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

Book Announcement: L’Homme Postmoderne

homme postmoderneFor forty years we have spoken of ‘postmodernity’. But who has really grasped the implications this holds for us as individuals? Who has equated it with the emergence of a fundamentally different human being? Relativising reason according to feeling and emotion, relinquishing his status as ‘individual’ to make way for a pluralistic nature, neglecting his civic duty to devote more time to his tribe, the postmodern man abandons almost everything his predecessor held dear.

Journalist Brice Perrier asked Michel Maffesoli and his team of researchers to create a portrait of this new human being to help us think beyond the now outdated intellectual mindsets of modernity. The result: L’Homme Postmoderne. With contributions from CeaQ researchers Émilie Coutant, Aurélien Fouillet, Stéphane Hugon, Philippe Joron, Raphaël Josset, Anthony Mahé, Thierry Mathé, Yves Mirande, Gaspard Nuiter, Olivier Sirost, Hélène Strohl, and Secessio editors Fabio La Rocca and Vincenzo Susca, this book maps out the landscape of the contemporary social world, helping up to understand who we are now.  Francophone readers can download the introductory chapter in PDF form here.