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Book Title: مقالة في الهبة - أشكال التبادل في المجتمعات الأرخية وأسبابه|
Date of issue: January 2014
ISBN: No data
ISBN 13: No data
The author of the book: Marcel Mauss
Format files: PDF
The size of the: 5.75 MB
Edition: دار الكتاب الجديد المتحدة
Read full description of the books مقالة في الهبة - أشكال التبادل في المجتمعات الأرخية وأسبابه: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 voluntarily given without expectation of reward is a common fiction, but a fiction nevertheless. A gift, he explains, is always given in return for another gift. Only sometimes is a gift given voluntarily. Mostly, they are compulsory.
After introducing his subject, Mauss considers the phenomenon of “potlatch”, the practice of large-scale, competitive giving. This was found archetypically among North American peoples, but it can be found elsewhere. In the most extreme forms of potlatch, when the giver has given as much as the recipients could conceivably consume, the giver is reduced to destroying his goods just to demonstrate his ability to give.
This phenomenon is not as exotic as it might at first appear. My grandchildren’s school, for example, was forced actively to discourage the practice of the children giving Christmas gifts to their teachers. The teachers began to fear accusations of favouritism, even corruption. And the escalating competitiveness actually threatened to impoverish the poorer parents. Weddings – inherently a gift by parents to their children and to their friends and relations – have a similar, even notorious tendency to be more and more lavish in successive generations.
Mauss goes on to look at the now well-known practice of kula found in Malinowski’s description of the Trobriand Islands in the Pacific. Here, prestigious goods - necklaces and bangles made from shell - are taken great distances by boat and solemnly given to the occupants of neighbouring islands. These, in due course, pass them on to other islands, so they move in a never-ending full circle.
This book is, of course, a classic and I would not want to deny its author’s genius. Nevertheless, one cannot ignore its problems.. Most obviously, from his perspective in the 1920s, Mauss sees the gift as a “survival” from earlier periods. The modern world, he claims, is a world of commerce; while the gift, in contrast, belongs to the ancient world and to those primitive peoples who have maintained an ancient way of life. The potlatch and kula, he speculates, are intermediate stages along an evolutionary continuum from, on the one hand, the total sharing of goods and services between otherwise hostile peoples to, on the other hand, the modern world of commerce. It follows that, for him, when gifts are found in modern society, this too is a survival from our archaic past.
Not that Mauss is hostile to the gift, for he thinks we should try to recapture some of this ancient mode of living. (Mary Douglas in a typically erudite and lucid foreword shows that Mauss is motivated by an opposition to the individualism and utilitarianism he associates with Britain.) Nevertheless, the notion of “survivals”, while useful as a peripheral concept, is not the basis for a satisfactory methodology and it has in fact largely been dropped from modern anthropology.
Mauss’s Gift has become important as providing the cornerstone for the work of other important thinkers. Notably, another great Durkheimian, Claude Lévi-Strauss, in his monumental Les Structures Élementaires de la Parenté, explained the plethora of marriage patterns as a series of exchanges or gifts. He also developed an influential theory of myth which was infused by the notion of reciprocity and balance. A radically different thinker, the American Marshall Sahlins explored issues of economic anthropology in his important study, Stone Age Economics, which has a direct lineage to the ideas of Mauss. Both of these writers brought great sophistication to the comparatively simple ideas found in Mauss’s original work.
For myself, I see The Gift as the key to solving an old problem in sociology, the question of altruism. This is, however, possible only when one abandons one of the central features of the book, which arises from Mauss’s emphasis on the potlatch and on competitive giving. Mauss was certainly correct to recognize that competition in giving does exist, and also that giving is rarely disinterested. With occasional lapses – for example, at one point, he describes the excesses of potlatch as “monstrous” – he seems to see competition and self-interest at the heart of the phenomenon of giving. I believe he is here mistaken, for in fact, there are plenty of occasions when giving is not competitive, and where competitive giving is actively opposed.
Often, people strive in their giving not somehow to “win” the competition, but to come out of reciprocal transactions in a more or less equal state. I note, for example, that my own children do not compete when giving me birthday presents. In fact, much as I appreciate getting bottles of aftershave, despite my beard, I sometimes think that a little competition would do some good in this area.
Moreover, giving can be a complicated phenomenon with different processes going on simultaneously. Family life, for example, usually involves the giving of food, shelter, education and general nurture to children. It is therefore based on the giving of gifts. Parents may, sometimes, engage in potlatch-like activity when nurturing their children – spending lavishly on them in order to outdo fellow parents. However, in more everyday matters, parents do not, as a rule, compete with the children who are the recipients of their generosity. Mostly, parents give to children as their own parents once gave to them; and in due course, these same children will give to their own children and so on (like Swiftean fleas but temporally, not spatially)through the generations. Moreover, competition between parents and children is rarely an issue.
Reciprocity, it seems to me, infuses every aspect of our ordinary social lives. Mauss tends to stick to ceremonial and ceremonious forms of giving, but in fact the giving of gifts is ubiquitous and not at all confined to the big occasions. When, on a minor road, I stop to let the other cars pass along a main road, I do it in the knowledge that in due course, and when roles are reversed, others will similarly wait for me. When a stranger is lost and asks me the way to his destination then I give directions, knowing that in due course I too may need to tell a stranger I am lost and in need of directions. Or more seriously, if I wade into a pond to rescue a drowning child, I do so in the expectation that, in similar circumstances, others would do the same for me or for my own children and grandchildren.
Society (even commerce) rests on such communitarian and largely non-competitive gifts of time, courtesy, bravery, goods etc. It rests on the obligation to give, to accept and to reciprocate. All of these are at the heart of the phenomenon we know as the gift which Mauss brought into general anthropological discussion. .
Read information about the authorMauss 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 that would produce several landmarks in the sociological literature.
Like many members of Année Sociologique Mauss was attracted to socialism, particularly that espoused by Jean Jaurès. He was particularly active in the events of the Dreyfus affair and towards the end of the century he helped edit such left-wing papers as le Populaire, l'Humanité and le Mouvement Socialiste, the last in collaboration with Georges Sorel.
Mauss took up a chair in the 'history of religion and uncivilized peoples' at the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes in 1901. It was at this time that he began drawing more and more on ethnography, and his work began increasingly to look like what we would today call anthropology.
The years of World War I were absolutely devastating for Mauss. Many of his friends and colleagues died in the war, and Durkheim died shortly before its end. The postwar years were also difficult politically for Mauss. Durkheim had made changes to school curricula across France, and after his death a backlash against his students began. Like many other followers of Durkheim, Mauss took refuge in administration, securing Durkheim's legacy by founding institutions such as l'Institut Français de Sociologie (1924) and l'Institut d'Ethnologie in 1926. In 1931 he took up the chair of Sociology at the Collège de France. He actively fought against anti-semitism and racial politics both before and after World War II. He died in 1950.
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