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Gluckman-Gossip-and-Scandal

Gluckman-Gossip-and-Scandal

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Papers in Honor of Melville J. Herskovits: Gossip and ScandalAuthor(s): Max GluckmanSource:
Current Anthropology,
Vol. 4, No. 3 (Jun., 1963), pp. 307-316Published by:
on behalf of
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PapersnHonor ofMelville
J.
Herskovits
Gossip ndScandal
byMaxqluckman
IT HAS TAKEN
the development f anthropologicalinterestn the growthnd break-up fsmall groupsto putgossip ndscandal nto heir ropererspective,as among the most mportant ocietalnd culturalphenomenaeare called upon toanalyse. erceptiveanthropologistsealt withhesehenomenarom heearly days of field observation. aulRadin, in hisPrimitive an as a Philosopher1927:177-8),escribedthewaynwhichprimitiveeople rendeedmonghemostersistentndinveteratefgossips.ontestantsor he ameonours,os-sessorsf theacred ites ftheribe,he uthorizedar-rators flegends,llleaveyounlittleoubts to thecharacterndproficiencyftheirolleagues.Ignoramus,""braggart,"ndnot nfrequentlyliar" re iberallyandiedabout.Radin commentedhat thereforesome observershave drawn the conclusion hat notlove, kindness,and forbearance,ut envy, lander ndhateare thedominanttmospheref aprimitiveommunity."earguedhat this wasincorrect,ecausehe"unkindandslanderousemarks o frequentlyandiedboutdonotengendereudsnd that oftenheprincipalsconcernedre onverygoodterms."adindismissedthe deathatthiscontradictionas to beexplainedby "suppressionrsublimation";uthe fellbackonameagre sychologicalhesis,hatribalocietyasatheoryffreedomfexpressionhichgives "every
MAX GLUCKMAN
isProfessorofSocialAnthropologyt theVictoriaUniversityfManchester, ngland.Born in1911,hewas educated inJohannesburgndas a RhodesScholaratOxford(D.Phil., 1936).Hecarriedoutlengthyield researchamongthe Zulu and the Barotseand shorterurveysnotherRhodesiantribes.He wasDirectoroftheRhodes-LivingstoneInstituteof SocialStudiesinBritishCentralAfrica(1939-1947), beforebecoming University ecturertOxford1947-9),whence heestablishedtheDepartmentof SocialAnthro-pologyandSociologyatManchester.He hasbeeneditor of theRhodes-Livingstonenstitutepublications.Gluckman's mainpublicationsare onpoliticsandlaw,in-cludingaseries ofbooksandessayson the Barotseand anumberofessayson the Zulu, as well as collaborative workontheRhodesianTonga and Lamba. Also, hehas publishedgeneraltheoreticalwork,including Custom and Conflict inAfrica and Rule, Law and Ritual in Tribal Societyin press),withcontributions oEssaysontheRitual ofSocialRelationsand ClosedSystemsndOpenMinds:The Limitsof NaiveteinSocialAnthropologyin press), both of whichast he edited.A collectionof his essays has just been publishedunder thetitleOrderandRebellionin Tribal Africa.MaxGluckman's paperis the third in a series,edited byFrancis L.K.HsuandAlan P. Merriam speciallyprepared tohonorMelville J. Herskovits.he entire eries,whencompleted,willconstitutenew typeofFestschriftCA 4:92).
individual...thesamerightoindulgenslander,gossip,utburstsfconceit,ealously,tc.,hathehastogiveventothemoreespectablemotions."adin'stheory asthusmuchessacutehanhisobservationsofgossip.Hemay haveconfusedhemaintenancefasurfacefgoodrelationsetweeneaderswithctualgoodrelations,utheclearlyetectedowtheyom-petedthroughossip,withouteingabletoweavethisnto atheory.his ispartlyunderstandablenterms fthebackground fanalyticaldeasatthetimehewrote,houghyeararlier,Malinowskiadpresentedistheoryfmyth sasocialcharter orexisting ocialarrangementsnthebasis ofaman'sboasts hathehad theprivilegeotell acertainmyth(MythnPrimitivesychology,926).InhisstudyofaTrinidadVillage(1947:1 5),Herskovitsrobedmuchmoredeeplyntogossipsaculturalhenomenon.e discusses owprosecutionsandjailingof asectalledtheShoutersgiverisetogossipabouttheeventshatled tothesuppressedmeetings,aleshatretoldandretoldwithmixtureofrelishndsympathy."eproceedsoshowhowpopularattitudesndpointsofviewinfluencehisgossip, othatfantasyupplementsrevenupplantsfactnorder oweave morelosely newmotif ntotheoldpattern fgrievancegainstdiscrimination."Thusoft-repeatedossiplamed he ocalministerorafirst eriesfarrestsfShouters,ortwasallegedthathewaspiquedbecausehe Shoutersaddrawnawayhisowncongregation.rominentaymenf arecognizedhurchwereaccusedngossipfleadingthepoliceto aShouters'meeting.erskovitselatesthisgossiptoallegationsythoseof lowersocio-economicositionhat thediscriminationflargerand wealthierenominationsadachievedhepassingoftheordinanceorbiddingheShoutersnordertosuppressdangerousival n thequestforouls."InanothertudyHerskovitsonnectsossipwiththe maintenancef morals.n hisLifein aHaitianValley(1937:74f)heanalysessongssungat theworking-bees-theombites:Attheombiteman otnlyearnsll theossipf heday,utnjoysearningndingingheongs hichaus-ticallyommentnthehortcomingsfneighbours,reval-uate hehospitalityfthosewhohave alledombites,rdetailcandal, hrased ithufficientirectnessoallowthe eferencef theongoremaintear,utwarily,oasnotogive hendividualroundsorirectecrimination.As weshallee,lltheessons fsuccessfulcandal-mongeringrecompressednHerskovits' ew words.
Vol.4 *No. 3 *June1963307
 
He goeson toexplainhow thismakes heeaderoftheongs eared,or sone Haitianexpressedt,Thesimidorleader]s a journalist,nd everyimidorsa Judas!"Herskovits-anticipatingere he nalysisnwhichshallmainlyepend-givesxamplesf thesesongsoshowhow theyind avouramongpeopletowhosenaturaloveof gossips addeda patternedrelishor bliqueublic tatementfndividualhort-comings."e thenites ongswhich cornnhospitalityandmeanness,love affairetweenwofirstousins,andanimpendinguarrelwheresuspicionfmagicpracticesntered,ndfinallysong whichwasachallengenwhich he singeroastedfhis equalitywithnother.Theconnectionfgossipwiththe maintenancefthe unityfgroupsndtheirmoralityas takenastepfurtheryJamesWestn histudyf Plainsville,U.S.A., (1945:99-107,162),aMiddleWesttown;andthiss thefirsteginningf ananalysiswhichdemonstrateshepervasiverole ofgossipncom-munityife.'Westdescribes ividlyhe"loafingndgossip"groupsf Plainsville,ndcreateshesugges-tivetitlegossipells."Therearegroupsf oldmenandold women,nd mencanonlyenter hestorewhere heoldwomenitby indulgingn ajoking-relationship,arkedbysexualinnuendo.Healsodescribesoungerliques,ne ofyoungmarriedomenandone of fourfast"youngmarriedouples.Hesaysthatn thegroupsfoldpeoplethere s exchangingand garblingfallnews,thoughheold menarekindlierhanheyoungwomen hink.estates, oo,thatheseroupsreon thewholegainstrogressivedevelopments.inallyhe(p.162)writes hatreligioneemsopermeatehe ir.. as a vital oncerniththeegotiationsnmoralonducthichhe hurchesetp.Thereligiousontrolfmoralsperatesainlyhroughgossipndthe earfgossip.eople eport,uspect,aughat,and condemnhepeccadilloesf others,nd walkndbehave arefullyoavoid beingaughtnanytriflingmisstepsftheirwn....Takingheseassagesnconjunctionithhebookasawhole,ne beginsogetfeelingfacommunitywhichspartlyeldtogetherndmaintainstsvaluesby gossipingnd scandalizingothwithinliquesndingeneral.WemustiveWestfull reditorhisgreatpioneeringchievement;ut perhapsecausehewasapioneerewasnotable tograsp hefull mportanceofhis owndiscoveries.e didnot bringout thatgossipoesnot have solated olesn communityife,butspartoftheverybloodandtissuefthat ife.Before examinestudywhichdemonstratedhisfully,glancengeneralermst ourproblems.heirimportances indicatedy thefact thateveryingleday,and forlargepartofeach day,most fus areengagedngossiping.imaginehatf wewere tokeeprecord fhowwe useourwaking-time,ossipingwouldcomeonlyafterwork"-forsomeof us-inthecore.Nevertheless,opularommentsboutgossiptend totreatt as somethinghancendhaphazardand often ssomethingo be disapprovedf. Itis
against the canons of the Church. Yet it ispossible toshow thatamong relativelysmallgroups, gossip,inall itsverymany varieties,saculturallydeterminedprocess, whichhas its owncustomaryrules, trespassbeyond whichis heavily sanctioned. Iproposetoillustrate hesocial affiliations f thisprocessand tosuggest hat gossip, and evenscandal, have importantpositivevirtues.Clearly theymaintain theunity,morals andvalues of social groups.Beyond this, theyenable thesegroups to control thecompeting liquesand aspiringndividuals of which allgroupsare com-posed. Andfinally, they make possible the selectionof leaders withoutembarrassment.The one theme ofmy argumentwasclearlyex-pressednJane Austen'snovel,Emma,thatpenetratinganalysisofthe smallvillageofHighburynSurrey.Youmay remember hepassagewhen the eliteofthevillage were togatherforChristmasdinner atMr.Weston'shouse.Amongthemwas Mr.JohnKnightly,who had leftHighbury to practise lawinLondon.Ashe wasdriventhroughhesnowtoMr.Weston's,hegrumbled o hiscompanions:A manmusthaveaverygood opinionfhimself henhe asks people toleave their wn fireside,nd encountersuchdayasthis,orthesakeofcomingoseehim.Hemust hinkhimselfmostagreeableellow;couldnotdosuchthing.tisthegreatestbsurdity-actuallynow-ingt thismoment! hefollyfpeople'sottayingthomewhen heyan! If we wereobligedogoout on suchaneveningsthis,by any callofdutyorbusiness,hat ahardshipweshoulddeem t;-and here we are, probablywith ratherhinnerlothinghanusual, settingorwardvoluntarily,ithoutxcuse,ndefiancefthe voiceofnaturewhich ellsman,neverythingiveno hisvieworhisfeelings,ostayathomehimself,ndkeepall undershelterhathecan;-hereare wesettingorwardospendfivedullhoursnanotherman'shouse,withnothingosayor tohear thatwasnotsaid andheardyesterday,ndmaynotbesaidandheard againtomorrow. oingindismalweather,o returnrobablyn worse; fourhorsesand fourervantsakenut fornothinguttoconvey iveidleshiveringreaturesntocolderroomsnd worse om-panythantheymight avehad athome.Fiveidle creatureswerebeingtakenthat nighttospend their time in idle gossip withother idle crea-tures.Thatday theyhad chattedthesame idle gossip.Andon thefollowingday, theywould engageinthesame idlegossip. Now, obviously,inthe kind ofsociety describedbyMiss Austen-thecountryuppercirclesofearlynineteenthenturyEngland-gossipwas notidle,thoughthecreatureswere.In factthemoreidlethecreatures,he less idle was thegossip.These werepeople livingonland,rentsandgilt-edged shares,markinghemselves ff fromothersbytalkingabout oneanother. Andtalkingaboutoneanotherwaswhathelpedmaintainthem sagroup-anelite-in thewidersocietyinwhichtheylived.Mr.JohnKnightlyhad leftthissocietytopracticelaw inLondon; hence he was intolerant f its gossip.His morentelligent,nd veryhigh-principled rother,joinedinthegossip with interest,for he was stillfullyabsorbedinthesociallifeofthe village. Buttherighttogossip idlywasseverely restricted venwithinthecircle;sothat Mrs.Elton,theRector'sride from Bristol,was pert and impertinentwhenshe joinedin that gossip too freelynd tooquickly.he novelistFrank Swinnertonpointed outthat
1
Jdrawattention oSimmel's brief referenceo"gossip" asimportant nthe nuances ofhumaninteraction, uthe isled offfromanalysisbyemphasisinghebetrayalfsecrets, venthoughthisis mostimportantncommunityossip (TheSociology ofGeorgSimmel, 1950,p.334).
308
CURRENT ANTHROPOLOGY

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