• Summary
  • Contents
  • Subject index

We all give and receive gifts. But few of us reflect on the risks and uncertainties inherent to this form. For example, to give means to acquire power, to effect a symbolic exchange, to initiate ties and alliances, to convey social messages to others and to classify our own status. Gift-giving is also a device to register honour and shame, to show solidarity, to equalize and to create intimacy. This fascinating volume looks at the ambivalence of gift-giving; contemporary gift-giving, its motives, occasions and its rules; examines `sacrifice', `food-sharing' and `gift-giving' as those basic institutions upon which symbolic orders of `traditional' society rely; and considers the historical invention of hospitality, paving the

Morality and Society
Morality and society

We are forgetting how to give presents. Violation of the exchange principle has something nonsensical and implausible about it; here and there even children eye the giver suspiciously, as if the gift were merely a trick to sell them brushes or soap. Instead we have charity, administered beneficence, the planned plastering-over of society's visible sores. In its organized operations there is no longer room for human impulses, indeed, the gift is necessarily accompanied by humilation through its distribution, its just allocation, in short through treatment of the recipient as an object. Even private giving of presents has degenerated to a social function exercised with rational bad grace, careful adherence to the prescribed budget, sceptical appraisal of the other and the ...

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