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Born May 10, 1872, in Epinal; died Feb. 10, 1950, in Paris. French social anthropologist and sociologist.
Mauss held the chair in the history of the religion of noncivilized peoples at the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes from 1900, and he was appointed professor of sociology at the Collège de France in 1931. Mauss was the nephew of E. Durkheim, worked closely with him, and was the leading exponent of his views. In the political sphere, Mauss supported the ideas of J. Jaurès and helped found the newspaper L’Humanité, for a time serving as its editorial secretary.
Although he adhered to Durkheim’s theory as a whole, Mauss modified some of its tenets. He did not accept Durkheim’s extreme antipsychologism and sought to reconcile sociology and psychology. In contrast to Durkheim, who viewed man as a dualistic being, embodying both an individual reality and a social reality that dominated the individual aspect, Mauss formulated the concept of the “total” man as the sum of his biological, psychological, and social traits. Mauss also placed greater emphasis on a systemic structural approach to the study of social phenomena than did Durkheim.
Mauss’ works are chiefly devoted to various aspects of life in archaic societies. His most important study is “The Gift: Forms and Functions of Exchange in Archaic Societies” (1925). In this work he shows, on the basis of extensive ethnographic and historical material, that until the development of commodity relations, the universal means of exchange was reciprocal gift-giving, in which the gifts, in theory voluntary, were in fact obligatory.
Mauss also advanced the idea of “total social facts,” stressing the comprehensive study of social facts and the identification of the most important social facts in particular social systems. These facts are at once economic, legal, religious, and aesthetic. Despite the vagueness and ambiguity of this idea, it had an influence on G. D. Gurvich and C. Lévi-Strauss. Mauss trained many specialists in ethnology, folkloristics, Indology, and historical psychology.
WORKSOeuvres, vols. 1–3, Paris, 1968–69.
Manuel d’ethnographie. Paris, 1947.
Sociologie et anthropologie, 4th ed. Paris, 1968.
REFERENCESCazeneuve, J. M. Mauss. Paris, 1968.
Cazeneuve, J. Sociologie de Marcel Mauss. Paris, 1968.
A. B. GOFMAN