What is Mimetic Theory?

Mimetic theory is a theoretical framework for understanding human behavior and culture. It was developed by French philosopher René Girard and argues that humans imitate one another and desire the same things as others in their social group. This leads to competition and conflict, as individuals strive to acquire the same things and be like those they admire.

According to mimetic theory, human culture is a result of our mimetic desires, which drive us to imitate one another and create shared norms, values, and beliefs. The theory also argues that violence and aggression arise when mimetic desires are thwarted, leading to conflicts over scarce resources or symbolic objects.

Mimetic theory has implications for various fields, including anthropology, sociology, psychology, and religious studies. It sheds light on the way in which our desires and behavior are shaped by those around us, and how this can result in both positive and negative outcomes.

In addition, mimetic theory provides a new perspective on the role of religion in human societies. Girard argues that religious myths and rituals serve as a way to control and channel mimetic desires, preventing violence and promoting social cohesion.

Overall, mimetic theory provides a comprehensive and interdisciplinary approach to understanding human behavior, culture, and society, and it continues to be an important area of study in the social sciences.

Simplified Example

Mimetic theory can be explained to a child as the idea that people are like copycats. Just like how some animals mimic the sounds or behaviors of others in order to fit in or be accepted, people also copy what others do, say, or wear. For example, if all your friends are wearing a certain type of shoes, you might start wearing them too, even if you didn't like them before. This is because you want to fit in and be like your friends. This is what mimetic theory is all about - how people imitate each other and the impact it has on their thoughts, feelings, and actions.

Who Invented the Mimetic Theory?

The mimetic theory was formulated by the French historian, literary critic, and philosopher of social science René Girard (1923-2015) in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Girard derived insights for the theory from his extensive studies in literature and history. Central to Girard's mimetic theory is the notion that human desire is not inherently individual but is instead shaped by our tendency to imitate others. He posited that individuals desire what they observe others desiring, leading to competition and conflict. This mimetic rivalry, while potentially escalating to violence, can also find resolution through scapegoating—a process wherein a single individual or group is held responsible for the community's problems and subsequently sacrificed.


Consumerism: One of the most common examples of mimetic theory can be seen in consumerism. People often imitate the buying habits of those around them, whether it be through advertisements or social media. This can result in individuals buying things they don't need, just because others have them.

Peer Pressure: Peer pressure is a classic example of mimetic theory in action. Children and teenagers may imitate their friends and peers in order to fit in or be accepted, leading to behaviors that they may not have otherwise engaged in.

Fashion Trends: Fashion is another area where mimetic theory is evident. People may follow the latest fashion trends because they want to look like those around them, or because they want to express their social status. This leads to collective buying habits and a uniformity in appearance.

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