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In Magic’s Reason, Graham M. Jones tells the entwined stories of anthropology and entertainment magic. The two areas are not as separate as they may at first seem. As Jones shows, the endeavors not only matured around the same time, but they also shared stances towards modernity and rationality that fed into each other. As stage magic established for itself a circumscribed realm of suspension of disbelief, colonial ethnographers drew on the language of that realm in describing native ritual performers as charlatans, hoodwinking gullible people into believing their sleight of hand was divine.
Using French magicians' engagements with North African ritual performers as a case study, Jones shows how their concept of magic became enshrined in anthropological practice. Ultimately, Jones argues, anthropologists should not dispense with the concept of magic, but, rather, they should think more sharply about it, acknowledging the residue of its colonial origins. Through this radical reassessment of classic anthropological ideas, Magic’s Reason develops a new perspective on the promise and peril of cross-cultural comparisons.