Marcel Mauss

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Marcel Mauss (French: [mos]; 10 May 1872 – 10 February 1950) was a Jewish French sociologist and anthropologist known as the "father of French ethnology".


The Gift: The Form and Reason for Exchange in Archaic Societies (1966)[edit]

Translated by Ian Gunnison. Cohen & West Ltd. (Original work published 1925 as Essai sur le don: forme et raison de l'échange dans les sociétés archaïques)
  • [I]n these 'early' societies, social phenomena are not discrete; each phenomenon contains all the threads of which the social fabric is composed. In these total social phenomena, as we propose to call them, all kinds of institutions find simultaneous expression: religious, legal, moral, and economic. In addition, the phenomena have their aesthetic aspect and they reveal morphological types.
    • p. 1
  • The connection of exchange contracts among men with those between men and gods explains a whole aspect of the theory of sacrifice. It is best seen in those societies where contractual and economic ritual is practised between men. Where the men are masked incarnations, often shamanistic, being possessed by the spirit whose name they bear, they act as representatives of the spirits. In that case the exchanges and contracts concern not only men and things but also the sacred beings that are associated with them.
    • p. 13
  • Among the first groups of beings with whom men must have made contracts were the spirits of the dead and the gods. They in fact are the real owners of the world's wealth. With them it was particularly necessary to exchange and particularly dangerous not to; but, on the other hand, with them exchange was easiest and safest.
    • p. 13
  • Sacrificial destruction implies giving something that is to be repaid. All forms of North-West American and North-East Asian potlatch contain this element of destruction. It is not simply to show power and wealth and unselfishness that a man puts his slaves to death, burns his precious oil, throws coppers into the sea, and sets his house on fire. In doing this he is also sacrificing to the gods and spirits, who appear incarnate in the men who are at once their namesakes and ritual allies.
    • p. 14
  • We see how it might be possible to embark upon a theory and history of contractual sacrifice. Now this sacrifice presupposes institutions of the type we are describing, and conversely it realizes them to the full, for the gods who give and repay are there to give something great in exchange for something small. Perhaps then it is not the result of pure chance that the two solemn formulas of contract, the Latin do ut des and the Sanskrit dadami se, dehi me have come down to us through religious texts.
    • p. 15

Quotes about Mauss[edit]

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