by M Mauss · Cited by 3307 — Reprinted in Marcel Mauss,. Sociologie et Anthropologie (with introduction by Claude Levi-Strauss),. 4th edition, Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1968. pp.
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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 is possible to produce a theory of the technique of the body in the singular on the basis of a study, an exposition, a description pure and simple of techniques of the body in the plural. By this expression I mean the ways in which from society to society men know how to use their bodies. In any case, it is essential to move from the concrete to the abstract and not the other way round. I want to convey to you what I believe is one of the parts of my teaching which is not to be found elsewhere, that I have rehearsed in a course of lectures on descriptive ethnology (the books containing the Summary Instructions and I?tstructions for Ethnographers are to be published) and have tried out several times in my teaching at the Institut d’Ethnologie of the University of Paris. When a natural science makes advances, it only ever does so in the direction of the concrete, and always in the direction of the unknown. Now the unknown is found at the frontiers of the sciences, where the professors are at each other’s throats, as Goethe put it (though Goethe was not so polite). It is generally in these ill-demarcated domains that the 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 not being yet reduced into concepts, the facts not even being organically grouped together, these masses of facts receive that posting of ignorance : ‘Miscellaneous’. This is where we have to penetrate. We can be certain that this is where there are truths to be discovered: first because we know that we are ignorant, and second because we have a lively sense of the quantity of the facts. For many years in my course in descriptive ethnology, I have had to teach in the shadow of the disgrace and opprobrium of the ‘miscellaneous’ in a matter in which in ethnography this rubric ‘miscellaneous’ was truly heteroclite. I was well aware that walking or swimming, for example, and all sorts of things of the same type, are specific to determinate societies ; that the Polynesians do not swim 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, May r7th, 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.
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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 body shape for you, I tell you about the occasions on which I pursued this general problem and how I managed to pose it clearly. It was a series of 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 been too lazy to look it up. It was the man who wrote an excellent article on ‘Swimming’ for the 1902 edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica, then in preparation.1 (The articles on ‘Swimming’ in the two later editions 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 seen swimming 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 were taught to dive after having learnt to swim. And when we were learning to dive, we were taught to close our eyes and then to open them under water. Today the technique is the other way round. The whole training begins by getting the children used to keeping their eyes open under water. Thus, even before they can swim, particular care is taken to get the children to control their dangerous but instinctive ocular reflexes, before all else they are familiarised with the water, their fears are suppressed, a certain confidence is created, suspensions and move- ments are selected. Hence there is a technique of diving and a technique of education in diving which have been discovered in my day. And you can see that it really is a technical education and, as in every technique, there is an apprenticeship in swimming. On the other hand, here our generation has witnessed a complete change in technique: we have seen the breast-stroke with the head out of the water replaced by the different sorts of crawl. Moreover, the habit of swallowing water and spitting it out again has gone. In my day swimmers thought of themselves as a kind of steam-boat. It was stupid, but in fact I still do this: I cannot get rid of my technique. Here then we have a specific technique 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 specificity of techniques. E.g. the technique of digging. The English troops I was with did not know how to use French spades, which forced us to change 8,000 spades a division when we relieved a French division, and vice versa. This plainly shows that a manual knack can only be learnt 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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72 Marcel Mauss its own special habits. In the same period I had many opportunities to note the differences between the various armies. An anecdote about marching. You all know that the British infantry marches with a different step from our own: with a different frequency and a different stride. For the moment I am not talking about the English swing or the action of the knees, etc. The Worcester Regiment, having achieved considerable glory alongside French infantry in the Battle of the Aisne, requested Royal permission to have French trumpets and drums, a band of French buglers and drummers. The result was not very encouraging. For nearly six months, in the streets of Bailleul, long after the Battle of the Aisne, I often saw the following sight: the regiment had preserved its English march but had set it to a French rhythm. It even had at the head of its band a little French light infantry regimental sergeant major who could blow the bugle and sound the march even better than his men. The unfortunate regiment of tall Englishmen could not march. Their gait was completely at odds. When they tried to march in step, the music would be out of step. With the result that the Worcester Regiment was forced to give up its French buglers. In fact, the bugle-calls adopted army by army earlier, in the Crimean War, were the calls ‘at ease’, ‘retreat’, etc. Thus I saw in a very precise and frequent fashion, not only with the ordinary march, but also at the double and so on, the differences in elementary as well as sporting techniques between the English and the French. Prince Curt Sachs, who is living here in France at present, made the same observation. He has discussed it in several of his lectures. He could recognise the gait of an Englishman and a Frenchman from a long distance. But these were only approaches to the subject. A kind of revelation came to me in hospital. I was ill in New York. I wondered where previously I had seen girls walking as my nurses walked. I had the time to think about it. At last I realised that it was at the cinema. Returning to France, I noticed how common this gait was, especially in Paris ; the girls were French and they too were walking in this way. In fact, American walking fashions had begun to arrive over here, thanks to the cinema. This was an idea I could generalise. The positions of the arms and hands while walking form a social idiosyncracy, they are not simply a product of some purely individual, almost com- pletely psychical arrangements and mechanisms. For example: I think I can also recognise a girl who has been raised in a convent. In general she will walk with her fists closed. And I can still remember my third- form teacher shouting at me : ‘Idiot ! why do you walk around the whole time with your hands flapping wide open?’ Thus there exists an education in walking, too. Another example: there are polite and impolite positions for the hands at rest. Thus you can be certain that if a child at table keeps his elbows in when he is not eating he is English. A young Frenchman has no idea
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Techniques of the body 73 how to sit up straight; his elbows stick out sideways; he puts them on the table, and so on. Finally, in running, too, I have seen, you allXhave seen, the change in technique. Imagine, my gymnastics teacher, one of the top graduates of Joinville around 1860, taught me to run with my fists close to my chest : a movement completely contradictory to all running movements ; I had to see the professional runners of 1890 before I realised the necessity of running in a different fashion. Hence I have had this notion of the social nature of the ‘habitus’ for many years. Please note that I use the Latin word-it should be under- stood in France-habitus. The word translates infinitely better than ‘habitude’ (habit or custom), the ‘exis’, the ‘acquired ability’ and ‘faculty’ of Aristotle (who was a psychologist). It does not designate those metaphysical habitudes, that mysterious ‘memory’, the subjects of volumes or short and famous theses. These ‘habits’ do not just vary with individuals and their imitations, they vary especially between societies, educations, proprieties and fashions, prestiges. In them we should see the techniques and work of collective and individual practical reason rather than, in the ordinary way, merely the soul and its repetitive faculties. Thus everything moved me towards the position that we in this Society are among those who have adopted, following Comte’s example : the position of [Georges] Dumas, for example, who, in the constant relations between the biological and the sociological, leaves but little room for the psychological mediator. And I concluded that it was not possible to have a clear idea of all these facts about running, swimming, etc., unless one introduced a triple consideration instead of a single consideration, be it mechanical and physical, like an anatomical and physiological theory of walking, or on the contrary psychological or sociological. It is the triple viewpoint, that of the ‘total man’ that is needed. Lastly, another series of facts impressed itself upon me. In all these elements of the art of using the human body, the facts of education were dominant. The notion of education could be superimposed on that of imitation. For there are particular children with very strong imitative faculties, others with very weak ones, but all of them go through the same education, such that we can understand the continuity of the concatenations. What takes place is a prestigious imitation. The child, the adult, imitates actions which have succeeded and which he has seen successfully performed by people in whom he has confidence and who have authority over him. The action is imposed from without, from above, even if it is an exclusively biological action, involving his body. The individual borrows the series of movements which constitute it from the action executed in front of him or with him by others. It is precisely this notion of the prestige of the person who performs the ordered, authorised, tested action vs-d-vis the imitating individual
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74 Marcel Mauss that contains all the social element. The imitative action which follows contains the psychological element and the biological element. But the whole, the ensemble, is conditioned by the three elements indissolubly mixed together. All this is easily linked to a number of other facts. In a book by Elsdon Best that reached here in 1925 there is a remarkable document on the way Maori women (New Zealand) walk. (Do not say that they are primitives, for in some ways I think they are superior to the Celts and Germans.) ‘Native women adopted a peculiar gait’ (the English word is delightful) ‘that was acquired in youth, a loose-jointed swinging of the hips that looks ungainly to us, but was admired by the Maori. Mothers drilled their daughters in this accomplishment, termed onioni, and I have heard a mother say to her girl: “lia! Kaore koe e onioni” (your are not doing the onioni) when the young one was neglecting to practise the gait.’2 This was an acquired, not a natural way of walking. To sum up, there is perhaps no ‘natural way’ for the adult. A fortiori when other technical facts intervene: to take ourselves, the fact that we wear shoes to walk transforms the positions of our feet: we feel it sure enough when we walk without them. On the other hand, this same basic question arose for me in a different region, vis-d-vis all the notions concerning magical power, beliefs in the not only physical but also moral, magical and ritual effectiveness of certain actions. Here I am perhaps even more on my own terrain than on the adventurous terrain of the psycho-physiology of modes of walking, which is a risky one for me in this company. Here is a more ‘primitive’ fact, Australian this time: a ritual formula both for hunting and for running. As you will know, the Australian manages to outrun kangaroos, emus, and wild dogs. He manages to catch the possum or phalanger at the top of its tree, even though the animal puts up a remarkable resistance. One of these running rituals, observed a hundred years ago, is that of the hunt for the dingo or wild dog among the tribes near Adelaide. The hunter constantly shouts the following formula : Strike (him, i.e. the dingo) with the tuft of eagle feathers (used in initiation, etc.) Strike (him) with the girdle Strike (him) with the string round the head Strike (him) with the blood of circumcision Strike (him) with the blood of the arm Strike (him) with menstrual blood Send (him) to sleep, etc.3 In another ceremony, that of the possum hunt, the individual carries in his mouth a piece of rock crystal (kawemukka), a particularly magical stone, and chants a formula of the same kind, and it is with this support
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Techniques of the body 75 that he is able to dislodge the possum, that he climbs the tree and can stay hanging on to it by his belt, that he can outlast and catch and kill this difficult prey. The relations between magical procedures and hunting techniques are clear, too universal to need stressing. The psychological phenomenon I am reporting at this moment is clearly only too easy to know and understand from the normal point of view of the sociologist. But what I want to get at now is the con- fidence, the psychological momentum that can be linked to an action which is primarily a fact of biological resistance, obtained thanks to some words and a magical object. Technical action, physical action, magico-religious action are con- fused for the actor. These are the elements I had at my disposal. All this did not satisfy me. I saw how everything could be described, but not how it could be organised; I did not know what name, what title to give it all. It was very simple, I just had to refer to the division of traditional actions into techniques and rites, which I believe to be well founded. All these modes of action were techniques, the techniques of the body. I made, and went on making for several years, the fundamental mistake of thinking that there is technique only when there is an instru- ment. I had to go back to ancient notions, to the Platonic position on technique, for Plato spoke of a technique of music and in particular of a technique of the dance, and extend these notions. I call technique an action which is effective and traditional (and you will see that in this it is no different from a magical, religious or symbolic action). It has to be effective and traditional. There is no technique and no transmission in the absence of tradition. This above all is what distinguishes man from the animals: the transmission of his techniques and very probably their oral transmission. Allow me, therefore, to assume that you accept my definitions. But what is the difference between the effective traditional action of religion, the symbolic or juridical effective traditional action, the actions of life in common, moral actions on the one hand and the traditional actions of technique on the other? It is that the latter are felt by the author as actions of a mechanical, physical or physico-chemical order and that they are pursued with that aim in view. In this case all that need be said is quite simply that we are dealing with techniques of the body. The body is man’s first and most natural instrument. Or more accurately, not to speak of instruments, man’s first and most natural technical object, and at the same time technical means, is his body. Immediately this whole broad category of what I classified in descriptive sociology as ‘miscellaneous’ disappeared from that rubric and took shape and body: we now know where to range it.
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Techniques of the body 77 throwing, of a stone for example, is not just weak, but always different from that of a man: in a vertical instead of a horizontal plane. Perhaps this is a case of two instructions. For there is a society of men and a society of women. However, I believe that there are also perhaps biological and psychological things involved as well. But there again, the psychologist alone will only be able to give dubious explana- tions, and he will need the collaboration of two neighbouring sciences: physiology, sociology. 2. Variations of techniques of the body with age The child normally squats. We no longer know how to. I believe that this is an absurdity and an inferiority of our races, civilisations, societies. An example: I lived at the front with Australians (whites). They had one considerable advantage over me. When we made a stop in mud or water, they could sit down on their heels to rest, and the ‘$ottel, as it was called, stayed below their heels. I was forced to stay standing up in my boots with my whole foot in the water. The squatting position is, in my opinion, an interesting one that could be preserved in a child. It is a very stupid mistake to take it away from him. All mankind, excepting only our societies, has so preserved it. It seems besides that in the series of ages of the human race this posture has also changed in importance. You will remember that curvature of the lower limbs was once regarded as a sign of degenera- tion. A physiological explanation has been given for this racial charac- teristic. What even [Rudolf Ludwig Karl] Virchow still regarded as an unfortunate degenerate and is in fact simply what is now called Neanderthal man, had curved legs. This is because he normally lived in a squatting position. Hence there are things which we believe to be of a hereditary kind which are in reality physiological, psychological or sociological in kind. A certain form of the tendons and even of the bones is simply the result of certain forms of posture and repose. This is clear enough. By this procedure, it is possible not only to classify techniques, but also to classify their variations by age and sex. Having established this classification, which cuts across all classes of society, we can now glimpse a third one. 3. Classification of techniques of the body according to e$ciency The techniques of the body can be classified according to their efficiency, i.e. according to the results of training. Training, like the assembly of a machine, is the search for, the acquisition of an efficiency. Here it is a human efficiency. These techniques are thus human norms of human training. These procedures that we apply to animals men voluntarily apply to themselves and to their children. The latter are probably the first beings to have been trained in this way, before all the animals,
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78 Marcel Mauss which first had to be tamed. As a result I could to a certain extent compare these techniques, them and their transmission, to training systems, and rank them in the order of their effectiveness. This is the place for the notion of dexterity, so important in psychology, as well as in sociology. But in French we only have the poor term ‘habile’ which is a bad translation of the Latin word ‘habilis’, far better designating those people with a sense of the adaptation of all their well-co-ordinated movements to a goal, who are practised, who ‘know what they are up to’. The English notions of ‘craft’ or ‘cleverness’ (skill, presence of mind and habit combined) imply com- petence at something. Once again we are clearly in the technical domain. 4. Transmission of the form of the techniques One last viewpoint: the teaching of techniques being essential, we can classify them according to the nature of this education and training. Here is a new field of studies: masses of details which have not been observed, but should be, constitute the physical education of all ages and both sexes. The child’s education is full of so-called details, which are really essential. Take the problem of arnbi-dextrousness for example: our observations of the movements of the right hand and of the left hand are poor and we do not know how much all of them are acquired. A pious Muslim can easily be recognised: even when he has a knife and fork (which is rarely), he will go to any lengths to avoid using anything but his right hand. He must never touch his food with his left hand, or certain parts of his body with his right. To know why he does not make a certain gesture and does make a certain other gesture neither the physiology nor the psychology of motor asymmetry in man is enough, it is also necessary to know the traditions which impose it. Robert Hertz has posed this problem ~orrectly.~ But reflec- tions of this and other kinds can be applied whenever there is a social choice of the principles of movements. There are grounds for studying all the modes of training, imitation and especially those fundamental fashions that can be called the modes of life, the modes, the tonus, the ‘matter’, the ‘manners’, the ‘way’. Here is the first classification, or rather, four viewpoints. Chapter Three: A Biographical List of the Techniques of the Body Another quite different classification is, I would not say more logical, but easier for the observer. It is a simple list. I had thought of presenting to you a series of small tables, of the kind American professors construct. I shall simply follow more or less the ages of man, the normal biography of an individual, as an arrangement of the techniques of the body which concern him or which he is taught.
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Techniques of the body 79 I. Techniques of birth and obstetrics The facts are rather little known, and much of the classical information is disputable.5 Among the best is that of Walter Roth on the Australian tribes of Queensland and on those of British G~iana.~ The forms of obstetrics are very variable. The infant Buddha was born with his mother MAya upright and clinging to the branch of a tree. She gave birth standing up. Indian women still in the main give birth in this position. Something we think of as normal, like giving birth lying on one’s back, is no more normal than doing so in other positions, e.g. on all fours. There are techniques of giving birth, both on the mother’s part and on that of her helpers, of holding the baby, cutting and tying the umbilical cord, caring for the mother, caring for the child. Here are quite a number of questions of some importance. And here are some more: the choice of the child, the exposure of weaklings, the killing of twins are decisive moments in the history of a race. In ancient history and in other civilisations, the recognition of the child is a crucial event. 2. Techniques of Infancy Rearing and feeding the child. Attitudes of the two inter-related beings : mother and child. Take the child, suckling, etc., carrying, etc. The history of carrying is very important. A child carried next to its mother’s skin for two or three years has a quite different attitude to its mother from that of a child not so carried;’ it has a contact with its mother utterly unlike our children’s. It clings to her neck, her shoulder, it sits astride her hip. This remarkable gymnastics is essential throughout its life. And there is another gymnastics for the mother carrying it. It even seems that psychical states arise here which have disappeared from infancy with us. There are sexual contacts, skin contacts, etc. Weaning. Takes a long time, usually two or three years. The obligation to suckle, sometimes even to suckle animals. It takes a long time for the mother’s milk to run dry. Besides this there are relations between weaning and reproduction, suspensions of reproduction during weaning. Mankind can more or less be divided into people with cradles and people without. For there are techniques of the body which presuppose an instrument. Countries with cradles include almost all the peoples of the two Northern hemispheres, those of the Andean region, and also a certain number of Central African populations. In these last two groups, the use of the cradle coincides with a cranial deformation (which perhaps has serious physiological consequences). The weaned child. It can eat and drink; it is taught to walk; it is trained in vision, hearing, in a sense of rhythm and form and movement, often for dancing and music. F
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80 Marcel Mauss It acquires the notions and practices of physical exercise and breath- ing. It takes certain postures which are often imposed on it. 3. Techniques of adolescence To be observed with men in particular. Less important with girls in those societies to whose study a course in Ethnology is devoted. The big moment in the education of the body is, in fact, the moment of initiation. Because of the way our boys and girls are brought up we imagine that both acquire the same manners and postures and receive the same training everywhere. The idea is already erroneous about ourselves-and it is totally false in so-called primitive countries. Moreover, we describe the facts as if something like our own school, beginning straight away and intended to protect the child and train it for life, had always and everywhere existed. The opposite is the rule. For example: in all black societies the education of the boy intensifies around the age of puberty, while that of women remains traditional, so to speak. There is no school for women. They are at school with their mothers and are formed there continuously, moving directly, with few exceptions, to the married state. The male child enters the society of men where he learns his profession, especially the profession of arms. However, for men as well as women, the decisive moment is that of adolescence. It is at this moment that they learn definitively the techniques of the body that they will retain for the whole of their adult lives. 4. Techniques of adult life To list these we can run through the various moments of the day among which co-ordinated movements and suspensions of movement are distributed. We can distinguish sleep and waking, and in waking, rest and activity. I” Techniques of sleep. The notion that going to sleep is something natural is totally inaccurate. I can tell you that the War taught me to sleep anywhere, on heaps of stones for example, but that I have never been able to change my bed without a moment of insomnia: only on the second night can’ I go to sleep quickly. One thing is very simple: it is possible to distinguish between those societies that have nothing to sleep on except the ‘floor’, and those that have instrumental assistance. The ‘civilisation of latitude 15″ discussed by Graebnerg is characterised among other things by its use of a bench for the neck. This neck-rest is often a totem, sometimes carved with squatting figures of men and totemic animals. There are people with mats and people without (Asia, Oceania, part of America). There are people with pillows and people without. There are popula- tions which lie very close together in a ring to sleep, round a fire, or
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