Mimetic Theory

From Generative Anthropology
(Redirected from Mimetic Desire)

Mimetic theory is an explanation of human behavior and culture created by René Girard. The theory is based in the observation that humans are fundamentally mimetic - we are constantly imitating other humans and taking them as our behavioral "models". Mimetic theory claims that desire itself is mimetic: in imitating our models, we must also imitate their desires. Mimetic desire escalates mimetic rivalry, as our models become rivals competing for the same object of desire, and our shared desire reinforces our belief in the value of the object. This creates the potential for a cataclysmic mimetic violence within the group. Mimetic theory claims that, in order to avoid this violence, the scapegoat mechanism is employed: one member of the group is singled out, murdered, and blamed for all the chaos, which then restores the social order of the group. Girard claims that the scapegoating mechanism gives birth to the first sign, and thus language, when a new victim is substituted for the first, saying "this thing represents another thing" for the first time.

Relation to Generative Anthropology

Generative anthropology borrows mimetic theory's fundamental intuitions for its originary hypothesis: humans are fundamentally mimetic, at one point proto-humans became too mimetic, and the intense mimetic rivalry overrode the existing animal pecking order, threatening a cataclysmic mimetic conflict within the group. However, generative anthropology breaks from mimetic theory in its explanation of how the mimetic violence is avoided (the origin of the human): rather than the scapegoating mechanism, all that is needed to defer this violence is the originary sign.



Gans, E. L., Katz, A. L. (2019). The Origin of Language: A New Edition