Secrecy and Cultural Reality

Utopian Ideologies of the New Guinea Men's House
Gilbert Herdt
A compelling study of male ritual secrecy and its impact on the cultures of Melanesia and Papua New Guinea


Gilbert Herdt is Director of the Program in Human Sexuality Studies at San Francisco State University, where he is also Professor of Human Sexuality Studies and Anthropology.

Praise / Awards

  • "In this powerful and unprecedented book, Gilbert Herdt exposes the secrecy of Melanesian male cults and sharpens his insights to reveal breathtaking and provocative secrecies at the heart of anthropologists' own practice. Ranging with scholarly mastery from discussions of anthropological history - including the secret cult practices of Lewis Henry Morgan - to a range of Melanesian societies, social theorists, and processes of culture change, Herdt ultimately exposes the ideologies of freedom and neo-liberal democracy that prevent us from adequately understanding the conflicted and conditional masculinities that attended secret societies in world areas such as Melanesia. This book will be of intense interest to those interested in sex and gender, religion, social change, and the unexamined identities of researchers own subject positions - in addition to those interested in the Melanesian societies and their relation to the history of anthropology. This is a wonderfully fertile and truly wide-ranging work."
    --Bruce M. Knauft, Samuel C. Dobbs Professor of Anthropology, Emory University
  • "A remarkable achievement. Herdt's daring interpretations comprise a radically new perspective on men's ritual secrecy in New Guinea, one with provocative implications both for the men and for those who study them."
    --Donald Tuzin, University of California, San Diego
  • "The interest of the last and beautiful book from Gilbert Herdt goes far beyond the analysis of initiation rites and masculine homosexuality within several societies of New Guinea. In these societies, men imagine they have the power to be born twice, the second birth outside the body of women. But for that boys have to be violently severed from the female world and regularly inseminated by young men pure of any sexual contact with women. Here homosexuality is the necessary condition for the construction of masculinity and masculinity is the first pillar of social order. We see that the secrecy Gilbert Herdt is dealing with is not a matter of contract or of plot, but of deep belief into the existence of an ontological and cosmological power of men to be kept secret from women and children. The book raises the general problem of the necessity for those who exert power in a hierarchical society to use both secrecy and violence in order to rule."
    --Maurice Godelier, Directeur d'Etudes à l'EHESS
  • "This remarkable study of a New Guinea men's house shows how desire and gendered inequalities are historically constituted. It also provides compelling evidence for Marcel Mauss' proposition that embodies practices form a precondition for transcendental experience."
    --Shirley Lindenbaum, Professor of Anthropology, The City University of New York

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Copyright © 2003, University of Michigan. All rights reserved. Posted September 2003.

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Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 288pp.
  • 1 photograph, 1 map.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Paper
  • 2003
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-06761-9

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  • $33.95 U.S.

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