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Chapter 5: The Gift – Economic Anthropology

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Marcel Mauss
(1872‐1950) Nephew of sociologist Emile Durkheim - who was his mentor. Highly intellectual: encyclopaedic mind, exceptional breadth of ethnographic and linguistic knowledge. Tried to display the close relationship between anthropology and psychology. Author of "The Gift" (1925),
The Gift
Written by Marcel Mauss. Explored the religious, legal, economic, mythological and other aspects of giving, receiving and repaying in different cultures.
Goods and services can be given away, purchased, sold, or traded. Two components: Economic gain & social gain. Both motives (economic and social) usually occur at same time in nonmarket economies. Social component often missing in market economies. Market economies concentrate on economic gain.
Results in a continuing sequence of giving, receiving, and repaying gifts. Breaking this obligation is seen as bad manners or a rejection of the other person/group involved in the exchange. It is a binding network of inter-relations. Participation holds friends, families, tribes, cultures, societies, and international relations together. It requires a response - but not always a mathematical equivalent.
Types of Reciprocity
Generalized reciprocity, balanced reciprocity & negative reciprocity
Generalized Reciprocity
Giving without the expectation of immediate return. Eg: Buy someone a cup of coffee – no immediate return, to reject is to reject friendship; Birthday presents
Balanced Reciprocity
An explicit expectation of immediate return. Eg: Barter or supermarket purchases – walk out of a store without paying and you will be stopped because did not reciprocate with exchange of money for goods; Christmas gift-giving and other ceremonial times
Negative Reciprocity
Attempt to get someone to exchange something he or she may not want to give up; or attempt to get a more value. Eg: Tickery, coercion, hard bargaining, taking advantage of situation.
Voluntary Negative Reciprocity
Involves voluntarily giving more ie. favourite niece; being friendly to a boss for promotion.
Redistributive Exchanges
Some economic exchanges are intended to redistribute society's wealth to the wider population. In the developed world may include: progressive income tax systems; charity and philanthropy. Progressive income tax: some tax money is allocated to help the poorer members of society. The intended net effect is to reduce or prevent extremes of wealth and poverty. Charity and philanthropy: wealthier individuals in a society make donations. What the donors get in return may be a tax advantage, a relieved social conscience, increased social status and recognition.
The Potlatch
Indigenous cultures of the Northwest Coast region of North America. A complex system of competitive feasting, speechmaking, and gift giving intended in part to enhance the status of the giver. Most well known are among the Kwakiutl people of northern Vancouver, Canada. Important social gatherings to celebrate major life events: son's marriage, birth of a child, daughter's first menses, initiation of a sister's son into a secret society. Could take years to accumulate the things needed for a big potlatch. Loans (with interest) from relatives. When all ready, high ranking, influential people from the local and other communities were invited for several days of feasting and entertainment - seated according to status. The host made speeches and dramatically gave gifts of food, blankets, canoes, slaves, rare copper artifacts etc.