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Mauss, Marcel (1872–1950)

Mauss, Marcel (1872–1950) demically marginal Parisian institutions helped him to


achieve a rather atypical career of a scholar exclusively
dedicated to research on exotic societies without
The father figure of contemporary social and cultural visiting any of them and producing neither a thesis,
anthropology in France, Mauss was among the most nor even books proper, but, instead, a number of
influential social scientists of the early twentieth substantial studies which—though highly specialized
century. His scholarly activities and achievements by their thematic focus—refer equally to various tribal
were closely connected to the birth, organization, and civilizations of Australia, Amerindia, Africa, and
coming to power in the French academe of the Oceania as well as to a vast variety of relevant ‘social
‘Sociological School’ headed by Emile Durkheim and facts’ of the Hindu, Hebrew or Muslim world.
gathering among other luminaries Ce! lestin Bougle! , His education, intellectual development, and aca-
Maurice Halbwachs, Robert Hertz, Henri Hubert, or demic options were directed and supervised by
Franc: ois Simiand, the intellectual heritage of which Durkheim, his uncle and life long tutor. Their
is still being largely claimed, discussed, and studied works—though intimately linked—appear to be con-
worldwide (see Durkheimian Studies, Oxford) as one of siderably divergent. With the benefit of historical
the major foundation acts of modern social sciences hindsight Mauss is credited nowadays as a less theory-
proper. bound, more inspiring and heuristically rewarding
Mauss was born on May 10, 1872 in Epinal (Vosges ancestor for contemporary successors of the ‘French
county) in a middle class Jewish family long estab- School of Sociology,’ his personal impact extending
lished in Eastern France and having fully adopted the upon many significant anthropologists, sociologists,
pattern of French Liberal patriotism. His personal folklorists, political scientists, social psychologists, or
career followed in many respects the rise of the first even human geographers or social historians starting a
generation of famous French–Jewish intellectuals career in France after the First World War, especially
represented by Bergson, Durkheim, or Lucien Le! vy- after 1945. His association with Durkheim took a
Bruhl. He shared with them their Republican com- decisive form by his participation in the empirical
mitment, notably as a young activist engaged in the elaboration of databanks for Durkheim’s Suicide
battle in defense of Captain Dreyfus, as one of the (1897) and continued, more importantly, with the
earliest contributors (reporting on the cooperative editorial work of the AnneT e sociologique (12 volumes
movement) to the socialist journal L’HumaniteT between 1898 and 1913), the central scholarly organ of
founded by Jean Jaure' s and, in the interwar years, as the ‘Sociological School.’ This quasi yearly survey
a dedicated expert of the (anti-Bolshevik) French of relevant publications embodied the first major
socialist party (notably in matters financial and those attempt since August Comte (see Comte, Auguste
related to the stock exchange). Mauss died on (1798–1857)) to organize empirically the burgeoning
February 10, 1950 in Paris. social sciences into an inter-related system of dis-
With formal university training in philosophy (a ciplines. In charge of a large sector of the AnneT e
quasi must for would-be social scientists in his time), covering ‘religious sociology,’ Mauss became the
Mauss skipped the then almost inescapable stint of author of one-quarter, approximately, of the 10,000
secondary school teaching, but also the stages of a odd pages of review articles published in the AnneT e
normal academic career in the network of the Faculties under Durkheim, and took over the direction of the
of Letters. Several study trips and stays in Britain, AnneT e—transformed in the interwar years into the
Holland, and Germany enabled him to commit himself irregularly published Annales sociologiques—follow-
from the outstart to research and the training of ing the uncle’s untimely death in 1917.
scholars. He was first appointed as a lecturer on In the division of labor of what became the ‘French
archaic religions (The Religion of Peoples Without School of Sociology’ Mauss was, from the outset,
Ciilization) at the 5th Section (Sciences of Religion) of dealt out the sector or archaic civilizations, especially
the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes (1901), a unique that of ‘primitive religion,’ strategic field for the
agency housed in, but independent from, the Sorbonne experimentation of Durkheim’s basic methodological
and aiming at the instruction of specialists in various precepts. In this view indeed the main ‘social functions’
fields of erudition. He combined later (1926) these appear to be apprehensible in a straightforward form
courses with seminars on ‘descriptive ethnology’ at the in archaic societies, so much so that they may inform
newly founded Institut d’Ethnologie under the aegis of the interpretation of more complex societal realities as
the Sorbonne, only to occupy the chair of sociology at well. Thus, tribal societies—not without ambiguity—
the ColleZ ge de France (1931), an even more prestigious can be equated to the simplest, the most essential, and
institution of higher learning. While lecturing there he the historically earliest patterns of social organization.
also shared in a Socratic manner with a number of To boot, following the ‘religious turn’ occurring
(often mature) students the insights of a uniquely around 1896 in Durkheim’s scholarly evolution,
ingenious armchair anthropologist, until he was forced religion was considered as central among ‘social repre-
to early retirement under the German occupation in sentations’ or objectivations of ‘collective conscious-
1941. His positions in these both central, but aca- ness,’ instrumental in the integration of archaic and,

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Mauss, Marcel (1872–1950)

by implication, of all social formations. Hence the in the ‘reason’ or ‘logos’ of Western philosophy,
epistemological priority granted to the study of permitting the intelligence of time, space, causality,
‘elementary religion’ and the allocation of such pur- genres, force, etc., though this approach was often
suits to sociology proper as a master discipline, what- condemned as ‘sociocentrism’ or ‘sociological im-
ever the degree of development, power, extension, or perialism’ by contemporary critics. In concrete terms
complexity of societies concerned could be. Thus most Mauss’ main interest lay, on the one hand, in the
of Mauss’ work centered on comparative problems exploration of interconnections between collective
related to belief systems, rituals, and mental habits, practices and ideas, in the manner how mental
and other collective practices serving as a foundation elaborations respond to the organizational patterns of
for ‘social cohesion’ in extra-European and pre- societies contributing thus to their cohesion and, on
industrial civilizations, could qualify for being so- the other hand, in the exemplification of the arbitrary
ciological, without much reference to anthropology, nature of cultural facts which become meaningful in
ethnology, ethnography, or folklore; such terms being particular social configurations only. The first focus
practically absent from the topical listing of ‘branches would lead to decisive methodological insights for the
of social sciences’ in the AnneT e. sociology (or the social history) of knowledge. The
Mauss’ major early studies are the outcome of latter would inspire developments in structuralist
his brotherly collaboration with Henri Hubert, the social anthropology.
ancient historian and archeologist of the ‘Sociological Major statements about the covariation and the
School.’ They deal with the social functions of ‘Sacri- fundamental integrity of various fields of collective
fice’ (1899) (biblographic details of Mauss’ studies are conduct are made in the essay of comparative anthro-
listed by years of publication at the end of the third pology published together with Durkheim on Primi-
voume of his Oeures (pp. 642–94) and propose ‘A tie social classifications (1903) and in a Study of
general theory of magic’ (1904), to which Mauss added social morphology, produced with the collaboration of
a number of personal essays, especially those con- Mauss’ disciple Henri Beuchat on Seasonal Changes
cerning ‘The sources of magic power in Australian of Eskimo Societies (1906).
societies’ (1904) and the first part of his unpublished In the much cited (and not less criticized) first study
(and unpresented!) doctoral dissertation on ‘Prayer’ a vast array of evidence, drawn from a number of
(1909). Some of these essays will be published in their extremely different Australian and American societies,
common book (MeT langes d’histoire des religions, is presented and analyzed in order to illustrate
1909), where the authors offer in their introduction the functional unity of societies (as totalities) in
the outline of a sociological theory of religion. which mental habits, religious ideas, and even basic
Denominational systems of faith are social facts and categories guiding the perception of environment and
should hence be put on the agenda of sociology. They other—residential, economic, technical—practices are
divide the life world of societies into a sacred and a demonstrably interconnected. Thus, ‘the classification
secular (profane) sphere. The former is invested with of things reproduces that of people,’ as exemplified
essential collective values, so much so that most if in many tribal civilizations where membership in
not all moral customs, legal, educational, artistic, phratries, matrimonial classes, clans, gender, or age
technical, and scientific practices display religious groups serves as a principle for the organization of
foundations. Mauss’ first ever review article discussed religious and other social activities as well as for the
already a book on ‘Religion and the origin of penal interpretation of reality in ‘logical classes.’ The spatial
law’ (1896). In the light of his and his companions’ situation of the tribe is a basic model for categories of
comparative studies concerning ‘religious represen- orientation, like cardinal points. Hence the intimation,
tations’ (including totemism, ‘positive and nega- that categories of reasoning, instead of following
tive rites’ and their mythical rationalizations, the universal patterns, are sociohistorical products and
Melanesian notion of mana as the paradigm of socio- even modern science owes some of its principles to
religious force, the religious origins of values—like primitive categorizations. Such results will later en-
that of money, etc.), religion emerges as a fundamental courage Mauss to affirm the pretensions of ‘social
‘social function,’ even if secularized modern societies anthropology to be once in the position of substituting
tend to replace it by functional equivalents (like itself to philosophy by drafting the history of the
patriotic rituals) to bring about a desired degree of human mind.’
integration. The study of Eskimo life offers a more empirical
Mauss will be less systematic (some would say, less evidence for a case of covariation in time of the
dogmatic) than his uncle in the generalization and material substratum—morphology—of societies (‘the
theoretical exploitation of observations gained from mass, density, shape, and composition of human
the study of archaic religions. But he shares with groups’) and the moral, religious, and legal aspects of
Durkheim the conviction that the social prevails over collective existence. The approach is, exceptionally,
the individual among norms commanding human not comparative—though references are made to other
behavior and, more specifically, that sociohistorical exotic and even European societies too—only to be
models are the sources of mental categories epitomized more closely focused on a privileged example where

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Mauss, Marcel (1872–1950)

even the pattern of settlement of families concerned generosity, the generalization and institutionalization
(gathering in winter, dispersion in summer) differs of which (possibly in the regime of social welfare)
with the seasons, together with the intensity of social appears in Mauss’ view as a desirable development. He
interactions, religious activities, and kinship relations. will extend the scope of the study of ‘total social facts’
Winter represents the high point of social togetherness in several essays, especially in one on ‘Joking relation-
accompanied by festivities, the unity of residence of ships’ (1926), socially organized delivery of jokes and
partner families, and various forms of economic, insults among kins, destined to strengthen the co-
sexual and emotional exchange among their members, hesion of the clan by the enforcement of verbal
generating in them a strong sense of political and reciprocities.
moral integrity. Mauss’ scholarly achievement has left a consider-
In the second part of his career after World War able mark on the social sciences in France and
I Mauss’ work appears to be thematically more elsewhere. In contemporary French sociological tra-
diversified without losing its initial foci centered upon dition he is considered—alongside may be with
the ways and means by which society determines Maurice Halbwachs—as the most ‘legitimate’ ancestor
individual behavior and the conditions of collective from the ‘Sociological School.’ The historic impor-
‘solidarity’ or ‘cohesion,’ the latter—while realized tance of his work has been selectively and critically
thanks to contingent or ‘arbitrary’ assets—forming an received but warmly appraised by men like Pierre
operational whole called ‘culture’ or ‘civilization.’ This Bourdieu (who is holding a chair of sociology illus-
helps to restate the historical and ethnographically trated by Mauss at the ColleZ ge de France), Roger
localized nature of mental categories. These problems Caillois, Georges Dume! zil, Louis Dumont, Georges
and ideas inform some major studies published by Gurvitch, Michel Leiris, Claude Le! vi-Strauss (who
Mauss in his elderly years like ‘Relations between succeeded Mauss at the ColleZ ge de France).
psychology and sociology’ (1924), ‘The physical im-
pact of the idea of death suggested by society’ (1926), See also: Anthropology, History of; Belief, Anthro-
‘The problem of civilisations’ (1929), ‘Bodily tech- pology of; Civilizational Analysis, History of; Classifi-
niques’ (1935), ‘A category of the mind, the concept of cation: Conceptions in the Social Sciences; Collective
person, that of the self’ (1938). But the masterpiece Beliefs: Sociological Explanation; Communes, An-
emerging from that period remains the famous com- thropology of; Community\Society: History of the
parative essay On Gift, Form and Reason of Exchange Concept; Durkheim, Emile (1858–1917); Exchange
in Archaic Societies (1925). in Anthropology; Exchange: Social; Folk Religion;
‘The gift’ is a vast, though fragmentary accomplish- Folklore; Functionalism in Anthropology; Habit:
ment of a program to study primitive economic
History of the Concept; Individual\Society: History
systems where much of the exchange of goods is
carried out by apparent donations accompanied by of the Concept; Magic, Anthropology of; Potlatch
other—mostly symbolic or ritual—services, which in Anthropology; Religion: Evolution and Develop-
make it a ‘total social phenomenon.’ The main focus ment; Religion: Family and Kinship; Religion, History
of the study is what some North American Indians of; Religion: Morality and Social Control; Religion,
name potlatch, a system of ‘total exchange’ of Phenomenology of; Religion, Sociology of; Ritual;
‘agonistic’ nature, whereby rivalry between groups, Sacrifice; Social History; Sociology, History of; Soli-
relationships of prestige and force, forms of social darity: History of the Concept; Solidarity, Sociology
inequality and alliance are expressed, confirmed and of; Totemism; Tribe
enforced. The exchange in question may equally imply
the circulation of goods, honors, courtesy, rituals,
women, etc., and its essential principle is the obligation
to offer and accept as well as return gifts, even if the Bibliography
things given hold purely symbolic value only, since Fournier M 1994 Marcel Mauss. Fayard, Paris
many acts of donation consist of the ritualized Karsenti B 1997 L’homme total. Sociologie, anthropologie et
destruction of a maximum of goods—which is the very philosophie chez Marcel Mauss. Presses Universitaires de
meaning of the potlatch. Destruction of valuables is in France, Paris
such systems an essential source of power and prestige James W, Allen N J (eds.) 1998 Marcel Mauss, A Centenary
by the demonstration of one’s possessions and the Tribute. Berghahn Books, New York
capacity to dispense with them on an apparently Mauss M 1950 Sociology et anthropologie. Presses Universitaires
de France, Paris
voluntary, but in fact strictly compulsory basis. Mauss M 1968–1969 Oeuvres. Éditions de Minuit, Paris, 3
Survivals of such arrangements, proper to several Vols.
archaic societies, can be traced in the code of behavior Mauss M 19997 Écrits politiques. Fayard, Paris
of industrial societies as well. Modern contractual Mauss M 1998 Lettres eT crites aZ Marcel Mauss. Presses Uni-
trading relations are still often completed or accomp- versitaires de France, Paris
anied by moral customs of inescapable reciprocities
grounded in gifts, sacrifice, symbolic grants, acts of V. Karaday
Copyright # 2001 Elsevier Science Ltd.
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International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences ISBN: 0-08-043076-7