Gifts and Reciprocity

Long before objects were bought and sold, they were given, circulated, and venerated. The intensely meaningful, demanding, and ambivalent nature of gift exchange has long been recognized. In giving a gift, it seems, we give a part of ourselves; something of our emotions, hopes, and fears is embodied or carried along in the giving of a gift. Further, the acceptance of a gift, a remarkably formal process even today, somehow indebts and obligates the receiver, binding him or her to reciprocate. Where giver and receiver are of similar standing or are relatively equal in power, gifts are received with polite words of thanks, while the giver will often “downplay” the act of giving with words like “It isn't much but.…” Where power relations are deeply ...

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