chapter  5
21 Pages

Collecting, instructing, governing: fields, publics, milieus Colonial humanism and Greater France: colonial and

In his biography of Marcel Mauss, Marcel Fournier (2006) draws attention to two texts in which Mauss lamented France’s lack of adequately developed institutions for the pursuit of ethnographic research and the dissemination of its findings. In the first, Mauss (1913) compares French ethnography unfavourably with British, American, Dutch and German anthropology. He particularly regrets its lack of a developed fieldwork tradition and, as his explanation for this, a failure on the part of French ethnographers to connect their work to the tasks of colonial administration. If it were to close this gap, French ethnography needed ‘first, field studies, second museums and archives, and third, education’, the latter directed towards the training of ethnographers. These steps were necessary, he concluded, if France were to fulfil its responsibilities to its colonial subjects, whom he characterised as hitherto ‘the human groups it was trying to govern without even knowing them’ (Mauss, cited in Fournier 2006: 167). In the second text (Mauss 1920) it is the relationship between ethnography and the French public that exercises Mauss’ attention. Regretting that there was still ‘no museum of ethnography in France worthy of the name’ and ‘no laboratories dedicated specifically to the study of indigenous peoples’, he also complains that the ‘general public know nothing of our research’ and urges the need for ethnographers to ‘do publicity, since a science can become popular only though vulgarisation’ (Mauss, cited in Fournier 2006: 215). Mauss was one amongst many of the intellectuals whose political lobbying,

public proselytising and organisational work across a range of scientific associations eventually led to the establishment of the Musée de l’Homme (MH). This was a process that played simultaneously in a number of registers. It was, first, an important site for what amounted to a significant reorganisation of the French scientific field. Mediating the relations between Durkheimian conceptions of sociology and ethnography on the one hand, and earlier ethnological traditions rooted in comparative anatomy and the natural sciences on the other, it played a key role in fusing these into a new synthesis for which ethnology became the preferred term.1 It also comprised, second, a significant component in a long-term historical transformation of the relations between French ethnology and colonialism as the orientation of the latter shifted, in Alice Conklin’s terms, from a stress on France’s mission civilisatrice to a

stress on the mise en valeur of the colonies. This was a shift that, as I noted in Chapter 2, displaced the earlier concern to civilise the colonised with measures designed to ‘alter the social milieu in which individuals functioned – rather than to act upon the individuals themselves’ (Conklin 1997: 8). The MH’s role in organising fieldwork expeditions to varied colonial contexts – French West Africa and Indo-China, and Greenland (a Dutch colony) – was crucially important in this respect. Taken together, the fieldwork-museum-laboratory relations produced by these developments established new networks for the flow of texts, persons, things and technologies to and fro between metropolis and colony as parts of new programmes of colonial administration. TheMH also constituted a beacon for the mobilisation of ethnology as part of

a distinctive public pedagogy allied to the politics of the Popular Front at a time of a significant increase in migration to France from its colonies. Its central city location in the Palais de Chaillot, close to libraries and institutions of instruction rather than to churches or temples, was, as Jean Jamin (1998) has noted, important in this respect. So were its connections to the institutions of broadcasting and, through its complicated relations to surrealism, to the world of art. It also developed distinctive connections to the worlds of sport, particularly boxing, and commercial entertainment as a means of publicising its work among the popular classes. It was in these respects a significant rallying point for social-democratic and socialist opinion at a time of heightened racial tensions. It played a significant role in marshalling the anti-fascist alliances of the Popular Front whose support proved politically important, particularly after the election of the Leon Blum government in 1936, in securing the funding for the museum’s establishment. The MH also, finally, played a significant role in the historical reconfiguration of the relations between Paris, regional France and France’s colonies with regard to their positions in the governmental rationalities of Greater France. However, it performed this role only symbiotically in its relations to what Fabrice Grognet (2010: 431) calls its ‘siamese twin’: that is, the Musée des Arts et Traditions Populaires (ATP). This sibling institution was incubated, alongside the MH, in the Musée d’Ethnographee du Trocadéro (MET) in a process of reciprocal differentiation that occupied the greater part of the 1930s. Redefining the concerns of national folklore studies in the light of the more scientific developments in the field of colonial ethnology, the eventual emergence of the ATP as a separate institution from the MH differentiated (albeit not entirely) the objects of ethnology represented by French rural popular classes and traditions from those constituted by the ritual practices of colonial indigenes. It is against the backdrop of these concerns that I shall examine the develop-

ment of the MH and, to a lesser extent, that of the ATP over the late 1920s and 1930s. The processes that this involved lend particular force to the concept of the relational museum proposed by Chris Gosden and Frances Larson (2007). In discussing this in Chapter 2 I noted its conception of museums as parts of extended networks of texts, things, instructions, technologies and transport infrastructures whose analysis requires that the roles of directors and curators

be decentred, seen as merely parts of such networks rather than as sources of controlling visions. Invoking this conception of museums in relation to the MH and ATP might, though, seem somewhat paradoxical given that both museums were established by charismatic directors – Paul Rivet and Georges Henri Rivière respectively – who imbued them with their own unusually strong sense of social purpose and commitment (Laurière 2008: 413). Both were undoubtedly significant figures who operated adroitly across the relations – between metropolis and colony, ethnology and folk studies, ministries of education and of colonial administration, field and laboratory – that informed the development of the MH and ATP. It is, however, these relations and the more anonymous social and political forces driving their transformation that will occupy the centre of my attention. While these need to be tracked from the 1890s through to the 1930s to be placed in an adequate historical perspective, I shall zero in on the period from 1928 – when Rivet was appointed director of the MET followed, shortly thereafter, by the appointment of Rivière as his deputy – through to 1937, when the ATP assumed a life of its own,2 shortly before the MH itself was officially opened in January 1938. In doing so, I note a second paradox. It is this decade that has attracted by far and away the most attention from museum and cultural historians, enjoying a paradigmatic status for the analysis of these two institutions in spite of their considerably longer histories.3 It was, however, a decade in which neither of them yet existed. What existed, rather, were their programmes and the processes through which these were progressively shaped into being via the reformation – in terms of conception, function, design and layout – of the MET. It is, accordingly, the processes responsible for this reshaping that will be the hero of my tale here. Some of these were close to the MH: those concerning the reorganisation of the relations between scientific associations, the University of Paris and the arrangements for the administration of French museums that accompanied the establishment of the MH. Others concerned the changing governmental rationalities informing the relationships between France and its colonies, and Paris and provincial France, in the context of the governmental rationalities of Greater France. I begin with the latter.