I think out of all the Routledge classics this book has the greatest and most appropriate cover, the book has a great contents and index, chapters are about the right length, pace and writing style are accessible to either academics or general readers.
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.
on 10 February 2009
Yeah, so I've now had this book appear on about 4 reading lists over the last two years, have extensively used it in two essays of my own, had it summarised by three different lecturers and have discussed it in numerous seminars. Throughout this time I have observed that my understanding of this work has changed much more than I thought would be possible for such a short work which contained what at first seemed like such an obvious central argument illustrated with ethnographic data of the day. However, the more I engage with Mauss' most famous work the more I realise that this is a text that really tells us about exchange than we might initially realise. Also it is interesting to see how this work can be combined with Marxist's ideas as opposed to being separate to them.
Essential reading for anthropology students. Essential re-reading for anthropology students.
on 18 April 2001
What constitues a gift is decided by the recipient. Yet Marcel Mauss a French Anthropologist and Ethnologist, in his book Essai sur le don (The Gift), appears to suggest that almost everything in life could be viewed as a gift. A gift involves one of three things: to give, to recieve and to reciprocate. If a gift demands this much is it still considered a gift, in the western European sense of the word or more as an exchange obligating the recipient to repay? Is there a principle whereby the gift recieved has to repaid or is Mauss suggesting that in any situation the gift must always be repaid to prevent the recipient being indebted to the giver?
Mauss saw exchange and reciprocation as the basis of human society. His ideas threaten methodological individualism and the idea of the free gift. Mauss does this by attempting to detract the reader from believing a gift should be free and pure.
"What force is there in the thing given which compels the recipient to make a return"? Mauss is unable to offer a convincing reason and does not make clear in his text, whether reciprocation is at the wish of the donor or recipient. Mauss also sees that the donor gives not only the thing given but part of himself. The hau is that force by being a "Constant exchange of a spiritual matter". The hau is the spirit of the donor of the gift, so that even as it seeks to return to its origin unless replaced, it could give the donor a restraint over the recipient.
Malinowski saw Mauss' The Gift as the most influential essay in the whole of Anthropology. The majority of Anthropologists cannot agree on what Mauss says even though it is considered the best example relating to the production and consumption in archaic societies.
on 12 December 2012
Maus concentrates his arguments on Polynesian and Native American groups, dealing more briefly with other societies, describing how the approach to wealth and status were epitomised in the potlatch, a ceremony hated by many but which might just be a great way to approach modern consumerism!
on 27 May 2005
The Gift describes the idea that no gifts are given freely and that something is always expected in return.
Mauss looked at different tribes to examine the gift relationships there. Overall, I think anthropologists spend more time looking at tribes and little actually relating it back to our society - the one they are tryint to relate it to.
It is an interesting text though with many truths and definately quite relateable to our society.