, and an international community still unable to respond adequately, the words at the end of Mahfoud’s 1997 open letter to the then-President of Algeria remain a vital reminder of the need for visionary governance: “The function of leadership in general, and in difficult situations in particular, is to think the unthinkable, to imagine the unimaginable and to undertake the impossible to change the course of events.” (Esquisse-d-une-anthropologie-de-l-algerie-politique.pdf (, p. 240).

Please consider joining us in remembering Mahfoud at this anniversary by making a donation to the Mahfoud Bennoune Memorial Thesis Award at the University of Michigan. This prize, founded at the time of his death, recognizes student work on the Middle East and North Africa that, just as he did, emphasizes values of tolerance, secularism, human rights, and women’s rights. The prize has been awarded to thirteen students in the last twenty years, the most recent of which was Rosa Razmi in 2024 for her thesis, “The Daughters of the Diaspora: The Forged Identities from the Islamic Revolution.” This work explores identity formation among Iranian-American women.

Mahfoud Bennoune Memorial Thesis Award - 570802 - Michigan Giving (

Given Dr. Bennoune’s own experiences during Algeria’s independence struggle as a prisoner of war, and the loss of his father and two brothers, Ali and Amar, during that conflict, another option to honor him would be a donation to the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund (PCRF) PCRF in his memory. The PCRF works to provide humanitarian relief to children and their families in Gaza, and to bring critically wounded children abroad to receive medical care. PCRF envisions a world where “all children in the Middle East have access to quality medical care, humanitarian aid and specialized surgical procedures.” Donation link: General (

From “What Does it Mean to be a Third World Anthropologist?” (1985)