“Man is born free, but everywhere is in chains.”1 Or is he?
In running, too, I have seen, you all have seen, the change in technique. Imagine, my gymnastics teacher…taught me to run with my fists close to my chest: a movement completely contradictory to all running movements; I had to see the professional runners of 1890 before I realized the necessity of running in a different fashion. (Mauss, Techniques of the Body, 73).
Surprisingly, this anecdotal passage is emblematic of Marcel Mauss’ views in Techniques of the Body. The reader undergoes a progression that mirrors Mauss’ general argument. Although at first glance this passage and Mauss’ piece as a whole appear to be arguing a behaviorist mentality that individuals are passive receptacles to the external environment – all nurture, no nature – upon deeper inspection Mauss’ perspective becomes far more nuanced: he argues what makes an individual unique is rarely individual creation, rather primarily the social element – the ability to choose to immerse oneself in, and therefore be shaped by, different environments. Mauss’ experience with running will be examined as evidence, exploring first the possibility of misinterpretation, second Mauss’ capability to reform old habits, and third the subtle reference to choice and the social element that drives individuality. In terms of innovation, Mauss’ model breaks down, the errors of which will be detailed and the implications on individuality will be explained.
A cursory study of the text leads the reader to believe that Mauss is a simple behaviorist, that there is no dividing line between man and animal. When looking at Mauss’ experiences with running, for example, it seems that Mauss adopted the behavior he was taught. “My gymnastics teacher…taught me to run with my fists close to my chest: a movement completely contradictory to all running movements.” (Mauss, 73). Mauss says it himself: the movements he learned were “contradictory” and unnatural. It...
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