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The Gift: The Form and Reason for Exchange in Archaic Societies Paperback – August 17, 2000

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Editorial Reviews

Review

'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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Language Notes

Text: English, French (translation) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 184 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (August 17, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 039332043X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393320435
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.6 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #61,173 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

35 of 36 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 31, 2002
Format: Paperback
In his The Gift, Marcel Mauss attempts to explain and understand gifts in primitive societies. Mauss first decides to show that the motives behind giving gifts are more complicated than commonly believed to be. In modern day society, gifts are often thought of as something given out of good will and without the expectance of something in return. Mauss shows us that in many tribal and native cultures, this is not necessarily true. In discussing the Maori, he says, "They had a kind of exchange system, or rather one of giving presents that must ultimately either be reciprocated or given back" (10). The principle of gift giving is governed by the concept of mana, which is the authority, honor, and prestige derived from the wealth and glory of being a superior gift giver. One must give gifts in order to maintain and increase mana and reciprocates them in order to prevent oneself from losing it. The obligations to give and receive are both very important. To reject a gift leads to two problems. Initially, Mauss states that to do so "is to reject the bond of alliance and commonality" (13). To reject such an important bond in a society that so heavily values communal identity is "tantamount to declaring war" (13). The second problem is that of losing mana and being viewed as afraid to accept gifts because one is unable to reciprocate them. The concept of gift giving as one that has the motives of power and authority involved displaces the common belief of gift giving. Durkheim's influence on Mauss is apparent in Mauss' discussion of the contract and sacred qualities.Read more ›
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful By "petitb" on June 12, 2000
Format: Paperback
Mauss' book is a part sociological, part anthropological study of the practice of gift exchange. First, he explores the various forms this practice takes in distinct ethnographic settings. In each case, one catches a glimpse of what Mauss calls the 'total social fact': the notion that exchanging gifts signifies, beneath its voluntary and individualistic façade, a complex social affair. On the one hand, bonds of solidarity are created/maintained between implicated social groups; on the other, political relations of subordination (in which the donor often, if not always, occupies the dominant position) are reproduced/contested. Second, Mauss moves on to problematize the notion that the thing exchanged is merely an 'inert and lifeless object' and the synchronic view of gift exchange as a short-lived act devoid of temporality. Working his way through his ethnographic observations, Mauss unearths the historical dimension of the gift, which now appears to possess a 'spiritual' power irredemiably related to the donor and a historicity (and story) beyond the momentary encounter between donor and recipient. What follows from these two complementary arguments is that gift exchange, contrary to the individualistic notion that it merely involves the persons exchanging the gifts, establishes a wider social/political nexus, connecting the social groups the donor and recipient are members of. Finally, Mauss returns to the present and redeems the gift from its 'archaic' context to explore its potential as a social-democratic tool against 'unbridled' capitalist exchange.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By D. Becker on July 28, 2008
Format: Paperback
There's a lot of talk here and there about what really separates the "modern" from the "primitive". And with good reason. Mauss's "The Gift" has become one of those landmark books that has become a staple for anthropology and social theory; however, I think it deserves far more. If you can, for all 80 pgs of it, discard the notion that this is old-fashioned armchair ethnography, The Gift is an immensely enlightening read. Seriously.

Mauss looks comparatively at several societies through the present and history. He finds, in the end, one common thread that unites them all. That all gifts are given and received with some degree of reciprocity. In short, there is no such thing as a free, or pure, gift. As he says, "Pure gift? Nonsense". His final chapter goes on to explore how, despite the ways in which capitalism somewhat shatters and fragments the gift relationship by severing close ties in trade/exchange between persons, this basic principle of reciprocity and giving still exists in our social structure.

The more you read it, the more you start to see this relationship. Everywhere. It's really pretty cool. Everything is a little game of give and take, even our conversations with one another involve one offering something, one returning. Besides, Mauss is quite a good writer for his time, and the 80 pgs are an easy read. Plus, the book is thin enough to fit in your back pocket. What more could you want?
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By A Certain Bibliophile on March 3, 2013
Format: Paperback
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.
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