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



A present is a present, is a present …

Who gives what when to whom, seems at first sight a contingent matter. Gift-giving knows the most varied conventional occasions, without being limited to them. It may happen as a surprise, but it may also fail to occur on an occasion for legitimate expectations. One can give a present ‘just like that’, as well as refuse the gesture even at Christmas. Moreover, since much that goes even slightly beyond the required degree of politeness may be colloquially described as a gift – time and attention as well as love or chocolate – it is only possible to describe the typical occasions associated with the gift economy.

Gift exchange, perhaps the oldest form of social intercourse, not only ...

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