Revue du Mauss

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"I intend to give here a sketchy presentation of the academic work accomplished by an interdiciplinary review in social science, La Revue du MAUSS, The Review of the anti-utilitarian Movement in Social Science (

More than 1000 articles have appeared in the Review and about 30 books have been published in the collection (La Bibliothèque du MAUSS, Editions La Decouverte) linked to the Review and to the anti-utilitarian school. The Review counts contributors, readers and subscribers all over the world, but is really well known only in France, in Italy (where an italian version of the Review is published by Bollati-Bollinghieri, Casa Editrice, Turin), and a little less in Brazil.

This Review was founded in 1981, by economists, anthropologists and sociologists as a reaction to the overwhelming development and imperialism of what has been called the “Economic model” in the social sciences. In the years 1960’ , and especially with the Chicago School and the work of Gary Becker (or Hayek in another way), economists began to to believe that their Rational Action (or Choice) Theory (RAT) was likely to explain not only what is going on on the market and through monetary exchanges, but any kind of social behavior : learning, wedding, religious belief, love or crime etc.; And, what is more surprising, the other social sciences, starting with sociology, have at this time largely agreed with this contention (Let us think for instance of James Coleman and Raymond Boudon. Or, in another way, Pierre Bourdieu). In fact, this enlargement of the traditional scope of economic science has been the intellectual and ideological prelude and the starting point to neo-liberalism which is nowadays triumphing as well in academic economic science as in the real world.

What can be opposed on a theoretical level to this overwhelming victory of the economic model ?

1°) One must show first that the vision of Man as an homo economicus , which underlies this economic model, is the cristallisation and the condensation of a broader and more ancient anthropology and philosophy : utilitarianism. If this is true, criticizing the imperialism of economic science on thought and of the hegemony of the market on society implies to criticize, more deeply, the utilitarian anthropology, i. e. the instrumental vision of Man underlying them.

2°) And now, what can be objected to this utilitarian vision ? Our main intellectual ressource can be found, I believe, in the discovery made in 1923–24 by the french anthropologist Marcel Mauss (the nephew and intellectual heir to Emile Durkheim) of the fact that primitive, archaic and traditional societies – and in some sense modern societies too - do not rely upon contract and commercial exchange but on what he terms the gift, or, more precisely, the triple obligation to give, take and return. The obligation to display one’s generosity.

This discovery, I think, can and must be used as a foundational basis for social sciences (including economics) as well as for moral and political philosophy. It permits to show how and why the nowadays dominating human type (the Menschentum as Max Weber said), homo œconomicus, the economic man, the man who is only intersted in maximizins his own satisfaction, utility or preferences, is not the natural and universal one – whatever economists may think - but one among many others which have appeared and existed throughout History. And this is particularly important to state in order to understand that giving less room to economic necessities, to the market, and more to society, implies to give less importance to homo œconomicus and more to other types of Man, for instance to homo politicus, to homo ethicus or to homo religiosus.


The specificity of the anti-utilitarian school is to link together the question of the political and religious foundation of societies with the question of the gift, of recognition and of the building of individual and collective identities. Its main hypothesis is that men are not only selfinterested animals, eager only to get and own more and more things and riches, but that first of all they desire to be recognized (the craving for money and richness being interpretated as the mots current translation of the need of recognition). The main present international philosophical discussion (which is now substituting the debate abour Rawls’ Theory of Justice) now bears on the problem of recognition and identity (Charles Taylor, Axel Honneth, Nancy Fraser). The anti-utilitarian hypothesis is that Human beings’ first desire is to be recognized and valued as givers." (

More Information

  1. Allain_Caillé
  2. David Graeber 'Give It Away' article on MAUSS