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The Gift: The Form and Reason for Exchange in Archaic Societies

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A brilliant example of the comparative method,The Gift presents the first systematic study of the custom—widespread in primitive societies from ancient Rome to present-day Melanesia—of exchanging gifts. The gift is a perfect example of what Mauss calls a total social phenomenon, since it involves legal, economic, moral, religious, aesthetic, and other dimensions. He sees t A brilliant example of the comparative method,The Gift presents the first systematic study of the custom—widespread in primitive societies from ancient Rome to present-day Melanesia—of exchanging gifts. The gift is a perfect example of what Mauss calls a total social phenomenon, since it involves legal, economic, moral, religious, aesthetic, and other dimensions. He sees the gift exchange as related to individuals and groups as much as to the objects themselves, and his analysis calls into question the social conventions and economic systems that had been taken for granted for so many years. In a modern translation, introduced by distinguished anthropologist Mary Douglas, The Gift is essential reading for students of social anthropology and sociology.


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A brilliant example of the comparative method,The Gift presents the first systematic study of the custom—widespread in primitive societies from ancient Rome to present-day Melanesia—of exchanging gifts. The gift is a perfect example of what Mauss calls a total social phenomenon, since it involves legal, economic, moral, religious, aesthetic, and other dimensions. He sees t A brilliant example of the comparative method,The Gift presents the first systematic study of the custom—widespread in primitive societies from ancient Rome to present-day Melanesia—of exchanging gifts. The gift is a perfect example of what Mauss calls a total social phenomenon, since it involves legal, economic, moral, religious, aesthetic, and other dimensions. He sees the gift exchange as related to individuals and groups as much as to the objects themselves, and his analysis calls into question the social conventions and economic systems that had been taken for granted for so many years. In a modern translation, introduced by distinguished anthropologist Mary Douglas, The Gift is essential reading for students of social anthropology and sociology.

30 review for The Gift: The Form and Reason for Exchange in Archaic Societies

  1. 4 out of 5

    Anthony Buckley

    I have found myself re-reading Marcel Mauss’s classic treatise on The Gift. It was first published in the 1920s as a series of articles in L’Année Sociologique the journal founded by Mauss’s uncle, Émile Durkheim. And indeed, its spirit is firmly Durkheimian, for it sees the prime role of the gift and the act of giving to be the cementing of the bonds of society. Mauss argues that gifts are a type of exchange. As he nearly says, there is no such thing as a free lunch. The idea that gifts are vol I have found myself re-reading Marcel Mauss’s classic treatise on The Gift. It was first published in the 1920s as a series of articles in L’Année Sociologique the journal founded by Mauss’s uncle, Émile Durkheim. And indeed, its spirit is firmly Durkheimian, for it sees the prime role of the gift and the act of giving to be the cementing of the bonds of society. Mauss argues that gifts are a type of exchange. As he nearly says, there is no such thing as a free lunch. The idea that gifts are voluntarily given without expectation of reward is a common fiction, but a fiction nevertheless. A gift, he explains, is always given in return for another gift. Only sometimes is a gift given voluntarily. Mostly, they are compulsory. After introducing his subject, Mauss considers the phenomenon of “potlatch”, the practice of large-scale, competitive giving. This was found archetypically among North American peoples, but it can be found elsewhere. In the most extreme forms of potlatch, when the giver has given as much as the recipients could conceivably consume, the giver is reduced to destroying his goods just to demonstrate his ability to give. This phenomenon is not as exotic as it might at first appear. My grandchildren’s school, for example, was forced actively to discourage the practice of the children giving Christmas gifts to their teachers. The teachers began to fear accusations of favouritism, even corruption. And the escalating competitiveness actually threatened to impoverish the poorer parents. Weddings – inherently a gift by parents to their children and to their friends and relations – have a similar, even notorious tendency to be more and more lavish in successive generations. Mauss goes on to look at the now well-known practice of kula found in Malinowski’s description of the Trobriand Islands in the Pacific. Here, prestigious goods - necklaces and bangles made from shell - are taken great distances by boat and solemnly given to the occupants of neighbouring islands. These, in due course, pass them on to other islands, so they move in a never-ending full circle. This book is, of course, a classic and I would not want to deny its author’s genius. Nevertheless, one cannot ignore its problems.. Most obviously, from his perspective in the 1920s, Mauss sees the gift as a “survival” from earlier periods. The modern world, he claims, is a world of commerce; while the gift, in contrast, belongs to the ancient world and to those primitive peoples who have maintained an ancient way of life. The potlatch and kula, he speculates, are intermediate stages along an evolutionary continuum from, on the one hand, the total sharing of goods and services between otherwise hostile peoples to, on the other hand, the modern world of commerce. It follows that, for him, when gifts are found in modern society, this too is a survival from our archaic past. Not that Mauss is hostile to the gift, for he thinks we should try to recapture some of this ancient mode of living. (Mary Douglas in a typically erudite and lucid foreword shows that Mauss is motivated by an opposition to the individualism and utilitarianism he associates with Britain.) Nevertheless, the notion of “survivals”, while useful as a peripheral concept, is not the basis for a satisfactory methodology and it has in fact largely been dropped from modern anthropology. Mauss’s Gift has become important as providing the cornerstone for the work of other important thinkers. Notably, another great Durkheimian, Claude Lévi-Strauss, in his monumental Les Structures Élementaires de la Parenté, explained the plethora of marriage patterns as a series of exchanges or gifts. He also developed an influential theory of myth which was infused by the notion of reciprocity and balance. A radically different thinker, the American Marshall Sahlins explored issues of economic anthropology in his important study, Stone Age Economics, which has a direct lineage to the ideas of Mauss. Both of these writers brought great sophistication to the comparatively simple ideas found in Mauss’s original work. For myself, I see The Gift as the key to solving an old problem in sociology, the question of altruism. This is, however, possible only when one abandons one of the central features of the book, which arises from Mauss’s emphasis on the potlatch and on competitive giving. Mauss was certainly correct to recognize that competition in giving does exist, and also that giving is rarely disinterested. With occasional lapses – for example, at one point, he describes the excesses of potlatch as “monstrous” – he seems to see competition and self-interest at the heart of the phenomenon of giving. I believe he is here mistaken, for in fact, there are plenty of occasions when giving is not competitive, and where competitive giving is actively opposed. Often, people strive in their giving not somehow to “win” the competition, but to come out of reciprocal transactions in a more or less equal state. I note, for example, that my own children do not compete when giving me birthday presents. In fact, much as I appreciate getting bottles of aftershave, despite my beard, I sometimes think that a little competition would do some good in this area. Moreover, giving can be a complicated phenomenon with different processes going on simultaneously. Family life, for example, usually involves the giving of food, shelter, education and general nurture to children. It is therefore based on the giving of gifts. Parents may, sometimes, engage in potlatch-like activity when nurturing their children – spending lavishly on them in order to outdo fellow parents. However, in more everyday matters, parents do not, as a rule, compete with the children who are the recipients of their generosity. Mostly, parents give to children as their own parents once gave to them; and in due course, these same children will give to their own children and so on (like Swiftean fleas but temporally, not spatially)through the generations. Moreover, competition between parents and children is rarely an issue. Reciprocity, it seems to me, infuses every aspect of our ordinary social lives. Mauss tends to stick to ceremonial and ceremonious forms of giving, but in fact the giving of gifts is ubiquitous and not at all confined to the big occasions. When, on a minor road, I stop to let the other cars pass along a main road, I do it in the knowledge that in due course, and when roles are reversed, others will similarly wait for me. When a stranger is lost and asks me the way to his destination then I give directions, knowing that in due course I too may need to tell a stranger I am lost and in need of directions. Or more seriously, if I wade into a pond to rescue a drowning child, I do so in the expectation that, in similar circumstances, others would do the same for me or for my own children and grandchildren. Society (even commerce) rests on such communitarian and largely non-competitive gifts of time, courtesy, bravery, goods etc. It rests on the obligation to give, to accept and to reciprocate. All of these are at the heart of the phenomenon we know as the gift which Mauss brought into general anthropological discussion. .

  2. 4 out of 5

    muthuvel

    First thing first. There's no such thing as free gift. Its literally an oxymoron. Every gift has to be returned in some specific ways, set up a perpetual cycle of exchanges within and between generations, at least in the simple societies. This is my first time reading an explosive book at the foundation level of what economics really is and the role it plays in the lowest base functional unit in society. I've become too lazy these days to type it all out probably I'll save some of this for my pap First thing first. There's no such thing as free gift. Its literally an oxymoron. Every gift has to be returned in some specific ways, set up a perpetual cycle of exchanges within and between generations, at least in the simple societies. This is my first time reading an explosive book at the foundation level of what economics really is and the role it plays in the lowest base functional unit in society. I've become too lazy these days to type it all out probably I'll save some of this for my paper works. Here some of the fragments of my understanding of the work. This work is also one of the books that share a subtle philosophy of returning to the practices and culture of the so called, but mostly misunderstood, Primitive. French Anthropologist Marcel Mauss did an extensive study on the gift economies of tribal communities spread over Polynesian, Melanesian, Andamanese, Australian, North Western American landscapes. The Gift economy is similar to the economy of capitalism in principle at the least where people as clans, tribes, work and toil followed by contributing giving way as gift, kula ring of redistribution, general reciprocity without negotiation or by means of ritual exchange. The common principle involved here is the idea of Adam Smith's self-interest but it also indicates some sort of disinterestedness in the communities that prevent them from accumulating more surplus for their own good. These exchanges were rather done as festivals, potlatches showcasing the simpler versions of conspicuous consumption and destruction (in case of sacrifices). The author sort of gives a general hypothesis backed by positivist approach the prehistorical times were marked by gift economy and its common influence were being observed in ancient Semitic norms, older and old roman laws, Vedas, Celtics, Gauls, Germanians et al. In practical reality, the concept of gift economy is more than prevalent especially in Mainstream Cultures where it is an obligatory norm to socialise and give gift through means of money, material goods during family functions which would be reciprocated when the other's turn arrives. In the way the work is approached in terms of critiquing the modern economy (despite the book being published in 1954), nothing felt more urgent than this following quote from the conclusions "We must not desire the citizen to be either too good or too individualistic nor too insensitive or too realist. Man must have a keen sense of awareness of himself, but also of others, and of the social reality and in moral matters, is there any other kind of reality?.. this moralitynis eternal; it is common to the most advanced societies to those of the immediate future and to the lowest imaginable forms of society." Overview study also rejects the economic rationalism (way ahead of its time) also sets aside the theories of Marxism because of the very reason. "Homo Oeconomicus is not behind us but lies ahead, as does man of morality and duty, the man of science and reason." Ko Maru kai atu; Ko Maru kai mai; ka ngohe ngohe meaning ‘Give as much as you take, all shall be very well' is a Māori proverb. This is one of the enduring secrets of maintaining wisdom and solidarity in various societies, the author concludes.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Simon Hollway

    Utterly impenetrable. I read the translation by Ian Cunnison with an introduction by Evans-Pritchard. The first red flag raced to the top of the flagpole in the Translator's Note before the main event: 'In the French edition the compendious notes were printed on the text pages. Here they are placed after the text and numbered separately by chapters.' Brilliant. Endnotes are detestable things that demand an awkward and arthritic kung-fu hand grip in order to balance the blasted book between your Utterly impenetrable. I read the translation by Ian Cunnison with an introduction by Evans-Pritchard. The first red flag raced to the top of the flagpole in the Translator's Note before the main event: 'In the French edition the compendious notes were printed on the text pages. Here they are placed after the text and numbered separately by chapters.' Brilliant. Endnotes are detestable things that demand an awkward and arthritic kung-fu hand grip in order to balance the blasted book between your fingers as though trying to master a one-handed card shuffle. A sore neck swiftly follows as you constantly move backwards and forwards between the text and the notes at the back -ping-pong-ping-pong-ping-pong. In this case, a sore neck inflames into chronic whiplash as Mauss scatters text notes like confetti. Finally, the endnotes here are themselves of an Infinite Jest proportion. And then there's the text itself which trips over itself, degenerating into a word salad halfway through the first chapter. Another endnote from that section declares, 'European vocabularies have not the ability to describe the complexity of these ideas.' He said it, not me. I dig Durkheim, froth at Foucault and lavish lit-love upon Leakey and Levi-Strauss but this left me cold even though I'm intrigued by the subject. The Gift belongs to the desiccated supercalifragilisticexpialidocious school of writing or maybe it was just the translator...

  4. 4 out of 5

    Doris

    It is a good study of how exchanging gifts among individuals of s society succeeds in making their place in this very society , how this fact of exchanges responds in creating certain links that create landcape in the horizon of the given society. Because gift exchange becomes a norm and throws light on relations with these individuals and their acceptance and life among this group and yjeir future prosperity. Interesting. Highly recommended for ancient literature and more modern one that puts t It is a good study of how exchanging gifts among individuals of s society succeeds in making their place in this very society , how this fact of exchanges responds in creating certain links that create landcape in the horizon of the given society. Because gift exchange becomes a norm and throws light on relations with these individuals and their acceptance and life among this group and yjeir future prosperity. Interesting. Highly recommended for ancient literature and more modern one that puts to scrutiny individual attitude to habits of receiving or thanking for being welcomed. Very good and thought-provoking book that gives insight into how relations are made because thez are based on superioritz inferioritz and egality among members of a group. To the full prosperity certain norms have to be sharedd among them and obeyed

  5. 5 out of 5

    John David

    Marcel Mauss’ “The Gift” (1925) is one of the most influential pieces of anthropology written in the twentieth century. It explores the economies of pre-capitalist cultures and peoples from several different parts of the world, including Melanesia, Polynesia, and the Pacific Northwest. This specific edition, with an introduction by Mary Douglas (a magnificent anthropologist in her own right), is especially recommended, and sheds a tremendous amount of light on Mauss’ sometimes unclear conclusion Marcel Mauss’ “The Gift” (1925) is one of the most influential pieces of anthropology written in the twentieth century. It explores the economies of pre-capitalist cultures and peoples from several different parts of the world, including Melanesia, Polynesia, and the Pacific Northwest. This specific edition, with an introduction by Mary Douglas (a magnificent anthropologist in her own right), is especially recommended, and sheds a tremendous amount of light on Mauss’ sometimes unclear conclusions. In fact, if you can’t read the book, Douglas’ introduction stands by itself as a wonderful summary of Mauss’ ideas. For those interested in the history of anthropology and its development over time, Mauss was one of Durkheim’s greatest students (Durkheim was also Mauss’ uncle) and his influence can be seen quite a bit in this work. While Durkheim believed in the individual and the potential for individual action, he was a vocal critic of individualism per se. For example, he recognized that it couldn’t explain rule-governed action, a phenomenon rife in every culture. Durkheim’s positivism is also on display; Mauss never feels his point is made unless he has shown it several times over with people from different parts of the world. The main idea here is the centrality of what Mauss calls the “gift.” What is a gift? It is an item given within a complex set of social relations and institutions which at the same time comprises those relations and institutions. Mauss also emphasizes that most all cultures see gifts as obligatory and mutual. “Even the idea of a pure gift is a contradiction. By ignoring the universal custom of compulsory gifts we make our own record incomprehensible to ourselves: right across the globe and as far back as we can go in the history of human civilization, the major transfer of goods has been by cycles of obligatory returns of gifts” (viii). Just as important is the way in which gifts function within an economic system. He even hints at how these “gift economies” softly echo the dynamics of Adam Smith’s invisible hand. “Gift complements market in so far as it operates where the latter is absent” (xiv). The following quote, again from Douglas’ introduction, is central and important: “Like the market it [the gift] supplies each individual with personal incentives for collaborating in the patter of exchanges. Gifts are given in a context of public drama, with nothing secret about them. In being more directly cued to public esteem, the distribution of honor, and the sanctions of religion, the gift economy is more visible than the market. Just by being visible, the resultant distribution of goods and services is more readily subject to public scrutiny and judgments of fairness than are the results of market exchange. In operating a gift system a people are more aware of what they are doing, as shown by the sacralization for their institutions of giving” (xiv). As mentioned above, Mauss’ work is exhaustively ethnographic. He talks about the Maori’s concept of the “hau,” or the spirit that inheres in things and that must be passed on. “What imposes obligation in the present received and exchanged is the fact that the thing received is not inactive. Even when it has been abandoned by the giver, it still possesses something of him. Through it the giver has a hold over the beneficiary just as, being its owner, through it he has a hold over the thief” (p. 11-12). Mauss again emphasizes the importance of reciprocity: “In this system of ideas one clearly and logically realized that one must give back to another person what is really part and parcel of his nature and substance, because to accept something from somebody is to accept some part of his spiritual essence, of his soul. To retain that thing would be dangerous and mortal, not only because it would be against law and morality, but also because that thing coming from the person not only morally, but physically and spiritually, that essence, that food, those goods, whether movable or immovable, those women or those descendants, those rituals or those acts of communion – all exert a magical or religious hold over you” (p. 12). In the second chapter, Mauss discusses the Trobriand people (who are perhaps best known from Malinowski’s ethnographic work “Argonauts of the Western Pacific”). Things look remarkably the same. “At the bottom of this system of internal kula [the Trobriand gift economy], the system of gift-through-exchange permeates all the economic, tribal, and moral life of the Trobriand people. It is ‘impregnated’ with it, as Malinowski very neatly expressed it. It is a constant ‘give and take.’ The process is marked by a continuous flow in all directions of presents given, accepted, and reciprocated, obligatorily and out of self-interest, by reason of greatness and for services rendered, through challenges and pledges” (p. 29). Many western civilizations seem to have some economies in which item exchange obligatory, and others where it isn’t. Mauss recognizes this, and addresses it. He asks rhetorically, “Yet are not such distinctions fairly recent in the legal systems of our great civilizations? Have these not gone through a previous phase in which they did not display such a cold, calculating mentality? Have they not in fact practiced these customs of the gift that is exchanged, in which persons and things merge?” (p. 47-48). He claims that a more detailed analysis of Indo-European legal theory will indeed show that this transition can be located historically. Whether Mauss ever finds this transition point, at least in this essay, is questionable. In the last chapter, Mauss attempts to tie the gift economy to trends in social democracy, and here he completely fails, as Douglas again points out in the introduction. He says that the concept of a social safety net provided by the mutual sharing of tax dollars is analogous to the gift economy. However, he completely ignores the coercive power of the modern state in making this comparison. Part of the reason why potlatch confers such honor with many of these people is because the person or family of their own accord decide how much to sacrifice in the act of gift-giving. The state, on the other hand, makes laws, which makes this giving non-obligatory. If you don’t “give,” you must pay the punishment. Mauss’ politics shine through here, but unfortunately they have nothing to do with the topic at hand. Mauss’ style is dry and demonstrative. Much of the book is taken up with etymologies of Indo-European words, sometimes in a convoluted attempt to support his ideas. Even when the ideas are clearly presented, the translator sometimes leaves many words untranslated, which has you paging back and forth to remind you of their meaning. Thankfully, the book is only around eighty pages. It was a huge influence on Lewis Hyde’s “The Gift: Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property,” which turns thirty this year, and which looks to be much more interesting.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Jan D

    An excellent text. Interesting ideas and among the most accessible anthropological writings I know (and a classic, too). The text is a about the reasons, patterns and practices of exchanging gifts in “archaic societies”. The part about this is very interesting, but it gets even more fascinating when the connection to western culture is made: How the classic roman law had elements of modern contracts as well as gift-giving and how the gift-giving culture is still much alive today (I would say mos An excellent text. Interesting ideas and among the most accessible anthropological writings I know (and a classic, too). The text is a about the reasons, patterns and practices of exchanging gifts in “archaic societies”. The part about this is very interesting, but it gets even more fascinating when the connection to western culture is made: How the classic roman law had elements of modern contracts as well as gift-giving and how the gift-giving culture is still much alive today (I would say most still applies, even though the book is from 1950). I came to this book by dealing with Open Source culture, and while its gift-giving aspects are often celebrated I also enjoyed Mauss perspective and the potential dangers, subversion and violence in gift-giving.

  7. 4 out of 5

    AB

    Marcel Mauss seeks to develop in this long essay with copious footnotes an account of the social practice of Gift-giving in ancient and modern societies and its implications. Evidently influenced by his association with Durkheim, gift giving is never free or selfless. It is a social way of maintaining solidarity and cohesion within between societies and therefore gifts must always be reciprocated. Mauss draws examples from a wide variety of cultures: Polynesia, Melanesia, New Zealand, The US nort Marcel Mauss seeks to develop in this long essay with copious footnotes an account of the social practice of Gift-giving in ancient and modern societies and its implications. Evidently influenced by his association with Durkheim, gift giving is never free or selfless. It is a social way of maintaining solidarity and cohesion within between societies and therefore gifts must always be reciprocated. Mauss draws examples from a wide variety of cultures: Polynesia, Melanesia, New Zealand, The US northwest, Ancient Rome, Ancient India, Northern Europe etc. to explain his point. Gift-giving is an example of a 'total social phenomena' in these societies where many dimensions of social life are involved: religious, juridical, moral, economic, aesthetic etc. The 'market' existed in these 'primitive societies' even before the use of money, traders as a separate class or even barter existed. Their societies do not exist in a simplistic state of nature, but in a complicated system based on honour. E.g. in the Trobrian Islands, trade/gifting is carried on seemingly nobly and disinterestedly, not just the mere exchange of economic goods. The recipients are obliged (socially) to reciprocate soon despite the noble nature of the trade. This gift system thus is their stock exchange, their market. Buying and selling with money has been replaced with this and they have just one single term to denote buying and selling. Perhaps the most apt metaphor for the Gift itself is drawn from the New Zealand Maori: when someone gifts someone something, the object is said to contain a special magic power, HAU or spirit. This hau will curse me unless I return a gift of equivalent value to you. Thus, no gift is free and must always be revanchiert. Lest this seem quaint, remember what value objects once possessed by celebrities, close personal friends or religious leaders, impart to us when we possess them; as they seem infused with a sort of life-force. Originally—so much is sure—things themselves had a personality and an inherent power. Things are not the inert objects that the law of Justinian and our own legal systems conceive them to be. First, they form part of the family: the Roman familia includes the res, and not only people. Not only is there an obligation to gift freely (indeed ruinously) and to reciprocate, but an obligation to accept the reciprocated gift. The Northwest US Potlatch is regulated by HONOUR of the chiefs, not just the power of the gift itself. It is obligatory to invite everyone, leaving anyone out can lead to much strife. (Cf. Eris in the Iliad). The hosts aside from conspicuously consuming to prove their wealth; also conspicuously destroy. There is no free gift- even the gifts one given in these societies to one's wife is in exchange for sexual services. This is also reflected in the scriptures of Rome and India in relation to the Gods, do ut des ( I give so that you may give. ) and in relation to the dead. This also serves to maintain cohesion between us and God. Various potlach-like events abound in folklore: The Mahabharata is the story of a gigantic potlatch: the game of dice of the Kauravas against the Pandavas; jousting tournaments and the choice of bridegrooms by Draupadi, the sister and polyandrous wife of the Pandavas. Other repetitions of the same legendary cycle are to be met with in the finest episodes of the epic—for example, the romance of Nala and Damayanti, as does the whole Mahabharata, tells of the construction and assembling of a house, a game of dice, etc. But everything is distorted by the literary and theological flavour of the story. Even in Germania, this persisted. Gift givers often try to outdo one another. The guarantee of repayment, so as to say, was not in a mortgage but in the object gifted itself. Those who accepts gifts without repaying are held to be inferior. This explains why e.g. in modern German; das Gift also means poison as both parties were wary of the dangers of being unable to repay. This explains the double meaning of the word Gift in all these languages—on the one hand, a gift, on the other, poison. This theme of the fatal gift, the present or item of property that is changed into poison is fundamental in Germanic folklore. The Rhine gold is fatal to the one who conquers it, Hagen’s cup is mortal to the hero who drinks from it. A thousand stories and romances of this kind, both Germanic and Celtic, still haunt our sensibilities. The last chapter deals with how these beliefs are still applicable and exercise strong influence in today's world. Gift-giving and reciprocating is still a moral demand. Charity still wounds those who accept it. We always try to one-up other's gifts: The round of drinks is ever dearer and larger in size. Utmost extravagance from hosts is still expected, and effort to: As in ancient Gaul or Germany, or at our own banquets for students, soldiers, and peasants, one is committed to gulping down large quantities of food, in order to ‘do honour’, in a somewhat grotesque way, to one’s host. In contrast to the abstractions of our legal code, common morality remains in accordance to these old principles. As Mary Douglass notes in the insightful introduction, Mauss seeks to establish how the modern welfare state is a continuation of these principles. The over-generosity of communism as well as the impoverished egoism of traditional liberalism would be harmful to the person. He advocates this notion is neither that of the free, purely gratuitous rendering of total services, nor that of production and exchange purely interested in what is useful. It is a sort of hybrid that flourished. In line with Veblen's conceptions of conspicuous consumption, he advocates against the Homo Oeconomicus and a return to the previous altruistic morality. It is our western societies who have recently made man an ‘economic animal’. But we are not yet all creatures of this genus. Among the masses and the elites in our society purely irrational expenditure is commonly practised. It is still characteristic of a few of the fossilized remnants of our aristocracy. Homo oeconomicus is not behind us, but lies ahead, as does the man of morality and duty, the man of science and reason. For a very long time man was something different, and he has not been a machine for very long, made complicated by a calculating machine. He advocates a Gift Economy whereby goods and services could be exchanged without immediate hope of monetary gain and profit. (It is ironic that I link to Wikipedia as it itself is a prime example of what fruits such a gift non-profit economy could yield). There is some very interesting empirical support for anarcho-communist arguments in this essay. Remarkable how egoism and altruism can be mixed together without money and profit-incentive. Also curious to note how much of our common morality is actually rather ancient.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Sandra

    Classic study of gifts, exchange, reciprocity, sacrificial gift giving. Detailed examples from ancient cultures around the world demonstrate the universal importance of customs surrounding giving. I read this during graduate school. The fundamental take away for me, nearly 30 years later, is how little each of us still reflects on the importance of giving, even token or symbolic giving, in keeping the social fabric intact. Humans are social animals and we try to forget how much we need other hum Classic study of gifts, exchange, reciprocity, sacrificial gift giving. Detailed examples from ancient cultures around the world demonstrate the universal importance of customs surrounding giving. I read this during graduate school. The fundamental take away for me, nearly 30 years later, is how little each of us still reflects on the importance of giving, even token or symbolic giving, in keeping the social fabric intact. Humans are social animals and we try to forget how much we need other humans to acknowledge and affirm our existence every day. Simple gestures such as making eye contact, murmuring greetings, shaking hands, introducing ourselves, saying thank you, are all examples of rituals required to keep societies together. In the US, as we continue the trajectory of insulating and isolating ourselves through technology and through urban planning that forces us to use private vehicles for transportation, the social fabric continues to unravel, making each of us lonelier and robbing us of the vitality we can so easily give each other.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Carl Sholin

    The Gift is a classic of anthropological literature. Mauss describes gift giving in the context of Melanesian, Polynesian, and Northwest Coast Indian contexts. For Mauss, gift-giving is the keystone element of social cohesion in non-capitalist societies. His argument is both economically evolutionary, and functionalist. Mauss attempts to break down an institution that he considers to represent a "total social phenomenon", that is it to say that it affects political, economic, religious, and ethi The Gift is a classic of anthropological literature. Mauss describes gift giving in the context of Melanesian, Polynesian, and Northwest Coast Indian contexts. For Mauss, gift-giving is the keystone element of social cohesion in non-capitalist societies. His argument is both economically evolutionary, and functionalist. Mauss attempts to break down an institution that he considers to represent a "total social phenomenon", that is it to say that it affects political, economic, religious, and ethical aspects of society. The main thesis is that gift exchange is a social contract. It puts individuals in society into each others debt, which in turn, strengthens social solidarity and group cohesion. His argument is also evolutionary in that he argues that gift-debt are what led to pre-capitalist economies in Rome, Germany, India, and China. This book was a great read.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Andrew Murano

    Systematic, concise and well researched, Mauss' treatise on reciprocity is a must read for anyone interested in the anthropology or viability of the non-market economy. He details the methods of exchange in the indigenous societies of Melanesia, Polynesia, and the Pacific Northwest, and concludes with its relation to the sociological study of altruism. Giving, according to Mauss is not a strictly selfless behavior, but rather we give to receive, whether directly from the giftee or the universe/s Systematic, concise and well researched, Mauss' treatise on reciprocity is a must read for anyone interested in the anthropology or viability of the non-market economy. He details the methods of exchange in the indigenous societies of Melanesia, Polynesia, and the Pacific Northwest, and concludes with its relation to the sociological study of altruism. Giving, according to Mauss is not a strictly selfless behavior, but rather we give to receive, whether directly from the giftee or the universe/society (God).

  11. 4 out of 5

    Lauren

    Informative book that tells you how the concept of money got started. Before Rome, there was trade and an honor code. After Rome, there was money. So much for good faith. It all became about "show me the money, dawg." Informative book that tells you how the concept of money got started. Before Rome, there was trade and an honor code. After Rome, there was money. So much for good faith. It all became about "show me the money, dawg."

  12. 4 out of 5

    Grace

    A seasonal reading. Mauss draws on contemporary anthropological data and some historical legal material to conclude there is no such thing as a pure gift, and that this is not a bad thing. Interesting implications for charitable giving.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Daniel

    Read intro and conclusion, which are excellent, pretty boring in the middle.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Adam

    This was really dry. The societies covered were a little TOO archaic for me.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Nathan Hatch

    What I liked Mauss is example-based. He backs up the ideas in this book with plentiful evidence from reports written by people on the ground, who actually interacted with the "archaic" societies in question. Such examples clarify his ideas, support his arguments, and, moreover, are quite interesting in themselves. I was suprised and delighted by Mauss's frequent linguistic arguments. He would argue that some concept or behavior in some society was a distant descendant of another concept or behavio What I liked Mauss is example-based. He backs up the ideas in this book with plentiful evidence from reports written by people on the ground, who actually interacted with the "archaic" societies in question. Such examples clarify his ideas, support his arguments, and, moreover, are quite interesting in themselves. I was suprised and delighted by Mauss's frequent linguistic arguments. He would argue that some concept or behavior in some society was a distant descendant of another concept or behavior in an older society, and he would demonstrate this by showing a linguistic connection between the two words. He ackowledges that such arguments are somewhat circumstantial, but nonetheless, I enjoyed imagining how that development could have taken place. It made me appreciate how language and social custom evolve over time. Towards the end of the essay, Mauss spends a while analyzing what these archaic customs say about modern society. His arguments are gloomy but interesting. What I did not like Most of my dissatisfaction is due to the terrible edition that I read. I bought a $1 e-book for Kindle; turns out this was a very poor OCR scan from a heavily marked-up copy of some other edition. So, of course, the most important passages (which, presumably, were particularly generously annotated) were almost completely garbled. I would rate this e-book just two stars: Don't bother. Another problem is that Mauss does not provide enough context in the text for the reader to be able to understand his examples. For example, he will casually reference a complicated idea of Durkheim, or launch into an extended analysis of some obscure (to me) Roman custom. The book requires extensive endnotes and lots of flipping back and forth. Unfortunately, this e-book did not scan the endnote numbers properly, let alone link between the number and the endnote itself. Mauss is not always explicit about how the book is organized. I found myself often pausing to ask myself, "How does this fact fit into his overall argument?" To be fair, arguably this forced metacognition is a good thing. Finally, be advised that The Gift is not a practical guide to modern gift-giving manners. While it will give you an appreciation for and impress upon you the utter importance of receiving gifts, giving gifts, and repaying gifts, it won't tell you how to apply that to your daily life. The former is great anthropology, but the latter is arguably more useful to the modern reader.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Bernard M.

    Although short, it is not the easiest read since there are a lot of arcane foreign words to keep track of. The last chapter is highly speculative and as he says he is "just putting forward subjects for inquiry" though still of interest as he sees modern social issues from a very different perspective. In fact, based on quotes like the one below, I've decided to skip the historian Niall Ferguson's account and read about the history of money as seen from an anthropologist's viewpoint. The Gift was Although short, it is not the easiest read since there are a lot of arcane foreign words to keep track of. The last chapter is highly speculative and as he says he is "just putting forward subjects for inquiry" though still of interest as he sees modern social issues from a very different perspective. In fact, based on quotes like the one below, I've decided to skip the historian Niall Ferguson's account and read about the history of money as seen from an anthropologist's viewpoint. The Gift was first published in 1910 so I'm not sure how this statement is viewed by academics nowadays, but it is nonetheless really intriguing: "The evolution in economic law has not been from barter to sale, and from cash sale to credit sale. On the one hand, barter has arisen through a system of presents given and reciprocated according to a time limit. This was through a process of simplification, by reductions in periods of time formerly arbitrary."

  17. 5 out of 5

    Cecilie Baann

    In this expanded edition of Marcel Mauss seminal work, Jane I. Guyer's translation and annotations provide important contributions to the restoration of Mauss' original framework. Mauss' Essay on the Gift, in this book presented alongside his accounts and reviews of his contemporaries, has been highly influential, but also much misinterpreted, in the social sciences. Guyer's attentiveness to language and context presents this English version in new light. The essay is an exploration of gift exch In this expanded edition of Marcel Mauss seminal work, Jane I. Guyer's translation and annotations provide important contributions to the restoration of Mauss' original framework. Mauss' Essay on the Gift, in this book presented alongside his accounts and reviews of his contemporaries, has been highly influential, but also much misinterpreted, in the social sciences. Guyer's attentiveness to language and context presents this English version in new light. The essay is an exploration of gift exchanges in relation to social integration and reciprocity, and Mauss' central argument is the binding relations created through processes of gift giving, receiving and reciprocating. His concluding concern is the gift as a total social phenomenon, engaging and pervading all aspects of a society, a perspective as relevant today as in 1925.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Yash

    Mauss produced so many brilliant works, but if you had to choose one as his magnum opus, this would surely be it. A wonderful book that traces a simple form of sociality -- the exchange of gifts -- across time and space. In doing so, it tells us something about the nature of non-Western, non-industrial societies, and how they really aren't all that different from our own. The book's conclusion is of value not just for sociologists & anthropologists, but for anyone interested in building better o Mauss produced so many brilliant works, but if you had to choose one as his magnum opus, this would surely be it. A wonderful book that traces a simple form of sociality -- the exchange of gifts -- across time and space. In doing so, it tells us something about the nature of non-Western, non-industrial societies, and how they really aren't all that different from our own. The book's conclusion is of value not just for sociologists & anthropologists, but for anyone interested in building better organizations at any scale: be it families, teams, companies, or entire societies. The book also inspired me about how seeing the everyday from an anthropological perspective is, despite everything, such a worthy endeavor.

  19. 5 out of 5

    klaus

    The “moral conclusions” that Mauss arrived at when projecting the “total services”/gift logics found in ethnographies of Polynesian, Melanesian, and Pacific Northwest societies (and in archaic law codes) back onto mid-twentieth-century France were distinctly centrist (“the individual must work,” he declares, comparing the impacts of communism to the message of a “malevolent genie” in the same breath). Against the cold calculations of utilitarians and the wildest excesses of ethnographer’s images The “moral conclusions” that Mauss arrived at when projecting the “total services”/gift logics found in ethnographies of Polynesian, Melanesian, and Pacific Northwest societies (and in archaic law codes) back onto mid-twentieth-century France were distinctly centrist (“the individual must work,” he declares, comparing the impacts of communism to the message of a “malevolent genie” in the same breath). Against the cold calculations of utilitarians and the wildest excesses of ethnographer’s images of potlatch, he dreams of moderation, balance, civility, the Arthurian round table. But there are other openings here, ones which do more to unsettle what are still taken to be a priori bases of any economy, and which let us think of value differently.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Riar

    As an anthropologist who had never done any fieldwork (maybe because he was sociologist after all), Mauss analysis on the gift exchange—from potlatch to kula exchange—is sharp and empirically overlaps with the praxis of everyday life. After almost a century ago this essay was published, his critique of political economy is eerily still relevant. Some technical issues: this book requires a sharp concentration due to a large number of footnotes—which annoyingly printed in the back of the essay.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Paula Isidora

    Finished it in a day. I don't know if it was because I am fascinated by anthropology or because it's a rather easy read. Mauss explains his perspective of the gift thoroughly and it felt as a university lecture. Finished it in a day. I don't know if it was because I am fascinated by anthropology or because it's a rather easy read. Mauss explains his perspective of the gift thoroughly and it felt as a university lecture.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Nicolas Pujol

    A friend recommended this book to me after I published The Mind Share Market. Since ancient societies people have used informal barter systems, highlighting that regardless of the specific culture there is a sense of moral transactions.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Daniel B-G

    I found the premise of this interesting, but ultimately found the style quite oppressive. I may need to return to this as I find the subject of obligatory status based gift exchange extremely interesting, and the potential links into charity are fascinating.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Mandla Mokoena

    I had to read this for a PhD discussion seminar, didn't see the point of it. I still don't understand why it is praised as one of the most prolific pieces of anthropological work. Which to be fair is my stance on anthropology as a whole. I had to read this for a PhD discussion seminar, didn't see the point of it. I still don't understand why it is praised as one of the most prolific pieces of anthropological work. Which to be fair is my stance on anthropology as a whole.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Chhani Bungsut

    Mauss presents interesting ideas about how we might imagine communities being tied together through networks of gift exchange, moving beyond kinship, barter, and commodity exchange. Spoiler alert: it's still not actually clear what a gift IS. Mauss presents interesting ideas about how we might imagine communities being tied together through networks of gift exchange, moving beyond kinship, barter, and commodity exchange. Spoiler alert: it's still not actually clear what a gift IS.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Diana

    I needed to read this for a religion class, and I definitely marathoned this because I have to have a discussion about it tomorrow, but it was interesting enough.

  27. 4 out of 5

    split zalv

    very deep philosophical work written with such lucidity, throwing light at the moral fabric of our societies based the ordinary theme"gift". very deep philosophical work written with such lucidity, throwing light at the moral fabric of our societies based the ordinary theme"gift".

  28. 5 out of 5

    Gloria

    I loved that the entire novel was really a letter, in a way. There’s a mystery at the center so I can’t say too much more. But this YA book was short and sweet. I really liked it.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Giovanni Gregory

    Astonishing yet its conclusions are lazy.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Aleksandra

    BORING.

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