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ISBN: PB: 9780226436258

ISBN: HB: 9780226436111

University of Chicago Press

November 2017

224 pp.

21.6x13.9 cm



Mana of Mass Society

We often invoke the "magic" of mass media to describe seductive advertising or charismatic politicians. In "The Mana of Mass Society", William Mazzarella asks what happens to social theory if we take that idea seriously. How would it change our understanding of publicity, propaganda, love, and power?

Mazzarella reconsiders the concept of "mana", which served in early anthropology as a troubled bridge between "primitive" ritual and the fascination of mass media. Thinking about mana, Mazzarella shows, means rethinking some of our most fundamental questions: What powers authority? What in us responds to it? Is the mana that animates an Aboriginal ritual the same as the mana that energizes a revolutionary crowd, a consumer public, or an art encounter? At the intersection of anthropology and critical theory, "The Mana of Mass Society" brings recent conversations around affect, sovereignty, and emergence into creative contact with classic debates on religion, charisma, ideology, and aesthetics.

About the Author

William Mazzarella is the Neukom Family Professor of Anthropology and the Social Sciences at the University of Chicago.


"Effervescent with intellectual energy, Mazzarella's 'Mana of Mass Society' is that exceedingly rare book that stands equal to its subject matter. More than a century after its formulation as a general theory of magic, this book performs here its eternal return, making us suddenly aware of that unacknowledged magic of modernity that like a flash surfaces at a moment of danger" – Michael T. Taussig, Columbia University

"The 'Mana of Mass Society' advances anthropology's increasingly pivotal contributions to social and critical theory. Mazzarella gives a new charge to prompts from post-secularist and ontological perspectives – concerning belief, for example, and alliances between human and non-human worlds within modernity – in this brilliant meditation on magical thinking" – Leela Gandhi, Brown University

"This book feels its way into thinking differently about a world of incipience beyond the zero-sum academic drama-storms that purify anthropological objects. Here, the undead ethnographic object of encounters and gestures returns to re-prompt attentive description" – Kathleen Stewart, University of Texas at Austin