The Gift: Forms and Functions of Exchange in Archaic Societies

by Marcel Mauss

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

The Gift: The Forms and Functions of Exchange in Archaic Societies by Marcel Mauss highlights the concept of gift-giving and reciprocity in several societies. The author holds the view that in archaic societies, there had to be some form of reciprocation for any gifts given. One of the critical reasons for the exchange was the belief that gifts created spiritual connections. The author notes:

In this system of ideas one clearly and logically realizes 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. (16)

Mauss further explains that it was believed that failure in reciprocating would have ramifications such as death. On the other hand, the author gives the example of the Andaman Islands where gifts connected families as they circulated through members. Conversely, in the Trobriand Islands, reciprocation of gifts was spiritually driven. Furthermore, the author uses the American Northwest as an example by noting that reciprocation was viewed as an act of honor and the lack of it triggered violent acts between different clans.

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