Latest Issue

When is a smile not a smile?


Despite my underlying fear that much anthropology is simply bad poetry (“And then this happened; and then this happened; and then someone did this; and then I wondered whether…”) I occasionally find myself wishing I could draw on its analytical tools and insight better. Yesterday I was struck by one of our society’s most bizarre forms of micro-social exchange. I can’t say whether it is distinctly British or middle class (although it feels both), only that it needs unravelling.

I was sitting at a table in the British Library cafe reading a book (one of the nice alcove tables that…

Register today to continue reading

You’ve hit your limit of three articles in the last 30 days. To get seven more, simply enter your email address below.

You’ll also receive our free e-book Prospect’s Top Thinkers 2020 and our newsletter with the best new writing on politics, economics, literature and the arts.

Prospect may process your personal information for our legitimate business purposes, to provide you with newsletters, subscription offers and other relevant information.

Click here to learn more about these purposes and how we use your data. You will be able to opt-out of further contact on the next page and in all our communications.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to

More From Prospect