Marcel Mauss and Gift Exchange

1 TOPIC: Lecture 2: Marcel Mauss and Gift Exchange STUDENT NAME: Institutional Affiliation Module Code: Module Name: Professor Name: Submission Date:
2 Lecture 2: Marcel Mauss and Gift Exchange Marcel Mauss's "The Gift: In this regard, "Forms and Functions of Exchange in Archaic Societies" becomes a significant publication within the domains of anthropology and sociology, investigating the significance of gift-gifts, reciprocity, and how they impact different societies. This was published in 1925 and is regarded as one of the benchmarks in the topic considering its detailed examination of the gifts' social, economic, and symbolic aspects. Evaluating the strengths and weaknesses in Marcel Mauss' work. The work and teachings of Marcel Mauss are still relevant in the current world. What he does is theoretically sophisticated but empirically based and holistic and interdisciplinary ( Bercovitch, 1994). There have been many criticisms on this work but it is indispensable as a reading material on sociological phenomenon. Strengths Theoretical Sophistication : The work of Mauss is considered to be highly theoretical and rigorous (Douglas, 1992). He used ethnography, history, philosophy, and other relevant sources to support his claims. This offered him an opportunity to contribute significantly towards the development of anthropological theory (Graeber, 2001). A famous ethnographer, Marcel Mauss contributed greatly to the advancement of the anthropological theory especially with regard to the book 'the gift' (Goddard, 2000). Mauss's analysis of gift exchange is now considered as the classic masterpiece that has prompted great amount of academic discussion and debates within anthropology (El-Haddad et al., 2020). His work is highly theoretical, based on multi sources, including ethnographic data, philosophical analysis, as well as historical accounts (El-Haddad et al.,
3 2020). This enabled him to play a major role in the development of theoretical approaches in anthropology (El-Hadad et al., 2020). Anthropologists and scholars from different fields, continue to be influenced by Mauss's book The Gifts. His anthropological analysis of gift exchange serves as a platform for social theories on reciprocity and gift exchange (El-Haddad et al, 2020). Additionally, Mauss's work has impacted the notion of reciprocity and giving gifts in world society (Heins et al., 2018). Along with his study on gift exchange, Mauss also authored notable texts such as studies on magic, sacrifice and classification adding to his great achievements in the field of anthropology and sociology. The work has remained relevant and his ideas influence current debates on anthropology and social theory. Empirical Grounding : Mauss's work was not purely theoretical; it was also based on real information. He did a fieldwork in many societies and these were used to formulate his theories on the gift and other societal phenomena. One of the main strengths of Masuss's work includes this combination of theoretical sophistication and empirical grounds (Graeber, 2014). Furthermore, Marcel Mauss's work was highly sophisticated theoretically and empirically. He conducted an in-depth analysis of ethnographic data from different cultures and came up with the theories. By linking theory and empiricism, the author made a strong contribution to anthropological theory. Mauss brought together different fields such as ethnography, history, and philosophy in order to make his case. He drew on varied views to create comprehensive and multidimensional interpretations of social processes. His most notable work, The Gift, shows his theoretical breadth and precision by examining gift exchange in different cultures. However, Mauss' theories were not merely theoretical. His field research, as well as those of other anthropologists,
4 formed the basis for them (Hanson, 2015). Mauss undertook fieldwork in various cultures and made use of direct ethnographic observations to substantiate his theories. Empirical findings were a driving force behind the conceptualization of social phenomenon such as the gift, magic, and sacrifice. Summarily, Mauss' theoretical sophistication coupled with empirical foundation laid for new understanding of the human societies. He employed a comprehensive approach incorporating different evidence-based sources and theoretical bases, thus marking his scholarly contributions. This was Mauss' dual focus on theory and data which allowed him to conduct comprehensive studies that were both conceptually profound with a firm empirical foundation based on observing human cultures. Holistic Approach : It also applied a systemic approach, which attempted to comprehend the relationship between the various elements of social life. Unlike most people, like Mauss, who narrowly focus on a particular economic or political phenomenon, I will examine how societies' economic, political, and religious systems interact and determine each other (Mallard, 2018). The holistic approach enabled Mauss to have a clear understanding of the complex social totalities that mark out human cultures. It was both theoretically advanced, empirically based, and had the holistic approach in the understanding of the diverse dimensions of social life. Combining rigor, evidence and breadth, Mauss was able to offer new views on the elementary elements of the human society (Herrmann, 1997). Weaknesses Abstractness and Theoretical Complexity: Some critics have pointed out at Mauss's work including The Gift and have stated that it is often overly abstract and complicated with
5 theory. According to some critics, Mauss' theories are based on vague ethnographical descriptions devoid of precise empirical analysis and detailed explanation. Mauss writes in a dense form using too much philosophy and sociology jargon. His work can sometimes be abstract and mysterious, which may render it impenetrable by general readers and even some scholars. Another criticism about Mauss' work is that it mainly focuses on Western European societies, especially French (Johnson, 1996). Focus on Western Europe : On the other hand, the critics pointed out that Mauss did not aim to generalize but based his analyses majorly on the Western-European examples and data. This is a Eurocentric lens which suggests that Mauss may have missed out on various cultural specificities or differences in the non-western frameworks. Therefore, there is a chance that his theories may be biased based on Western norms and values. Neglect of gender . Scholars have also blamed Mauss for mostly ignoring gender as a category of analysis. In his conceptualization of total social phenomena like the gift and exchange Mauss generally considered societies as undifferentiated wholes. He did not provide a systematic study of how gender constructions and power relations shape economic and social life. Their exclusion is a reflection of gender bias of the time, and has limited relevance for understanding the gender dimensions of economic relations today. Finally, his work has been criticized on ground that it had abstract theoretical style, focused to Europe, and paid less emphasis on gender aspect in social life. Although such views are valid, it is worth considering these critiques and integrating them into the current discourse with the aim of enhancing the focus and content of Mauss's ideas. Overall Assessment
6 Though he passed on over half a century ago, his presence continues to be felt by modern scholars as they retrace his footsteps that are still very fresh. In spite of criticisms and changing views, Mauss's work still holds significant meanings and provides crucial information on many issues of human societies. His work in the area of the gift, the concept of personhood, and their relation between sociology and psychology still continues to influence. Here's a wider elaboration on his continuing influence and specific works: " The Gift: In his work, "Economie generale des echanges dans les societes archaiques " (1925), Mauss moves away from the traditional economic notion that considers gifts as a simple exchange of products and explores the intricate social and cultural aspects of providing presents in different Gifts have a symbolic and moral significance which is used in setting and maintaining relationships, obligations, and solidarities between people and or groups (Hart, 2014). Mauss's thesis in this work has significant ramifications for comprehending contemporary economic systems and consumption patterns. As such, a notion like that of gift-giving shows different motivations for consumers' purchases that might not all be related only to economics. Gift giving is also an idea that has implications when it comes to social networks since people usually give things to each other so as to create and preserve their relationships. " Essai sur la nature de la catégorie de personne: Personhood at Malagasy society.mas" . On another note, he argues that an individual's identity is a product of his/her attributes as well as interactions with other people. In the words of Mauss, one's self or personhood is very much linked to the relations and the roles one plays in a society. This work by Mauss still remains pertinent to contemporary discussions on identity, especially with respect to relational selves. It underlines the concept that self-knowledge is not autonomous and that it is influenced by society and relations with other people. It denies the concept of independent self and underlines the
7 connectivity between the person and others in a community. In relation to the concept of personhood in Malagasy society, as portrayed by Mauss, there is an important discussion about the complexities of identity development along with the mechanisms through which such processes may be understood. His writing is a reminder that the way we define ourselves is not detached from the social relations and configurations within which we exist. It makes us think beyond ourselves and what it takes to feel whole as part of a larger society. " Sociology and Psychology " (1929): This essay collection by Marcel Mauss, a sociologist, explores that linkage between psychological and sociological studies. The author illustrates how these two sciences aid one another in their quest to understand human behaviour. Instead, Mauss embraces an interdisciplinary approach which requires a broader view on a phenomenon considering not only the individual psychology but also the outside influences of society. Mauss's analysis shows that individual experiences are dependent on the broader societal structures. However, he posits that for one to understand human behaviour, one must look at the internal and external factors that Mold people's actions and thoughts. Mauss reasons that by integrating the psychological and the sociological dimensions, a better understanding of human behaviour can be reached. These essays have remained a classic read for many social scientists whereby they discuss multi-dimensional approach towards interdisciplinary studies. Scholars are encouraged to overcome such barriers and embrace a holistic perspective when studying such intricate social issues. Sociological and psychological perspectives should be used to understand human behaviour as well as the factors that cause it. Mauss remains relevant as he outlived temporal and disciplinary boundaries. His ideas are pertinent in various contemporary debates: Globalization:
8 The French sociologist, Marcell Mauss conducted a comprehensive analysis of gift exchange and gift giving (Lee, 2020). His work gives an overview of the dynamics, linkages, as well as the interdependencies of globalized societies. Mauss proposes that gifting is more than just an act of kindness but rather a sophisticated social interaction laden with obligations and expectations. Social relations are established as well as bonds of reciprocity are created when people or groups exchange gifts. These bonds go beyond personal relations and may link up societies on a broader scale. Mauss' ideas have significant relevance within the framework of globalization (Mauss, 2016). By globalization, we mean that the world has been getting smaller and more connected. This facilitates flow of goods, services and information across borders which eventually brings societies together and makes them dependent on each other. Therefore, it is important to study what can be understood as gift-exchange in order to understand globalisation itself. The significance of giving becomes broader in a globalized context. It also extends beyond physical objects such as the exchange of ideas, culture, and even economically. The advent of global networks and systems of exchange, due to globalization (Mauss, 2016). For instance, multinationals carry on business in several countries dealing with trade and investments. This results into a network of linking relationships across nations. In addition, globalization has also produced global challenges which demand coherent activities. These problems include, among others, climate change, terrorist attacks, and pandemics. They cannot adequately be solved by a single state. Conversely, they need collaboration and joint efforts of various societies.
9 Mauss's analysis makes us understand that gift-giving and exchanges is not just an isolated act but part of society or relationship. These acts assume an added significance in a globalised world as they create global networks and foster common norms and culture. Social Inequality: There is a discussion regarding reciprocal exchange, inequality, and the role that someone's ideas play towards the same (Mauss, 2016). Such observations reveal the role that gift-giving practices play in upholding or disrupting social hierarchies. Therefore, gift-giving can maintain or break apart existing social inequalities. It is vital since gift giving is an omnipotent act in most societies, with possible broad repercussions. Through the comprehension of the social dynamics of gift-giving, we can make sense of the existing power relationships as well as work towards more just and just systems. Nature of Social Relations Marcel Mauss, a French sociologist, emphasized the need of seeing individuals not only as social beings but on their own as they are shaped by relationships and interaction within a society (Sykes, 2005). This remains relevant on current debates and talks about social interconnections, civic life building, and the effects of technology in social relations. Mauss claimed that humans are never alone and they are highly dependent on society. He pointed out that it takes interactions with other people and assumption of different social roles that shape our self-image (Wilson, 2018). This view disputes the idea that an individual exists independently of society through interdependence. Social interaction is an important aspect of individual well-being and community unity in modern days' discourse. The research has revealed that the social connection is an asset for physical and psychological wellbeing, whereas loneliness and isolation can be
10 harmful. This is a view of Mauss's emphasis whereby there is need to have a meaningfully related life (Mauss, 2016). In addition to this, there has been emphasis on community building in many areas such as urban planning, education, and public health among others. Social connection is recognized and it is being attempted to develop settings that will allow people to communicate freely and feel at home. Mauss's thoughts should be regarded as a reminder that community development is not simply the creation of physical structures, but the development of relationships and social cohesion. Effect of technology on social connections One other area where he resonates is the effect of technology on social connections (Mauss, 2016). Although technology enables us to link up with others from great distances, questions have been raised regarding the level and intensity of such associations. For instance, the advent of social media such as Facebook has both provided opportunities for connecting and difficulties in sustaining personal relationships. Mauss's emphasis on the sociality of human beings is an important note which should be taken into account when examining how technology shapes our interactions, and a quest for genuine relations in an electronic age (Mauss, 1995). In conclusion, the writings by Marcel Mauss are significant because they offer an elaborate explanation into the social phenomenon's, human relations, and how the works have applied within different academic fields. It is vital reading for scholars, researchers, and anyone else who wants to understand how human society operates.
11 References Bercovitch, Eytan (1994)'The Agent in the Gift: Hidden Exchange in Inner New Guinea', Cultural Anthropology , 9 (4): 498-536. Douglas, Mary (1992) 'Foreword: No Free Gifts', in Marcel Mauss (2002/1925) The Gift , London: Routledge. Goddard, Michael (2000) 'Of Cabbages and Kin: The Value of an Analytic Distinction between Gifts and Commodities', Critique of Anthropology , 20 (2): 137-151. Graeber, David (2001) Toward an Anthropological Theory of Value , New York: Palgrave ('Chapter 6: Marcel Mauss Revisited'). Graeber, David (2014) 'On the Moral Grounds of Economic Relations: A Maussian Approach', Journal of Classical Sociology , 14 (1): 65-77. Hanson, John H. (2015) 'The Anthropology of Giving: Toward A Cultural Logic of Charity', Journal of Cultural Economy , 8 (4): 501-520. Hart, Keith (2014) 'Marcel Mauss's Economic Vision, 1920-1925: Anthropology, Politics, Journalism', Journal of Classical Sociology , 14 (1): 33-44. Herrmann, Gretchen M. (1997) 'Gift or Commodity: What Changes Hands in the U.S. Garage Sale?' American Ethnologist , 24( 4): 910-930. Johnson, Christopher (1996) 'Mauss' Gift: The Persistence of a Paradigm', Modern & Contemporary France , 4 (3): 307-317. Lee, Seung Cheol (2020) 'The (anti-)social gift? Mauss's paradox and the triad of the gift', European Journal of Social Theory (OnlineFirst publication).
12 Mallard, Grégoire (2018) 'The gift as colonial ideology? Marcel Mauss and the solidarist colonial policy in the interwar era', J ournal of International Political Sykes, Karen (2005) Arguing with Anthropology: An Introduction to Critical Theories of the Gift , London and New York: Routledge Wilson, Alice (2018) 'Gifts that Recalibrate Relationships: Marriage Prestations in an Arab Liberation Movement', Ethnos 83 (2), 296-315.
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