The concept was coined by Charles de Brosses in , while comparing West African religion to the magical aspects of Ancient Egyptian religion. He and other 18th century scholars used the concept to apply evolution theory to religion. In de Brosses' theory of the evolution of religion, he proposed that fetishism is the earliest most primitive stage, followed by the stages of polytheism and monotheism and totemism to account for fetishism. Essentially, fetishism is attributing some kind of inherent value or powers to an object. For example, the person who sees magical or divine significance in a material object is mistakenly ascribing inherent value to some object which does not possess that value hence Marx's commodity fetishism: belief that objects control us, i.
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The History and Theory of Fetishism
Fetishism - Wikipedia
The History and Theory of Fetishism, the expanded version of Iacono's enduring classic Teorie del feticismo and available for the first time in English, aims to provide the historical context necessary to understanding the concept of "fetishism" and offers an overview of the ideologies, prejudices, and critical senses that shaped the Western observer's view of otherness and of his own world. Iacono examines the moment when the Western observer turned his colonizing and evangelizing gaze to continents such as Africa and the Americas, while attempting to simultaneously destabilize and look at his own world critically. Skip to main content Skip to table of contents. Advertisement Hide. The History and Theory of Fetishism.
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Since the seventeenth century, thought about fetishism has been concerned with four overriding questions, all of them emerging in conflicts over representation that arose at the borders between cultural and historical worlds. These four questions concern the relationship between images and their referents in religious discourse; the attribution of causality and the nature of reason; the means for assessing and representing economic value; and desire and the relationship between consciousness and the material world. Although the term fetishism had its origins in comparative religious studies, it has become mainly associated with Marxian economic analysis on the one hand and psychoanalysis on the other.
Essentially, fetishism is the emic attribution of inherent value or powers to an object. The term "fetish" has evolved from an idiom used to describe a type of objects created in the interaction between European travellers and Africans in the early modern period to an analytical term that played a central role in the perception and study of non-Western art in general and African art in particular. William Pietz, who conducted an extensive ethno-historical study of the fetish, argues that the term originated in the coast of West Africa during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Pietz distinguishes between, on the one hand, actual African objects that may be called fetishes in Europe, together with the indigenous theories of them, and on the other hand, "fetish", an idea, and an idea of a kind of object, to which the term above applies. According to Pietz, the post-colonial concept of "fetish" emerged from the encounter between Europeans and Africans in a very specific historical context and in response to African material culture.