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The Gift: The Form and Reason for Exchange in Archaic Societies
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The Gift: The Form and Reason for Exchange in Archaic Societies

3.93  ·  Rating details ·  2,909 ratings  ·  121 reviews
A brilliant example of the comparative method,The Gift presents the first systematic study of the custom—widespread in primitive societies from ancient Rome to present-day Melanesia—of exchanging gifts. The gift is a perfect example of what Mauss calls a total social phenomenon, since it involves legal, economic, moral, religious, aesthetic, and other dimensions. He sees t ...more
Paperback, 184 pages
Published August 17th 2000 by W. W. Norton Company (first published 1923)
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Average rating 3.93  · 
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Anthony Buckley
Aug 21, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: anthropology, useful
I have found myself re-reading Marcel Mauss’s classic treatise on The Gift. It was first published in the 1920s as a series of articles in L’Année Sociologique the journal founded by Mauss’s uncle, Émile Durkheim. And indeed, its spirit is firmly Durkheimian, for it sees the prime role of the gift and the act of giving to be the cementing of the bonds of society.

Mauss argues that gifts are a type of exchange. As he nearly says, there is no such thing as a free lunch. The idea that gifts are vol
...more
muthuvel
First thing first. There's no such thing as free gift. Its literally an oxymoron. Every gift has to be returned in some specific ways, set up a perpetual cycle of exchanges within and between generations, at least in the simple societies.

This is my first time reading an explosive book at the foundation level of what economics really is and the role it plays in the lowest base functional unit in society. I've become too lazy these days to type it all out probably I'll save some of this for my pap
...more
Simon Hollway
Mar 24, 2014 rated it it was ok
Shelves: anthropology, 2016
Utterly impenetrable. I read the translation by Ian Cunnison with an introduction by Evans-Pritchard. The first red flag raced to the top of the flagpole in the Translator's Note before the main event: 'In the French edition the compendious notes were printed on the text pages. Here they are placed after the text and numbered separately by chapters.' Brilliant.

Endnotes are detestable things that demand an awkward and arthritic kung-fu hand grip in order to balance the blasted book between your
...more
Doris
Jan 11, 2020 rated it it was amazing
It is a good study of how exchanging gifts among individuals of s society succeeds in making their place in this very society , how this fact of exchanges responds in creating certain links that create landcape in the horizon of the given society. Because gift exchange becomes a norm and throws light on relations with these individuals and their acceptance and life among this group and yjeir future prosperity. Interesting. Highly recommended for ancient literature and more modern one that puts t ...more
John David
Oct 13, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: anthropology
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 conclusion ...more
Jan D
Jan 03, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: anthropology
An excellent text. Interesting ideas and among the most accessible anthropological writings I know (and a classic, too). The text is a about the reasons, patterns and practices of exchanging gifts in “archaic societies”. The part about this is very interesting, but it gets even more fascinating when the connection to western culture is made: How the classic roman law had elements of modern contracts as well as gift-giving and how the gift-giving culture is still much alive today (I would say mos ...more
Sandra
Aug 30, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: rituals
Classic study of gifts, exchange, reciprocity, sacrificial gift giving. Detailed examples from ancient cultures around the world demonstrate the universal importance of customs surrounding giving. I read this during graduate school. The fundamental take away for me, nearly 30 years later, is how little each of us still reflects on the importance of giving, even token or symbolic giving, in keeping the social fabric intact. Humans are social animals and we try to forget how much we need other hum ...more
Carl Sholin
Dec 30, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: social-theory
The Gift is a classic of anthropological literature. Mauss describes gift giving in the context of Melanesian, Polynesian, and Northwest Coast Indian contexts. For Mauss, gift-giving is the keystone element of social cohesion in non-capitalist societies. His argument is both economically evolutionary, and functionalist. Mauss attempts to break down an institution that he considers to represent a "total social phenomenon", that is it to say that it affects political, economic, religious, and ethi ...more
Andrew Murano
May 24, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Systematic, concise and well researched, Mauss' treatise on reciprocity is a must read for anyone interested in the anthropology or viability of the non-market economy. He details the methods of exchange in the indigenous societies of Melanesia, Polynesia, and the Pacific Northwest, and concludes with its relation to the sociological study of altruism. Giving, according to Mauss is not a strictly selfless behavior, but rather we give to receive, whether directly from the giftee or the universe/s ...more
Lauren
Jul 18, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anthropology people
Shelves: classics
Informative book that tells you how the concept of money got started. Before Rome, there was trade and an honor code. After Rome, there was money. So much for good faith. It all became about "show me the money, dawg." ...more
Grace
Dec 30, 2010 rated it really liked it
A seasonal reading. Mauss draws on contemporary anthropological data and some historical legal material to conclude there is no such thing as a pure gift, and that this is not a bad thing. Interesting implications for charitable giving.
Daniel
Jan 05, 2011 rated it liked it
Read intro and conclusion, which are excellent, pretty boring in the middle.
Adam
Jan 12, 2011 rated it did not like it
This was really dry. The societies covered were a little TOO archaic for me.
Nathan Hatch
What I liked

Mauss is example-based. He backs up the ideas in this book with plentiful evidence from reports written by people on the ground, who actually interacted with the "archaic" societies in question. Such examples clarify his ideas, support his arguments, and, moreover, are quite interesting in themselves.

I was suprised and delighted by Mauss's frequent linguistic arguments. He would argue that some concept or behavior in some society was a distant descendant of another concept or behavio
...more
Bernard M.
Jul 25, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Although short, it is not the easiest read since there are a lot of arcane foreign words to keep track of. The last chapter is highly speculative and as he says he is "just putting forward subjects for inquiry" though still of interest as he sees modern social issues from a very different perspective. In fact, based on quotes like the one below, I've decided to skip the historian Niall Ferguson's account and read about the history of money as seen from an anthropologist's viewpoint.

The Gift was
...more
Cecilie Baann
Jan 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
In this expanded edition of Marcel Mauss seminal work, Jane I. Guyer's translation and annotations provide important contributions to the restoration of Mauss' original framework. Mauss' Essay on the Gift, in this book presented alongside his accounts and reviews of his contemporaries, has been highly influential, but also much misinterpreted, in the social sciences. Guyer's attentiveness to language and context presents this English version in new light. The essay is an exploration of gift exch ...more
Yash
Aug 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Mauss produced so many brilliant works, but if you had to choose one as his magnum opus, this would surely be it.

A wonderful book that traces a simple form of sociality -- the exchange of gifts -- across time and space. In doing so, it tells us something about the nature of non-Western, non-industrial societies, and how they really aren't all that different from our own.

The book's conclusion is of value not just for sociologists & anthropologists, but for anyone interested in building better o
...more
klaus
The “moral conclusions” that Mauss arrived at when projecting the “total services”/gift logics found in ethnographies of Polynesian, Melanesian, and Pacific Northwest societies (and in archaic law codes) back onto mid-twentieth-century France were distinctly centrist (“the individual must work,” he declares, comparing the impacts of communism to the message of a “malevolent genie” in the same breath). Against the cold calculations of utilitarians and the wildest excesses of ethnographer’s images ...more
Riar
Sep 06, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
As an anthropologist who had never done any fieldwork (maybe because he was sociologist after all), Mauss analysis on the gift exchange—from potlatch to kula exchange—is sharp and empirically overlaps with the praxis of everyday life. After almost a century ago this essay was published, his critique of political economy is eerily still relevant. Some technical issues: this book requires a sharp concentration due to a large number of footnotes—which annoyingly printed in the back of the essay.
Paula Isidora
Sep 12, 2017 rated it liked it
Finished it in a day. I don't know if it was because I am fascinated by anthropology or because it's a rather easy read. Mauss explains his perspective of the gift thoroughly and it felt as a university lecture. ...more
Nicolas Pujol
Oct 16, 2017 rated it really liked it
A friend recommended this book to me after I published The Mind Share Market. Since ancient societies people have used informal barter systems, highlighting that regardless of the specific culture there is a sense of moral transactions.
Daniel B-G
Dec 04, 2017 rated it liked it
I found the premise of this interesting, but ultimately found the style quite oppressive. I may need to return to this as I find the subject of obligatory status based gift exchange extremely interesting, and the potential links into charity are fascinating.
Mandla Mokoena
Feb 20, 2018 rated it did not like it
I had to read this for a PhD discussion seminar, didn't see the point of it. I still don't understand why it is praised as one of the most prolific pieces of anthropological work. Which to be fair is my stance on anthropology as a whole. ...more
Diana
Jan 31, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2018
I needed to read this for a religion class, and I definitely marathoned this because I have to have a discussion about it tomorrow, but it was interesting enough.
split zalv
Apr 17, 2018 rated it really liked it
very deep philosophical work written with such lucidity, throwing light at the moral fabric of our societies based the ordinary theme"gift". ...more
Gloria
Aug 18, 2019 rated it it was ok
I loved that the entire novel was really a letter, in a way. There’s a mystery at the center so I can’t say too much more. But this YA book was short and sweet. I really liked it.
Giovanni Gregory
Astonishing yet its conclusions are lazy.
Aleksandra
Dec 05, 2019 rated it did not like it
BORING.
Jessica Zu
Feb 29, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
there's one little thing that seems to revamp our understanding of the emergence of money :) ...more
Janice Feng
Traffic in women.
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Mauss was born in Épinal, Vosges to a Jewish family, and studied philosophy at Bordeaux, where his uncle Émile Durkheim was teaching at the time and agregated in 1893. Instead of taking the usual route of teaching at a lycée, however, Mauss moved to Paris and took up the study of comparative religion and the Sanskrit language. His first publication in 1896 marked the beginning of a prolific career ...more

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