Classic Concepts in Anthropology

by Valerio Valeri

Edited and with a Foreword by Giovanni da Col and Rupert Stasch

The late anthropologist Valerio Valeri (1944–98) was best known for his substantial writings on societies of Polynesia and eastern Indonesia. This volume, however, presents a lesser-known side of Valeri’s genius through a dazzlingly erudite set of comparative essays on core topics in the history of anthropological theory. Offering masterly discussions of anthropological thought about ritual, fetishism, cosmogonic myth, belief, caste, kingship, mourning, play, feasting, ceremony, and cultural relativism, Classic Concepts in Anthropology, presented here with a critical foreword by Rupert Stasch and Giovanni da Col, will be an eye-opening, essential resource for students and researchers not only in anthropology but throughout the humanities.



With characteristic erudition and precision of thought, Valerio Valeri took on the conceptual ambitions of anthropology at their most challenging.

          —Webb Keane (University of Michigan), author of Ethical life: Its natural and social histories

Any superlative diminishes Valeri and his scholarship, which is characterized by rich, subtle, and complex ethnographic and historical information, underscored by theoretical rigor based on extensive fieldwork.

                            —Emiko Ohnuki-Tierney (University of Wisconsin – Madison), author of Flowers that kill: Communicative opacity in political spaces

In a period when so many of the classic concepts of anthropology have become the object of suspicion and critique, this outstanding volume demonstrates on the contrary the extraordinary philosophical excitement that can emerge when a master analyst such as Valeri reinvigorates and re-thinks our categories of thought through a series of unprecedented intellectual tour de force beyond anthropology and across the humanities. A powerful argument for the importance of comparison in anthropology, and a moving tribute to one of the truly great theorists.

                                      —Michael Puett (Harvard University), author of The path: What Chinese philosophers can teach us about the Good Life

This wonderful volume brings together many of the late Valerio Valeri’s illuminating writings on a wide-range of topics at the heart of anthropology from mourning and the fetish to caste, cultural relativism, and kingship. Throughout the essays–many of which have been translated into English for the first time—speak to the enormous erudition, analytical subtlety, theoretical creativity, and breadth of intellectual curiosity for which the author is so justly remembered.

          —Patricia Spyer (Graduate Institute, Geneva), coeditor of Things that move (with Margaret Steedly)

280 Pages
ISBN: 9780990505082
Price: $30.00

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgment and sources vii
chapter one
Belief and worship 1
Translated from the Italian by Lynn West
chapter two
Caste 27
Translated from the Italian by Nicholas DeMaria Harney
chapter three
Ceremonial 51
chapter four
Cosmogonic myths and order 67
Translated from the Italian by Sarah Hill and revised by Alice Elliot
chapter five
Cultural relativism 85
Translated from the French by Eléonore Rimbault
chapter six
Feasting and festivity 89
Translated from the Italian by Sarah Hill
chapter seven
The fetish 103
Translated from the Italian by Sarah Hill
chapter eight
Kingship 121
Translated from the Italian by Lynn Westwater and revised
by Alice Elliot
chapter nine
Mourning 155
chapter ten
Play 169
Translated by Nicholas DeMaria Harney
chapter eleven
Rite 181
Translated from the Italian by Stefano Mengozzi and revised
by Alice Elliot
Marcel Mauss and the New Anthropology 219
Translated from the Italian by Alice Elliot
Bibliography 247