• 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

Distribution of the Sacrifice
Distribution of the sacrifice

First comes eating, and only then morality

Brecht

To give means to forego, to deny oneself something, to share with others. The difficulties of establishing such a mode of conduct have been constantly reported in the various myths and sagas. Hardly anything seems more natural, but also more extraordinary, than to give what one could enjoy alone. How else are we to interpret the rare appreciation that archaic societies show for generosity, or their profound contempt for anything that smacks of meanness and greed? The pious claim that giving is more blessed than taking even promises gratification for the force of loss. Epigrams that sing the praises of liberality coexist, from the earliest times, with others that stress the unclarity ...

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