• 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

The Gift
The gift

He who first offered a gift, I considered the king of men

Rig Veda

In the beginning is the gift. It binds everything together: sacrifice, duty, debt, war and peace, status and prestige. The gift presents itself at once as symbolic form and material substratum of social synthesis. It constitutes an exchange which irrevocably unifies economics, power and morality, cult and culture.

At roughly the same time that Bronislaw Malinowski's Argonauts of the Western Pacific first appeared, Marcel Mauss's essay Sur le don made history. The fascination of this work was due not only to its comparative method, which allowed a vast wealth of ethnographic material to be systematically organized, but above all to the disconcerting results that came to light in it.1

Universal in neolithic ...

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