Business, Anthropology, and Magical Systems: The Case of Advertising

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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.

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