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In “Techniques of the body” M. Mauss claims that there is a necessity of scientific investigation of the ‘Miscellaneous’ aspect of ethnography, as it is the frontier of scientific knowledge in this area. Mauss specifies that one of the ‘miscellaneous’ subjects yet to be studied is the techniques of the body. The author explains that this area of study is abundant in facts and observations, which are not yet analyzed nor categorized. The central claim of his thesis consists in the idea of every person facing physio-psycho-sociological clusters of actions that bear a customary character and are indicative of many social characteristics.
Reasoning, Concepts, and Sources
The audience Mauss addresses are scholarly, present at the psychological convention. The sources are mostly observations made by the author in various socio-cultural environments. The comparative reasoning is used to distinguish between different ways of customs in representatives of various nationalities. The author uses the concept of habitus, the Latin word for habit, or custom, to describe different ways of human behavior (Mauss 73). Moreover, Mauss employs the notion of the social nature of habitus, with differences depending on such characteristics as social status, education, fashion trends, etc. The author specifies the concept of technique as an action, which is traditional, as it is acquired, and effective, as it serves a certain practical purpose.
The author employs multiple examples of activities or behavior to indicate significant differences in techniques of the body, drawing eventually to the conclusion that a triple approach is necessary to understand the discussed phenomenon. The specified approach consists of a combination of sociological, psychological, and physiological factors. As a result, Mauss singles out the concept of education and prestige as the essential factors in the formation of various customs and habits. The notion of education is narrowed to imitation, indicating the authority as a driving force of the process (Mauss 73).
The author provides many arguments, employing the collected sociological evidence as an illustration of the phenomenon of socially acquired habits and techniques of the body. One of the mentioned examples concerns the various types of walk-in different nationalities. Mauss compares the gait of the British and the French soldiers, which indicate considerable differences in their techniques of the body.
The author also observes French girls, who imitate the walk they saw in the American films; the differences in the way people run; the way British and French children are used to sit, and the way Maori women teach their daughters the customary feminine gait, which seems unnatural to the Europeans but is appealing to Maori men.
These arguments lead Mauss to extend his thesis to categorizing the differences in behavior depending on the age, gender, the efficiency of the adopted technique, and the way the particular behavior is transmitted to the next generation. As a final step, Mauss lists various customary behavior and techniques, indicating the discovered differences, which are explained by sociological, psychological, as well as physiological factors.
The evidence employed by Mauss to support his thesis is convincing from the sociological standpoint. Indeed, certain habits presented in his arguments do seem unnatural, which does not diminish their practical value from the cultural point of view. The author concludes, however, by assuming that even the techniques of the body in Taoism, especially concerning breathing practice, are conditioned by physiological processes, thus, explaining the mystical, or, rather the religious aspect from the biological standpoint (Mauss 87). While it is an interesting idea, such a conclusion is hardly plausible. When ascribing physiological properties to cultural expression, it is important to conduct further research on the matter to determine the cultural and biological factors of the development of the techniques of the body.
Mauss, Marcel. “Techniques of the Body.” Economy and Society 2.1 (1973): 70-88. Print.