Culture Theory from Ethics to Aesthetics: The Maquet Legacy

DOI: 10.14673/IJA201521009
Published in Int. Journal of Anthropology – Vol. 30 – n.2 – 2015

Key words: epistemology, ethics, aesthetics, culture, style.

As the founder and most accomplished practitioner of aesthetic anthropology, Jacques Maquet has contributed to the discipline in major and enduring ways. In this paper, his contributions are framed in an interdisciplinary context, and through this process their seminal epistemological value is highlighted and their theoretical impact on a number of social-science research areas is identified and discussed. In particular, the paper argues that by calling attention to the various ways in which cultural heritage gets expressed and expanded – through practices ranging from the most trivial to the most sublime – Maquet greatly broadened the anthropological definition of culture and implicitly enriched our methodological toolkit. From the perspective of aesthetic anthropology, culture defines our entire ‘expressive style’ and thus its cross-cultural analysis becomes the telos of anthropological research.

Cerroni-Long, E.L.
Eastern Michigan University, Ypsilanti, MI 48197, USA.

Jacques Maquet: Pioneer of Cross-Cultural Research

Published in Int. Journal of Anthropology – Vol. 30 – n.2 – 2015

Memorial Colloquium

Soon after Professor Jacques Maquet passed away in February 2013, a number of his former students began exploring ways to honor his memory. At the forefront of this group were Dr. Barbara Mathieu and Dr. David Blundell, who had remained in touch with Professor Maquet after his retirement from UCLA, and continued to reside, like him, in the Los Angeles area. In particular, Barbara continued to faithfully visit Professor Maquet and his wife Gisele even after their declining health had necessitated a move into medical facilities. Indeed, Barbara was at hand at the end of Professor Maquet’s life, and was entrusted by his family with dispersing his ashes in the area of the Colorado mountains he particularly loved. Barbara and David also took care of informing many colleagues and students of his passing, and of writing the obituaries that were published at the time in various media and scholarly outlets.
In my case, being now academically based in Michigan, but also being at the helm of the, I started exploring the possibility of establishing a formal program in his honor through our international network. Consultations with the advisory board, and with key administrative officers at the UCLA Department of Anthropology, soon confirmed the general feasibility of these plans, and I began contacting potential participants in a Memorial Colloquium to be held at Professor Maquet’s final academic base. While all UCLA colleagues were informed of the Colloquium, and invited to participate, we were particularly interested in the involvement of Professor Maquet’s past students, hoping to gather presentations highlighting his intellectual legacy, either through an analysis of his work, or as applied and elaborated in their own scholarly perspectives.
The assistance of two key departmental staff members, Ann Walters and Madelyn Gianfrancesco, who had come to highly esteem Professor Maquet by working under his supervision while he served as Department Chair (1978-1983), was crucial at this point.
In particular, Ann, as ongoing Anthropology Graduate Adviser, was able to help me gather contact information about students who, like me, had Professor Maquet as Chair of their Doctoral Dissertation Committee. Many of these students I knew personally, since I had myself been studying at UCLA from 1978 to 1987, and had worked at the department in various staff capacities – including Undergraduate Adviser – all through this time. On the other hand, Madelyn, even though now retired, had long worked as departmental administrative assistant, coordinating the intricacies of departmental grants administration and research-related travel or equipment purchases. Thus, she was able to guide me in tracking down some of the key people who had worked closely with Professor Maquet on various projects since he joined UCLA in 1970.
Because so many of these students had gone on to careers that had taken them away not only from Los Angels, but also from the United States as well, making contact with them proved quite difficult. Also, in many cases, in spite of a willingness to participate in the Colloquium, which we had set for the end of May to avoid overlapping with regular teaching terms, the logistics of travelling to Los Angeles could not be negotiated. As a consequence, the Colloquium’s program ended up being quite streamlined (see, with some papers presented in absentia or summarized and expanded with informal remarks, but this gave the meeting a tone of intimacy and serenity that participants found particularly fitting for the occasion. The scholarly objectives of the project, however, were fully honored through the willingness of core participants to formalize their papers for publication purposes, and the collection of articles presented in the following pages attests to their commitment.
The Maquet Memorial Colloquium was held in the UCLA Anthropology Department Reading Room, in Haines Hall 352 on a bright, “California picture-perfect” Saturday afternoon, on May 31, 2014. During the last weekend in May the UCLA campus is usually taken over by various graduation ceremonies, but on this particular Saturday afternoon everything was quiet and serene. Haines Hall is one of the four original buildings completed in the late 1920s to define the historical center of the UCLA campus. It is located at the side of the iconic Royce Hall, with which it shares a Romanesque Revival style of architecture authenticated through the lavish use of Italian brick and tiles. In spite of its age, on a sunny day the building really sparkles, looking like a glazed terracotta vessel sailing on the bright green sea of the UCLA manicured lawns. Inside, the building is soothingly dark and cool, with polished floors and old-fashioned glass and wood fixtures that greatly enhance the historical feeling of the setting. The Anthropology Department occupies the top floor of the building, and its Reading Room, in which we held the Colloquium, is a particularly pleasant spot. Sparsely furnished, with book cabinets along one wall and simple tables and chairs we had arranged into a large central rectangle, it is a light and airy room, with one wall taken up by windows opening on to a vast lawn, and another enriched by a large collection of framed photographs documenting the work of departmental members in all corners of the world. On the day of the Colloquium we arranged some simple refreshments on shelves below the open windows, making sure to include some of Professor Maquet’s favorite dried fruits and fresh nuts which we served in wooden trays and baskets.
The final touch to our attempts at making the setting of the Colloquium reflect the elegance and serenity we all considered Professor Maquet’s most striking characteristics was provided by our distinguished keynote speaker, Professor Emeritus Merrick Posnansky, who brought a single perfect flower from his garden to display in an elegant vase in a conspicuous spot – just as it was usually found in Professor Maquet’s departmental office. In fact, as Professor Posnansky began the Colloquium by reminiscing about his various encounters with Jacques Maquet, starting from their original meeting in the 1950s in central Africa – where they were both independently conducting research – and culminating with their becoming colleagues at UCLA, participants increasingly felt as if our honoree’s spirit was being summoned and his essence was imbuing the memorial event.
As I mention in my paper, and as most of the Colloquium speakers independently pointed out, the intellectual legacy of Jacques Maquet most definitely involves the impact he exerted through his own exquisite sense of personal style, mental lucidity, and spiritual strength – all the more effective because of his unwavering commitment to the empowering value of human rationality. Jacques Maquet was a real gentleman and an outstanding scholar, but, above all, he was a genuine anthropologist, insofar as he understood and accepted – in fact, he was able to describe and analyze – the dilemma of unity and diversity that is at the core of the human experience, in the process distinguishing himself as a true pioneer of cross-cultural research.

E.L. Cerroni-Long
Eastern Michigan University
Ypsilanti, MI, 48197, USAE-mail: