Tuesday, 3 March 2009

The gift

I am starting to think about gifts, for a few reasons.
1. Patterns of exchange, the distinctions between gifts and commodities, their similarities
2. Teaching as gift-giving
3. Universities as gift-culture and the complex systems of obligation that maybe creates.

Thoughts not going that far. These are someone else's, 55 years ago.

Marcel Mauss, The Gift. 1954

10. It is clear that in Maori custom this bond created by things is in fact a bond vetween persons, since the thing itself is a person or pertains to a person … one gives away what is in reality a part of one’s nature and substance, while to receive something is to receive a part of someone’s spiritual essence. To keep this thing is dangerous…because it comes morally, physically and spiritually from a person. Whatever it is…it retains a magical and religious hold over the recipient. The thing given is not inert. It is alive and often personified, and strives to bring to its original clas and homeland some equivalent to take its place.

11. It is easy to find a large number of facts on the obligation to receive…the obligation to give is no less important. If we understood this, we should also know how men [sic…but this is the only one I’ll bother to do, it was 1954…] came to exchange things with each other. … to refuse to give, or fail to invite, is – like refusing to accept – the equivalent of a declaration of war; it is a refusal of friendship and intercourse. Again, one gives because one is forced to do so, because the recipient has a sort of proprietary right over everything which belongs to the donor. This right is expressed and conceived as a sort of spiritual bond. Thus in Australia the man who owes all the game he kills to his father- and mother-in-law may eat nothing in their presence for feat that their very breath should poison his food.

13. the connection of exchange contracts among men with those between men and gods explains a whole aspct of the theory of sacrifice…there has been a natural evolution. Among the first groups of beings with whom men must have made contracts were the spirits of the dead and the gods. They in fact are the real owners of the world’s wesalth. With them it was particularly necessary to exchange and particularly dangerous not to; but, on the other hand, with them exchange was easiest and safest.

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