Marc Augé

(b. 1935)

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A Frenchanthropologist, Augé belongs to the generation of scholars who were trained in the 1960s in Paris, for whom the likes of Louis Althusser, Michel de Certeau, Gilles Deleuze and Michel Foucault can be counted as teachers and crucial influences or antagonists as the case may be. A prolific, witty, and complex author, Augé considers himself to be an anthropologist; but his lifelong project has been one of reinventing what it means to do anthropology in the rapidly changing times he refers to as supermodernity (surmodernité).

Marc Augé's career can be divided into three stages, reflecting shifts in both his geographical focus and theoretical development: early (African), middle (European) and late (Global). These successive stages do not involve a broadening of interest or focus as such, but rather the development of a theoretical apparatus able to meet the demands of the growing conviction that the local can no longer be understood except as a part of the complicated global whole.

Augé's career began with a series of extended field trips to West Africa, where he researched the Alladian peoples situated on the edge of a large lagoon, west of Abidjan on the Ivory Coast. The culmination of this endeavour is the masterly Le Rivage alladian: Organisation et évolution des villages alladian (1969) (The Alladian Riparian Peoples: Organization and Evolution of Alladian Villages). The sequel, Théorie des pouvoirs et Idéologie: Études de cas en Côte d'Ivoire (1975) (Theory of Powers and Ideology: Case Study in the Ivory Coast), followed a series of three further field excursions to the Ivory Coast between 1968 and 1971. Augé coined the term ideo-logic to describe his research object, which he defined as the inner logic of the representations a society makes of itself to itself. A third and final instalment in this series of studies of the Alladian peoples was added in 1977, Pouvoirs de vie, Pouvoirs de mort (Powers of Life, Powers of Death).

The second or European stage, consists of a sequence of three interrelated books: La Traversée du Luxembourg (1985) (Traversing Luxembourg Gardens); Un ethnologue dans le métro (1986); translated as In the Metro (2002); and Domaines et Châteaux (1989) (Homes and Palaces). In this period of his career, Augé took the novel approach of applying methods developed in the course of fieldwork in Africa to his local Parisian context. Augé focused on four key aspects of contemporary Parisian society: (i) the paradoxical increase in the intensity of solitude brought about by the expansion of communications technologies; (ii) the strange recognition that the other is also an ‘I’; (iii) the non-place, the ambivalent space that has none of the familiar attributes of place—for instance, it incites no sense of belonging; (iv) the oblivion and aberration of memory. The work in this period emphasizes the anthropologist's own experience in a way that neither the earlier nor later work does. Augé does this by comparing his own impressions of these places with those produced by some of French literature's greatest writers. What this comparison illustrates is the apparent insuperability of the gap between language and experience. Yet it is that very gap, he argues, that his anthropology must be able to close if it is to be of continuing relevance in contemporary society.


Subjects: Literary Theory and Cultural Studies.

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