The Enigma of the Gift

The Enigma of the Gift

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Why must one give? Why must one accept what one has been given? And once one has accepted, why must one give in return? This chain of obligations is the enigma of the gift.In this important book, Maurice Godelier reassesses the function and importance of gifts in social life and in the constitution of social relations, and his conclusions throw a whole new light on the practice of giving gifts. Of course, this is not virgin territory: in 1921 Marcel Mauss advanced a theory of the gift which drew sharp criticisms from Levi-Strauss, among others. Like earlier thinkers, Godelier analyses things one gives and things one sells: he begins, however, with those things that can be neither given nor sold, but which must be kept, chief among which are sacred objects. After a fresh analysis of the potlatch and the kula, which lay at the heart of Mauss's theory, he shows that the enigmas which stymied Mauss are resolved once one sees that objects can be at the same time given and kept: what is given is the alienable right of usage, what is kept is the inalienable ownership. He then explains why this rule applies to valuables that are given, but not to sacred objects, which must be kept. The answer to this final enigma lies in what is concealed within the sacred object: the imaginary, allied with power.Written by one of the leading anthropologists in the world today, The Enigma of the Gift will be of particular interest to students and scholars of anthropology and sociology, and the social sciences generally.show more

Product details

  • Paperback | 264 pages
  • 152 x 229mm | 471g
  • Polity Press
  • Oxford, United Kingdom
  • French
  • 0
  • 0745621562
  • 9780745621562

Table of contents

Introduction Concerning Things That are Given, Things That are Sold and Things That Must Not Be Given or Sold, But Kept. 1. The Legacy of Mauss. 2. Substitute Objects for Humans and for the Gods. 3. The Sacred. 4. The Dis-enchanted Gift. Bibliography. Notes. Index.show more