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The Gift: The Form and Reason for Exchange…
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The Gift: The Form and Reason for Exchange in Archaic Societies (Routledge… (original: 1954; edição: 2001)

de Marcel Mauss (Autor)

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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. 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 challenge.… (mais)
Membro:L_X72
Título:The Gift: The Form and Reason for Exchange in Archaic Societies (Routledge Classics) (Volume 38)
Autores:Marcel Mauss (Autor)
Informação:Routledge (2001), Edition: 2, 224 pages
Coleções:Sua biblioteca
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The Gift: The Form and Reason for Exchange in Archaic Societies de Marcel Mauss (1954)

Adicionado recentemente poreric_brandom, biblioteca privada, paul17, Something_Boring, szarka, biche1968, quillis, BohdiCave, ChadM.Crabtree, Flo_P
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Pas geleden verscheen bij Uitgeverij Boom de vertaling van Essay sur le don: Essay over de gift van de Franse etnoloog Marcel Mauss (1872-1950). Zelden zal een dun boek – iets meer dan negentig bladzijden, ook al komen er bijna zeventig bladzijden aan voetnoten bij – zo’n grote invloed hebben gehad. De tekst van Mauss verscheen in 1925 en werd gepubliceerd in L’Année Sociologique, een vermaard tijdschrift dat in 1898 opgericht werd door Émile Durkheim. Het essay van Mauss is vertaald in vele talen en geldt als het meesterwerk van de man.



Met een soevereine eruditie neemt Mauss de lezer mee over de hele wereld – van Melanesië naar India, Ierland en Noordwest-Amerika – om duidelijk te maken dat het uitwisselen van giften over de hele wereld constituerend voor gemeenschapsvorming is geweest. Nooit zou hij na 1925 nog een tekst schrijven met een dergelijke impact. Zijn essay vormt de basis van talloze studies over reciprociteit, gift en schuld. Ook liefdadigheidsstudies – tegenwoordig een belangrijk thema in de bedrijfsethiek – kunnen niet om Mauss heen.

Waarom moeten we deze klassieker nog steeds lezen? Ik wil daar twee met elkaar samenhangende redenen voor geven. In de eerste plaats laat Mauss zien dat de gift een loodzwaar thema is. Over bijvoorbeeld liefdadigheid – denk aan beroemde zakenlieden die kleinere of grotere delen van hun vermogen stoppen in goede doelen – wordt vaak wat lacherig gedaan, maar het verschijnsel kent een lange traditie die allesbehalve tot lachen uitnodigt. In samenlevingen over de hele wereld bestond er een plicht tot geven. Al in het oude Griekenland werden zakenlieden die vermogen hadden vergaard geacht een flink deel van dat vermogen weg te geven. Zo is het altijd en overal geweest en in zekere zin is het nog zo. Als Bill Gates als een Dagobert Duck op zijn centen zou gaan zitten, dan zouden we hem minachten. Het verwerven van vermogen zonder dat daar wat tegenover staat, werd doorgaans beschouwd als een teken van ontbrekende soevereiniteit. Anders gezegd, soeverein wordt de leider van een clan of een bedrijf als Microsoft pas als hij kan geven. Ooit gold daarbij het idee dat je vooral geeft wat je het dierbaarst is. Hier vinden uithuwelijkingsrituelen hun onverbiddelijke logica. Als de leider van de clan zijn dochter aanbiedt aan iemand uit een andere clan, dan laat hij pas zien dat hij een leider is. Gates verdenken we er natuurlijk niet van dat hij het meest dierbare weggeeft. Vandaag de dag verwachten we dat ook niet van een zakenman. Maar dezelfde logica als bij het uithuwelijkingsritueel sluimert nog steeds op de achtergrond. Het is alsof degene die ontvangen moet een vreemd soort eigendomsrecht heeft met betrekking tot wat anderen aan vermogen hebben verworven. Wat van jou is, is ook een beetje van mij. Weigeren tot geven, is daarom niets minder dan een oorlogsverklaring. Maar van de weersomstuit is weigeren tot aannemen dat ook. Als ik jouw dochter kan krijgen, maar ik weiger, dan is dit een bruuske afwijzing van wat Mauss omschrijft als een bondgenootschappelijk samengaan. Tegenwoordig denken we misschien niet meer zo, maar als malariabestrijders om principiële redenen de giften van Gates en zijn vrouw zouden afwijzen, dan zouden we ze toch vooral dom vinden.

In de tweede plaats laat Mauss zien dat er nooit sprake kan zijn van een echte gift, want de gever creëert schuld en schuldgevoel, ook als hij dat niet wil. Op dit deel van Mauss’ theorie is behoorlijk veel kritiek gekomen. Creëer ik ook schuld als ik een arme sloeber op straat een paar munten in de hand druk? Een echte maussiaan zou zeggen dat ik zoiets alleen maar zou doen om bijvoorbeeld karma op te bouwen voor het leven na dit leven. Ook zal hij erop wijzen dat dergelijke vormen van generositeit alleen maar bestaan in volledig asymmetrische verhoudingen. Ik ben welvarend en een arme sloeber is maar een arme sloeber. Het fundamentele punt is dat een gift giftig is. Het helpt mensen vooruit, zeker, maar het werpt ze ook achteruit. Mauss citeert hier Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Liefdadigheid verwondt degene die haar ontvangen heeft.” Waarom? De schuldenaar staat altijd in moreel lager aanzien dan de schuldeiser. Mauss laat echter zien dat daar geen goede redenen voor zijn. Immers, ook mensen zonder vermogen hebben antropologisch gesproken een soort eigendomsrecht op het vermogen van anderen.
  aitastaes | Oct 2, 2016 |
Accessible classic offering a theory as to how gifts serve to create social cohesion. "We may then consider that the spirit of gift-exchange is characteristic of societies which have passed the phase of 'total prestation' (between clan and clan, family and family) but have not yet reached the stage of pure individual contract, the money market, sale proper, fixed price, and weighed and coined money." A gift carries with it a part of the giver, which must at some point, in some way, find its way back, and thus are networks of relationships constructed. Helpfully read in conjunction with Marshal Sahlins' Stone Age Economics. ( )
  dono421846 | Sep 28, 2014 |
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. ( )
1 vote kant1066 | Mar 4, 2013 |
Been meaning to read this classic for years and I can report that it's one of those diffuse French things that manages to be both structuralist and jellylike at the same time - a good deal of tedious ethnography whose significance is obscure or counterintuitive. The brilliant part is Mary Douglas's introduction.
  athenasowl | Jan 14, 2011 |
Excellent take on gift-giving in non-monetary societies, with sound research and convincing argumentation. Mauss brings up intriguing thoughts and shows patterns of gift-giving and the relationships of reciprocation stemming from it. The influence can be seen in almost all later works on the subject. ( )
  surreality | Jun 20, 2007 |
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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. 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 challenge.

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