• 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 Sacrifice
The sacrifice

Like every human institution,

religion does not begin anywhere


The history of civilization is

that of the inversion of the offering

Horkheimer and Adorno

Up to this point, social relations among living people have been the focus of our attention. But the dead and nature also play a major role in exchange. The festival of the dead among the Unalit begins with a summoning of the ancestors’ souls to reincarnate themselves in the living bearers of their names. The souls are showered with gifts, and are heavily laden indeed when they finally make their way back beyond the grave. ‘At this moment, then, not only does the group regain its unity, but the ideal group, composed of each successive generation since the earliest times, takes shape in ...

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