Marcel Mauss

Last updated

Marcel Mauss
M.Mauss 1872-1950.jpg
Born(1872-05-10)10 May 1872
Died10 February 1950(1950-02-10) (aged 77)
Nationality French
Scientific career
Fields
Institutions École des hautes études en sciences sociales (EHESS)
Influences Émile Durkheim
Influenced

Marcel Mauss (French:  [mos] ; 10 May 1872 – 10 February 1950) was a French sociologist. The nephew of Émile Durkheim, Mauss' academic work traversed the boundaries between sociology and anthropology. Today, he is perhaps better recognised for his influence on the latter discipline, particularly with respect to his analyses of topics such as magic, sacrifice, and gift exchange in different cultures around the world. Mauss had a significant influence upon Claude Lévi-Strauss, the founder of structural anthropology. [1] His most famous work is The Gift (1925).

Contents

Background

Mauss was born in Épinal, Vosges, to a Jewish family, and studied philosophy at Bordeaux, where his maternal uncle Émile Durkheim was teaching at the time. In the 1890s, Mauss began his lifelong study of linguistics, Indology, Sanskrit, Hebrew, and the 'history of religions and uncivilized peoples' at the École pratique des hautes études [2] . He passed the agrégation in 1893. He was also first cousin of the much younger Claudette (née Raphael) Bloch, a marine biologist and mother of Maurice Bloch, who has become a noted anthropologist. Instead of taking the usual route of teaching at a lycée following college, Mauss moved to Paris and took up the study of comparative religion and Sanskrit.

His first publication in 1896 marked the beginning of a prolific career that would produce several landmarks in the sociological literature. Like many members of Année Sociologique , Mauss was attracted to socialism, especially that espoused by Jean Jaurès. He was particularly active in the events of the Dreyfus affair. Towards the end of the century, he helped edit such left-wing papers as Le Populaire , L'Humanité and Le Mouvement socialiste , the last in collaboration with Georges Sorel.

In 1901, Mauss began drawing more on ethnography, and his work began to develop characteristics now associated with formal anthropology.

Mauss served in the French army during World War I from 1914–1919 as an interpreter. [3] These years were absolutely devastating for Mauss. Many of his friends and colleagues died in the war, and his uncle Durkheim died shortly before its end. Politically, the postwar years were also difficult for Mauss. Durkheim had made changes to school curricula across France, and after his death a backlash against his students began.

Like many other followers of Durkheim, Mauss took refuge in administration. He secured Durkheim's legacy by founding institutions to carry out directions of research, such as l'Institut Français de Sociologie (1924) and l'Institut d'Ethnologie in 1926. These institutions stimulated the development of fieldwork-based anthropology by young academics. Among students he influenced was George Devereux, Jeanne Cuisinier, Alfred Metraux, Marcel Griaule, Georges Dumezil, Denise Paulme, Michel Leiris, Germaine Dieterlen, Louis Dumont, Andre-Georges Haudricourt, Jacques Soustelle, and Germaine Tillion. [4]

In 1902, Mauss became a Chair as a Professor of Primitive Religion at École. [5] From 1931–1940, Mauss also served chair of the Sociology department at the Collège de France. In addition to this, he actively fought against anti-semitism and racial politics both before and after World War II. He died in 1950.

Theoretical views

Mauss has been credited for his analytic framework which has been characterized as more supple, more appropriate for the application of empirical studies, and more fruitful. His work fell into two categories, one being major ethnological works on exchange as a symbolic system, body techniques and the category of the person, and the second being social science methodology. [6] In his classic work The Gift [see external links for PDF], Mauss argued that gifts are never truly free, rather, human history is full of examples of gifts bringing about reciprocal exchange. The famous question that drove his inquiry into the anthropology of the gift was: "What power resides in the object given that causes its recipient to pay it back?". [7] The answer is simple: the gift is a "total prestation" (see law of obligations), imbued with "spiritual mechanisms", engaging the honour of both giver and receiver (the term "total prestation" or "total social fact" (fait social total) was coined by his student Maurice Leenhardt after Durkheim's social fact). Such transactions transcend the divisions between the spiritual and the material in a way that, according to Mauss, is almost "magical". The giver does not merely give an object but also part of himself, for the object is indissolubly tied to the giver: "the objects are never completely separated from the men who exchange them" (1990:31). Because of this bond between giver and gift, the act of giving creates a social bond with an obligation to reciprocate on the part of the recipient. Not to reciprocate means to lose honour and status, but the spiritual implications can be even worse: in Polynesia, failure to reciprocate means to lose mana , one's spiritual source of authority and wealth. To cite Goldman-Ida's summary, "Mauss distinguished between three obligations: giving, the necessary initial step for the creation and maintenance of social relationships; receiving, for to refuse to receive is to reject the social bond; and reciprocating in order to demonstrate one's own liberality, honour, and wealth" (2018:341).

An important notion in Mauss' conceptualisation of gift exchange is what Gregory (1982, 1997) refers to as "inalienability". In a commodity economy, there is a strong distinction between objects and persons through the notion of private property. Objects are sold, meaning that the ownership rights are fully transferred to the new owner. The object has thereby become "alienated" from its original owner. In a gift economy, however, the objects that are given are inalienated from the givers; they are "loaned rather than sold and ceded". It is the fact that the identity of the giver is invariably bound up with the object given that causes the gift to have a power which compels the recipient to reciprocate. Because gifts are inalienable they must be returned; the act of giving creates a gift-debt that has to be repaid. Because of this, the notion of an expected return of the gift creates a relationship over time between two individuals. In other words, through gift-giving, a social bond evolves that is assumed to continue through space and time until the future moment of exchange. Gift exchange therefore leads to a mutual interdependence between giver and receiver. According to Mauss, the "free" gift that is not returned is a contradiction because it cannot create social ties. Following the Durkheimian quest for understanding social cohesion through the concept of solidarity, Mauss' argument is that solidarity is achieved through the social bonds created by gift exchange. Mauss emphasizes that exchanging gifts resulted from the will of attaching other people 'to put people under obligations', because "in theory such gifts are voluntary, but in fact they are given and repaid under obligation". [8]

Mauss also focused on the topic of sacrifice. The book Sacrifice and its Function which he wrote with Henri Hubert in 1899 argued that sacrifice is a process involving sacralising and desacralising. This was when the "former directed the holy towards the person or object, and the latter away from a person or object." [9] Mauss and Hubert proposed that the body is better understood not as a natural given. Instead, it should be seen as the product of specific training in attributes, deportments, and habits. Furthermore, the body techniques are biological, sociological, and psychological and in doing an analysis of the body, one must apprehend these elements simultaneously. They defined the person as a category of thought, the articulation of particular embodiment of law and morality. Mauss and Hubert believed that a person was constituted by personages (a set of roles) which were executed through the behaviors and exercise of specific body techniques and attributes.

Mauss and Hubert wrote another book titled A General Theory of Magic in 1902 [see external links for PDF]. They studied magic in 'primitive' societies and how it has manifested into our thoughts and social actions. They argue that social facts are subjective and therefore should be considered magic, but society is not open to accepting this. In the book, Mauss and Hubert state:

In magic, we have officers, actions, and representations: we call a person who accomplishes magical actions a magician, even if he is not professional; magical representations are those ideas and beliefs which correspond to magical actions; as for these actions, with regard to which we have defined the other elements of magic, we shall call them magical rites. At this stage it is important to distinguish between these activities and other social practices with which they might be confused. [10]

They go on to say that only social occurrences can be considered magical. Individual actions are not magic because if the whole community does not believe in efficacy of a group of actions, it is not social and therefore, cannot be magical.

Legacy

While Mauss is known for several of his own works most notably his masterpiece Essai sur le Don ('The Gift') much of his best work was done in collaboration with members of the Année Sociologique, including Durkheim (Primitive Classification), Henri Hubert (Outline of a General Theory of Magic and Essay on the Nature and Function of Sacrifice), Paul Fauconnet (Sociology) and others.

Mauss influenced French anthropology and social science. He did not have a great number of students like many other Sociologists did, however, he taught ethnographic method to first generation French anthropology students. In addition to this, Mauss' ideas have had a significant impact on Anglophile post-structuralist perspectives in anthropology, cultural studies, and cultural history. He modified post-structuralist and post-Foucauldian intellectuals because he combines an ethnographic approach with contextualization that is historical, sociological, and psychological.

Mauss served as an important link between the sociology of Durkheim and contemporary French sociologists. Some of these sociologists include: Claude Levi Strauss, Pierre Bourdieu, Marcel Granet, and Louis Dumont. The essay on The Gift is the origin for anthropological studies of reciprocity. His analysis of the Potlatch has inspired Georges Bataille (The Accursed Share), then the situationists (the name of the first situationist journal was Potlatch). This term has been used by many interested in gift economies and open-source software, although this latter use sometimes differs from Mauss' original formulation. See also Lewis Hyde's revolutionary critique of Mauss in "Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property". He also impacted the Mouvement Anti-Utilitariste dans les Sciences Sociales and David Graeber. [11]

Critiques

Mauss' views on the nature of gift exchange have had critics. French anthropologist Alain Testart (1998), for example, argues that there are "free" gifts, such as passers-by giving money to beggars, e.g. in a large Western city. Donor and receiver do not know each other and are unlikely ever to meet again. In this context, the donation certainly creates no obligation on the side of the beggar to reciprocate; neither the donor nor the beggar have such an expectation. Testart argues that only the latter can actually be enforced. He feels that Mauss overstated the magnitude of the obligation created by social pressures, particularly in his description of the potlatch amongst North American Indians.

Another example of a non-reciprocal "free" gift is provided by British anthropologist James Laidlaw (2000). He describes the social context of Indian Jain renouncers, a group of itinerant celibate renouncers living an ascetic life of spiritual purification and salvation. The Jainist interpretation of the doctrine of ahimsa (an extremely rigorous application of principles of nonviolence) influences the diet of Jain renouncers and compels them to avoid preparing food, as this could potentially involve violence against microscopic organisms. Since Jain renouncers do not work, they rely on food donations from lay families within the Jain community. However, the former must not appear to be having any wants or desires, and only very hesitantly and apologetically receives the food prepared by the latter."Free" gifts therefore challenge the aspects of the Maussian notion of the gift unless the moral and non-material qualities of gifting are considered. These aspects are, of course, at the heart of the gift, as demonstrated in books such as Annette Weiner's (1992) Inalienable Possessions: The Paradox of Keeping While Giving.

Mauss' view on sacrifice was also controversial at the time. This was because it conflicted with the psychologisation of individuals and social behavior. In addition to this, Mauss' terms like persona and habitus have been used among some sociological approaches. They have also been included in recent sociological and cultural studies by Pierre Bourdieu.

Selected works

See also

Related Research Articles

Émile Durkheim French sociologist

David Émile Durkheim was a French sociologist. He formally established the academic discipline of sociology and—with Karl Marx and Max Weber —is commonly cited as the principal architect of modern social science.

Sociology of knowledge Study of the relationship between human thought and the social context within which it arises, and of the effects prevailing ideas have on societies

The sociology of knowledge is the study of the relationship between human thought and the social context within which it arises, and of the effects that prevailing ideas have on societies. It is not a specialized area of sociology but instead deals with broad fundamental questions about the extent and limits of social influences on individuals' lives and with the social-cultural basis of our knowledge about the world. Complementary to the sociology of knowledge is the sociology of ignorance, including the study of nescience, ignorance, knowledge gaps, or non-knowledge as inherent features of knowledge-making.

A gift economy or gift culture is a mode of exchange where valuables are not traded or sold, but rather given without an explicit agreement for immediate or future rewards. Social norms and customs govern gifting in a gift culture, gifts are not given in an explicit exchange of goods or services for money, or some other commodity or service. This contrasts with a barter economy or a market economy, where goods and services are primarily explicitly exchanged for value received.

In sociology, social facts are values, cultural norms, and social structures that transcend the individual and can exercise social control. The French sociologist Émile Durkheim defined the term, and argued that the discipline of sociology should be understood as the empirical study of social facts. For Durkheim, social facts "... consist of manners of acting, thinking and feeling external to the individual, which are invested with a coercive power by virtue of which they exercise control over him."

L'Année Sociologique is an academic journal of sociology established in 1898 by Émile Durkheim, who also served as its editor. It was published annually until 1925, changing its name to Annales Sociologiques between 1934 and 1942. After World War II it returned to its original name. Durkheim established the journal as a way of publicizing his own research and the research of his students and other scholars working within his new sociological paradigm.

The College of Sociology was a loosely-knit group of French intellectuals, named after the informal discussion series that they held in Paris between 1937 and 1939, when it was disrupted by the war.

Henri Hubert French sociologist

Henri Hubert was a French archaeologist and sociologist of comparative religion who is best known for his work on the Celts and his collaboration with Marcel Mauss and other members of the Année Sociologique.

Paul Fauconnet was a French sociologist who is best known as a contributor to the L'Année Sociologique.

In cultural anthropology, reciprocity refers to the non-market exchange of goods or labour ranging from direct barter to forms of gift exchange where a return is eventually expected as in the exchange of birthday gifts. It is thus distinct from the true gift, where no return is expected.

Kula ring

Kula, also known as the Kula exchange or Kularing, is a ceremonial exchange system conducted in the Milne Bay Province of Papua New Guinea. The Kula ring was made famous by the father of modern anthropology, Bronisław Malinowski, who used this test case to argue for the universality of rational decision making, and for the cultural nature of the object of their effort. Malinowski's path-breaking work, Argonauts of the Western Pacific (1922), directly confronted the question, "why would men risk life and limb to travel across huge expanses of dangerous ocean to give away what appear to be worthless trinkets?" Malinowski carefully traced the network of exchanges of bracelets and necklaces across the Trobriand Islands, and established that they were part of a system of exchange, and that this exchange system was clearly linked to political authority. Malinowski's study became the subject of debate with the French anthropologist, Marcel Mauss, author of The Gift. Since then, the Kula ring has been central to the continuing anthropological debate on the nature of gift giving, and the existence of gift economies.

Material culture Physical aspect of culture in the objects and architecture that surround people

Material culture is the aspect of social reality grounded in the objects and architecture that surround people. It includes the usage, consumption, creation, and trade of objects as well as the behaviors, norms, and rituals that the objects create or take part in. Some scholars also include other intangible phenomena that include sound, smell and events, while some even consider language and media as part of it. The term is most commonly used in archaeological and anthropological studies, to define material or artifacts as they are understood in relation to specific cultural and historic contexts, communities, and belief systems. Material cultural can be described as any object that humans use to survive, define social relationships, represent facets of identity, or benefit peoples' state of mind, social, or economic standing.

The Gift: Forms and Functions of Exchange in Archaic Societies is a 1925 essay by the French sociologist Marcel Mauss that is the foundation of social theories of reciprocity and gift exchange.

Marcel Granet French sociologist

Marcel Granet was a French sociologist, ethnologist and sinologist. As a follower of Émile Durkheim and Édouard Chavannes, Granet was one of the first to bring sociological methods to the study of China. Granet was revered in his own time as a sociological sinologist, or sinological sociologist, and member of the Durkheimian school of sociology.

Sociology of culture science of sociology

The sociology of culture, and the related cultural sociology, concerns the systematic analysis of culture, usually understood as the ensemble of symbolic codes used by a member of a society, as it is manifested in the society. For Georg Simmel, culture referred to "the cultivation of individuals through the agency of external forms which have been objectified in the course of history". Culture in the sociological field is analyzed as the ways of thinking and describing, acting, and the material objects that together shape a group of people's way of life.

Paul-Louis Huvelin (1873–1924), generally known as Paul Huvelin, was a French legal historian.

"Gifting remittances" describes a range of scholarly approaches relating remittances to anthropological literature on gift giving. The terms draws on Lisa Cliggett's "gift remitting", but is used to describe a wider body of work. Broadly speaking, remittances are the money, goods, services, and knowledge that migrants send back to their home communities or families. Remittances are typically considered as the economic transactions from migrants to those at home. While remittances are also a subject of international development and policy debate and sociological and economic literature, this article focuses on ties with literature on gifting and reciprocity or gift economy founded largely in the work of Marcel Mauss and Marshall Sahlins. While this entry focuses on remittances of money or goods, remittances also take the form of ideas and knowledge. For more on these, see Peggy Levitt's work on "social remittances" which she defines as "the ideas, behaviors, identities, and social capital that flow from receiving to sending country communities."

Inalienable possessions are things such as land or objects that are symbolically identified with the groups that own them and so cannot be permanently severed from them. Landed estates in the Middle Ages, for example, had to remain intact and even if sold, they could be reclaimed by blood kin. As a legal classification, inalienable possessions date back to Roman times. According to Barbara Mills, "Inalienable possessions are objects made to be kept, have symbolic and economic power that cannot be transferred, and are often used to authenticate the ritual authority of corporate groups".

Several authors have used the terms organ gifting and "tissue gifting" to describe processes behind organ and tissue transfers that are not captured by more traditional terms such as donation and transplantation. The concept of "gift of life" in the U.S. refers to the fact that "transplantable organs must be given willingly, unselfishly, and anonymously, and any money that is exchanged is to be perceived as solely for operational costs, but never for the organs themselves". "Organ gifting" is proposed to contrast with organ commodification. The maintenance of a spirit of altruism in this context has been interpreted by some as a mechanism through which the economic relations behind organ/tissue production, distribution, and consumption can be disguised. Organ/tissue gifting differs from commodification in the sense that anonymity and social trust are emphasized to reduce the offer and request of monetary compensation. It is reasoned that the implementation of the gift-giving analogy to organ transactions shows greater respect for the diseased body, honors the donor, and transforms the transaction into a morally acceptable and desirable act that is borne out of voluntarism and altruism.

Georges Davy French sociologist

Georges Davy was a French sociologist. He was a student and disciple of Émile Durkheim. With Marcel Mauss and Paul Huvelin he pioneered anthropological studies of the origins of the idea of contract.

Alain Testart was a French social anthropologist, emeritus research director at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) in Paris and member of the Laboratory for Social Anthropology at the Collège de France. He specialized in primitives societies and comparative anthropology. His research themes included: slavery, marriage arrangements, funeral practices, gift and exchange, typology of societies, the political, the evolution of the societies, and questions of interpretation in prehistoric archaeology.

References

  1. Barth, Fredrik (2005). One Discipline, Four Ways: British, German, French, and American Anthropology. University of Chicago Press, p. 208, Quote: "Marcel Mauss' two most influential followers were Claude Levi-Strauss (b. 1908) and Louis Dumont (1911–1998). The impact of his work on both of them was strong."
  2. Sica, Alan. Social Thought: From Enlightenment to the Present. p. 306.
  3. Scott, John. Fifty Key Sociologists: The Formative Theorists.
  4. Scott, John. Fifty Key Sociologists: The Formative Theorists.
  5. Cashmore, Ellis; Rojek. Dictionary of Cultural Theorists. Chris.
  6. Cashmore, Ellis; Rojek, Chris. Dictionary of Cultural Theorists.
  7. Mauss, Marcel (2002). The Gift: The Form and Reason for Exchanges in Archaic Societies (PDF). London: Routledge. p. 4. ISBN   978-0-203-71568-0.
  8. "D. Walczak. 2015. The process of exchange, solidarity and sustainable development in building a community of responsibility. Mediterranean Journal of Social Sciences, 6 (1S1), p. 506". Archived from the original on 8 February 2015.
  9. Cashmore, Ellis; Rojek, Chris. Dictionary of Cultural Theorists. p. 350.
  10. Sica, Alan. Social Thought from the Enlightenment to the Present. p. 308.
  11. [Graeber, D., Toward an Anthropological Theory of Value, pp 160–161, Palgrave Macmillan, 2001]

Further reading

(in French)