Marcel Mauss Research Paper

Academic Writing Service

Sample Marcel Mauss Research Paper. Browse other  research paper examples and check the list of research paper topics for more inspiration. If you need a research paper written according to all the academic standards, you can always turn to our experienced writers for help. This is how your paper can get an A! Feel free to contact our research paper writing service for professional assistance. We offer high-quality assignments for reasonable rates.

The father figure of contemporary social and cultural anthropology in France, Mauss was among the most influential social scientists of the early twentieth century. His scholarly activities and achievements were closely connected to the birth, organization, and coming to power in the French academe of the ‘Sociological School’ headed by Emile Durkheim and gathering among other luminaries Celestin Bougle, Maurice Halbwachs, Robert Hertz, Henri Hubert, or Francois Simiand, the intellectual heritage of which is still being largely claimed, discussed, and studied worldwide as one of the major foundation acts of modern social sciences proper.

Academic Writing, Editing, Proofreading, And Problem Solving Services

Get 10% OFF with 24START discount code

Mauss was born on May 10, 1872 in Epinal (Vosges county) in a middle class Jewish family long established in Eastern France and having fully adopted the pattern of French Liberal patriotism. His personal career followed in many respects the rise of the first generation of famous French–Jewish intellectuals represented by Bergson, Durkheim, or Lucien LevyBruhl. He shared with them their Republican commitment, notably as a young activist engaged in the battle in defense of Captain Dreyfus, as one of the earliest contributors (reporting on the cooperative movement) to the socialist journal L’Humanite founded by Jean Jaures and, in the interwar years, as a dedicated expert of the (anti-Bolshevik) French socialist party (notably in matters financial and those related to the stock exchange). Mauss died on February 10, 1950 in Paris.

With formal university training in philosophy (a quasi must for would-be social scientists in his time), Mauss skipped the then almost inescapable stint of secondary school teaching, but also the stages of a normal academic career in the network of the Faculties of Letters. Several study trips and stays in Britain, Holland, and Germany enabled him to commit himself from the outstart to research and the training of scholars. He was first appointed as a lecturer on archaic religions (The Religion of Peoples Without Ci ilization) at the 5th Section (Sciences of Religion) of the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes (1901), a unique agency housed in, but independent from, the Sorbonne and aiming at the instruction of specialists in various fields of erudition. He combined later (1926) these courses with seminars on ‘descriptive ethnology’ at the newly founded Institut d’Ethnologie under the aegis of the Sorbonne, only to occupy the chair of sociology at the College de France (1931), an even more prestigious institution of higher learning. While lecturing there he also shared in a Socratic manner with a number of (often mature) students the insights of a uniquely ingenious armchair anthropologist, until he was forced to early retirement under the German occupation in 1941. His positions in these both central, but academically marginal Parisian institutions helped him to achieve a rather atypical career of a scholar exclusively dedicated to research on exotic societies without visiting any of them and producing neither a thesis, nor even books proper, but, instead, a number of substantial studies which—though highly specialized by their thematic focus—refer equally to various tribal civilizations of Australia, Amerindia, Africa, and Oceania as well as to a vast variety of relevant ‘social facts’ of the Hindu, Hebrew or Muslim world.

His education, intellectual development, and academic options were directed and supervised by Durkheim, his uncle and life long tutor. Their works—though intimately linked—appear to be considerably divergent. With the benefit of historical hindsight Mauss is credited nowadays as a less theorybound, more inspiring and heuristically rewarding ancestor for contemporary successors of the ‘French School of Sociology,’ his personal impact extending upon many significant anthropologists, sociologists, folklorists, political scientists, social psychologists, or even human geographers or social historians starting a career in France after the First World War, especially after 1945. His association with Durkheim took a decisive form by his participation in the empirical elaboration of databanks for Durkheim’s Suicide (1897) and continued, more importantly, with the editorial work of the Annee sociologique (12 volumes between 1898 and 1913), the central scholarly organ of the ‘Sociological School.’ This quasi yearly survey of relevant publications embodied the first major attempt since August Comte to organize empirically the burgeoning social sciences into an inter-related system of disciplines. In charge of a large sector of the Annee covering ‘religious sociology,’ Mauss became the author of one-quarter, approximately, of the 10,000 odd pages of review articles published in the Annee under Durkheim, and took over the direction of the Annee—transformed in the interwar years into the irregularly published Annales sociologiques—following the uncle’s untimely death in 1917.

In the division of labor of what became the ‘French School of Sociology’ Mauss was, from the outset, dealt out the sector or archaic civilizations, especially that of ‘primitive religion,’ strategic field for the experimentation of Durkheim’s basic methodological precepts. In this view indeed the main ‘social functions’ appear to be apprehensible in a straightforward form in archaic societies, so much so that they may inform the interpretation of more complex societal realities as well. Thus, tribal societies—not without ambiguity— can be equated to the simplest, the most essential, and the historically earliest patterns of social organization. To boot, following the ‘religious turn’ occurring around 1896 in Durkheim’s scholarly evolution, religion was considered as central among ‘social representations’ or objectivations of ‘collective consciousness,’ instrumental in the integration of archaic and, by implication, of all social formations. Hence the epistemological priority granted to the study of ‘elementary religion’ and the allocation of such pursuits to sociology proper as a master discipline, whatever the degree of development, power, extension, or complexity of societies concerned could be. Thus most of Mauss’ work centered on comparative problems related to belief systems, rituals, and mental habits, and other collective practices serving as a foundation for ‘social cohesion’ in extra-European and preindustrial civilizations, could qualify for being sociological, without much reference to anthropology, ethnology, ethnography, or folklore; such terms being practically absent from the topical listing of ‘branches of social sciences’ in the Annee.

Mauss’ major early studies are the outcome of his brotherly collaboration with Henri Hubert, the ancient historian and archeologist of the ‘Sociological School.’ They deal with the social functions of ‘Sacrifice’ (1899) (biblographic details of Mauss’ studies are listed by years of publication at the end of the third voume of his Oeu res (pp. 642–94) and propose ‘A general theory of magic’ (1904), to which Mauss added a number of personal essays, especially those concerning ‘The sources of magic power in Australian societies’ (1904) and the first part of his unpublished (and unpresented!) doctoral dissertation on ‘Prayer’ (1909). Some of these essays will be published in their common book (Melanges d’histoire des religions, 1909), where the authors offer in their introduction the outline of a sociological theory of religion. Denominational systems of faith are social facts and should hence be put on the agenda of sociology. They divide the life world of societies into a sacred and a secular (profane) sphere. The former is invested with essential collective values, so much so that most if not all moral customs, legal, educational, artistic, technical, and scientific practices display religious foundations. Mauss’ first ever review article discussed already a book on ‘Religion and the origin of penal law’ (1896). In the light of his and his companions’ comparative studies concerning ‘religious representations’ (including totemism, ‘positive and negative rites’ and their mythical rationalizations, the Melanesian notion of mana as the paradigm of socioreligious force, the religious origins of values—like that of money, etc.), religion emerges as a fundamental ‘social function,’ even if secularized modern societies tend to replace it by functional equivalents (like patriotic rituals) to bring about a desired degree of integration.

Mauss will be less systematic (some would say, less dogmatic) than his uncle in the generalization and theoretical exploitation of observations gained from the study of archaic religions. But he shares with Durkheim the conviction that the social prevails over the individual among norms commanding human behavior and, more specifically, that sociohistorical models are the sources of mental categories epitomized in the ‘reason’ or ‘logos’ of Western philosophy, permitting the intelligence of time, space, causality, genres, force, etc., though this approach was often condemned as ‘sociocentrism’ or ‘sociological imperialism’ by contemporary critics. In concrete terms Mauss’ main interest lay, on the one hand, in the exploration of interconnections between collective practices and ideas, in the manner how mental elaborations respond to the organizational patterns of societies contributing thus to their cohesion and, on the other hand, in the exemplification of the arbitrary nature of cultural facts which become meaningful in particular social configurations only. The first focus would lead to decisive methodological insights for the sociology (or the social history) of knowledge. The latter would inspire developments in structuralist social anthropology.

Major statements about the covariation and the fundamental integrity of various fields of collective conduct are made in the essay of comparative anthropology published together with Durkheim on Primiti e social classifications (1903) and in a Study of social morphology, produced with the collaboration of Mauss’ disciple Henri Beuchat on Seasonal Changes of Eskimo Societies (1906).

In the much cited (and not less criticized) first study a vast array of evidence, drawn from a number of extremely different Australian and American societies, is presented and analyzed in order to illustrate the functional unity of societies (as totalities) in which mental habits, religious ideas, and even basic categories guiding the perception of environment and other—residential, economic, technical—practices are demonstrably interconnected. Thus, ‘the classification of things reproduces that of people,’ as exemplified in many tribal civilizations where membership in phratries, matrimonial classes, clans, gender, or age groups serves as a principle for the organization of religious and other social activities as well as for the interpretation of reality in ‘logical classes.’ The spatial situation of the tribe is a basic model for categories of orientation, like cardinal points. Hence the intimation, that categories of reasoning, instead of following universal patterns, are sociohistorical products and even modern science owes some of its principles to primitive categorizations. Such results will later encourage Mauss to affirm the pretensions of ‘social anthropology to be once in the position of substituting itself to philosophy by drafting the history of the human mind.’

The study of Eskimo life offers a more empirical evidence for a case of covariation in time of the material substratum—morphology—of societies (‘the mass, density, shape, and composition of human groups’) and the moral, religious, and legal aspects of collective existence. The approach is, exceptionally, not comparative—though references are made to other exotic and even European societies too—only to be more closely focused on a privileged example where even the pattern of settlement of families concerned (gathering in winter, dispersion in summer) differs with the seasons, together with the intensity of social interactions, religious activities, and kinship relations. Winter represents the high point of social togetherness accompanied by festivities, the unity of residence of partner families, and various forms of economic, sexual and emotional exchange among their members, generating in them a strong sense of political and moral integrity.

In the second part of his career after World War I Mauss’ work appears to be thematically more diversified without losing its initial foci centered upon the ways and means by which society determines individual behavior and the conditions of collective ‘solidarity’ or ‘cohesion,’ the latter—while realized thanks to contingent or ‘arbitrary’ assets—forming an operational whole called ‘culture’ or ‘civilization.’ This helps to restate the historical and ethnographically localized nature of mental categories. These problems and ideas inform some major studies published by Mauss in his elderly years like ‘Relations between psychology and sociology’ (1924), ‘The physical impact of the idea of death suggested by society’ (1926), ‘The problem of civilisations’ (1929), ‘Bodily techniques’ (1935), ‘A category of the mind, the concept of person, that of the self’ (1938). But the masterpiece emerging from that period remains the famous comparative essay On Gift, Form and Reason of Exchange in Archaic Societies (1925).

‘The gift’ is a vast, though fragmentary accomplishment of a program to study primitive economic systems where much of the exchange of goods is carried out by apparent donations accompanied by other—mostly symbolic or ritual—services, which make it a ‘total social phenomenon.’ The main focus of the study is what some North American Indians name potlatch, a system of ‘total exchange’ of ‘agonistic’ nature, whereby rivalry between groups, relationships of prestige and force, forms of social inequality and alliance are expressed, confirmed and 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 things given hold purely symbolic value only, since many acts of donation consist of the ritualized destruction of a maximum of goods—which is the very meaning of the potlatch. Destruction of valuables is in such systems an essential source of power and prestige by the demonstration of one’s possessions and the capacity to dispense with them on an apparently voluntary, but in fact strictly compulsory basis. Survivals of such arrangements, proper to several archaic societies, can be traced in the code of behavior of industrial societies as well. Modern contractual trading relations are still often completed or accompanied by moral customs of inescapable reciprocities grounded in gifts, sacrifice, symbolic grants, acts of generosity, the generalization and institutionalization of which (possibly in the regime of social welfare) appears in Mauss’ view as a desirable development. He will extend the scope of the study of ‘total social facts’ in several essays, especially in one on ‘Joking relationships’ (1926), socially organized delivery of jokes and insults among kins, destined to strengthen the cohesion of the clan by the enforcement of verbal reciprocities.

Mauss’ scholarly achievement has left a considerable mark on the social sciences in France and elsewhere. In contemporary French sociological tradition he is considered—alongside may be with Maurice Halbwachs—as the most ‘legitimate’ ancestor from the ‘Sociological School.’ The historic importance of his work has been selectively and critically received but warmly appraised by men like Pierre Bourdieu (who is holding a chair of sociology illustrated by Mauss at the College de France), Roger Caillois, Georges Dumezil, Louis Dumont, Georges Gurvitch, Michel Leiris, Claude Levi-Strauss (who succeeded Mauss at the College de France).


  1. Fournier M 1994 Marcel Mauss. Fayard, Paris
  2. Karsenti B 1997 L’homme total. Sociologie, anthropologie et philosophie chez Marcel Mauss. Presses Universitaires de France, Paris
  3. James W, Allen N J (eds.) 1998 Marcel Mauss, A Centenary Tribute. Berghahn Books, New York
  4. Mauss M 1950 Sociology et anthropologie. Presses Universitaires de France, Paris
  5. Mauss M 1968–1969 Oeuvres. Editions de Minuit, Paris, 3 Vols.
  6. Mauss M 19997 E´crits politiques. Fayard, Paris
  7. Mauss M 1998 Lettres ecrites a Marcel Mauss. Presses Universitaires de France, Paris
Margaret Mead Research Paper
Anthropology of Marriage Research Paper


Always on-time


100% Confidentiality
Special offer! Get 10% off with the 24START discount code!