Michel Maffesoli and Charles R. Foulkes

Design Issues

Vol. 4, No. 1/2, Designing the Immaterial Society (1988), pp. 141-151

Accessed via JSTOR


The text opens with an interesting proposal as Maffesoli perceives a shift from what he calls ‘culturalisation of nature’ to ‘naturalisation of culture’. In essence this means a reversal from an individualistic mindset to a more communal one – one that the author believes to be a more natural and appropriate state.

In fact, individualism is referred to in the text as a problem, a relic of an unsustainable mindset that is at odds with itself. An example is brought up in the tendency of the strictly rational and increasingly global western culture to incorporate more irrational and comforting elements from different cultures and the communities that are often formed around these ideals. The author points out that throughout history, mythology and culture even the greatest feats of individual prowess were judged through the lens of whether this behaviour was ultimately beneficial to the group or the community at large.

This shift to a “more natural state” then involves the replacement of the individual with a persona – a metaphorical mask that the person adorns to accommodate the needs of their group. The identity of a person is shaped not through the notion of individuality but through their place in what Maffesoli calls an emotional community. The persona has to be able to adapt and change with fluctuating groups, the flexibility being an inherent feature of this system. This systematised loss of individual to the group or groups is referred to as ‘neo-tribalism’.

Which is where the idea of a tribe as an emotional community starts taking shape. The tribe is more closely defined in terms of its empathetic features than rational or ideological ones. The identity within the tribe is often built around a shared aesthetic or feeling – including shared symbols – and the members are accustomed to switching from one tribe to another with very little in terms of permanence or structure.