Marcel Mauss

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 book is The Gift (1925).

Marcel Mauss
Born10 May 1872
Died10 February 1950 (aged 77)
NationalityFrench
Scientific career
FieldsSociology; anthropology
InstitutionsÉcole des hautes études en sciences sociales (EHESS)
InfluencesÉmile Durkheim
InfluencedClaude Lévi-Strauss
Keith Hart
Gayle Rubin
Georges Bataille

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. 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 took up a chair in the 'history of religion and uncivilized peoples' at the École pratique des hautes études (EPHE), one of the grandes écoles in Paris. It was at this time that he began drawing more on ethnography, and his work began to develop characteristics now associated with formal anthropology.

The years of World War I 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. Among students he influenced was George Devereux, later an influential anthropologist who combined ethnology with psychoanalysis.

In 1931, Mauss took up the chair of Sociology at the Collège de France. He actively fought against anti-semitism and racial politics both before and after World War II. He died in 1950.

Theoretical views

In his classic work The Gift, 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?".[2] 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's 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".[3]

Critiques

Mauss's 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 offers one possible response to such criticisms in the section "Note on Alms".

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.

Like many prominent French academics, Mauss did not train a great number of students. Nevertheless, many anthropologists claim to have followed in his footsteps, most notably Claude Lévi-Strauss. 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 influenced the Mouvement Anti-Utilitariste dans les Sciences Sociales and David Graeber.[4]

Selected works

  • Essai sur la nature et la fonction du sacrifice, (with Henri Hubert) 1898.
  • La sociologie: objet et méthode, (with Paul Fauconnet) 1901.
  • De quelques formes primitives de classification, (with Durkheim) 1902.
  • Esquisse d'une théorie générale de la magie, (with Henri Hubert) 1902.
  • Essai sur le don, 1925.
  • Les techniques du corps, 1934. [1] Journal de Psychologie 32 (3-4). Reprinted in Mauss, Sociologie et anthropologie, 1936, Paris: PUF.
  • Sociologie et anthropologie, (selected writings) 1950.
  • Manuel d'ethnographie. 1967. Editions Payot & Rivages. (Manual of Ethnography 2009. Translated by N. J. Allen. Berghan Books.)

See also

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. ^ 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.
  3. ^ 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 8 February 2015 at the Wayback Machine
  4. ^ [Graeber, D., Toward an Anthropological Theory of Value, pp 160-161, Palgrave Macmillan, 2001]

Further reading

External links

Annette Weiner

Annette Barbara Weiner née Cohen (February 14, 1933 - 7 December 1997) was an American anthropologist, Kriser Distinguished Professor of Anthropology and dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences at New York University. She was known for her ethnographic work in the Trobriand Islands and her development of the concept of inalienable wealth in social anthropological theory.

Her dissertation studied the contribution of women to the economy of Trobriand society, which had been the site of Bronislaw Malinowski's renowned studies of the Kula exchange. She demonstrated that women's contributions were highly significant but largely erased from record because the cultural focus was on the distribution and exchange of valuables rather than its production. The dissertation was published in 1976 by University of Texas Press under the title: Women of Value, Men of Renown: New Perspectives in Trobriand Exchange. It received intense attention and became a highly influential piece of feminist anthropology. In 1992 she published the book Inalienable Possessions: The paradox of keeping-while-giving at the University of California Press, in which she built on work by Marcel Mauss and Malinowski to present a theory of value and exchange in which there is a basic distinction between alienable and inalienable forms of wealth. Inalienable wealth is a kind of possession that is inalienably tied to its original possessor and which if given away retains some part of them, such wealth has the power to create lasting social divisions.She was also a founding member and president of the Society for Cultural Anthropology and president of the American Anthropological Association whose Distinguished Service Award she received in 1997.

Anthropological theories of value

Anthropological theories of value attempt to expand on the traditional theories of value used by economists or ethicists. They are often broader in scope than the theories of value of Adam Smith, David Ricardo, John Stuart Mill, Karl Marx, etc. usually including sociological, political, institutional, and historical perspectives (transdisciplinarity). Some have influenced feminist economics.

The basic premise is that economic activities can only be fully understood in the context of the society that creates them. The concept of "value" is a social construct, and as such is defined by the culture using the concept. Yet we can gain some insights into modern patterns of exchange, value, and wealth by examining previous societies. An anthropological approach to economic processes allows us to critically examine the cultural biases inherent in the principles of modern economics. Anthropological linguistics is a related field that looks at the terms we use to describe economic relations and the ecologies they are set within. Many anthropological economists (or economic anthropologists) are reacting against what they see as the portrayal of modern society as an economic machine that merely produces and consumes.

Marcel Mauss and Bronisław Malinowski for example wrote about objects that circulate in society without being consumed. Georges Bataille wrote about objects that are destroyed, but not consumed. Bruce Owens talks about objects of value that are neither circulating nor consumed (e.g. gold reserves, warehoused paintings, family heirlooms).

Essai (disambiguation)

Essai variously means attempt, test, trial, or essay in French.

Essai may also refer to:

Essai, an alternative way of writing Yesai or Yessai (in Armenian Եսայի), an Armenian masculine given name

Essai (coin), an alternative term for a pattern coin

Essaï Altounian, French Armenian singer and member of Genealogy, supergroup singing for Armenian in Eurovision Song Contest 2015

Essai sur le don, original title of The Gift by French sociologist Marcel Mauss that is the foundation of social theories of reciprocity and gift exchange

Georges Davy

Georges Davy (French: [davi]; 31 December 1883, Bernay – 27 July 1976, Coutances) 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.

Germaine Dieterlen

Germaine Dieterlen (15 May 1903 in Paris – 13 November 1999 in Paris) was a French anthropologist.

She was a student of Marcel Mauss, worked with noted French anthropologist Marcel Griaule (1898-1956) and Jean Rouch, wrote on a large range of ethnographic topics and made pioneering contributions to the study of myths, initiations, techniques (particularly "descriptive ethnography"), graphic systems, objects, classifications, ritual and social structure.

She is most noted for her work among the Dogon and the Bambara of Mali, having lived with them for over twenty years, often in collaboration with Marcel Marcel Griaule, with whom she wrote an important book entitled The Pale Fox (1965).

Hau (sociology)

Hau is a notion made popular by the French anthropologist Marcel Mauss in his 1925 book The Gift. Surveying the practice of gifting, he came to the conclusion that it involved belief in a force binding the receiver and giver. The term 'Hau', used by Māori, became a paradigmatic example for such a view. Writing at the turn of the century, Mauss relied on limited sources but his analysis has been expanded and refined.

Henri Hubert

Henri Hubert (23 June 1872 – 25 May 1927) 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.

Historical anthropology

Historical anthropology is a historiographical movement which applies methodologies and objectives from Social and Cultural Anthropology to the study of historical societies. Like most such movements, it is understood in different ways by different scholars, and to some may be synonymous with the history of mentalities, cultural history, ethnohistory, microhistory, history from below or Alltagsgeschichte. Anthropologists whose work has been particularly inspirational to historical anthropology include Emile Durkheim, Clifford Geertz, Arnold van Gennep, Jack Goody, Lucien Lévy-Bruhl, Marcel Mauss and Victor Turner.Peter Burke has contrasted historical anthropology with Social History, finding that historical anthropology tends to focus on qualitative rather than quantitative data, smaller communities, and symbolic aspects of culture. Thus it reflects a turn away, in the 1960s, in Marxist historiography from 'the orthodox Marxist approach to human behaviour in which actors are seen as motivated in the first instance by economics, and only secondarily by culture or ideology', in the work of historians such as E. P. Thompson.Historical anthropology was rooted in the Annales School, associated with a succession of major historians such as Fernand Braudel, Jacques Le Goff, Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie and Pierre Nora, along with researchers from elsewhere on the Continent such as Carlo Ginzburg. The label historical anthropology has been actively promoted by some recent Annales School historians, such as Jean-Claude Schmitt. Established in 1929 by Marc Bloch and Lucien Febvre, the review Annales. Histoire, Sciences sociales is still among the most influential French publications for research in historical anthropology.

Historical anthropology has been open to similar criticisms to anthropology: 'as Bernard Cohn and John and Jean Comaroff have observed, studies in which societies were represented in this way were often partial, biased, and unwitting handmaidens to the domination of non-Western peoples by Europeans and Americans'. But since the Second World War, increasingly reflexive approaches have led to sophisticated developments of the field, and the banner of 'historical anthropology' has often attracted Anglo-American historians in ways that the Annales School did not: key figures have been Sidney Mintz, Jay O'Brien, William Roseberry, Marshall Sahlins, Jane Schneider, Peter Schneider, Eric Wolf, Peter Burke, and people from elsewhere in the world such as Aaron Gurevich.

Inalienable possessions

Inalienable possessions (or immovable property) 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 (not exchanged), have symbolic and economic power that cannot be transferred, and are often used to authenticate the ritual authority of corporate groups".Marcel Mauss first described inalienable possessions in The Gift, discussing potlatches, a kind of gift-giving feast held in communities of many indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest:

It is even incorrect to speak in these cases of transfer. They are loans rather than sales or true abandonment of possessions. Among the Kwakiutl a certain number of objects, although they appear at the potlatch, cannot be disposed of. In reality these pieces of "property" are sacra that a family divests itself of only with great reluctance and sometimes never.

Annette Weiner broadened the application of the category of property outside the European context with her book Inalienable Possessions: The Paradox of Keeping-While-Giving, focussing on a range of Oceanic societies from Polynesia to Papua New Guinea and testing existing theories of reciprocity and marriage exchange. She also applies the concept to explain examples such as the Kula ring in the Trobriand Islands, which was made famous by Bronisław Malinowski. She explores how such possessions enable hierarchy by establishing a source of lasting social difference. She also describes practices of loaning inalienable possessions as a way of either "temporarily making kin of non-kin" or garnering status.

Itsuo Tsuda

Itsuo Tsuda (津田 逸夫, Tsuda Itsuo, 3 May 1914 – 10 March 1984) was a Japanese philosopher and a practitioner and teacher of aikido and Seitai.

Tsuda was born in Japanese-ruled Korea. When he was 16 years old, he defied his father, who wished for his eldest son to remain home and manage his family's estate. He left his family home and begin wandering, searching for new philosophies that would free his mind.Having reconciled with his father, in 1934 he went to France, where he studied with Marcel Granet and Marcel Mauss until 1940, when he went back Japan: he studied Noh with Hosada, Seitai with Haruchika Noguchi and aikido with Morihei Ueshiba.

In 1970 Itsuo Tsuda came back to Europe to disseminate the regenerative movement (or katsugen undō 活元運動, かつげんうんどう, a basic Seitai practice) and his ideas on Ki. In 1973 he published his first book, "Le Non-Faire" while waiting to open his first dojo, in Paris, L'Ecole de la Respiration (also the title of his series of books).

He died in Paris in 1984, but his practical philosophy is left in his work and his books and taught in several European "School of Breathing" dojos.

Janet Roitman

Janet Roitman is an American anthropologist. She is a professor of anthropology at the New School for Social Research in New York City. She was previously a research fellow with the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), a member of the Institut Marcel-Mauss (CNRS-EHESS, GSPM) in Paris, and an instructor at the Fondation Nationale des Sciences Politiques de Paris.

Professor Roitman has conducted extensive research in Central Africa, focusing specifically on the borders of Cameroon, Nigeria, the Central African Republic and Chad. Her book, Fiscal Disobedience: An Anthropology of Economic Regulation in Central Africa (Princeton University Press, 2005), is an analysis of the unregulated commerce that transpires on those borders. This research inquires into emergent forms of economic regulation in the region of the Chad Basin and considers consequential transformations in the nature of fiscal relations and citizenship. More generally, her research covers topics of political economy, the anthropology of value, economization, and emergent forms of the political.

Her second book, “Anti-Crisis” (Duke University Press) inquires into the status of the concept of crisis in the social sciences.

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 (even among 'natives'), 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 (the Kula ring), 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 ("Essai sur le don," 1925). 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.

Le Mouvement socialiste

The Le Mouvement socialiste (en: The Socialist Movement) was a revolutionary syndicalist journal in France founded in 1899 by Hubert Lagardelle and dissolved in 1914. Other key founders included Karl Marx's grandson Jean Longuet and Émile Durkheim's nephew Marcel Mauss. It advocated segregation of social classes; opposed bourgeois life, democracy, universal suffrage, and parliamentarism; and supported a society led by "conscious, rebellious" men that would develop a disciplined bold new man as part of a "worker's army". The journal was popular and attracted an international audience in its examination of Marxism and revolutionary syndicalism, with well-known revolutionary syndicalists contributing to it, such as Georges Sorel and Victor Griffuelhes.

Mauss

Mauss is a German surname. Notable people with the surname include:

François Mauss, the founder and president of the Grand Jury Européen

Karl Mauss (1898–1959), German military commander

Marcel Mauss (1872–1950), French sociologist and ethnologist

Werner Mauss (born 1940), German private investigator

Mouvement Anti-Utilitariste dans les Sciences Sociales

The Mouvement anti-utilitariste dans les sciences sociales (Anti-utilitarian Movement in the Social Sciences) is a French intellectual movement. It is based around the ideology of "anti-utilitarianism", a critique of economism in social sciences and instrumental rationalism in moral and political philosophy. The movement was founded in 1981 by sociologist Alain Caillé, with the establishment of its interdisciplinary monthly journal Revue du MAUSS which is still published and edited by Caillé.

The journal covers topics in economics, anthropology, sociology and political philosophy from an anti-utilitarian perspective. His name is both an acronym and a tribute to the famous anthropologist Marcel Mauss. The movement works to promote a third paradigm, as a complement to, or replacement for holism and methodological individualism.The movement began through conversations between Caillé and Swiss anthropologist Gerald Berthoud wondering why the economic theory of Marcel Mauss based on obligatory reciprocity and debt did not provide any possibilities of a "free gift" motivated by empathy rather than rational self-interest. The movement's early efforts considered the possibility of reintroducing an aspect of genuine interest in the welfare of others in economic theory. Among the economic policies suggested by the movement is the basic income guarantee a concept originally developed by Thomas Paine.

School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences

The School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences (French: École des hautes études en sciences sociales; also known as EHESS) is a French grande école (élite higher-education establishment that operates outside the regulatory framework of the public university system) specialised in the social sciences and an associated college of Université PSL.

Originally a department of the École Pratique des Hautes Études, an institution created in 1868 with the purpose of training academic researchers, the EHESS became an independent institution in 1975. Today its research covers the fields of Economics and Finance (through the Paris School of Economics), Cognitive Sciences, Humanities, Political Sciences, Applied Mathematics and Statistics, Development studies, Sociology, Anthropology, History, Musicology, and Philosophy of social science.

The institution is concentrated on scholarly research and some of its faculty (known as "directeurs d'études") have achieved international recognition in different areas: economics, Thomas Piketty and Nobel Prize Jean Tirole; historians such as Fernand Braudel and Lucien Febvre; anthropologists such as Claude Levi-Strauss, Eduardo Viveiros de Castro and Marcel Mauss, sociologists such as Pierre Bourdieu, Edgar Morin and Alain Touraine; philosophers such as Jacques Derrida, and interdisciplinary scholars such as Marcel Mauss and Raymond Aron. As a higher education institution under the jurisdiction of the French Ministry of Education, the EHESS trains academic researchers and professors specialised in the social sciences. It awards graduate degrees, such as the master of research and the doctorate, as well as a school diploma. Some of them are awarded conjointly with institutions such as the École Normale Supérieure, the École Polytechnique, the École pratique des hautes études, and some of the universities of Paris.

The EHESS is a grande école and, as such, is not part of the mainstream university system. It evaluates students through a selection process based on the research project of the applicants. The scholars in training are free to choose their own curriculum among the large quantity of seminars offered by the school. The école has a small student-faculty ratio (830 researchers for 3000 students). Most faculty belong to other institutions, mostly within the CNRS but also other schools of Université PSL such as the ENS, the EPHE and the ENC, schools of Université Paris-Saclay such as Télécom ParisTech and the ENSAE, and some of the universities of Paris.

Sociology of culture

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.

Contemporary sociologists' approach to culture is often divided between a "sociology of culture" and "cultural sociology"—the terms are similar, though not interchangeable. The sociology of culture is an older concept, and considers some topics and objects as more or less "cultural" than others. By way of contrast, Jeffrey C. Alexander introduced the term cultural sociology, an approach that sees all, or most, social phenomena as inherently cultural at some level. For instance, a leading proponent of the "strong program" in cultural sociology, Alexander argues: "To believe in the possibility of cultural sociology is to subscribe to the idea that every action, no matter how instrumental, reflexive, or coerced [compared to] its external environment, is embedded to some extent in a horizon of affect and meaning." In terms of analysis, sociology of culture often attempts to explain some discretely cultural phenomena as a product of social processes, while cultural sociology sees culture as a component of explanations of social phenomena. As opposed to the field of cultural studies, cultural sociology does not reduce all human matters to a problem of cultural encoding and decoding. For instance, Pierre Bourdieu's cultural sociology has a "clear recognition of the social and the economic as categories which are interlinked with, but not reducible to, the cultural."

Sociology of knowledge

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 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 the social-cultural basics 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.The sociology of knowledge was pioneered primarily by the sociologist Émile Durkheim at beginning of the 20th century. His work deals directly with how conceptual thought, language, and logic could be influenced by the sociological milieu out of which they arise. In an early work co-written with Marcel Mauss, Primitive Classification, Durkheim and Mauss take a study of "primitive" group mythology to argue that systems of classification are collectively based and that the divisions with these systems are derived from social categories. Later, Durkheim in The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life would elaborate his theory of knowledge, examining how language and the concepts and categories (such as space and time) used in logical thought have a sociological origin. While neither Durkheim, nor Mauss, specifically coined nor used the term 'sociology of knowledge', their work is an important first contribution to the field.

The specific term 'sociology of knowledge' is said to have been in widespread use since the 1920s, when a number of German-speaking sociologists, most notably Max Scheler and Karl Mannheim, wrote extensively on sociological aspects of knowledge. With the dominance of functionalism through the middle years of the 20th century, the sociology of knowledge tended to remain on the periphery of mainstream sociological thought. It was largely reinvented and applied much more closely to everyday life in the 1960s, particularly by Peter L. Berger and Thomas Luckmann in The Social Construction of Reality (1966) and is still central for methods dealing with qualitative understanding of human society (compare socially constructed reality). The 'genealogical' and 'archaeological' studies of Michel Foucault are of considerable contemporary influence.

The Gift (book)

The Gift is a short book by the French sociologist Marcel Mauss that is the foundation of social theories of reciprocity and gift exchange.

Mauss's original piece was entitled Essai sur le don. Forme et raison de l'échange dans les sociétés archaïques ("An essay on the gift: the form and reason of exchange in archaic societies") and was originally published in L'Année Sociologique in 1925. The essay was later republished in French in 1950 and translated into English in 1954 by Ian Cunnison, in 1990 by W. D. Halls, and in 2016 by Jane I. Guyer.

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