by BRIAN MOERAN (University of Hong Kong) and TIMOTHY DE WAAL MALEFYT (Fordham University)
Systems of Magic at Work Today
Central Bank capitalism, Islamic finance, World Economic Forum meetings, contracts, profit ⎼ these are not the themes that generally come to mind when we think about magic. In industrialized societies we tend to believe that we’ve “outgrown” it; in 1929 anthropologist E.B. Tyler called magic “one of the most pernicious delusions that ever vexed mankind” (11). In fact, it is alive and well in contemporary societies.
Magic is at work in all sorts of modern practices from central banking to architecture, by way of economic forums, profit making, legal contracts, and various forms of cultural production such as advertising, architecture, luxury goods, fashion, fashion magazines, and science fiction. These magical practices form a system, or systems, of magic and are performed in various societies and contexts around the globe. As several authors will demonstrate in our special issue of Anthropology Today...
Magic is one of the oldest subjects of discussion and theorizing in anthropology. From time to time, anthropologists, as well as other scholars from other disciplines, have suggested that magic is not specific to “primitive” societies, but is alive and well in contemporary industrialised societies—witness advertising. Such discussions have been more general than specific. This paper applies Mauss’ theory of magic more precisely to particular examples of advertising—in particular, his distinction between magicians, magical rites, and magical representations. It also argues that advertising’s system of magic—encompassing related concepts of alchemy, animism, and enchantmen—is reflected in other business practices, which have developed their own parallel and interlocking systems of magic. Certain forms of capitalism, the—fashion, for example, or finance—may be analysed as a field of magical systems.