Maurice Bloch

Maurice Bloch a reader in social anthropology at the London School of Economics, is the author of Marxism and Anthropology, and co-editor, with Jonathan Parry, of Death and the Regeneration of Life, both of which will be reviewed here by John Skorupski.

Heirs

Maurice Bloch, 5 July 1984

The appearance of a book entitled The Development of the Family and Marriage in Europe, and written by an anthropologist, will not surprise either historians or anthropologists. In the last ten years the two subjects have been paying increasing attention to each other. They have tried to learn each other’s methods, jargon and mannerisms. They have even begun to meddle with each other’s subject-matter. Nonetheless, this publication is a new development, for Goody is dealing with one of the most familiar places and periods of traditional history: Europe from the decline of the Roman Empire to the Reformation.

Communism and Shamanism

Maurice Bloch, 15 September 1983

Most of us have very little idea of what life is actually like in the Soviet Union for ordinary people. We are so bombarded by various kinds of propaganda that the Communist world becomes a mythological place, to the extent that when we catch glimpses of the reality, we are surprised to find it peopled by ordinary human beings. Caroline Humphrey’s book, Karl Marx Collective, tells us what we want to know: what is the relation between theory and practice, what is the relation of the state and the party to the local unit – in this case collective farms – how much are individuals constrained in their lives by central planning, what is family life like, what are schools like, what are funerals like? This is not, however, a subjective account, such as we would find in an autobiography or a short interview. It is a very thorough study of the institutions, laws and government which apply to collective farms, but it combines this with the effect of external structures on daily life. This combination of levels would make the study an outstanding example of modern anthropological description, even if its subject-matter was not of such intrinsic interest in the first place.–

Pairs

Maurice Bloch, 5 May 1983

One of the most disconcerting aspects of introducing the work of Lévi-Strauss to students is that those who are just beginning an anthropology course often seem able to grasp quickly and easily the main points of his work, while those who have a good anthropological training seem almost invariably incapable of understanding what he is saying. The reason is that Lévi-Strauss’s work deals with different questions from those which are traditionally assumed to be the subject-matter of anthropology. Trained anthropologists often wrongly assume that he is asking similar questions to theirs and therefore find the answers baffling. He himself rarely, if ever, places his work in relation to that of others in an illuminating way. The work of his colleagues is, for him, not a body of alternative theories but rather a resource to be exploited as data in the building of his system. As a result, his references to other anthropologists simply further obscure what he is doing, especially for those who know well the works he refers to.

Sacred Crows

John Skorupski, 1 September 1983

The culture, of the first fifty years or so of this century – ‘Modernism’ – comes increasingly to be seen in historical perspective: as a period of the past with its own...

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