Leonard Plotnicov

  • Professor Emeritus, Department of Anthropology

Leonard Plotnicov received his PhD from the University of California at Berkeley in 1964.

He is a cultural anthropologist interested in understanding complex modern society by applying the perspective and wisdom gained from a century of anthropology's collective ethnographic fieldwork experience.

He has conducted research in such diverse places as West African cities and the Borscht Belt resort area of New York state.

His current work in Pittsburgh treats the political economy of central business district developments.

Research Description

African Political Systems

A core value held by Olu was maintaining the dignity and good reputation of his immediate lineage. This traditional Yoruba ideal, which he verbalized as keeping the family name spotless, could be upheld only by constant unreproachable conduct. This was a difficult burden, for a single thoughtless act by himself or any person under his charge could undo the results of generations of self-control and create a blemish that would be remembered and recalled in the future.

Plotnicov, Leonard
1971, Strangers in the City: Urban Man in Jos, Nigeria. University of Pittsburgh Press, p. 87

In the more traditional areas, men greeted me with a grin, raised fist, and shouts of zaki (lion in Hausa). They were half-kidding, I knew, but I welcomed the friendly gesture.

Plotnicov, Leonard
1995 Love, honor, dignity, and respect. In African and African-American Sensibility, Ethnology Monograph 15, edited by M. Coy, Jr. and L. Plotnicov, p. 48



Introduction to Anthropology

This course surveys the biological and cultural heritages which distinguish humans from other advanced evolutionary forms. Through physical anthropology and prehistory, it outlines human development over the past five million years. Through linguistic and sociocultural anthropology and drawing comparative examples from primitive, traditional and modern societies, it describes the universal features of social institutions and human behavior. There are no prerequisites but this course is not open to students who have taken Anthropology 0780, 0681, 0655, 0644, 0645, or 0582.

Urban Anthropology

This course outlines the origins and evolution of cities and explores their functional roles within their historical, social, and cultural contexts. It examines the nature of life in cities from the perspective of the inhabitants, drawing illustrations from cities around the world and from contemporary United States. Features associated with urban life--such as migration, squatter settlements, family organization, ethnicity, social networks, and social pathologies--will receive special attention.

Urban Ethnography

Undergraduate Seminar. This course will introduce students to the basic methods of ethnography; i.e., observation, participant observation, and informal interviewing. The course also assists students in developing ehtnographic reporting skills. Good writing is encouraged. This means writing that is straightforward, clear, and strong. The only book required is Jane E. Aaron's The Little Brown Compact Handbook.

American Culture

Using the United States as an example -- not a model -- of modern society, this class will explore selected topics which include people at work, at play, urbanism, inequality, accommodation and conflict, family, religion and cults. Appropriate films and guest lectures are scheduled.


Plotnikov, L, Scaglion, R., eds. (2002) The Globalization of Food. Waveland Press.