International Encyclopaedia
of the Histories of Anthropology

Van Gennep, Arnold (1873-1957)

Coordinated by Christine Laurière

CNRS (UMR9022 Héritages)

French anthropologist, folklorist and ethnographer, Arnold Van Gennep (1873-1957) is a key figure in the history of the discipline. He did fieldwork in Savoy and Algeria. His international fame is mainly linked to the rereading of his famous work Les Rites of passage (1909) from the 1960s to 1970s, discussed by anthropologists such as Max Gluckman, Victor Turner and Rodney Needham. Until the early 1920s, his work was part of the field of the anthropology of religions. Polyglot, cosmopolitan and eclectic, the founder of several journals and of the Institut International ethnographique de Paris (1910), he took part in the great international debates of the early 20th century – on totemism and Australian societies, primitive monotheism, supernatural birth – while fighting to safeguard a comparatism that united the study of “exotic” and “folk” European ethnographic contexts. Appointed professor of ethnography in Switzerland at the University of Neuchâtel (1912-1915) before being dismissed, he failed to find a position in France, where he was ostracized by the Durkheimian school. Van Gennep then turned his attention to the ethnography of France and the study of folk art, publishing a programmatic book, Le folklore (1924), and numerous monographs on French regions. His monumental Manuel de folklore français contemporain appeared in several volumes from 1937 onwards. Since the 1970s, he has been recognized as the founding father of French ethnography.

Keywords: Folklore | French Ethnology | Totemism | Ethnography | Salvage ethnography | 20th century | Algeria | French folklore | European folklore | Rites of passage | Durkheimian School

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