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Marcel Mauss - Techniques of the Body

Marcel Mauss - Techniques of the Body

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This article was downloaded by:[Tel Aviv University][Tel Aviv University]On:22 July 2007Access Details:[subscription number 769797713]Publisher:RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954Registered office: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK
Economy and Society
Publication details, including instructions for authors and subscription information:http://www.informaworld.com/smpp/title~content=t713685159
Techniques of the body
Marcel MaussOnline Publication Date:01 February 1973To cite this Article:Mauss, Marcel , (1973) 'Techniques of the body ', Economy andSociety, 2:1, 70 - 88To link to this article: DOI:10.1080/03085147300000003URL:http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/03085147300000003PLEASE SCROLL DOWN FOR ARTICLEFull terms and conditions of use:http://www.informaworld.com/terms-and-conditions-of-access.pdfThisarticlemaybeusedforresearch,teachingandprivatestudypurposes.Anysubstantialorsystematicreproduction,re-distribution,re-selling,loanorsub-licensing,systematicsupplyordistributioninanyformtoanyoneisexpresslyforbidden.Thepublisherdoesnotgiveanywarrantyexpressorimpliedormakeanyrepresentationthatthecontentswillbecompleteoraccurateoruptodate.Theaccuracyofanyinstructions,formulaeanddrugdosesshouldbeindependentlyverifiedwithprimarysources.Thepublishershallnotbeliableforanyloss,actions,claims,proceedings,demandorcostsordamageswhatsoeverorhowsoevercausedarisingdirectlyorindirectlyinconnectionwithorarising out of the use of this material. © Taylor and Francis 2007
 
Techniques
of
the
body*
Marcel
Mauss
Chapter
One:
The Notion of Techniques of the Body
I deliberately say techniques of the body in the plural because it ispossible to produce a theory of
the
technique of the body in the singularon the basis of a study, an exposition, a description pure and simpleof techniques of the body in the plural. By this expression
I
mean theways in which from society to society men know how to use theirbodies. In any case, it is essential to move from the concrete to theabstract and not the other way round.
I
want to convey to you what
I
believe is one of the parts of myteaching which is not to be found elsewhere, that I have rehearsed in acourse of lectures on descriptive ethnology (the books containing the
Summary Instructions
and
I?tstructions for Ethnographers
are to bepublished) and have tried out several times in my teaching at theInstitut d'Ethnologie of the University of Paris.When a natural science makes advances, it only ever does so in thedirection of the concrete, and always in the direction of the unknown.Now the unknown is found at the frontiers of the sciences, where theprofessors are at each other's throats, as Goethe put it (though Goethewas not so polite). It is generally in these ill-demarcated domains thatthe urgent problems
lie.
Moreover, these uncleared lands are marked.In the natural sciences at present, there is always one obnoxious rubric.There is always a moment when, the science of certain facts notbeing yet reduced into concepts, the facts not even being organicallygrouped together, these masses of facts receive that posting of ignorance
:
'Miscellaneous'. This is where we have to penetrate. We can be certainthat this is where there are truths to be discovered: first because weknow that we are ignorant, and second because we have
a
lively senseof the quantity of the facts. For many years in my course in descriptiveethnology,
I
have had to teach in the shadow of the disgrace andopprobrium of the 'miscellaneous' in a matter in which in ethnographythis rubric 'miscellaneous' was truly heteroclite. I was well aware thatwalking or swimming, for example, and all sorts of things of the sametype, are specific to determinate societies
;
that the Polynesians do notswim as we do, that my generation did not swim as the present genera-
*
This lecture was given at a meeting of the SociCtC de Psychologie, Mayr7th,
1934
and published in the
Journal de psychologie normal et patholigique,
Paris, AnnCe
XXXII,
1935,
pp.
271-93.
Reprinted in Marcel Mauss,
Sociologie
et
Anthropologie
(with introduction
by
Claude Levi-Strauss),4th edition, Paris: Presses Universitaires
de
France,
1968.
pp.
364-386.
 
Techniques
of
the
body
7
1
tion does. But what social phenomena did these represent? They were'miscellaneous' social phenomena, and,
as
this rubric is a horror,
I
have often thought about this 'miscellaneous', at least as often
as
I
have been obliged to discuss it and often in between times.Forgive me if, in order to give this notion of techniques of the bodyshape for you,
I
tell you about the occasions on which
I
pursued thisgeneral problem and how
I
managed to pose it clearly. It was a seriesof steps consciously and unconsciously taken.First, in 1898, I came into contact with someone whose initials
I
still know, but whose name
I
can no longer remember.
I
have beentoo lazy to look it up. It was the man who wrote an excellent articleon 'Swimming' for the 1902 edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica,then in preparation.1 (The articles on 'Swimming' in the two latereditions are not so good.) He revealed to me the historical and ethno-graphical interest of the question. It was a starting-point, an observa-tional framework. Subsequently-I noticed it myself-we have seenswimming techniques undergo a change, in our generation's life-time.An example will put us in the picture straight away: us, the psycho-logists, as well as the biologists and sociologists. Previously we weretaught to dive after having learnt to swim. And when we were learningto dive, we were taught to close our eyes and then to open them underwater. Today the technique is the other way round. The whole trainingbegins by getting the children used to keeping their eyes open underwater. Thus, even before they can swim, particular care is taken to getthe children to control their dangerous but instinctive ocular reflexes,before all else they are familiarised with the water, their fears aresuppressed,
a
certain confidence is created, suspensions and move-ments are selected. Hence there is a technique of diving and a techniqueof education in diving which have been discovered in my day. Andyou can see that it really is a technical education and, as in everytechnique, there is an apprenticeship in swimming. On the other hand,here our generation has witnessed a complete change in technique: wehave seen the breast-stroke with the head out of the water replaced bythe different sorts of crawl. Moreover, the habit of swallowing waterand spitting it out again has gone. In my day swimmers thought ofthemselves as a kind of steam-boat. It was stupid, but
in
fact
I
stilldo this: I cannot get rid of my technique. Here then we have
a
specifictechnique of the body, a gymnic art perfected in our own day.But this specificity is characteristic of all techniques. An example:during the War
I
was able to make many observations on this specificityof techniques. E.g. the technique of digging. The English troops I waswith did not know how to use French spades, which forced us tochange 8,000 spades a division when we relieved a French division,and vice versa. This plainly shows that a manual knack can only belearnt slowly. Every technique properly so-called has its own form.But the same is true of every attitude of the body. Each society has

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