From the Archives: Michael Tyldesley on the influence of Gilbert Durand

Gilbert Durand

Read Mike’s discussion of Durand, the imaginary, and the Traditionalist connection in full in Part II of his analysis of the development of Maffesoli’s thought, published back in 2012.

Gilbert Durand, although a prolific author and an important figure in French cultural anthropology, has had little translated into the English language. His key work, however – The Anthropological Structures of the Imaginary – was published in an English version by Boombana Publications of Brisbane, Australia, in 1999, around the time of its twelfth French edition. This major study of myth, symbol and image, as Professor J.P.Clark calls it in his back cover comments, admits of no short summary. Aside from this dense masterpiece there appear to be only three other pieces of Durand’s work available to English-speaking readers.

One of these is an article on “The Implication of the Imaginary and Societies”, included in an edition of Current Sociology on “The Social Imaginary” (Vol. 41, No.2, 1993. Maffesoli was guest editor of this edition). Here Durand makes a number of points that are useful in understanding his thought, and thus, a fortiori, that of Maffesoli.

“The theory that serves as a framework for these methods and this research rests on the fundamental axiom […] according to which all human thought and activity are representation. […] This ensemble of past and possible representations in sapiens is what we call the ‘imaginary’  … [T]he imaginary is the ‘implicate order’ through which all understanding necessarily passes, and even all explanations  of individual or collective human behaviour as well. Thus for us, in the beginning there is no longer a logos annexed to the famous ego cogito, but a sermo mythicus depending on a collective, primordial cosmic ex-cogitamus.” (p.17. Durand is well aware that the term ‘implicate order’ derives from the work of the physicist David Bohm.)

Starting with these brief and sparse summarisations, Durand proceeds to lay down some markers about how he developed his approach and how it operates, in particular outlining his notion of the semantic basin – a concept which Maffesoli has, with generous acknowledgement, used in his own work.

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Rereading The Time of the Tribes – Thirty Years On

By James Horrox

TribesTowards the end of the 1970s, against the backdrop of the declining relevance of the collectivities that had shaped earlier generations’ conception of communal ties (class, nation, religion, and so on), French sociologist Michel Maffesoli began using the terminology of ‘tribalism’ to describe what he saw emerging in their place. A new phase in the life of Western societies was underway, Maffesoli argued, the defining feature of which was the coalescence of a multiplicity of more fluid, nebulous communities, bound together primarily by shared emotion, feelings, lifestyles, passions and tastes. These social formations, whose existence, Maffesoli contends, refutes the prevailing belief in the rise of individualism, are symptomatic of a larger paradigm shift – from modernity to postmodernity – that is witnessing the collapse of the intellectual, social and political models associated with the modern era and the emergence of new ways of thinking and being.

In France, Maffesoli has long enjoyed a degree of notoriety as something of a dissident public intellectual, but it wasn’t until the mid-1990s, with the publication of the SAGE English edition of his magnum opus The Time of the Tribes (originally published in French in 1988), that he began to make an impact in Anglophone academia. With the majority of his sizable back catalogue still yet to be translated, The Time of the Tribes remains an essential introduction to the main themes in Maffesoli’s work – themes that are arguably more relevant today than at any point in the three decades since the book first appeared. Continue reading

The Wild Mind of Michel Maffesoli

Michel MaffesoliThe following interview first appeared in French in issue 42 of the journal Rebellion.


R / You were born in the South of France and grew up in the mining region of Graissessac (Hérault). What influence has this background had on your work and on your perception of academia?

MM — Indeed, my youth in the working-class village of Graissessac has certainly had an influence on my work, and on what we might call my perception of the world. As far as my work is concerned, I’ve talked about this in several of my books (see in particular the book of interviews with Christophe Bourseiller: Qui êtes vous Michel Maffesoli, Bourin Éditeur, 2010). The working-class milieu where I grew up taught me a sense of pride in one’s work — even a certain ‘addiction’ to it. It’s this, incidentally, that leads me to be so harsh in my judgment of those I call ‘pensioners of the Republic’, all these ineffective intellectuals and so-called researchers who never actually find anything.

At the same time, the atmosphere of the mining village gave me the sense of celebration and the ‘tragic’. So for example, the festival of Saint Barbara on December 4th was a paroxysmal moment, where effervescence in all its forms expressed itself with vigour over the course of an entire week. When I wrote L’ombre de Dionysos [The Shadow of Dionysus] (1982), I was trying to demonstrate the importance of passions and collective emotions in the organisation of the social bond. These festive phenomena, in every society, are corollaries of a sense of the tragic. It’s because of our ‘embedded knowledge’ that accident, death and finitude are always present that it’s possible in these moments to experience a heightening of the senses and a desire to fully enjoy the present. Continue reading