In this influential work, first published in English in 1963, Durkheim and Mauss claim that the individual mind is capable of classification and they seek the origin of the ‘classificatory function’ in society. On the basis of an intensive examination of forms and principles of symbolic classification reported from the Australian aborigines, the Zuñi and traditional China, they try to establish a formal correspondence between social and symbolic classification. From this they argue that the mode of classification is determined by the form of society and that the notions of space, time, hierarchy, number, class and other such cognitive categories are products of society.
Dr Needham’s introduction assesses the validity of Durkhiem and Mauss’s argument, traces its continued influence in various disciplines, and indicates its analytical value for future researches in social anthropology.
‘This is a significant essay because it is the most unqualified expression of its authors’ grand idea that the origins and meaning of mental categories are to be sought in the organisation of societies.’ – The Times Literary Supplement
1. Introduction 2. The Problem 3. The Australian Type of Classification 4. Other Australian Systems 5. Zuñi, Sioux 6. China 7. Conclusions