Mauss, Marcel

views updated May 17 2018


MAUSS, MARCEL (18721950), the father of French ethnography, has had a profound influence on human and social sciences and has left behind an incredibly rich intellectual legacy. He is automatically linked with his uncle and teacher, Émile Durkheim (18581917). Some would say that he was "in the shadow of Durkheim" when describing his scholarly output, produced in direct cooperation with him.

Born to a family of merchants and rabbis at Épinal in 1872, Mauss studied philosophy at Bordeaux under Durkheim. After gaining his agrégation (teaching exam) in philosophy in 1895, he gave up the standard career path of secondary teaching, turning his attention instead to sociology of religion. During his studies at the École Pratique des Hautes Études and a trip to Holland and England, he also gained a solid grounding in philology, the history of religions, and ethnology. From his university days Mauss was also politically active, supporting Dreyfus and the socialists. He worked with the Mouvement socialiste and he took part in founding the new Société de librairie et d'édition with Lucien Herr and Charles Andler. Once he became a professor, Mauss was involved in the cooperative movement and the Socialist Party and published numerous articles in L'Humanité, of which he had been one of the founders.

Marcel Mauss produced his first major work together with his friend and colleague Henri Hubert (18721927), titled "Essai sur la nature et la fonction du sacrifice" (1899) [Essay on the nature and function of sacrifice]. The essay appeared in L'Année sociologique, which Durkheim had just founded in 1898. In charge of the section on religious sociology, Mauss was one of its leading contributors. At the École Pratique des Hautes Études, where he succeeded Léon Marillier in 1901, Mauss was responsible for teaching the history of the religion of primitive peoples. Frequently comparative and backed up with detailed evidence, the research undertaken by Mauss was set out as part of a program that had as its subject the ritual expressions of religious life and as its purpose the development of a theory of the sacred. His work quickly went beyond the boundaries of the sociology of religion to deal with the theory of knowledge, as can be seen from the essay written with Durkheim, titled "Quelques formes primitives de classification" (1903) [Some primitive forms of classification]. Concerning sociology, the supporters of Durkheim were quick to point out that it was a collective psychology with the purpose of studying collective representation.

The main debate in Durkheim's first books at the end of the nineteenth century revolved around the conflict between the individual and society, one of the problems faced by sociology since its inception being its specific nature and its relation to other disciplines, particularly psychology. This debate not only pitted Durkheim against his opponents, such as Gabriel Tarde, it also divided his colleagues, as can be seen from the initial volumes of L'Année sociologique. Célestin Bouglé, who, like his friend Paul Lapie, was undecided regarding the theoretical framework proposed by Durkheim, recognized the role of the individual and sought to go beyond the conflict between the individual and society, talking of interaction, association between individuals, communication of conscious awareness.

In the work of Mauss was the intention to soften the dogmatic tone of Durkheim. In an essay titled "Sociologie" [Sociology] which he co-authored with Paul Fauconnet in 1901 for La Grande Encyclopédie, he stressed the psychological aspect of social life, beliefs and communal feelings. "The very core of social life is a collection of representations," he wrote. "In this sense then, it could be said that sociology is a kind of psychology " (Mauss, 1901). He clearly means a psychology different from that of the individual. Together with Henri Hubert, in 1904 Mauss published in L'Année sociologique the important "Esquisse d'une théorie générale de la magie" [Outline of a general theory of magic], demonstrating that here the laws of collective psychology transgress the laws of individual psychology. "It is belief that creates the magician," they wrote, "and the effects he unleashes" (Mauss, 1904). The use of the concept of mana, as the source idea of magic, stirred up a long-lasting controversy.

After the First World War, a tragedy which resulted in the death of Durkheim, his son André and several contributors to L'Année sociologique, and during which Mauss had volunteered and served as an interpreter, the latter undertook the difficult task of replacing his uncle and he attempted to relaunch L'Année sociologique, but only two volumes appeared, in 1925 and 1927. He also kept up intense political activity, undertaking the editing of an important work on the State and, after publishing his "Observations sur la violence" [Observations on violence] in Vie socialiste, he planned a book on Bolshevism. Then, encouraged by the current exoticism, which was attracting a new public to ethnology, Mauss worked together with Lucien Lévi-Bruhl and Paul Rivet, and in 1925 he set up the Institut d'ethnologie de l'université de Paris. The Institute attracted many students and researchersJeanne Cuisinier, Alfred Métraux, Marcel Griaule (18981956), Georges Dumézil (18981986), Denise Paulme, Michel Leiris, Germaine Dieterlen, Louis Dumont, André-Georges Haudricourt, Jacques Soustelle, Germaine Tillion, and otherswho led many field studies, particularly in Africa, and organized the first important ethnological expeditions.

A man of tremendous intellectual curiosity and exceptional erudition, Mauss undertook research in a large number of areas: from magic, to body technique via the idea of the individual, he rectified the anti-psychological attitude of his uncle. Mauss set new "Rapports réels et pratiques de psychologie et de la sociologie" [Real and practical relationships of psychology and sociology], in an article which he published in 1924 in Journal de psychologie. The following year, he published in the new series of L'Année sociologique, his "Essai sur le don. Forme et raison de l'échange dans les sociétés archaïques" [Essay on the gift. The form and reason of exchange in archaic societies].

Durkheim's nephew had never before been so interested in concerning himself with work undertaken by psychologists, and he took part in the projects of the Société de psychologie, becoming its president in 1923. His friends included Charles Blondel, Georges Dumas and above all Ignace Meyerson, the managing editor of the Journal de psychologie normale et pathologique. "Sociology, psychology, physiology, everything should be combined," wrote Mauss. The intention is thus to take as a subject "the entire, actual human being" and to analyze "the phenomena as a whole." In 1936 then, again in the Journal de psychologie, he published a study on the "Effet physique chez l'individu de l'idée de mort suggérée par la collectivité" ["Physical effect upon the individual of the collectively suggested idea of death"]. Mental confusion, inhibitions, delusions, and hallucinations were all phenomena in which Mauss had a keen interest, but which, contrary to the opinions of psychologists, he did not perceive as pathological symptoms.

Marcel Mauss was elected to the Collège de France in 1930 and he became head of sociology. The texts he published at this period include "Les techniques du corps" [Body techniques] which appeared in 1935 in the Journal de psychologie, and "Une catégorie de l'esprit humain: la notion de personne, celle de « moi », un plan de travail" [A category of the human spirit: the idea of the person, the idea of 'self' a plan], in the Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute. His last academic presentation was in 1941 and consisted of the paper, "Les techniques et la technologie" [Techniques and technology], delivered to the Journée de psychologie et d'histoire du travail et des techniques organized in Toulouse in 1941 by Ignace Meyerson. Marcel Mauss died on February 11, 1950, aged sixty-seven.

Mauss's writings were first collected by Claude Lévi-Strauss in 1950 in Sociologie et anthropologie, then in 1969, by Victor Karady in three volumes, Œuvres. As for his extensive Écrits politiques Mauss was a very active militant socialistthey were only collected by Marcel Fournier in 1997. The political work of Mauss consists of a large number of reflections and invaluable "reflections" where he combines and expresses, as he recognizes himself, the fervor of the scholar and the politician. He had no doubt at the end of his "Essai sur le don" [Essay on the gift] concerning the worth of ancient moral values, such as charity, and he put forward a morality based upon solidarity and reciprocity.


Primary Writings

Mauss, Marcel. "Essai sur la nature et la fonction du sacrifice" ("Essay on the nature and function of sacrifice"). L'Année sociologique (1899).

Mauss, Marcel, and Paul Fauconnet. "Sociologie"("Sociology"). In La Grande Encyclopédie. 1901.

Mauss, Marcel. "Esquisse d'une théorie générale de la magie" ("Outline of a general theory of magic"). L'Année sociologique (1904).

Mauss, Marcel. "Observations sur la violence" ("Observations on violence"). Vie socialiste.

Mauss, Marcel. "Rapports réels et pratiques de psychologie et de la sociologie" ("Real and practical relationships of psychology and sociology"). Journal de psychologie (1924).

Mauss, Marcel. "Essai sur le don. Forme et raison de l'échange dans les sociétés archaïques" ("Essay on the gift. The form and reason of exchange in archaic societies"). L'Année sociologique (1925).

Mauss, Marcel. "Les techniques du corps" ("Body techniques"). Journal de psychologie (1935).

Mauss, Marcel. "Une catégorie de l'esprit humain: la notion de personne, celle de « moi », un plan de travail" ("A category of the human spirit: the idea of the person, the idea of 'self' a plan"). Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute (1935).

Mauss, Marcel. "Effet physique chez l'individu de l'idée de mort suggérée par la collectivité" ("Physical effect upon the individual of the collectively suggested idea of death"). Journal de psychologie (1936).

Mauss, Marcel. "Les techniques et la technologie" ("Techniques and technology"), paper delivered to the Journée de psychologie et d'histoire du travail et des techniques, 1941.

Mauss, Marcel. Sociologie et anthropologie. Edited by Claude Lévi-Strauss. Paris, 1950.

Mauss, Marcel. Œuvres. Three volumes. Edited by Victor Karady. Paris, 1969.

Mauss, Marcel. Écrits politiques. Edited by Marcel Fournier. Paris, 1997.

Secondary Writings

Allen, N. J. Categories and Classifications: Maussian Reflections on the Social. New York, 2000.

Cazeneuve, Jean. Sociologie de Marcel Mauss. Paris, 1968.

Fimiani, Mariapaola. Marcel Mauss e il pensiero dell'origine. Naples, 1984.

Karsenti, Bruno. L'Homme total: sociologie, anthropologie et philosophie chez Marcel Mauss. Paris, 1997.

Kirchmayr, Raoul. Il circolo interrotto: figure del dono in Mauss, Sartre e Lacan. Trieste, Italy, 2002.

Lévi-Strauss, Claude. Introduction to the Work of Marcel Mauss. Translated by Felicity Baker. London, 1987.

Marcel Fournier (2005)

Mauss, Marcel

views updated May 18 2018

Mauss, Marcel

Contributions to theory




Marcel Mauss (1872-1950), French sociologist, was born in Épinal (Vosges) in Lorraine, where he grew up within a close-knit, pious, and orthodox Jewish family. Emile Durkheim was his uncle. By the age of 18 Mauss had reacted against the Jewish faith; he was never a religious man. He studied philosophy under Durkheim’s supervision at Bordeaux; Durkheim took endless trouble in guiding his nephew’s studies and even chose subjects for his own lectures that would be most useful to Mauss. Thus Mauss was initially a philosopher (like most of the early Durkheimians), and his conception of philosophy was influenced above all by Durkheim himself, for whom he always retained the utmost admiration; by Kant, to whose work Durkheim introduced him; and by two philosophers at Bordeaux, O. Hamelin, a rationalist, and the more empirically minded A. Espinas, then concerned with the collective origin of arts, customs, and technology—subjects about which Mauss was later to write. The philosophical atmosphere was Neo-Kantian. Mauss placed third in the national agrégation competition of 1895 and decided to de-vote himself to research.

He studied the history of religion at the École Pratique des Hautes Etudes under Louis Finot, Sylvain Lévi, Auguste Carrière, and A. Meillet in the Section des Sciences Historiques et Philologiques and under Alfred Foucher, Israërel Lévi, and Léon Marillier in the Section des Sciences Religieuses. Meillet and Lévi, together with Célestin Bougié, were among his closest friends. In 1897–1898 he made a study tour to Leiden, Breda, and Oxford, where he worked with Tylor. He then studied Sanskrit and Indian texts and, as Foucher’s assistant from 1900 to 1902, taught the history of the religion and philosophy of pre-Buddhist India, in 1901 succeeding Marillier to the chair in the his-tory of the religion of “noncivilized” peoples, which he occupied for the rest of his career. He taught, in addition, at the Collége de France from 1930 to 1939. In 1925 he helped to found, and then became joint director of, the Institut d‘Ethnologie de I’Université de Paris, which, by virtue of the instruction it provided and the publications it sponsored, contributed considerably to the development of field work by younger anthropologists. Mauss lectured at the Institut on ethnography until 1939, encouraging field workers to “take trouble to be exact, complete” and to have a sense for “facts and the relations between them,” for “proportions and connexions” (1947, p. 5). (Apart from a brief voyage to Morocco, Mauss himself did no field work.)

Mauss worked very closely with Durkheim. In addition to their major joint work, “De quelques formes primitives de classification” (Durkheim & Mauss 1903), he compiled statistical tables for Durkheim’s study of suicide, and they collaborated in writing reviews. It was, on the whole, Mauss who, with his greater sense of the concrete, had an eye for the illuminating fact, while the theoretical interpretation generally originated with Durkheim. The notion of “total social facts,” commonly attributed to Mauss (Lévi-Strauss [1950] 1960, pp. xxiv ff.), was, according to Georges Davy (1958), born of their collaboration arising from the study of some documents of Boas and was subsequently applied by Mauss. It is indicative of the cooperative nature of the work done by the brilliant young scholars whom Durkheim had assembled around the journal Année sociologique (published in 12 volumes between 1898 and 1913) that almost all of Mauss’s major work in this period was written in collaboration: with Hubert he published “Essai sur la nature et la fonction du sacrifice” in 1899, “Esquisse d’une theorie generale de la magie” in 1904, and “Introduction a I’analyse de quelques phenomenes religieux” in 1908; with Beuchat he published “Essai sur les variations saisonniéres des societes eskimos” in 1906; and with Fauconnet he published an important encyclopedia article on sociology in 1901.

Mauss also took a major part in editing the Année from the time of its foundation, directing the religious sociology section with Hubert, collaborating on several other sections, and contributing a vast number of reviews and notes, to which he rightly attached great importance. World War I tragically decimated the Année sociologique sociologique group, and, after Durkheim’s own early death, Mauss inherited the leadership of the group. He twice revived the journal (in the 1920s and in the 1930s) and devoted much of his time to editing post-humously published works by Durkheim, R. Hertz, Hubert, and others, thereby reducing his own output.

Mauss’s most important post-World War I writings may be divided into two broad categories. First, there are the major ethnological studies: the great Essazi sur le don of 1925, “Effect physique chez I” individu de 1’idée de mort suggérée par la collectivité (Australie, Nouvelle-Zélande)” of 1926, “Les techniques du corps” of 1936, and “Une categorie de 1’esprit humain: La notion de personne, celle de ’mof’” of 1938. Second, there are writings of a methodological and programmatic character on the social sciences: “Rapports réels et pratiques de la psychologie et de la sociologie,” which was a presidential address to the Société de Psychologie in 1924, “Divisions et proportions des divisions de la sociologie” of 1927, and “Fragment d’un plan de sociologie générate descriptive” of 1934. In addition, Mauss published other brief studies on a variety of subjects, among them the origins of the notion of money, the Melanesian potlatch, contract among the Thracians, joking relationships, the “Legend of Abraham,” forms of civilization, social cohesion in polysegmentary societies, technology, the problem of nationality, and the sociology of Bolshevism.

Mauss also led an active political life. Like Durkheim, he supported Dreyfus and Zola, and he was a leading member of the Dreyfusard Groupe des Etudiants Collectivistes. He was closely associated with the socialist leaders, in 1904 helping them to found L’humanité, to which he contributed, taking part in strikes and supporting socialist candidates in elections. He was also much involved in the “popular universities” and the cooperative movements. The evolutionary, pluralist, and liberal quality of his socialism, akin to that of Jaures, can be seen in the “Conclusions” to The Gift ([1925] 1954, pp. 63-81), where he stressed both the loss in terms of the quality of human relationships that occurs when exchange becomes purely economic and the need to restore the older themes of “freedom and obligation in the gift, of generosity and self-interest in giving” (ibid., p. 66).

Although Mauss is chiefly known as an ethnologist and historian of religion, he was in fact a polymath, one of the last encyclopedic minds, and had an extraordinary range of ethnographic and linguistic knowledge (his pupils said “Mauss knows everything”). Lévy-Bruhl (1951, p. 4) described his conversation and lectures as full of “new and fruitful ideas of which others made theses and books.” His career was brutally ended by the German occupation, which for a second time deprived him of friends and colleagues and affected the balance of his mind. He never completed projected books on money, prayer (but see Mauss 1909), and the nation (the manuscripts of which were probably destroyed), and he never synthesized his many-sided and scattered work.

Contributions to theory

Mauss’s theoretical contributions derive mainly from his concrete application and refinement of Durkheim’s precept, “The essential thing is to unite not many facts, but facts at once typical and well-studied,” as well as the precept laid down in the article written with Fauconnet (which was a sort of Durkheimian charter) that the sociologist must connect “collective representations” (i.e., collective ways of acting and thinking) with features of the social structure or with one another (1901, p. 172).

Thus the study of the Eskimos explores the relations between morphological factors, on the one hand, and legal and moral systems, domestic economy, and religious life on the other. Mauss related the crowded conditions in which the Eskimos lived in the winter to the development among them of a real community of ideas, to “a strong religious and moral unity of mind,” which he contrasted with the social atomization, the extreme “moral and religious impoverishment” that accompanied the dispersal in summer ([1906] 1960, p. 470). Similarly, the classic study with Durkheim of primitive classification attempts to find the origin of classifications (such as space, time, hierarchy, number, class, etc.) in the social structure by establishing formal correspondences between social and symbolic classifications among Australian aborigines, among the Zuni, and in traditional China: thus “even ideas so abstract as those of time and space are, at each point in their history, closely connected with the corresponding social organization” (Durkheim & Mauss [1903] 1963, p. 88). The elucidation of these formal correspondences is of considerable theoretical interest and suggestiveness, however questionable may be the causal chain that is postulated, the causal role given to affectivity, and the differentiation of cognitive operations from the content of thought (see Needham 1963). It was the first sociological study of classification and opened up the question, still immensely fruitful, of the relationship between symbolic classification and social structure.

Other examples of Mauss’s practice of Durkheimian precepts are the study of magic, analyzed as a social phenomenon and defined as “every rite which does not form part of an organised cult,” being “private, secret, mysterious and tending at the margin towards the forbidden rite” (Hubert & Mauss [19041 1960, p. 16); the study of sacrifice, analyzed as “a means of communication between the sacred and profane worlds, through the mediation of a victim, that is, of a thing that in the course of the ceremony is destroyed” (Hubert & Mauss [1899] 1964, p. 97); the study of the concept of the self, offering no more than a sketch of “the series of forms which this concept has assumed in the life of men in societies, according to their systems of law, their religions, their customs, their social structures and their modes of thought” (Mauss [1938] 1960, p. 335); and the studies of the social determinants of mourning rites (Mauss 1921), of the lust to die, and of uses of the body.

It is, however, The Gift that must rank as Mauss’s masterpiece. It is the supreme example of the study of “total social facts,” being concerned with a limited range of social phenomena seen as a totality, with “wholes, with systems in their entirety” ([1925] 1954, p. 77), namely, “prestations,” or systems of exchange, which are “in theory voluntary, disinterested and spontaneous, but are in fact obligatory and interested” (ibid., p. 1). He focused on a comparative study of forms of contract and exchange in Polynesia, Melanesia, and northwest America, with supplementary reference to evidence from early Roman, Hindu, and Germanic literature. The central hypotheses of the study are that “the archaic form of exchange,” with its three obligations of giving, receiving, and repaying, is an aspect of almost all societies (and should be resurrected in our own), that it maintains and strengthens social bonds (cooperative, competitive, and antagonistic), and that by studying it concretely in its totality in the societies chosen, “we have been able to see their essence, their operation and their living aspect, and to catch the fleeting moment when the society and its members take emotional stock of themselves and their situation as regards others” (ibid., pp. 77-78). Gift exchange is revealed as at once religious, legal, moral, economic, aesthetic, morphological, and mythological in significance: the obligations it involves are symbolically expressed in myth and imagery and take the form of an interest in the objects exchanged, but these objects “are never completely separated from the men who exchange them; the communion and alliance they establish are well-nigh indissoluble. The lasting influence of the objects exchanged is a direct expression of the manner in which subgroups within segmentary societies of an archaic type are constantly embroiled with and feel themselves in debt to each other” (ibid., p. 31). Apart from its considerable ethnographic interest, The Gift was the first systematic and comparative study of gift exchange and the first elaboration of the relation between patterns of exchange and the social structure.

In general, it may be said that Mauss’s theoretical contributions result from putting Durkheimian sociology to work, de-emphasizing its least acceptable features (the latent mysticism of the group, the crowd psychology, the identification of historical origin and analytical simplicity) and demonstrating its considerable explanatory power.


Mauss’s influence is particularly difficult to measure because of his deep involvement in collaborative work with Durkheim and others. He was the Durkheimians’ ethnographic adviser, and his part in the studies of magic, social morphology (1906), and primitive classification was of crucial importance in the development of Durkheim’s own sociology of religion and knowledge. One may likewise assert, but not measure, his influence on other Durkheimians (such as Marcel Granet) and upon those who came under their collective influence, including historians (such as Lucien Febvre and Marc Bloch) and psychologists (such as Charles Blondel).

He had a direct influence, however, on French ethnology, inspiring such figures as A. Métraux, M. Leenhardt, M. Griaule, G. Dumézil, R. Bastide, and L. Dumont. He has been a major influence on Levi-Strauss, who has written about him in terms which overstate Mauss’s theoretical divergence from Durkheim (Levi-Strauss 1945; 1950). Levi-Strauss values above all Mauss’s method, best illustrated in The Gift, of treating a total social fact as a symbolic system to be deciphered. Levi-Strauss sees this approach as “inaugurating a new era for the social sciences” ([1950] 1960, p. xxxv), for it may be generalized to the whole of social life. Thus social life may be understood as a system of transactions between groups and between individuals, the rationale of which can be established by techniques analogous to those of structural linguistics. According to Lévi-Strauss, it is the great misfortune of modern ethnology that Mauss did not exploit his discovery; he himself applied it in his theory of the exchange basis of cross-cousin marriage, which, he maintains, shows that in the field of kinship “the analogy with language, so strongly affirmed by Mauss, has permitted the discovery of precise rules, according to which there are formed, in any society whatever, cycles of reciprocity, whose mechanical laws are thenceforth known, permitting the use of deductive reasoning and offering the promise of a vast science of communication of which anthropology will be a part" ([1950] 1960, p. xxxvi). Leacock (1954) sees Mauss’s work as more oldfashioned, condemning particularly its sociologism, and evolutionism.

The Gift is Mauss’s best-known work outside France, and indeed it is the only one that has made any impact in the United States; its theoretical suggestiveness seems by no means spent. Also influential have been the seminal studies of magic, sacrifice, and, increasingly, primitive classification. Mauss’s influence is especially hard to identify in these areas because his work has entered into the common theoretical inheritance, often operating through the medium of colleagues and disciples. He appears particularly to have influenced the following anthropologists: A. R. Radcliffe-Brown, B. Malinowski (both of whom in different ways distorted his somewhat refined Durkheimianism), E. E. Evans-Pritchard, R. Firth, M. J. Herskovits,W. Lloyd Warner, and R. Redfield, among others. More generally, his influence is especially apparent in the anthropological work emanating from Oxford (via Evans-Pritchard) and in the work of the Leiden school (especially F. D. E. van Ossenbruggen and J. P. B. de Josselin de Jong). But the rich possibilities of his work have still to be fully exploited.

Steven Lukes

[See alsoEthnography; Exchange AND Display; Magic; Myth AND Symbol; Ritual; Social Structure; and the biographies of Block; Durkheim; Febvre; Granet; Herskovits; Malinowski; Metraux; Polanyi; Radcliffe-brown; Redfield.]


(1899) 1964 Hubert, Henri; and Mauss, MarcelSacrifice: Its Nature and Function. Univ. of Chicago Press.→First published as “Essai sur la nature et la fonction du sacrifice” in Volume 2 of Annéesociologique.

(1899–1905) 1909 Hubert, Henri;. and Mauss, MarcelMéanges d’histoire des religions. Paris: Alcan.→ A collection of previously published articles. See especially the preface.

1901 Fauconnet, Paul; and Mauss, Marcel Sociologie. Volume 30, pages 165–176 in La grande encyclopedie: Inventaire raisonné des sciences., des lettres et desarts. . . . Paris: Société Anonyme de La Grande Encyclopedic.

(1903) 1963 Durkheim, èMile; and Mauss, MarcelPrimitive Classification. Translated and edited with an introduction by Rodney Needham. Univ. of Chicago Press.→ First published as “De quelques formes primitives de classification” in Volume 6 of Année sociologique.

(1904) 1960 Hsdubert, Henri; and Mauss, Mcarcel Esquisse d’une théorie g\énérale de la magie. Pages 1–141 in Marcel Mauss, Sociologie et anthropologie. 2d ed. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.→ First published in Volume 7 of Année sociologique.

(1906) 1960 Essai sur les variations saisonnieres des societes eskimos: Ètude de morphologic sociale. Pages 389–477 in Marcel Mauss, Sociologie et anthropologie. 2d ed. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France. → With the collaboration of H. Beuchat. First published in Volume 9 of Année sociologique.

1908 Hubert, Henri; and Mauss, Marcel Introduction a 1’analyse de quelques phenomenes religieux. Revue de I“histoire des religions 58:163–203.

1909 La priére. I: Les origines. Unpublished manuscript.→ The beginning of a larger work; distributed privately.

1921 L’expression obligatoire des sentiments: Rituels oraux funéraires australiens. Journal de psychologic 18:425–434.

(1924) 1960 Rapports réels et pratiques de la psychologic et de la sociologie. Pages 281–310 in Marcel Mauss, Sociologie et anthropologie. 2d ed. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.→ First published in Journal de psychologic normale et pathologique.

(1925) 1954 The Gift: Forms and Functions of Exchange in Archaic Societies. Glencoe, III.: Free Press. → First published as Essai sur le don: Forme et raison de I’échange dans les sociétés archaïiques.

(1926) 1960 Effect physique chez Tindividu de 1’idee de mort suggeree par la collectivite (Australie, NouvelleZelande). Pages 311-330 in Marcel Mauss, Sociologie et anthropologie. 2d ed. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France. → First published in Journal de psychologic normale et pathologique.

1927 Divisions et proportions des divisions de la sociologie. Annee sociologique New Series [1924-1925]: 98–173.

1934 Fragment d’un plan de sociologie generale descriptive. Annales sociologiques Series A 1:1–56.

(1936) 1960 Les techniques du corps. Pages 363-386 in Marcel Mauss, Sociologie et anthropologie. 2d ed. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France. → First published in Journal de psychologie.

(1938) 1960 Une categoric de Fesprit humain: La notion de personne, celle de “moi.” Pages 331–362 in Marcel Mauss, Sociologie et anthropologie. 2d ed. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France. First published (in French) in Volume 68 of the Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland.

1947 Manuel d’ethnographic. Paris: Payot. → Based on a course given annually from 1926 to 1939 at the Institut d“Ethnologie de 1”Universite de Paris.

Sociologie et anthropologie. 2d ed. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1960.→ A collection of essays first published between 1904 and 1938.


Davy, Georges 1958 In Memoriam: Émile Durkheim. Année sociologique 3d Series [1957–1958] :vii–x.

Gugler, Josef 1961 Die neuere franzosische Soziologie: Ansätze zu einer Standortbestimmung der Soziologie. Neuwied (Germany): Luchterhand.

Gugler, Josef 1964 Bibliographic de Marcel Mauss. Hbmme 64:105–112. → The most complete bibliography of Mauss’s publications (excluding those in socialist journals and the numerous notes and reviews in the Annee sociologique and the Notes critiques-Sciences sociales). Includes not only his writings but also summaries of his comments at meetings of academic societies and congresses.

Leacock, SETH 1954 Ethnological Theory of Marcel Mauss. American Anthropologist New Series 56:58–73. -→ Selected bibliography appended.

LÉVI-STRAUSS, CLAUDE 1945 French Sociology. Pages 503–537 in Georges Gurvitch and Wilbert E. Moore (editors), Twentieth Century Sociology. New York: Philosophical Library.

LÉvi-Strauss, Claude (1950) 1960 Introduction á l’oeuvre de Marcel Mauss. In Marcel Mauss, Sociologie et anthropologie. 2d ed. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France. → The most important study of Mauss to date. Contains a selected bibliography.

LÉvy-Bruhl, H. 1951 In Memoriam: Marcel Mauss. Anné sociologique 3d series [1948–1949]: 1–4.

Merleau-Ponty, Maurice (1953) 1960 De Mauss á Claude Lévi-Strauss. Pages 145–169 in Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Éloge de la philosophic, et autres essais. Paris: Gallimard.

Needham, Rodney 1963 Introduction. In Émile Durkheim and Marcel Mauss, Primitive Classification. Univ. of Chicago Press.

Marcel Mauss

views updated May 18 2018

Marcel Mauss

The French sociologist and anthropologist Marcel Mauss (1872-1950) is best known as an ethnologist and historian of religion.

Marcel Mauss was born in Épinal on May 10, 1872, to a pious Jewish family against whose traditions he rebelled as a young man. He attended the University of Bordeaux, where he studied philosophy; one of his professors was his uncle, the sociologist Émile Durkheim. Although Mauss did not receive a degree, he placed high in the national Agrégation competition in 1895. He then studied history, philology, and religion at the University of Paris and, in 1897-1898, took a study tour including Oxford, where he met Edward Tylor, who was considered to be the founder of anthropology.

Mauss taught Hindu and Buddhist philosophy at the University of Paris from 1900 to 1902, when he succeeded to a chair in the history of religion of primitive peoples. He taught there until 1930 and then at the Collège de France until 1939. He also taught ethnography from 1927 to 1939 at the Institute of Ethnography, which he helped to found in 1927. These lectures were compiled in the Manual of Ethnography (1947). Although Mauss was not himself a fieldworker, he trained French anthropologists who were, and he stressed ethnography more than other Durkheimians.

Mauss is best known for his contributions to L'Année sociologique, the journal founded by Durkheim and his students, appearing in 12 volumes between 1898 and 1913. The journal was intended primarily as an outlet for specialized researches. Mauss edited the sections on religion and classification of the science of sociology. He took seriously Durkheim's dictum that science progressed through collective effort and neglected his own researches. In 1908, as a result, Durkheim decided to publish the journal only every third year.

Most of Mauss's early published work was in collaboration with other scholars and was published in L'Année. With Henry Hubert, he wrote The Nature and Function of Sacrifice (1899), Prolegomena to a General Theory of Magic (1904; a work which influenced Durkheim's classic Elementary Forms of the Religious Life in 1912), and Introduction to Religious Phenomena (1908). With Durkheim, he wrote Primitive Classification (1903) and collaborated on numerous articles and reviews. Mauss never knowingly violated Durkheim's sociological teachings, although the division of labor between them had left examples (both classical and ethnographic) to Mauss and theory to Durkheim.

When Durkheim died in 1917, Mauss became director of L'Année. His own work became more ethnographic after World War I as he tried to maintain the old scope of L'Année. His The Gift (1925) built on Bronislaw Malinowski's ethnographic studies of exchange and social structure in Melanesia. Mauss defined exchange patterns cross-culturally, using Roman, Hindu, and Germanic as well as primitive examples to demonstrate that exchange was a "total social fact" in which economic and social motives were inseparable.

Mauss wrote extensively for the Journal of Normal and Pathological Psychology and served as president of the Society of Psychology from 1923 to 1926. He believed that data about primitive cultures were necessary to the science of psychology, and he wanted to facilitate exchange of information between it and sociology. He died on Feb. 10, 1950.

Further Reading

There has been no biographical treatment of Mauss. Some background on his life and work is in Rodney Needham's "Introduction" in Émile Durkheim and Marcel Mauss, Primitive Classification (1903; trans. 1963); Robert H. Lowie, The History of Ethnological Theory (1937); Claude Lévi-Strauss's "French Sociology" in George Gurvitch and Wilbert E. Moore, eds., Twentieth Century Sociology (1945); Kurt H. Wolff, ed., Emile Durkheim, 1858-1917 (1960); and Marvin Harris, The Rise of Anthropological Theory (1968). □

Mauss, Marcel

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MAUSS, MARCEL (1872–1950), French ethnologist, sociologist, historian of religion, and polyhistorian. Born at Epinal, Mauss was a nephew of Emile *Durkheim, who guided his education and greatly influenced him. His early interests were mainly philosophy and the history of religion. He taught the latter subject throughout his life, but enriched the entire domain of social science and contributed to the growth of the French school of anthropology. Mauss was professor of the history of religions of noncivilized peoples at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes in Paris and also taught at the Collège de France. In 1925 he helped to found the ethnological institute of Paris University, of which he became joint director. He worked with his uncle in both practical and theoretical studies, carrying forward some of Durkheim's basic ideas such as the total social fact, collective representations, and the correspondence of morphological social structure with moral, legal, and symbolic facts. He was one of the team of young scholars assembled by Durkheim for his journal L'Année sociologique (1898–1913), and directed its section on religion. He revived the journal after World War i. Of Mauss's works on anthropology, the best known outside France is Essai sur le Don (1926; The Gift, 1954), an elaborate study of the relation between exchange patterns and social structure. Mauss was active in French political life participating in the support of *Dreyfus, and in the socialist and cooperative movements. He never recovered from the mental breakdown caused by the brutalities of the German occupation, though he published two more works before his death.


C. Lévi-Strauss, in: G. Gurvitch and W.E. Moore (eds.), Twentieth Century Sociology (1945), 503–37; idem, in: M. Mauss, Sociologie et anthropologie (1950), introd.; R. Needham, in: E. Durkheim and M. Mauss, Primitive Classification (1963), introd.; S. Lukes, in: iess, 10 (1968), 78–82; J. Gugler, in: Homme, 64 (1964), 105–12 (bibliography).

[Ephraim Fischoff]

Mauss, Marcel

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Mauss, Marcel (1872–1950) Originally trained as a philosopher at the Universities of Paris and Bordeaux, Mauss spent his professional life as a researcher, despite never acquiring a doctorate. With his uncle, Émile Durkheim, and in the company of an impressive group of sociologists, anthropologists and historians that included Henri Hubert and Robert Hertz, he founded the influential journal Année sociologique, in which most of the fundamental ideas of social anthropology were first explored. Mauss's influence on social anthropology cannot be overstated. Through exploring the nature of gift relationships (The Gift, 1925) he exposed the principles of reciprocity that are unchallenged in either functionalist or structuralist anthropology. Indeed, it can be argued that the structural anthropology of Claude Lévi-Strauss would be unthinkable without its basis in the work of Mauss, not only with respect to reciprocity but also classification (see Durkheim and and Mauss , Primitive Classification, 1903
). The sociologies of exchange relations and belief systems have both been influenced by Mauss's ideas. However, despite the pathbreaking nature of his work, Mauss tended to write essays and critiques rather than books, often in collaboration with others of the Année sociologique group, and among sociologists his work has probably not received either the attention or credit that it rightly deserves. See also EXCHANGE THEORY.

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