The Fetish Revisited

Marx, Freud, and the Gods Black People Make

Book Pages: 392 Illustrations: 51 photographs, incl. 9 in col Published: November 2018

African Studies, Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Religious Studies

Since the early-modern encounter between African and European merchants on the Guinea Coast, European social critics have invoked African gods as metaphors for misplaced value and agency, using the term “fetishism” chiefly to assert the irrationality of their fellow Europeans. Yet, as J. Lorand Matory demonstrates in The Fetish Revisited, Afro-Atlantic gods have a materially embodied social logic of their own, which is no less rational than the social theories of Marx and Freud. Drawing on thirty-six years of fieldwork in Africa, Europe, and the Americas, Matory casts an Afro-Atlantic eye on European theory to show how Marx’s and Freud’s conceptions of the fetish both illuminate and misrepresent Africa’s human-made gods. Through this analysis, the priests, practices, and spirited things of four major Afro-Atlantic religions simultaneously call attention to the culture-specific, materially conditioned, physically embodied, and indeed fetishistic nature of Marx’s and Freud’s theories themselves. Challenging long-held assumptions about the nature of gods and theories, Matory offers a novel perspective on the social roots of these tandem African and European understandings of collective action, while illuminating the relationship of European social theory to the racism suffered by Africans and assimilated Jews alike. 


"J. L. Matory provides a critical and provocative account of how the concept of the fetish has been appropriated and used as a key concept in the writings of Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud. The work is especially strong in demonstrating the fantastical appropriations of the idea of the fetish, plucked from the complex and rich contexts of meaning and agency in transatlantic black religion. . . . . A fascinating, readable, and wandering book. .  . . Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty." — G. E. Marcus, Choice

"Matory’s The Fetish Revisited is a masterful work, stunning in its erudition, ambitious argument, and prodigious ethnographic detail." — Laura S. Grillo, Journal of the American Academy of Religion

"Overall, Matory’s The Fetish Revisited is meticulously researched, provocative, artfully written, and compelling. . . . While certainly aimed at students of Marx and Freud, Matory’s text will certainly serve as an important marker for the field of religious studies and anthropology at-large." — Alejandro Stephano Escalante, Reading Religion

"The Fetish Revisited is an important book and a pleasure to read." — Steven Engler, Studies in Religion

“[This] book makes an important move to assess the social theories of Marx and Freud according to criteria proper to the Afro-Atlantic religions [Matory] considers. . . . This intervention encourages reflection on how theory is taught, and distinguished from belief or worldview, particularly in African Studies, Africana Studies, and Anthropology.”

— Lila Ann Dodge, African Studies Quarterly

"... [Matory] offers important insights into the Afro-Atlantic origins and makings of fetishes and into the unequal relations they comprise. One of the great merits of this book is that it takes Afro-Atlantic things, practices, and voices as theory and not merely as something to be described and analyzed." — Benedikt Pontzen, Anthropos

"Matory demonstrates an impressive intellectual and analytical power throughout his exposition in this book as he delves into some aspects of Western systems, social theory, ethnological schadenfreude, and lopsided ambivalence in central Europe." — Kwaku Nti, Journal of Global South Studies

"Matory's The Fetish Revisited is a well-researched and provocative work that combines academic research with a deep intellectual reflection in a work mainly directed to the disciples of Freud and Marx, but amazingly insightful into the fields of religious studies, anthropology, ethnology and meta-theory." — Cyril-Mary Pius Olatunji and Fracis Kayode Fabidun, Marx and Philosophy Review of Books

“J. Lorand Matory's latest book is an all-time glorious masterpiece.” — Robert Farris Thompson, author of Flash of the Spirit: African and Afro-American Art and Philosophy

“J. Lorand Matory's The Fetish Revisited is a brilliant tour de force that links nineteenth-century fantasies about blackness and the power of the fetish with many of the underlying currents of the twentieth century, from Marxism to psychoanalysis. Matory's work consistently contrasts such views with the ‘fetish objects’ themselves, the products of African religions and cultures, their inherent meanings and functions, and their appropriation within the intellectual world of expanding European colonialism. An important addition to the analysis of racial thought in Europe showing how the underlying objects that seemed to inspire Marx and Freud had an autonomous and powerful function quite separate from their role in the two men's thought.” — Sander L. Gilman, coauthor of Are Racists Crazy? How Prejudice, Racism, and Antisemitism Became Markers of Insanity


Availability: In stock
Price: $29.95

Open Access

Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

J. Lorand Matory is Lawrence Richardson Professor of Cultural Anthropology and Director of the Sacred Arts of the Black Atlantic Project at Duke University. He is the author of Stigma and Culture: Last-Place Anxiety in Black America; Black Atlantic Religion: Tradition, Transnationalism, and Matriarchy in the Afro-Brazilian Candomblé; and Sex and the Empire That Is No More: Gender and the Politics of Metaphor in Oyo Yoruba Religion.

Table of Contents Back to Top
A Note on Orthography  ix
Preface  xi
Introduction  1
Part I. The Factory, the Coat, the Piano, and the "Negro Slave": On the Afro-Atlantic Sources of Marx's Fetish  41
1. The Afro-Atlantic Context of Historical Materialism  45
2. The "Negro-Slave" in Marx's Labor Theory of Value  60
3. Marx's Fetishization of People and Things  78
Conclusion to Part I  91
Part II. The Acropolis, the Couch, the Fur Hat, and the "Savage": On Freud's Ambivalent Fetish  97
4. The Fetishes That Assimilated Jewish Men Make  103
5. The Fetish as an Architecture of Solidarity and Conflict  117
6. The Castrator and the Castrated in the Fetishes of Psychoanalysis  145
Conclusion to Part II  165
Part III. Pots, Packets, Beads, and Foreigners: The Making and the Meaning of the Real-Life "Fetish"  171
7. The Contrary Ontologies of Two Revolutions  175
8. Commodities and Gods  191
9. The Madeness of Gods and Other People  249
Conclusion to Part III  285
Conclusion. Eshu's Hat, or An Afro-Atlantic Theory of Theory  289
Acknowledgments  325
Notes  331
References  339
Index  349
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

Rights and licensing

Joint Winner of the 2020 American Ethnological Society (AES) Senior Book Prize

Winner, Award for Excellence in the Study of Religion: Analytical-Descriptive Studies from the American Academy of Religion

Additional InformationBack to Top