The Nature of Sociology: Two Essays

The Nature of Sociology: Two Essays

The Nature of Sociology: Two Essays

The Nature of Sociology: Two Essays


Having taken over the leadership of the French school of sociology after the death of his uncle, Emile Durkheim, in 1917, Mauss, celebrated author of The Gift, re-launched the flagship journal, the Année sociologique. Here are two of Mauss's most significant statements on the social sciences. The first, written with Fauconnet, outlines the methodological orientations of the school. The second examines the internal organization of sociology as a division of intellectual labor. The essays are of interest to anthropologists as well as sociologists for Mauss, like Durkheim, did not distinguish in detail the two disciplines.


Mike Gane

Today there is no doubt that the reputation of Mauss (1872–1950) is significant and growing. There is a marked divergence of opinion, however, on the nature of his contribution and influence.

On the one hand stands a strong body of opinion which holds that Mauss’s work did not amount to a systematic and coherent general theory and method, but was influential through the specific inspiration of unique studies, such as The Gift (1966, 1990). On the other hand, there is another appropriation that is divided into two lines of assessment, but both suggest there was a profound unity in Mauss’s teaching and research that amounted to a systematic theory. One line of this argument is that Mauss’s general theory was a contribution to structuralism (an argument presented in Lévi-Strauss’s famous Introduction to the Work of Marcel Mauss (1987)). The other line is that which suggests that the inner core of Mauss’s theory was identified by Bataille, Caillois and others at the end of the 1930s in the famous Collège de Sociologie, and subsequently elaborated by general theorists of symbolic exchange such as Baudrillard. Writers from both lines – Lévi-Strauss to Godelier and Bataille to Baudrillard – have taken Mauss’s anthropological theory and wedded it to a version of Marxist theory, a step that Mauss himself would certainly not have thought legitimate. The methodological guidelines he drew up were supposed to deal with this possibility. The fact that they seemed to have failed implies that the legacy of Mauss is sometimes seen as uncertain or even paradoxical (Cazeneuve 1968). Did Mauss’s contribution constitute a coherent whole, or was it made up of individual unique studies that could potentially be made the basis of further and conflicting elaborations?

A reading of his methodological writings, principally those included in this collection, is essential to understanding his thought in the widest sense. If today there is not only a renewed interest in Mauss, and one that goes beyond any one individual study such as The Gift, it is also an interest that in many . . .

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