HAR is pleased to announce one of the latest releases from BEROSE International Encyclopaedia of the Histories of Anthropology: an article in French on the correspondence between Marcel Mauss and Dutch scholars.

Beaufils, Thomas, 2023. “Marcel Mauss, la Hollande et les Hollandais. Correspondance de 1898 à 1938,” in BEROSE International Encyclopaedia of the Histories of Anthropology, Paris. 

URL BEROSE: article3115.html

The sheer volume of articles and books devoted to both the published texts and the manuscripts of Marcel Mauss (1872–1959) over the decades suggests that all facets of the French scholar’s personality and intellectual activity have been widely explored. However, although a very serious and patient effort has been made in recent years to assemble and describe the relevant archives, the task of locating unpublished documents has not yet been completed. In fact, Mauss’s work is characterized by the extreme dispersion of the writings he bequeathed; and all his known correspondence has yet to be fully transcribed. The present piece is a contribution to this tireless work of compilation and translation, in order to give as accurate a picture as possible of the scientific output of the “father of French anthropology.” The correspondence transcribed here comprises mostly letters exchanged between Mauss and Dutch scholars, and also with the Amsterdam rabbinate, including one in German. The collection spans the period from 1898, when Mauss was only 26 and still a student, to 1938, when the great scholar was at the height of his fame. The aim of this dossier is to draw up an inventory of the links that existed between Marcel Mauss and the Netherlands during this period. The content of this correspondence is often personal, and therefore not exclusively scientific. This piece appears within the BEROSE encyclopedic dossier dedicated to Marcel Mauss, which comprises over fifty resources, both primary and secondary sources. 

Born into a family of rabbis and manufacturers, Marcel Mauss (1872–1950) was a sociologist and anthropologist whose unclassifiable protean thinking influenced all the French social sciences. With a background in philosophy, Mauss became the main collaborator of his maternal uncle Émile Durkheim, and made major contributions to the path-breaking journal L’Année sociologique. Under the guidance of his masters at the École Pratique des Hautes Études, such as Indianist scholar Sylvain Lévi, Mauss mastered the religions of antiquity—whether from India, Greece and Rome, or from “barbarian,” pagan Europe—which he compared to the ethnography of contemporary “primitive” peoples in ways that both dialogued with and questioned evolutionist anthropology. He wrote several articles on various aspects of religious life with his “intellectual twin” Henri Hubert. His thesis on prayer, though, remained unfinished. From 1901, Mauss held (and modernized) the chair “History of Religions of Uncivilised Peoples” at the École Pratique de Hautes Études. When the Institut d’Ethnologie was founded in 1925, Mauss was one of its leading figures, not least as a teacher. Five years later, he was elected to the Collège de France to a chair in sociology after two failed candidacies. Along with Paul Rivet and Lucien Lévy-Bruhl, Mauss was one of the founding fathers of French ethnology in the 1920s and 1940s. Even though he did not see himself as an ethnologue but as a sociologue—faithful to Durkheim, and to the spirit of the scholarly and friendly circle gathered around L’Année Sociologique—Mauss left a lasting mark on French ethnologie—or anthropology. Although he did not conduct fieldwork himself, he went down in history as the founding father of French ethnography, which was partly due to his Manuel d’ethnographie (1947), edited by his student Denise Paulme. Masterful as professor, he played a decisive role in the intellectual training of the first generation of French professional ethnologists/anthropologists, inspiring them through his incomparable erudition and ethnological sensitivity, more than through systematizing a school of thought. The author of a consistent though scattered body of work, Mauss applied his curiosity and analytical skills to a wide range of issues: law, sacrifice, magic, sacred, classifications, death, symbolism, collective psychology, the notions of self and person, bodily techniques (we owe him the notion of habitus), social morphology and life. He remains the man behind the Essai sur le don (The Gift, 1925), fiercely debated over the decades, in which he formulated the famous concept of “total social fact” and popularized the emic notion of “hau.” A supporter of Dreyfus, Mauss was a socialist, a friend of Jean Jaurès, and one of the founders of the newspaper L’Humanité. Close to the cooperative movement, he was also an internationalist and a member of the Union rationaliste. Weakened for many years, Mauss died in 1950.

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