Marcel Mauss

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Transcript Marcel Mauss

Marcel Mauss
• 1872-1950
• Born May 10, 1872, Epinal, France
• Died Feb. 10, 1950, Paris
• French Sociologist & Anthropologist
• Father of French anthropology
• Nephew of Emile Durkheim
• Assisted Durkheim --notably “Suicide”
• Succeeded Durkheim as editor “The
Sociological Year”
• 1902--Professor of primitive religion at “Practical
School of Higher Studies”, Paris
• Founded Ethnology Institute of the University of
Paris (1925)
• Political activist, aligned himself with socialist leader
Jean Jaurès
The Gift:The Form and Reason for Exchange
in Archaic Societies
• “What rule of legality and self-interest, in societies
of a backward or archaic type, compels the gift that
has been received to be obligatorily reciprocated?
• What power resides in the object given that causes
its recipient to pay it back?” (Mauss 1925)
The Gift: Three fields of obligation
• to give
• to receive
• to repay
• Gifts create relationships not only between
individuals but between groups
• Relationships which take the form of “total
The Gift
• Obligation to give gifts
• Shows oneself as generous, and deserving of respect
• Obligation to receive them
• Shows respect to the giver and proves one's own
Obligation to return the gift
• Demonstrates that one's honor is - at least - equivalent
to that of original giver
• Creates a moral bond
• Competitive and strategic aspects of gift-
• Giving more than competitors=Greater respect
• Gift-giving contests (potlatch), are common in
ethnographic record
• Mauss lays foundation for theoretical
understanding of the nature of social relations
• “The Gift” is the supreme example of the study
of “total social facts”
• A limited range of social phenomena seen as a
• “Prestations,” or systems of exchange
• In theory, voluntary and spontaneous
• In fact, obligatory
Importance of “The Gift”
“the archaic form of exchange,” with its
three obligations of giving, receiving, and
repaying, is an aspect of almost all societies
• It maintains and strengthens social bonds:
• Cooperative
• Competitive
• Antagonistic
Importance of “The Gift”
• The objects “are never completely separated
from the men who exchange them
• “The Gift” was the first systematic and
comparative study of gift exchange
• First elaboration of the relation between
patterns of exchange and social structure
The Gift
• Incest taboo is a rule of reciprocity
• Rather than biological fact about gene pools
• “The sole function of the incest taboo is not to
forbid; it is set in place to ensure and found an
• Exchange creates a system of communication
Contributions to Anthropology
• Influenced French:
• Sociologists
• Philosophers
• Psychologists toward ethnology
• Study of characteristics of various peoples and
differences and relationships between them
• Strengthened link between psychology and
Anthropology: General Theory of
• History organizes data in relation to conscious
expressions of social life
• Anthropology examines unconscious
foundations of social life
• Anthropology will become a general theory
of relationships
“If Friends make gifts, Gifts Make Friends”
Marcel Mauss
• In order for social relationships to exist, we
must exchange something whether it is:
• Communicative exchange of language
• Economic and/or ceremonial exchange of goods
• Or the exchange of spouses
Questions for Discussion
• What is a gift?
• What kinds of gifts are there?
• To whom do we give gifts?
• When do we give gifts?
• How do we give gifts?
• Why do we give gifts?
Questions for Discussion
• What are the consequences of not reciprocating?
• Are there bonds of obligation? What are they?
• Is there competitiveness involved in gift-giving?
• How do we feel when we haven’t received a gift of
at least equal value?
• What if the gift returned is of higher value?
Questions for Discussion
• Why is giving gifts to children acceptable, but
buying automobiles for college athletes
• What if a surrogate mother decides to keep
her baby?
• When should blood be donated or sold?
• Should housewives/husbands be paid?
Questions for Discussion
• Why can you legally buy a massage, but not the
sexual services of a prostitute?
• Do you agree that “He who steals my purse steals
trash…/But he that filches from me my good
name/Robs me of that which not enriches him/And
makes me poor indeed”?
• How much would you pay to restore a
tarnished reputation?