Marcel Mauss famously opens his Gift with a pair of questions 1: “What is the rule of law (droit) and of interest which, in societies of a backward or archaic type, … The first-which is wrong-is the Maori hau 'raised to the status of a general explanation'. wife could count. If we can intellectually comprehend that –before written contracts and impersonal exchange using currency—exchanges of things sealed alliances and contracts and carried moral obligations. One has no right to refuse to attend the potlatch. The physicality of the language – the notion of being ‘flattened,’ implies a physical presence of this shame on the beaten party, and the resultant sore effect on their societal standing. Nonsense!’ declares Mauss: the Trobriand husband is actually recompensing his wife for sexual services. 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’ method of impressing this upon us through examples and folk tales of social ramifications from these errors serve to put the practical aspects of these theories into context. Do you find any other quotes that sum up the author’s argument? As a study of exchange in “archaic societies,” it provides a window into the functioning of pre-state societies (i.e. In the course of Laidlaw’s exploration of the ‘free gift’, he refers to Derrida (1992), who sets out the ‘conditions’ of so-called ‘free gifts’ in order to pursue some form of examination. A recurring notion is that “the recipient puts himself in a position of dependence vis-à-vis the donor” (ibid p.76) and by this notion Mauss illustrates the intricate moral balance inherent in gift exchange. However, few have attempted the feat achieved by Mauss of encompassing so many societies and their rituals into one area of social exchange. The social standing created through gift exchange is a key element of Mauss’ dialogue and as we have explored, the influence of these theories continue to exert their authority on anthropologists and sociologists today. Mauss also uses the original native word in the subsequent Mother language for these exchanges, which are crucial to understanding the original symbolic meanings of the gift exchange. Douglas, p. viii) In archaic societies all social phenomena (economics, politics, religion, interpersonal relations, morality) overlap; and 2) ; 3) archaic exchange is between groups, not individuals; and 4), Ch. Derrida, J (1992) Force of law: The Mystical Foundation of Authority (M. Quaintance, Trans.) As Mauss has it: “The potlatch itself, so typical a phenomenon, and at the same time so characteristic of these tribes, [Melanesian and Polynesian] is none other than the system of gifts exchanged.” (Mauss, edited in 2001, p.45). Yet, they were not as materialistic or individualisti as we are today: spiritual powers were believed to be in "things. However, it should be noted that Mauss attempts simple translation of the root and the inherent symbolic meaning of unfamiliar words wherever necessary to differentiate a classification of ‘gift’. Laidlaw suggests that a reciprocated gift immediately establishes an “‘economic’ cycle…and make[s] is part of an interested exchange…” (Laidlaw 2000, referring to Derrida, 1992), and that to avoid this exchange one must not see the gift “as a gift,” (ibid) but to ignore its occurrence. We may be through with the past, but the past is not through with us. The nephew of Émile Durkheim, Mauss, in his academic work, crossed the boundaries between sociology and anthropology. The second-which is right-is the Hobbesian State of Warre-the gift being the primitive analogue of the social contract. If there is one criticism that I must give to his attempts, it is to the lack of consistent translation that Mauss is occasionally guilty of when evaluating words against others from different languages. How does this explain our common idea of "Indian giving". 44, No. Change ). Though there are some items that might be called “currency,” they are also have spiritual power. pre-modern,"segmented" or kin-based societies), which are "undifferentiated" (i.e. Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: You are commenting using your account. Mauss refers to both Polynesian and Melanesian archaic societies where he addresses these questions of “honour and credit” (Mauss, 2001 ed. Recomendations of Other Blogs or Articles. Godelier, Maurice (1999) The Enigma of the Gift. He would have said ‘Nonsense!’ just as heartily to Titmus’s idea that the archetypal pure-gift relationship is the anonymous gift of blood,1 as … Finally, we can engage with contemporary criticisms to challenge theories surrounding the notions of ‘free’ gifts. Mauss had a significant influence upon Claude Lévi-Strauss, the founder of structural anthropology. The first one looks at the classical anthropological concept of the “gift” (or in French, the système de prestations réciproques) developed by Marcel Mauss in his famous essay, a concept that has since been widely written about and used to study empirical realities, including in contemporary domains such as corporate social responsibility. “The obligation to accept is no less constraining. Gregory, C. A. Gregory cites Mauss’ influence on anthropological interpretation of “competitive gift exchange systems” in his essay on ‘gift exchange …in contemporary Papua’ (Gregory, 1980) in which he explores the symbolic ‘destruction of wealth’ in ritual gift offerings to gods as well as other men, and the idea that wealth that is distributed generously will be revisited on them. Note that Mauss, using ethnographic examples from ancient societies in different times periods around the globe, is... How is it that gift-giving can be both good and dangerous? gift-giving can be both good and dangerous. p.78) Generosity versus greed is an integral theme to the underlying moral intention inherent in gift exchange. Michaels, A. and Pierce, P. (1997) Gift and Return Gift, Greeting and Return Greeting in India. Marcel Mauss: The Gift: The Form and Reason for Exchange in Archaic Societies. First published as L’Énigme du Don (1996) France: Librarie Arthème Fayard. 79-83). 74 for discussion of these other kinds of “money” in archaic societies (e.g. How does Mauss explain the “conspicuous destruction” of property in potlatches? Mauss in his exploration of Classical Hindu Law in “The Gift” keenly illustrates the theory of belief in that any gifts given even ‘freely’ and in “charity and hospitality” are hoped to be revisited on the giver at some point: “In this world and the next, what is given away is acquired once more.” (Mauss, ed. A key contended theme of the text is the rejection of the concept of ‘free gifts’ – donations willingly given without necessity of reciprocation. 3: [note title] You can skim parts of this difficult chapter. Although focused on archaic societies, I will endeavour to show throughout the essay in a balanced manner, how we can use Mauss’ ideas in an enduring way when looking at certain aspects of economical and gift exchange systems in contemporary anthropology. Marcel Mauss famously opens his Gift with a pair of questions 1: “What is the rule of law (droit) and of interest which, in societies of a backward or archaic type, … Mauss's Essai sur le don [The Gift], the foundational text in gift studies, has been immensely influential for French social theorists such as Claude Lévi-Strauss (who reframed Mauss's three obligations--giving, receiving, and reciprocating--as parts of a larger system) and Georges Bataille, who declared dépense ("expenditure") to be a major unacknowledged force in all human culture.


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