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Methodology & History in Anthropology
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Categories of Self
Louis Dumont's Theory of the Individual
256 pages, bibliog., index
ISBN 978-1-57181-660-3 $135.00/£99.00 / Hb / Published (December 2004)
eISBN 978-1-78920-376-9 eBook
“…clear, careful, and economically written, and closely focused on one theme…with many careful and subtle points” • Elizabeth Tonkin in Focaal
Drawing on anthropological, socio-psychological, religious, and philosophical material, this book engages in a discussion of what it means to be an ‘individual’ in relation to notions of selfhood, personality, and social role. This theme is explored with reference to the investigations of Louis Dumont into Hindu and other Indian ideologies, and with regard to the dominant threads of Western individualism. Clarifying and at times building upon his analyses, the author follows Dumont in a consideration of Indian ideology (Hindu non-individualism, the ‘dividual’, social personhood); French ideology (sociopolitical individualism); German ideology (subjective individualism); and Western ideology (the Christian beginnings of individualism, political and economic individualism, the philosophical ‘categorisation’ of self).
While most commentators have tended to focus primarily on one aspect of Dumont's work – either his views on Indian hierarchy or writings on modern individualism – the author reveals considerable continuity throughout Dumont’s entire oeuvre based around the notion of 'categories' and the concept of the 'individual’. Dumont’s intellectual background is explored with reference to the Durkheimian tradition, with Marcel Mauss being highlighted as the principal architect in his thinking. In particular, Dumont’s interest in the ‘category of the individual’ is shown to be an extension of Mauss’s concern with the ‘category of the person’. The distinctiveness of Dumont’s structuralist approach is thrown into full relief through comparison with that of others acknowledging an intellectual dept to Mauss, namely, Claude Lévi-Strauss and Fernand Braudel.
The book covers an assessment of general approaches to the study of individualism, with the relevant perspectives of other thinkers discussed and related to Dumont’s approach as appropriate.
André Celtel, formerly Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology, University of Oxford
Subject: Theory and MethodologySociology
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