• 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

Ideal Constructions
Ideal constructions

For bounty, that makes gods, does still mar men


Lap of luxury (Sombart 1982) and civilizing force (Elias 1994) rolled into one, court society is still left with the task of developing the ‘potential’ of the guest situation, and of the gift, as binding interactional knowledge, in order to hand it down – partly as reviled tradition, partly as exemplary legacy – to bourgeois society.1

If one adopts Norbert Elias's theory-of-civilization perspective on the history of European society, one may say that, from the waning of the Middle Ages until the early nineteenth century, the court was the identifiable site where psychosocial change (the construction of new habits and dispositions) found its most concentrated expression. Elias (1983: 110) describes it as a social figuration ...

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