The Gift: The Form and Reason for Exchange in Archaic Societies (Routledge Classics) Hardcover – 11 Oct 2001
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'The Gift is quite undeniably the masterwork of Marcel Mauss, his most justly famous writing, and the work whose influence has been the deepest.' - Claude Lévi-Strauss
From the Back Cover
'The teaching of Marcel Mauss was one to which few can be compared. No acknowledgment of him can be proportionate to our debt.' - Claude Livi-Strauss.
In this, his most famous work, Marcel Mauss presented to the world a book which revolutionized our understanding of some of the basic structures of society. A renowned anthropologist, Mauss sought in this work to transcend empirical observation and reach deeper realities. In so doing, he inaugurated a new era for the social sciences. No work of anthropology or political theory would be the same again. By identifying the complex web of exchange and obligation involved in the act of giving, Mauss called into question many of our social conventions and economic systems. In a world rife with runaway consumption, The Gift continues to excite and to challenge. As Livi-Strauss remarked, 'Few have managed to read it without feeling the whole gamut of the emotions . . . the pounding heart, the throbbing head, the mind flooded with the imperious, though not yet definable, certainty of being present at a decisive event in the evolution of science.'See all Product description
Top customer reviews
Essential reading for anthropology students. Essential re-reading for anthropology students.
Mauss considers the gift and the gift relationship as a means of exchange, the focus is on more primitive societies but there's plenty which is applicable to modern societies as the introduction indicates.
I found it really marvelous the extent to which different societies and cultures developed the same conventions, expectations and relationships with respect of gifts and giving, ie obligations to reciprocate, expectation that in return for a gift something of equal or greater value will be given, shame should these rules be violated. There is also consideration of norms and conventions against too great or naive a generosity on the part of individuals who give.
There was a lot of food for thought here, I could recognise how the conventions examined by Mauss operate in my own life and experience but equally so how the obligations associated with gift relationships can and are readily ignored when they become public policy, for instance state benefits or charity which too often are considered "free money", "free gifts" or "a free lunch".
It was also interesting to see an study which readily denied the availability of such a thing as a "free lunch" without necessarily affirming methodological individualism. As a result I think this book would interest any conservative democrat or social democrat. That's not to say it wouldnt interest a general reader, I received this as a gift and had no idea what to expect and it proved pretty readable.
Drilling-down to ancient notions of generosity, honour, social obligation and money, Mauss leads us to rich conclusions and solid parallels drawn between the archaic traditions on material exchange (often aimed to shaping societal structure) with those of today, where still gifts and the obligation to return gifts, function as mechanisms to establish and maintain social hierarchies, but also to support economic balance.
The role of money as we know it, and our perception of its value is enriched through that significant role we give it as a means of acquiring material artefacts or organising social rituals whose sole purpose is social: to demonstrate our status; reciprocate others’ gestures of generosity and oblige others to reciprocate; broadcast our magnanimity to our social circles and, ultimately participate in a competitive interaction where material wealth is consumed in exchange for social standing.
The balancing role of such function is obvious and both moral and economic: our obligation to adopt the multiple functions of wealth (such as gift-giving, charity, or other) sobers the natural tendency to hoard and pursue wealth for the sake of it; similarly, the same culture encourages the flow of wealth within a society and across societies as bonding material, above and beyond trade or any other profit-seeking endeavour.
More than anything, the work of Mauss highlights that today, as much as ever, money in its capacity as the means to acquiring wealth is an integral part of our cultural, legal, ethical, social, economic and political frameworks that have been driving the existence and shape of human civilisations.
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