Essay on Mauss Guide

3501 Words Nov 22nd, 2011 15 Pages
Reading Guide, Mauss, The Gift

Anthropology 125A/Econ 152A
Economic Anthropology

Reading Guide for Mauss, The Gift

NOTE: use this guide to the extent that you find it helpful. You will hopefully have already read through the reading once. The guide is long because I often include quotations from the book. You can use this to reexamine points that I think important. I ask many questions. I do not expect you to be able to answer them. Ponder over the quotations and questions for a second. That pondering, even for a second, will help you focus better on sections in the coming week as we figure out the answers together.


Consider this quote. Don’t worry if you don’t know everything he is referring to.
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Note this point by Keith Hart:

“Against the contemporary move to replace markets with communist states, he insists that the complex interplay between individual freedom and social obligation is synonymous with the human condition and that markets and money are universal, if not in their current impersonal form. In this way he fleshes out his uncle’s social agenda, but also questions the accuracy of his model of mechanical solidarity for stateless societies.”

Foreward, by Mary Douglas.

Think about this forward in regard to the links we have for today regarding gifts and gift cards and presents.

According to Mauss, there is no ‘free gift”, and “a gift that does nothing to enhance solidarity is a contradiction.” Why? Think about this as you read.

Note that Mauss’s The Gift is written in reply, in part, to Malinowski’s book, Argonauts of the Western Pacific (which you read parts of) on the kula in Melanesia. You can see again here, how Malinowski set up the frames of reference for debates about markets versus non-market exchange for the entire generation to come (we talked about this last week with the formalists and substantivists as well).

Mary Douglas gives us a critique of Malinowski’s assumptions:
Malinowski, she says, “took with him to his fieldwork the idea that commerce and gift are two separate kinds of

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