Over time, anthropology has lost the notion of ritual within the framework of exchange and of the ‘total social fact.’ Sahlins as well as Mauss interpreted the Maoris’ hau as a paradigm of exchange in which any event comprising a circulation of objects is but an exchange. The notion of ritual thus vanished, leaving in its place a long chain of logically equivalent transitive exchanges. Drawing on Orokaiva (Papua New Guinea) material relative to the competitive attempt of several religious factions to establish a comparative view of customary and Christian ritual, the Maori hau is revisited. This reading shows a clear contrast between what we must call ritual, comprising a hierarchic and mediated form of exchange wherein gifts are equated by virtue of the ‘spirit of the gift,’ and exchange per se, constituted by a face-to-face transaction of goods wherein equivalence is posited between prestations.
The Mark of Ritual
In anthropology, as well as in the other disciplines that constitute social science, it becomes increasingly clear that the notions of society and of the social, such as developed by the inventors of sociology, are gradually marginalized or, if I can use a term drawn from psychology, repressed. Consequently, the space that formerly constituted a fertile object of research has been fragmented. This situation is worrying, especially for the survival of an independent social analysis and critique. If the notion of sociality is no longer acceptable, then as Derrida puts it: “Each time, no matter how faithful one wants to be, one betrays the singularity of the other one addressed” (2004: 12).1 Then, finally, as the other has become to a large extend unreachable, each time one considers a social question, the next minute, it falls into pieces and returns to dust like an “uneducable ghost who has never learned to live” (ibid.).
André Droogers, Sidney M. Greenfield, Don Handelman, Michael Houseman, Robert E. Innis, André Iteanu, Bruce Kapferer, Galina Lindquist, Piroska Nagy and Don Seeman
Notes on Contributors
Ien Ang, George Baca, Rohan Bastin, Jacob Copeman, Thomas Ernst, Jonathan Friedman, Kingsley Garbett, Diana Glazebrook, Greg Gow, Keith Hart, André Iteanu, Roger Just, Bruce Kapferer, Judith Kapferer, Khalid Koser, Neil Maclean, Jukka Siikala, Amy Stambach, Christopher C. Taylor, Pnina Werbner and Amanda Wise
Notes on Contributors