In this case, individuals such as the Rouen Mayor Pierre Albertini and Catherine Morin-Desailly, deputy mayor of Rouen for culture, are people who feel that their values have being threatened. They viewed the possession of the Maori head, not to mention displaying it to the public, as a sign of disrespect to the culture of the New Zealand people, specifically the Maori tribes. Consequentially, these individuals believed that by answering the call of the Te Papa Tongarewa, New Zealand’s national museum, to return the Maori remains, they would be atoning for their forefather’s barbaric actions. As the “Rouen faction” continues to grow in number, the collection of “personal troubles” becomes a public issue that is now fiercely debated at the state level. The French ministry of culture is of the opinion that the head is a cultural work of art and therefore should not be simply returned to their tribes to be “destroyed” in the burial.
There are also two common theories that could shed some light on the French government’s actions from the views of a sociologist – the conflict theory as well as the functionalist theory. One of the main concerns for the ministry of culture was the possibility that upon returning the Maori head, it would trigger a chain of events involving the return of “body part” relics in other French museums. From the conflict theorists point of view, should this happen, it would cause the museums to lose some of its appeal or attraction as a tourist spot and thus result in the loss of an important source of income for the capitalists who in this case are the museum owners. The monetary amount concern could be rather substantial when one considers that the museums have made France a popular spot for visitors. Notably the state owned Louvre is arguably the most visited art museum worldwide. Hence, the “devaluation” of these museums will result in possible loss of tourism dollars for the French economy therefore explaining the stand taken by the government.
Functionalists however would present their take on the matter from a less economical angle. Stéphane Martin, the director of the Quai Branly museum had referred to the Maori heads as “cultural artifacts that had a function in society” and deemed the act of sending them back to New Zealand for burial as “erasing a full page of history.” Culture minister, Christine Albanel, was also quoted as saying that the matter concerned the “integrity of our national heritage”. Thus these artifacts have been integrated into the French heritage and are representative of the country’s historical past. Their continual existence in the museums would be essential for the dissemination of facts or information to the future generations and in aiding historians to fully appreciate the history of France. Should they be removed, it would cause a disruption of one of the key institutions of the society - education. The ensuing scenario would be then be what functionalist would describe as dysfunctional and upset the structure of the society. Although this might seemed like an exaggeration, it is undeniable that there exist an educational function on the Maori heads and other collections of its kind. Hence, it is for this purpose that the ministry has opposed the return of the artifacts to their native lands. Having utilized sociology to understand the behavior of the French government, it would be detrimental to the comprehensiveness of this analysis should the actions of the “Rouen faction” be overlooked. One of the main motivations behind the movement to return the Maori heads can be explained by what sociologist term as cultural relativism – the belief that all cultures have equal value. It is the culture of the Maori tribes to preserve the tattooed heads of their fallen warriors to keep their memories alive. Thus by removing the heads from their tribes and using them as “showpieces” in foreign museums, it is regarded as an act that lacked respect for the Maori culture as stated by Mayor Albertini. This is not to accuse the French government for been insensitive towards other cultures rather a sociologist might see this as merely a case of varying levels of application of cultural relativism.
One final interesting point to note in this on-going debate is that both parties are exercising power or authority that originated from the same source – the legislation. Legal Rational authority is one of the three types of authority studied by Max Weber and it involves the use of laws that are rational to the people. The “Rouen faction” brought out the French bioethics laws to legitimatize their actions while the ministry employed the use of a law that states that works of art are inalienable. Although both parties used legislation authority to state their claims, perhaps not so surprisingly, the ministry won an action in court to halt the return of the Maori head. The presence of power in this case cannot be ignored as it is evident that the ministry’s power clearly surpasses that of the local Rouen authorities. Once again this reinforces the notion that we live in a society where power is the main driving force that governs people’s actions.