Marcel Mauss and the magical agents of our time

Irene Skovgaard-Smith, Alison Hirst

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This article revisits Marcel Mauss’s theory of magic in the context of contemporary capitalism. Mauss saw magic as the art of transforming, socially accomplished via processes of differentiation that endow specialised agents, and their symbolic acts, with an ambiguous and unstable potentiality to do the extraordinary. Applying Mauss’s conception, we argue that significant figures of late capitalism, such as leaders, consultants and entrepreneurs, are set apart and socially constituted as magical agents with supernormal powers to solve unfathomable problems, ‘create value’ and make things happen. Based on collective beliefs and expectations, they are infused with a transformative social efficacy that further entrenches dominant neoliberal values and practices. The article contributes to highlighting the continued sociological relevance of Mauss's theory of magic and his insistence on the importance of symbolic thought and action in the constitution of the social.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)171-185
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Classical Sociology
Issue number2
Early online date21 Jan 2023
Publication statusPublished - May 2024


  • figures of capitalism
  • magic
  • magical efficacy
  • mana workers
  • Marcel Mauss
  • symbolic action

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