Press release


Maurice Godelier, Anthropologist, Receives CNRS Gold Medal for 2001

Paris, September 20, 2001


The French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) has awarded the CNRS Gold Medal for 2001 to Maurice Godelier, directeur d’études (de classe exceptionnelle) at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales (EHESS, a prestigious institute for the study of social sciences). An internationally renowned anthropologist, Maurice Godelier is a specialist of the societies of Oceania. Between 1967 and 1988 his fieldwork focussed on the Baruya, a New Guinea Highlands tribe. In addition to his research on the Oceania, on the basis of which he has published numerous works and made documentary films, Maurice Godelier has also explored a number of essential domains: the role of the idéel (mental constructs) in social relations, the distinction between the imaginary and the symbolic, and more recently the distinction between things one gives, things one sells and things that can be neither given nor sold. In addition, he has also devoted an important part of his life to scientific policy making. From 1982 to 1986, he held the position of scientific director at the CNRS, as chairman of the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences. He is currently member of the National Council of Science, and vice president of the National Coordination Board for Social Sciences and Humanities. He has been mandated by the Prime minister to take stock of the state of social sciences and humanities in France, and to promote their development in the framework of the construction of the European Research Area.

Maurice Godelier was born on 28 February 1934 in Cambrai, in northern France. He ranked highest in the entry examination to the Ecole normale supérieure de Saint-Cloud, obtained the agrégation in philosophy, and earned degrees in psychology and modern literature. He entered the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes as chef de travaux under Fernand Braudel, and later was made lecturer under Claude Lévi-Strauss, who was at the time professor of anthropology at the Collège de France. In 1975 Maurice Godelier was appointed directeur d’études at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales.

Originally trained in philosophy, Maurice Godelier rapidly turned his attention to economics. In 1966, he published a book devoted to the notions of Rationality and Irrationality in Economics, becoming one of the French founders of economic anthropology.

Maurice Godelier’s career was to be deeply influenced by his encounter with the Baruya, a New Guinea Highlands society discovered in 1951 by the Australians which has neither classes nor a state structure, but which is characterized by a high degree of gender inequality and numerous institutions serving male domination. He observed and analyzed the transformations in this society based on hunting and horticulture that very quickly entered the market economy, was integrated into a state imposed by the West and exposed to the missionary zeal of Christian churches. Alongside his field research, Maurice Godelier has explored a number of domains essential for the development of the social sciences : reflections on the “mental” components of social relationships, on the necessary distinction between the imaginary and the symbolic, on the role of the body in the construction of the social subject and, more recently, on the distinction between the things one sells, the things one gives and the things that must be neither sold nor given, but must be transmitted.

The results of his work have been published in a series of books most of which have been translated into many languages. His chief publications are :
- La production des Grands Hommes. Pouvoir et domination masculine chez les Baruya de Nouvelle Guinée, Ed. Fayard (1982). (The Making of Great Men. Male domination and Power among the New Guinea Baruya, Cambridge University Press, 1986). Prize of the French Academy.
- L’idéel et le matériel, Ed. Fayard (1984). (The Mental and the Material. Thought, economy and society, Verso,1986).
- L’énigme du don, Ed. Fayard (1996). (The Enigma of the Gift, Chicago, Cambridge; Chicago University Press, Polity Press, 1998).
La Production du corps. Approches anthropologiques et historiques and Le Corps humain, supplicié, possédé, cannibalisé. Texts collected and edited by Maurice Godelier and Michel Panoff. Amsterdam, Archives contemporaines (1998).

Maurice Godelier has also made a number of films with Australian film-maker Ian Dunlop, and with Marek Jablonko and Steve Olson, two American film-makers. His films include:
Planète Baruya, directed by Ian Dunlop (Production: CNRS Audiovisuel, FR3, Australian Film Unit, 1976).

He also co-authored a C.D. Rom with Jacques Kerchache: Chefs d’œuvre et civilisations – Afrique, Asie, Océanie, Amériques, which received the "Best of" for cultural CD-Roms in 2000, and the Eurêka d’Or.

In addition, he has also published over 200 articles in various French and foreign journals.

In addition to his research activities, Maurice Godelier has always been closely involved in scientific policy making. In 1982, the then Minister of Research and Industry, Jean-Pierre Chevènement, entrusted him with drawing up a recommendation for reforming the humanities and social sciences in France. His findings were presented in a 600-page report entitled Les Sciences de l’Homme et de la Société en France. Analyse et propositions pour une politique nouvelle (La Documentation Française, 1982). In it he advocated putting an end to the division between the humanities and the social sciences, and urged the creation of a single science department within the CNRS called now: “the Department of the sciences of Man and Society”. Maurice Godelier was Director of this department from 1982 to 1986.

In 1995, he created the Centre de Recherche et de Documentation sur l’Océanie (CREDO), which he directed until 1999. From 1997 to 2000, he was Scientific Director of the new National Museum in Paris devoted to Arts and Civilisations in Africa, Asia, Oceania and the Americas, and called Musée du Quai Branly.

Maurice Godelier is an officer in the French Legion of Honor. He has been awarded the French Academy Prize (1982) and the International Alexander von Humbolt Prize for Social Sciences in 1990.

Press contact :
Martine Hasler
Tel : +33 1 44 96 46 35
e-mail :